Form Handling With Mechanize And Beautifulsoup

Python Mechanize is a module that provides an API for programmatically browsing web pages and manipulating HTML forms. BeautifulSoup is a library for parsing and extracting data from HTML. Together they form a powerful combination of tools for web scraping.

In this post, I’ll highlight some of the features that Mechanize provides for manipulating HTML forms. Specifically, I’ll go over the following:


Execute the following commands in order to install Mechanize and BeautifulSoup within a virtual environment:

$ mkdir scraper && cd scraper
$ virtualenv venv
$ source venv/bin/activate
$ pip install mechanize
$ pip install beautifulsoup4

Opening a page and selecting a form

To open a page with mechanize, instantiate a Browser and provide the url of the page to the open method:

Opening a page

#!/usr/bin/env python

import mechanize

br = mechanize.Browser()'')

response = br.response()

print response.geturl() # URL of the page we just opened
print   # headers
print   # body

Form selection

Once you’ve opened a page, select a form using select_form with the name of the form as the argument:


Form selection using a predicate function

If the form does not have a name attribute, you can use a predicate function to select the form based off of one of its other attributes.

For instance, the following form has no name attribute:

<form method="post" action="/en/search/" id="form1">

We can select this form by filtering on its id.

def select_form(form):
  return form.attrs.get('id', None) == 'form1'


Or we can select against the form’s action instead:

def select_form(form):
  return form.attrs.get('action', None) == '/en/search/'


Filling in the form

Setting control values by name

After you have selected a form, fill it in by providing the name of the form control you want to set along with its associated value using the following format:

form[name] = value

For example,

br.form['boption'] = 'CLoad'
br.form['hitsPerPage'] = [ '50' ]

That’s equivalient to:'CLoad', 'boption')['50'], 'hitsPerPage')

Which is also equivalent to:

ctl ='boption')
ctl.value = 'CLoad'

ctl ='hitsPerPage')
ctl.value = ['50']

If you get the read-only error

ValueError: control '<em>control_name</em>' is readonly

when filling out the form, change the control’s readonly attribute to False:

br.form.find_control('control_name').readonly = False

or call set_all_readonly(False) on the form to make all of the controls writable.


Control selection using a predicate function

You can also use predicate functions in conjunction with regular-expressions to select controls within a form that match a specific pattern:

import re

def select_control(control):
  r = re.compile(r'ctl\d+_HiddenField')
  return bool(re.match(r,

ctl = br.form.find_control(predicate=select_control)
ctl.value = 'someval'

Submitting the form

Submitting a form

Once you’ve filled out all of the form values, submit the form by calling submit:


Form submission when multiple submit buttons present

Sometimes you can’t just call submit with no arguments because there’s more than one submit button and you want mechanize to choose a specific one. A common scenario is when one of the buttons is for ‘Search’ and the other is for Resetting or Clearing the form.

<form name="searchForm" method="post" action="">
  <input type="image" name="reset" src="Reset.gif" alt="Reset Form">
  <input type="image" name="input" src="Search.gif" id="searchButton" alt="Search">

In this case, pass the id of the desired control when calling submit:


or specify the name:


When things go wrong

Here are some common issues you may encounter when handling forms with mechanize.

Handling ‘ParseError: OPTION outside of SELECT’

If you attempt to select a form but it fails with the following error:

mechanize._form.ParseError: OPTION outside of SELECT

Fix the situation by running the page through BeautifulSoup before selecting the form with mechanize:

import mechanize
from bs4 import BeautifulSoup

br = mechanize.Browser()

soup = BeautifulSoup(br.response().read())
html = str(soup)
resp = mechanize.make_response(html, [("Content-Type", "text/html")],
                               br.geturl(), 200, "OK")

Adding controls

Sometimes mechanize won’t pick up certain hidden form controls. I’ve encountered this with ASP.NET pages where mechanize won’t pick up the __EVENTTARGET, __EVENTARGUMENT, and __LASTFOCUS controls in a form like the following:

<form name="ctl00" method="post" action="search" id="ctl00"> 
  <div class="aspNetHidden">
    <input type="hidden" name="__EVENTTARGET" id="__EVENTTARGET" value="">
    <input type="hidden" name="__EVENTARGUMENT" id="__EVENTARGUMENT" value="">
    <input type="hidden" name="__LASTFOCUS" id="__LASTFOCUS" value="">
    <input type="hidden" name="__VIEWSTATE" id="__VIEWSTATE" value="/wEPD....">

Since mechanize doesn’t pick up these controls, you will need to create them manually in order to get the form submission to work. Use the new_control method to add these controls to the form and set their values at the same time:

br.form.new_control('hidden', '__EVENTTARGET',   {'value': '$next_page'})
br.form.new_control('hidden', '__EVENTARGUMENT', {'value': ''})
br.form.new_control('hidden', '__LASTFOCUS',     {'value': ''})

Adding items dynamically

Sometimes a control’s values are set dynamically via javascript. So when you go to set the values for these controls with mechanize, there’s no list of items to choose from because mechanize can’t run the javascript that would have created them in the first place.

I’ve encountered this with forms that dynamically generate a select drop down for region, country, state, city, etc. Here’s an example of that scenario:

<select id="searchAuxRegionID" name="searchAuxRegionID" 

  <option value="">-- Select --</option>
  <option value="1">Africa</option>
  <option value="3">Asia</option>
  <option value="4">Australia</option>
  <option value="5">Europe</option>
  <option value="6">North America</option>
<select id="searchAuxCountryID" name="searchAuxCountryID" 

  <option value="">-- Select --</option>

Note in the above form that the second select list for country is empty. That’s because it doesn’t get populated until you’ve chosen a value for region from the first select list.

Once you select the region, it will trigger javascript code in the onchange attribute to dynamically generate a list of country items.

For instance, say I select North America from the dropdown. This causes the searchAuxCountryID select dropdown to be populated with the following list of values.

<select id="searchAuxCountryID" name="searchAuxCountryID" onchange="PopulateCombo(document.frmSearch.searchAuxStateID);">
  <option value="">-- Select --</option>
  <option value="4">Canada</option>
  <option value="3">USA</option>

Now I can select which country I want to submit in the form.

But how can we handle this in mechanize where the javascript code won’t be running?

Can you just try setting the value of the searchAuxCountryID to 3 or 4?

Try it and you will see that it will fail with the error *** ItemNotFoundError: insufficient items with name '<your-value>':

(Pdb) print

<frmSearch POST application/x-www-form-urlencoded
  <SelectControl(searchAuxRegionID=[, 1, 3, 4, 5, *6])>

(Pdb)['searchAuxCountryID'] = ['3']

*** ItemNotFoundError: insufficient items with name '3'

What you must do is create an Item for the value manually and attach it to the control you want it to be part of. In this case we want it to be an item with a value of 3 within the searchAuxCountryID control:

item = Item(br.form.find_control(name='searchAuxCountryID'),
           {'contents': '3', 'value': '3', 'label': 3})

# Now it works!
br.form['searchAuxCountryID'] = ['3']

Removing controls to make form submissions work

All of the previous examples have assumed that we need to add controls to make a form submission work. But sometimes you will encounter cases where you need to remove controls in order to get the form submission to work.

Remove controls by calling br.form.controls.remove with the control you wish to delete as the argument.

Here’s an example where we remove all of the submit, image, or checkbox controls from the form:

for control in br.form.controls[:]:
  if control.type in ['submit', 'image', 'checkbox']:

Note that in the above example we are iterating through all of the controls in the form and filtering based on the type of the control. We can also look for specific controls to remove by first finding the control by name (or predicate function) and then removing it:

ctl = br.form.find_control('ctl00$cphMain$btnSearch')

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