Frequently Asked Questions

When to use MechanicalSoup?

MechanicalSoup is designed to simulate the behavior of a human using a web browser. Possible use-case include:

  • Interacting with a website that doesn’t provide a webservice API, out of a browser.
  • Testing a website you’re developing

There are also situations when you should not use MechanicalSoup, like:

  • If the website provides a webservice API (e.g. REST), then you should use this API and you don’t need MechanicalSoup.
  • If the website you’re interacting with does not contain HTML pages, then MechanicalSoup won’t bring anything compared to requests, so just use requests instead.
  • If the website relies on JavaScript, then you probably need a fully-fledged browser. Selenium may help you there, but it’s a far heavier solution than MechanicalSoup.
  • If the website is specifically designed to interact with humans, please don’t go against the will of the website’s owner.

How do I get debug information/logs

To understand what’s going on while running a script, you have two options:

  • Use set_verbose() to set the debug level to 1 (show one dot for each page opened, a poor man’s progress bar) or 2 (show the URL of each visited page).

  • Activate request’s logging:

    import requests
    import logging
    requests_log = logging.getLogger("requests.packages.urllib3")
    requests_log.propagate = True

    This will display a much more verbose output, including HTTP status code for each page visited. Note that unlike MechanicalSoup’s logging system, this includes URL returning a redirect (e.g. HTTP 301), that are dealt with automatically by requests and not visible to MechanicalSoup.

Should I use Browser or StatefulBrowser?

Short answer: mechanicalsoup.StatefulBrowser.

mechanicalsoup.Browser is historically the first class that was introduced in Mechanicalsoup. Using it is a bit verbose, as the caller needs to store the URL of the currently visited page and manipulate the current form with a separate variable. mechanicalsoup.StatefulBrowser is essentially a superset of mechanicalsoup.Browser, it’s the one you should use unless you have a good reason to do otherwise.

How does MechanicalSoup compare to the alternatives?

There are other libraries with the same purpose as MechanicalSoup:

  • Mechanize is an ancestor of MechanicalSoup (getting its name from the Perl mechanize module). It was a great tool, but became unmaintained for several years and didn’t support Python 3. Fortunately, Mechanize got a new maintainer in 2017 and completed Python 3 support in 2019. Note that Mechanize is a much bigger piece of code (around 20 times more lines!) than MechanicalSoup, which is small because it delegates most of its work to BeautifulSoup and requests.
  • RoboBrowser is very similar to MechanicalSoup. Both are small libraries built on top of requests and BeautifulSoup. Their APIs are very similar. Both have an automated testsuite. As of writing, MechanicalSoup is more actively maintained (only 1 really active developer and no activity since 2015 on RoboBrowser). RoboBrowser is broken on Python 3.7, and while there is an easy workaround this is a sign that the lack of activity is due to the project being abandoned more than to its maturity.
  • Selenium is a much heavier solution: it launches a real web browser (Firefox, Chrome, …) and controls it with inter-process communication. Selenium is the right solution if you want to test that a website works properly with various browsers (e.g. is the JavaScript code you’re writing compatible with all major browsers on the market?), and is generally useful when you need JavaScript support. Though MechanicalSoup does not support JavaScript, it also does not have the overhead of a real web browser, which makes it a simple and efficient solution for basic website interactions.

Form submission has no effect or fails

If you believe you are using MechanicalSoup correctly, but form submission still does not behave the way you expect, the likely explanation is that the page uses JavaScript to dynamically generate response content when you submit the form in a real browser. A common symptom is when form elements are missing required attributes (e.g. if form is missing the action attribute or an input is missing the name attribute).

In such cases, you typically have two options:

  1. If you know what content the server expects to receive from form submission, then you can use MechanicalSoup to manually add that content using, i.e., new_control(). This is unlikely to be a reliable solution unless you are testing a website that you own.
  2. Use a tool that supports JavaScript, like Selenium. See How does MechanicalSoup compare to the alternatives? for more information.

My form doesn’t have a unique submit name. What can I do?

This answer will help those encountering a “Multiple submit elements match” error when trying to submit a form.

Since MechanicalSoup uses BeautifulSoup under the hood, you can uniquely select any element on the page using its many convenient search functions, e.g. .find() and .select(). Then you can pass that element to choose_submit() or submit_selected(), assuming it is a valid submit element.

For example, if you have a form with a submit element only identified by a unique id="button3" attribute, you can do the following:

br = mechanicalsoup.StatefulBrowser()
submit ='input', id='button3')
form = br.select_form()

“No parser was explicitly specified”

UserWarning: No parser was explicitly specified, so I’m using the best available HTML parser for this system (“lxml”). This usually isn’t a problem, but if you run this code on another system, or in a different virtual environment, it may use a different parser and behave differently.

Some versions of BeautifulSoup show a harmless warning to encourage you to specify which HTML parser to use. In MechanicalSoup 0.9, the default parser is set by MechanicalSoup, so you shouldn’t get the error anymore (or you should upgrade) unless you specified a non-standard soup_config argument to the browser’s constructor.

If you specify a soup_config argument, you should include the parser to use, like:

mechanicalsoup.StatefulBrowser(soup_config={'features': 'lxml', '...': '...'})

Or if you don’t have the parser lxml installed:

mechanicalsoup.StatefulBrowser(soup_config={'features': 'parser.html', ...})

See also

“ReferenceError: weakly-referenced object no longer exists”

This error can occur within requests’ when called by the destructor (__del__) of browser. The solution is to call close() before the end of life of the object.

Alternatively, you may also use the with statement which closes the browser for you:

def test_with():
    with mechanicalsoup.StatefulBrowser() as browser:
        # ...
    # implicit call to browser.close() here.

This problem is fixed in MechanicalSoup 0.10, so this is only required for compatibility with older versions. Code using new versions can let the browser variable go out of scope and let the garbage collector close it properly.