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Mako 1.0.2 Documentation

Release: 1.0.2


A Mako template is parsed from a text stream containing any kind of content, XML, HTML, email text, etc. The template can further contain Mako-specific directives which represent variable and/or expression substitutions, control structures (i.e. conditionals and loops), server-side comments, full blocks of Python code, as well as various tags that offer additional functionality. All of these constructs compile into real Python code. This means that you can leverage the full power of Python in almost every aspect of a Mako template.

Expression Substitution

The simplest expression is just a variable substitution. The syntax for this is the ${} construct, which is inspired by Perl, Genshi, JSP EL, and others:

this is x: ${x}

Above, the string representation of x is applied to the template’s output stream. If you’re wondering where x comes from, it’s usually from the Context supplied to the template’s rendering function. If x was not supplied to the template and was not otherwise assigned locally, it evaluates to a special value UNDEFINED. More on that later.

The contents within the ${} tag are evaluated by Python directly, so full expressions are OK:

pythagorean theorem:  ${pow(x,2) + pow(y,2)}

The results of the expression are evaluated into a string result in all cases before being rendered to the output stream, such as the above example where the expression produces a numeric result.

Expression Escaping

Mako includes a number of built-in escaping mechanisms, including HTML, URI and XML escaping, as well as a “trim” function. These escapes can be added to an expression substitution using the | operator:

${"this is some text" | u}

The above expression applies URL escaping to the expression, and produces this+is+some+text. The u name indicates URL escaping, whereas h represents HTML escaping, x represents XML escaping, and trim applies a trim function.

Read more about built-in filtering functions, including how to make your own filter functions, in Filtering and Buffering.

Control Structures

A control structure refers to all those things that control the flow of a program – conditionals (i.e. if/else), loops (like while and for), as well as things like try/except. In Mako, control structures are written using the % marker followed by a regular Python control expression, and are “closed” by using another % marker with the tag “end<name>”, where “<name>” is the keyword of the expression:

% if x==5:
    this is some output
% endif

The % can appear anywhere on the line as long as no text precedes it; indentation is not significant. The full range of Python “colon” expressions are allowed here, including if/elif/else, while, for, and even def, although Mako has a built-in tag for defs which is more full-featured.

% for a in ['one', 'two', 'three', 'four', 'five']:
    % if a[0] == 't':
    its two or three
    % elif a[0] == 'f':
    % else:
    % endif
% endfor

The % sign can also be “escaped”, if you actually want to emit a percent sign as the first non whitespace character on a line, by escaping it as in %%:

%% some text

    %% some more text

The Loop Context

The loop context provides additional information about a loop while inside of a % for structure:

% for a in ("one", "two", "three"):
    <li>Item ${loop.index}: ${a}</li>
% endfor

See The Loop Context for more information on this feature.

New in version 0.7.


Comments come in two varieties. The single line comment uses ## as the first non-space characters on a line:

## this is a comment.
...text ...

A multiline version exists using <%doc> ...text... </%doc>:

    these are comments
    more comments

Newline Filters

The backslash (“\”) character, placed at the end of any line, will consume the newline character before continuing to the next line:

here is a line that goes onto \
another line.

The above text evaluates to:

here is a line that goes onto another line.

Python Blocks

Any arbitrary block of python can be dropped in using the <% %> tags:

this is a template
    x = db.get_resource('foo')
    y = [z.element for z in x if x.frobnizzle==5]
% for elem in y:
    element: ${elem}
% endfor

Within <% %>, you’re writing a regular block of Python code. While the code can appear with an arbitrary level of preceding whitespace, it has to be consistently formatted with itself. Mako’s compiler will adjust the block of Python to be consistent with the surrounding generated Python code.

Module-level Blocks

A variant on <% %> is the module-level code block, denoted by <%! %>. Code within these tags is executed at the module level of the template, and not within the rendering function of the template. Therefore, this code does not have access to the template’s context and is only executed when the template is loaded into memory (which can be only once per application, or more, depending on the runtime environment). Use the <%! %> tags to declare your template’s imports, as well as any pure-Python functions you might want to declare:

    import mylib
    import re

    def filter(text):
        return re.sub(r'^@', '', text)

Any number of <%! %> blocks can be declared anywhere in a template; they will be rendered in the resulting module in a single contiguous block above all render callables, in the order in which they appear in the source template.


The rest of what Mako offers takes place in the form of tags. All tags use the same syntax, which is similar to an XML tag except that the first character of the tag name is a % character. The tag is closed either by a contained slash character, or an explicit closing tag:

<%include file="foo.txt"/>

<%def name="foo" buffered="True">
    this is a def

All tags have a set of attributes which are defined for each tag. Some of these attributes are required. Also, many attributes support evaluation, meaning you can embed an expression (using ${}) inside the attribute text:

<%include file="/foo/bar/${myfile}.txt"/>

Whether or not an attribute accepts runtime evaluation depends on the type of tag and how that tag is compiled into the template. The best way to find out if you can stick an expression in is to try it! The lexer will tell you if it’s not valid.

Heres a quick summary of all the tags:


This tag defines general characteristics of the template, including caching arguments, and optional lists of arguments which the template expects when invoked.

<%page args="x, y, z='default'"/>

Or a page tag that defines caching characteristics:

<%page cached="True" cache_type="memory"/>

Currently, only one <%page> tag gets used per template, the rest get ignored. While this will be improved in a future release, for now make sure you have only one <%page> tag defined in your template, else you may not get the results you want. The details of what <%page> is used for are described further in The body() Method as well as Caching.


A tag that is familiar from other template languages, %include is a regular joe that just accepts a file argument and calls in the rendered result of that file:

<%include file="header.html"/>

    hello world

<%include file="footer.html"/>

Include also accepts arguments which are available as <%page> arguments in the receiving template:

<%include file="toolbar.html" args="current_section='members', username='ed'"/>


The %def tag defines a Python function which contains a set of content, that can be called at some other point in the template. The basic idea is simple:

<%def name="myfunc(x)">
    this is myfunc, x is ${x}


The %def tag is a lot more powerful than a plain Python def, as the Mako compiler provides many extra services with %def that you wouldn’t normally have, such as the ability to export defs as template “methods”, automatic propagation of the current Context, buffering/filtering/caching flags, and def calls with content, which enable packages of defs to be sent as arguments to other def calls (not as hard as it sounds). Get the full deal on what %def can do in Defs and Blocks.


%block is a tag that is close to a %def, except executes itself immediately in its base-most scope, and can also be anonymous (i.e. with no name):

<%block filter="h">
    some <html> stuff.

Inspired by Jinja2 blocks, named blocks offer a syntactically pleasing way to do inheritance:

    <%block name="header">
        <h2><%block name="title"/></h2>

Blocks are introduced in Using Blocks and further described in Inheritance.

New in version 0.4.1.


%namespace is Mako’s equivalent of Python’s import statement. It allows access to all the rendering functions and metadata of other template files, plain Python modules, as well as locally defined “packages” of functions.

<%namespace file="functions.html" import="*"/>

The underlying object generated by %namespace, an instance of mako.runtime.Namespace, is a central construct used in templates to reference template-specific information such as the current URI, inheritance structures, and other things that are not as hard as they sound right here. Namespaces are described in Namespaces.


Inherit allows templates to arrange themselves in inheritance chains. This is a concept familiar in many other template languages.

<%inherit file="base.html"/>

When using the %inherit tag, control is passed to the topmost inherited template first, which then decides how to handle calling areas of content from its inheriting templates. Mako offers a lot of flexibility in this area, including dynamic inheritance, content wrapping, and polymorphic method calls. Check it out in Inheritance.


Any user-defined “tag” can be created against a namespace by using a tag with a name of the form <%<namespacename>:<defname>>. The closed and open formats of such a tag are equivalent to an inline expression and the <%call> tag, respectively.

<%mynamespace:somedef param="some value">
    this is the body

To create custom tags which accept a body, see Calling a Def with Embedded Content and/or Other Defs.

New in version 0.2.3.


The call tag is the “classic” form of a user-defined tag, and is roughly equivalent to the <%namespacename:defname> syntax described above. This tag is also described in Calling a Def with Embedded Content and/or Other Defs.


The %doc tag handles multiline comments:

    these are comments
    more comments

Also the ## symbol as the first non-space characters on a line can be used for single line comments.


This tag suspends the Mako lexer’s normal parsing of Mako template directives, and returns its entire body contents as plain text. It is used pretty much to write documentation about Mako:

<%text filter="h">
    heres some fake mako ${syntax}
    <%def name="x()">${x}</%def>

Exiting Early from a Template

Sometimes you want to stop processing a template or <%def> method in the middle and just use the text you’ve accumulated so far. This is accomplished by using return statement inside a Python block. It’s a good idea for the return statement to return an empty string, which prevents the Python default return value of None from being rendered by the template. This return value is for semantic purposes provided in templates via the STOP_RENDERING symbol:

% if not len(records):
    No records found.
    <% return STOP_RENDERING %>
% endif

Or perhaps:

    if not len(records):
        return STOP_RENDERING

In older versions of Mako, an empty string can be substituted for the STOP_RENDERING symbol:

<% return '' %>

New in version 1.0.2: - added the STOP_RENDERING symbol which serves as a semantic identifier for the empty string "" used by a Python return statement.