Ideas: making it easier to extend Python’s syntax

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You have an Excellent Idea ® to change the Python syntax and want to find a way to include your Excellent Idea ® in your Python programs. According to Python Developers Guide, this might be doable if you are willing to follow “a few steps” including:

  1. Get a copy of the CPython’s code repository and all the required compilers for your platform.

  2. Modify the grammar file to add rules for the new syntax.

  3. Modify the AST generation code; this requires a knowledge of C

  4. Compile the AST into bytecode

  5. Recompile the modified Python interpreter

This … can be a rather daunting task. It might get a bit easier if you grab a copy of the currently unpublished book by Anthony Shaw, CPython Internals and read it from cover to cover, but it will still remain a major task. Furthermore, it would not be easy to share your work with others so that they can try it out.

However, there is a simpler way: it is possible to run code with a modified syntax using import hooks [or, in some cases as shown later, using a custom codec.]

What is an import hook

When you write something like:

import my_module

Python’s import machinery has to do the following:

  1. Try to use various tools to find the module requested

  2. Get the source code of that module

  3. Execute that source code, subject to some information reported in step 1.

An import hook is an additional tool that you create to do these three steps. Once written, you add it to sys.meta_path so that Python’s import machinery can make use of it.

Still, writing import hooks can be rather difficult.

[page 420] …it should be emphasized that Python’s module, package and import mechanism is one of the most complicated parts of the entire language – often poorly understood by even the most seasoned Python programmers unless they’ve devoted effort to peeling back the covers.
… long discussion …
[page 428] Assuming that your head hasn’t completely exploded at this point, … Last, but not least, spending some time sleeping with PEP 302 and the documentation for importlib under your pillow may be advisable.

Python Cookbook, 3rd edition, by David Beazley and Brian K. Jones

ideas is designed to facilitate the creation of such import hooks, and be a repository for examples that can be used as starting points for new ideas.

Instead of figuring out how to write an import hook, using ideas you can focus exclusively on what what might be needed to convert your proposed new syntax into something that Python can understand – ideas will take care of the rest, including inserting it in sys.meta_path.


Doing something like what is described in this documentation is not recommended for production code.

But it can be fun! ;-)

Infrequently asked questions and comments


Because it is fun. If this is not enough of a justification for you, have a look at the motivation section which contains a longer, and possibly more serious answer.

Is it safe to use in production code?


But your example works perfectly well in my code; can I use it in my project?

I don’t think you should if your project is to be used by anyone else but yourself.

I found a bug.

Wonderful, please file an issue so that I can perhaps fix it. Note however that some examples are just proof of concepts and are known to not be robust.

Can I contribute code for a new example?

Yes, please, by all means. But I suggest that you first create an issue that gives an overview of what you wish to accomplish.

I found a cool use of import hooks in another project, different from all of your examples.

Please, give me the details and I will see if I can easily include a similar example and if I think it is worthwhile to do so.

I think that the explanation you have written for X could be improved upon.

Please tell me more by filing an issue first and possibly creating a pull-request afterwards.

I have an idea for a new example, but do not know how to write the code for it.

First, make sure you go through all of the existing examples to confirm that none can easily be adapted to do what you want. If that is the case, file an issue … but please don’t be offended if I don’t write code for it and end up closing the issue: I already have too many ideas of my own for this project, too many other projects, and not enough time to do all that I want.

What about something like from __future__ import braces ?


In file, you do not respect convention Y from PEP-8. This is unacceptable in a Python project.

Seriously? This project is all about exploring potential changes to Python’s syntax, some of which are downright crazy, and you complain about a PEP-8 violation? …

Ok, perhaps you can tell me and it might make sense to change what I wrote.

People from the Python-ideas mailing lists mentioned that I should look at this project for my suggestion for a new syntax, but I don’t know where to start.

Just keep reading.

To do


Try to create a different module object.

(The original entry is located in C:\Users\andre\github\ideas\docs\source\constants.rst, line 123.)


Add these examples

I need to add some explanations and provide links to the following examples:

  • importing “best answer” from StackOverflow

  • installing module from pypi on request (David Beazley’s talk)


(The original entry is located in C:\Users\andre\github\ideas\docs\source\excluded.rst, line 26.)