Getting to and from ASTs

To build an ast from code stored as a string, use ast.parse(). To turn the ast into executable code, pass it to compile() (which can also compile a string directly).

>>> tree = ast.parse("print('hello world')")
>>> tree
<_ast.Module object at 0x9e3df6c>
>>> exec(compile(tree, filename="<ast>", mode="exec"))
hello world


Python code can be compiled in three modes. The root of the AST depends on the mode parameter you pass to ast.parse(), and it must correspond to the mode parameter when you call compile().

  • exec - Normal Python code is run with mode='exec'. The root of the AST is a ast.Module, whose body attribute is a list of nodes.
  • eval - Single expressions are compiled with mode='eval', and passing them to eval() will return their result. The root of the AST is an ast.Expression, and its body attribute is a single node, such as ast.Call or ast.BinOp. This is different from ast.Expr, which holds an expression within an AST.
  • single - Single statements or expressions can be compiled with mode='single'. If it’s an expression, sys.displayhook() will be called with the result, like when code is run in the interactive shell. The root of the AST is an ast.Interactive, and its body attribute is a list of nodes.


The type_comment and ignore_types fields introduced in Python 3.8 are only populated if ast.parse() is called with type_comment=True.

Fixing locations

To compile an AST, every node must have lineno and col_offset attributes. Nodes produced by parsing regular code already have these, but nodes you create programmatically don’t. There are a few helper functions for this:

  • ast.fix_missing_locations() recursively fills in any missing locations by copying from the parent node. The rough and ready answer.
  • ast.copy_location() copies lineno and col_offset from one node to another. Useful when you’re replacing a node.
  • ast.increment_lineno() increases lineno for a node and its children, pushing them further down a file.

Going backwards

Python itself doesn’t provide a way to turn a compiled code object into an AST, or an AST into a string of code. Some third party tools can do these things:

  • astor can convert an AST back to readable Python code.
  • Meta also tries to decompile Python bytecode to an AST, but it appears to be unmaintained.
  • uncompyle6 is an actively maintained Python decompiler at the time of writing. Its documented interface is a command line program producing Python source code.