Python CST and AST

There are two key concepts in parsing any Python code, one being the concrete syntax tree and the other being abstract syntax tree. This post provide some introductory information about what they are, their roles in the parsing process, commonalities and differences between them.

In fact, as this post is written in 2021, it is a possibility, or probability that the term CST might be rendered obsolete because of the new parser implementation parser in newer versions of Python. parser is a built-in python language that has been there for a long time that works with CST. However, given the latest implementation, it won’t be a two stage process CODE -> CST -> AST anymore. As CST is still a very important concept in understanding any programming language, I think it will still be a good idea to learn about it since it will be a while for us all to move into 3.9 and CST and AST still serves its general educational purpose when it comes programming language.

Python Software Foundation News: Replacing CPython's parser - Python  Language Summit 2020

CST is the exact parsed tree representation of your code conforming to the language grammar, while the AST is a simplified CST keeping only its gist. Based on this Stackoverflow post, depending on how the developer writes the code, eg. a = 1 + 2 * 3, there could be different variations like a = 1 + (2*3) or a = (1 + (2*3)), the CST for each variation is different as the code literally are different, the CST will contain all the different placement of parenthesis. After all the operation precedence got taken into considerations, the CSTs will be simplified and end up being the same AST. Of course, for the same CST, if the underlying executions are different, the same code can lead to different AST.

In the following example, two implementations have different CST but all share the same AST in the end.


book: CPython-Internals

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