1. Getting Started

These instructions cover how to get a working copy of the source code and a compiled version of the CPython interpreter (CPython is the version of Python available from http://www.python.org/). It also gives an overview of the directory structure of the CPython source code.

OpenHatch also has a great setup guide for Python for people who are completely new to contributing to open source.

1.1. Getting Set Up

1.1.1. Version Control Setup

CPython is developed using Mercurial. The Mercurial command line program is named hg; this is also used to refer to Mercurial itself. Mercurial is easily available for common Unix systems by way of the standard package manager; under Windows, you might want to use the TortoiseHg graphical client.

1.1.2. Getting the Source Code

One should always work from a working copy of the CPython source code. While it may be tempting to work from the copy of Python you already have installed on your machine, it is very likely that you will be working from out-of-date code as the Python core developers are constantly updating and fixing things in their VCS. It also means you will have better tool support through the VCS as it will provide a diff tool, etc.

To get a working copy of the in-development branch of CPython (core developers use a different URL as outlined in How to Become a Core Developer), run:

hg clone http://hg.python.org/cpython

If you want a working copy of an already-released version of Python, i.e., a version in maintenance mode, you can update your working copy. For instance, to update your working copy to Python 3.4, do:

hg update 3.4

You will need to re-compile CPython when you do such an update.

Do note that CPython will notice that it is being run from a working copy. This means that if you edit CPython’s source code in your working copy, changes to Python code will be picked up by the interpreter for immediate use and testing. (If you change C code, you will need to recompile the affected files as described below.)

Patches for the documentation can be made from the same repository; see Documenting Python.

1.1.3. Compiling (for debugging)

CPython provides several compilation flags which help with debugging various things. While all of the known flags can be found in the Misc/SpecialBuilds.txt file, the most critical one is the Py_DEBUG flag which creates what is known as a “pydebug” build. This flag turns on various extra sanity checks which help catch common issues. The use of the flag is so common that turning on the flag is a basic compile option.

You should always develop under a pydebug build of CPython (the only instance of when you shouldn’t is if you are taking performance measurements). Even when working only on pure Python code the pydebug build provides several useful checks that one should not skip. Build dependencies

The core CPython interpreter only needs a C compiler to be built; if you get compile errors with a C89 or C99-compliant compiler, please open a bug report. However, some of the extension modules will need development headers for additional libraries (such as the zlib library for compression). Depending on what you intend to work on, you might need to install these additional requirements so that the compiled interpreter supports the desired features.

For UNIX based systems, we try to use system libraries whenever available. This means optional components will only build if the relevant system headers are available. The best way to obtain the appropriate headers will vary by distribution, but the appropriate commands for some popular distributions are below.

Fedora, Red Hat Enterprise Linux and other yum based systems:

$ sudo yum install yum-utils
$ sudo yum-builddep python3

Debian, Ubuntu and other apt based systems, try to get the dependencies for the Python version that you’re working on e.g.:

$ sudo apt-get build-dep python3.4

If that package is not available for your system, try reducing the minor version until you find a package that is available.

For Mac OS X systems, it is generally easiest to use the C compiler and other development utilities provided by Apple’s Xcode Developer Tools. There are specific versions supported by Apple for each major release of OS X. For current releases, Xcode is available as a no-cost download from Apple’s App Store. Xcode versions for older releases are available through the Apple Developer web site. Note that while the Xcode IDE application itself is not needed to build Python, the development components packaged inside it may be. You should also install the Xcode Command Line Tools component to ensure build tools and system header files are installed in their conventional locations (/usr/bin and /usr/include). How the command line tools are installed varies by OS X and Xcode release. In earlier releases, there may be a separate installer download. For OS X 10.7 and 10.8, there is an option in the Xcode app Preferences menu. For OS X 10.9 (Mavericks), run the following:

$ xcode-select --install

Also note that OS X does not include several libraries used by the Python standard library, including libzma, so expect to see some extension module build failures unless you install local copies of them.

There will sometimes be optional modules added for a new release which won’t yet be identified in the OS level build dependencies. In those cases, just ask for assistance on the core-mentorship list. If working on bug fixes for Python 2.7, use python in place of python3 in the above commands.

Explaining how to build optional dependencies on a UNIX based system without root access is beyond the scope of this guide.


While you need a C compiler to build CPython, you don’t need any knowledge of the C language to contribute! Vast areas of CPython are written completely in Python: as of this writing, CPython contains slightly more Python code than C. UNIX

The basic steps for building Python for development is to configure it and then compile it.

Configuration is typically:

./configure --with-pydebug

More flags are available to configure, but this is the minimum you should do to get a pydebug build of CPython.

Once configure is done, you can then compile CPython with:

make -s -j2

This will build CPython with only warnings and errors being printed to stderr and utilize up to 2 CPU cores. If you are using a multi-core machine with more than 2 cores (or a single-core machine), you can adjust the number passed into the -j flag to match the number of cores you have.

Do take note of what modules were not built as stated at the end of your build. More than likely you are missing a dependency for the module(s) that were not built, and so you can install the dependencies and re-run both configure and make (if available for your OS). Otherwise the build failed and thus should be fixed (at least with a bug being filed on the issue tracker).

Once CPython is done building you will then have a working build that can be run in-place; ./python on most machines (and what is used in all examples), ./python.exe wherever a case-insensitive filesystem is used (e.g. on OS X by default), in order to avoid conflicts with the Python directory. There is normally no need to install your built copy of Python! The interpreter will realize where it is being run from and thus use the files found in the working copy. If you are worried you might accidentally install your working copy build, you can add --prefix=/tmp/python to the configuration step. When running from your working directory, it is best to avoid using the --enable-shared flag to configure; unless you are very careful, you may accidentally run with code from an older, installed shared Python library rather than from the interpreter you just built. Clang

If you are using clang to build CPython, some flags you might want to set to quiet some standard warnings which are specifically superfluous to CPython are -Wno-unused-value -Wno-empty-body -Qunused-arguments. You can set your CFLAGS environment variable to these flags when running configure.

If you are using LLVM 2.8, also use the -no-integrated-as flag in order to build the ctypes module (without the flag the rest of CPython will still build properly). Windows

The readme included in the solution has more details, especially on the software needed to resolve the below mentioned build errors.

Python 3.3 and later use Microsoft Visual Studio 2010. You can download Microsoft Visual C++ 2010 Express from Microsoft’s site. To use it for more than 28 days, one must register through a Windows Live account.

Most Python versions prior to 3.3 use Microsoft Visual Studio 2008. You can download Microsoft Visual C++ 2008 Express Edition with SP1 from a new location yet to be determined.

Regardless of Visual Studio version, the PCbuild directory of a source checkout contains the build files for the Python version you are building. The full version of Visual Studio is not necessary for common tasks with 32-bit builds; the gratis C++ Express versions linked above are sufficient. Their limitations are given here (2008) and here (2010).

To build from the Visual Studio GUI, open the pcbuild.sln solution file with Visual Studio. Choose the Build Solution option under the Build or Debug menu (depending on your version of Visual Studio). Be sure that “Debug” was chosen as the active solution configuration (e.g. under Build ‣ Configuration Manager...).

When building you may see a number of build errors related to missing files or directories. These do not necessarily mean that Python failed to build. If you prefer, you can exclude the offending projects from the build process by unchecking them inside the Build ‣ Configuration Manager... settings. You can also use the script Tools\buildbot\external.bat or Tools\buildbot\external-amd64.bat (as applicable) to download and compile missing dependencies.

Once built you might want to set Python as a startup project. Pressing F5 in Visual Studio, or choosing Start Debugging from the Debug menu, will launch the interpreter.

If you want to launch the compiled interpreter from the command-line, the path varies according to the build. For a 32-bit build in debug mode, you have to invoke PCBuild\python_d.exe, for a 64-bit build in debug mode, PCBuild\amd64\python_d.exe. If you are compiling in release mode (which you shouldn’t, in general), replace python_d.exe with python.exe.

1.1.4. Troubleshooting the build

This section lists some of the common problems that may arise during the compilation of Python, with proposed solutions. Avoiding re-creating auto-generated files

Under some circumstances you may encounter Python errors in scripts like Parser/asdl_c.py or Python/makeopcodetargets.py while running make. Python auto-generates some of its own code, and a full build from scratch needs to run the auto-generation scripts. However, this makes the Python build require an already installed Python interpreter; this can also cause version mismatches when trying to build an old (2.x) Python with a new (3.x) Python installed, or vice versa.

To overcome this problem, auto-generated files are also checked into the Mercurial repository. So if you don’t touch the auto-generation scripts, there’s no real need to auto-generate anything. However, as Mercurial doesn’t preserve timestamps well, a special build target touch was added. Run:

make touch

Before running the compilation make. This will tweak the timestamps of the auto-generated files in a way that makes it unnecessary to create them anew and henceforth the compilation should not require an installed Python interpreter.

1.2. Editors and Tools

Python is used widely enough that practically all code editors have some form of support for writing Python code. Various coding tools also include Python support.

For editors and tools which the core developers have felt some special comment is needed for coding in Python, see Additional Resources.

1.3. Directory Structure

There are several top-level directories in the CPython source tree. Knowing what each one is meant to hold will help you find where a certain piece of functionality is implemented. Do realize, though, there are always exceptions to every rule.

The official documentation. This is what http://docs.python.org/ uses. See also Building the documentation.
Contains the EBNF grammar file for Python.
Contains all interpreter-wide header files.
The part of the standard library implemented in pure Python.
Mac-specific code (e.g., using IDLE as an OS X application).
Things that do not belong elsewhere. Typically this is varying kinds of developer-specific documentation.
The part of the standard library (plus some other code) that is implemented in C.
Code for all built-in types.
Windows-specific code along with legacy build files for previously used versions of MSVC.
Build files for the version of MSVC currently used for the Windows installers provided on python.org.
Code related to the parser. The definition of the AST nodes is also kept here.
The code that makes up the CPython interpreter. This includes the compiler, eval loop and various built-in modules.
Various tools that are (or have been) used to maintain Python.