[Python-ideas] CapPython's use of unbound methods

Mark Seaborn mrs at mythic-beasts.com
Sun Mar 29 23:57:03 CEST 2009

Guido van Rossum <guido at python.org> wrote:

> On Thu, Mar 19, 2009 at 4:12 PM, Mark Seaborn <mrs at mythic-beasts.com> wrote:
> > Guido van Rossum <guido at python.org> wrote:
> >> > Guido said, "I don't understand where the function object f gets its
> >> > magic powers".
> >> >
> >> > The answer is that function definitions directly inside class
> >> > statements are treated specially by the verifier.
> >>
> >> Hm, this sounds like a major change in language semantics, and if I
> >> were Sun I'd sue you for using the name "Python" in your product. :-)
> >
> > Damn, the makers of Typed Lambda Calculus had better watch out for
> > legal action from the makers of Lambda Calculus(tm) too... :-)  Is it
> > really a major change in semantics if it's just a subset? ;-)
> Well yes. The empty subset is also a subset. :-)

As a side note, it is interesting to compare CapPython to ECMAScript
3.1's strict mode, which, as I understand it, changes the semantics of
ECMAScript's attribute access such that doing X.A when X does not have
an attribute A raises an exception rather than returning undefined.

Since existing Javascript implementations lack this feature, Cajita (a
fail-stop subset of Javascript, part of the Caja project) has to go to
some lengths to emulate it.  This seems to be the main reason that
Cajita rewrites Javascript code, to add attribute existence checks.

Fortunately CapPython does not have to make this kind of semantic

Interestingly, in Javascript is is easier to add this kind of change
on a per-module basis than in Python, because dynamic attribute access
in Javascript is done via a builtin syntax (x[a]) rather than via a
function (getattr in Python).

However, CPython's restricted execution mode (which Tav is proposing
to resurrect) does change the semantics of attribute access.  It's not
yet clear to me how this works, and how it applies to the getattr
function.  I suspect it involves looking up the stack.

> More seriously, IIUC you are disallowing all use of attribute names
> starting with underscores, which not only invalidates most Python
> code in practical use (though you might not care about that) but
> also disallows the use of many features that are considered part of
> the language, such as access to __dict__ and many other
> introspective attributes.

This is true.  I'm not claiming that a lot of Python code will pass
the verifier.  It might not accept all idiomatic code; I'm just
claiming that code using encapsulated objects under CapPython can
still be idiomatic.

We could probably allow reading self.__dict__ safely in CapPython.

The term "introspection" covers a lot of language features.  Some are
OK in an object-capability language and some are not.

For example, some might consider dir() to be an introspective feature,
and this function is fine if suitably wrapped.

x.__class__.__name__ is a common idiom.  Although we can't allow
x.__class__ on its own, we could provide a get_class_name function and
rewrite "x.__class__.__name__" to "get_class_name(x)".

"type(x) is C" is another common idiom.  Again, CapPython doesn't
provide type() but it can provide a type_is() function:
def type_is(x, t):
    return type(x) is t

The "locals" builtin is not something CapPython can allow in general.
Any function that can look up the stack in this way is potentially
dangerous.  But it might be OK to allow "locals()", i.e. the case
where "locals" is called as a function and not used as a first class
value.  I would prefer not to have to do that though.

> > To some extent the verifier's check of only accessing private
> > attributes through self is just checking a coding style that I already
> > follow when writing Python code (except sometimes for writing test
> > cases).
> You might wish this to be true, but for most Python programmers, it
> isn't. Introspection is a commonly-used part of the language (probably
> more so than in Java). So is the use of attribute names starting with
> a single underscore outside the class tree, e.g. by "friend"
> functions.

The friend function pattern is an example of something that CapPython
could support, with some extra notation in order to make it explicit.
It is a case of what is known as rights amplification in capability

Here's an example of how I envisage it would work in CapPython:

class C(object):
    def _get_foo(self):
        return self._foo
_get_foo = C._get_foo

Although C._get_foo would normally be rejected, the verifier would
allow reading C._get_foo immediately after the class definition as a
special case.  The resulting _get_foo function would only be able to
operate on instances of C (assuming the presence of unbound methods in
the language).

> > Of course some of the verifier's checks, such as only allowing
> > attribute assignments through self, are a lot more draconian than
> > coding style checks.
> That also sounds like a rather serious hindrance to writing Python as
> most people think of it.

Attribute assignment is something that we could handle by rewriting.
For example,

  x.y = z

could be rewritten to

  x.set_attribute("y", z)

x's class definition would have to declare that attribute y is
assignable.  The problem with attribute assignment in Python as it
stands is that it is opt-out.  Attributes can be made read-only (by
using "property" or defining __setattr__), but this is not the

> > Whether these function definitions are accepted by the verifier
> > depends on their context.
> But this isn't.
> Are you saying that the verifier accepts the use of self._foo in a
> method?


> That would make the scenario of potentially passing a class
> defined by Alice into Bob's code much harder to verify -- now suddenly
> Alice has to know about a lot of things before she can be sure that
> she doesn't leave open a backdoor for Bob.

In most cases Alice would not want Bob to extend classes that she has
defined, so she would not give Bob access to the unwrapped class
objects.  She would just give Bob the constructor.  If Alice wants to
be sure that she does that, she can add a decorator to all her class

def constructor_only(klass):
    def wrapper(*args, **kwargs):
        return klass(*args, **kwargs)
    return wrapper

class C(object):

(However, this assumes that class decorators are available, and
CapPython does not support Python 2.6 yet.)

> > The default environment doesn't provide the real getattr() function.
> > It provides a wrapped version that rejects private attribute names.
> Do you have a web page describing the precise list of limitations you
> apply in your "subset" of Python?

I started some wiki pages to explain the verifier rules and which
builtins are allowed, blocked or wrapped:
I hope that will make things clearer.

> Does it support import of some form?

Yes, it supports import:

The safeeval module allows callers to provide their own __import__
function when evalling code.


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