Recursive descent algorithm able to parse Python?

Michael ms at
Thu Sep 28 22:00:14 CEST 2006

seberino at wrote:

> I'm a compiler newbie and curious if Python grammar is able to
> be parsed by a recursive descent parser or if it requires
> a more powerful algorithm.

Python is relatively simple to parse using a recursive descent parser. If
you're rolling your own as a learning exercise, the grammar for python is
included in one of the top level directories of the source distribution for

The one area that is slightly different from usual is the emitting of INDENT
and DEDENT tokens by the lexer due to handling of whitespace. But that's
not really that complex either.

A couple of years ago I decided to see what it would be like to try to parse
a python-like language with no keywords and to see if you could do it test
first (for fun :). If you do this, you discover the grammar is very short
but you need terminator tokens to close if..elif...elif...else... like
statements (eg if..elif...elif...else...end,

I put that code up here: if you're curious.
That and the python grammar file should probably help you roll your own
parser. (It emits an AST that assumes everything is a function. I was
pondering giving it a lisp backend or transforming to lisp but never
got a round tuit)

If however you're doing this because you're not aware of the compiler
module, it's worth knowing that compiler.parse is a pretty useful
function :-)


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