Why is the use of an undefined name not a syntax error?

Devin Jeanpierre jeanpierreda at gmail.com
Sun Apr 1 18:05:43 EDT 2018

On Sun, Apr 1, 2018 at 2:38 PM, Chris Angelico <rosuav at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Mon, Apr 2, 2018 at 7:24 AM, David Foster <davidfstr at gmail.com> wrote:
>> My understanding is that the Python interpreter already has enough information when bytecode-compiling a .py file to determine which names correspond to local variables in functions. That suggests it has enough information to identify all valid names in a .py file and in particular to identify which names are not valid.
> It's not as simple as you think. Here's a demo. Using all of the
> information available to the compiler, tell me which of these names
> are valid and which are not:

This feels like browbeating to me. Just because a programmer finds it
hard to figure out manually, doesn't mean a computer can't do it
automatically. And anyway, isn't the complexity of reviewing such code
an argument in favor of automatic detection, rather than against?

For example, whether or not "except Exception:" raises an error
depends on what kind of scope we are in and what variable declarations
exist in this scope (in a global or class scope, all lookups are
dynamic and go up to the builtins, whereas in a function body this
would have resulted in an unbound local exception because it uses fast
local lookup). What a complex thing. But easy for a computer to
detect, actually -- it's right in the syntax tree (and bytecode) what
kind of lookup it is, and what paths lead to defining it, and a fairly
trivial control flow analysis would discover if it will always, never,
or sometimes raise a NameError -- in the absence of "extreme dynamism"
like mutating the builtins and so on. :(

Unfortunately, the extreme dynamism can't really be eliminated as a
possibility, and there's no rule that says "just because this will
always raise an exception, we can fail at compile-time instead". Maybe
a particular UnboundLocalError was on purpose, after all. Python
doesn't know.  So probably this can't ever sensibly be a compile
error, even if it's a fantastically useful lint warning.

-- Devin

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