I posted this a while back on stackoverflow (too old to migrate though).

Say I am in the python interpreter and define a function as follows:

def h(a):
  return a

If I want to look at the bytecode (not a disassembly using dis), I can typically use h.func_code.co_code. Is there any other way to look at the bytecode? This particular application was packaged with a custom python interpreter (using py2exe probably) which removed access to co_code. I can't just look at the pyc file as they are encrypted.

For example, in the interpreter, if I just type h without making it a function call, I get the address of the function. Can I use that address to get the bytecode? Is there some other way?

P.S. My original goal in doing this at the time was to use pyREtic (which calls co_code) to decompile. Since it called co_code, it would fail to work. I figured out one way to do it which I will post as an answer eventually. Wanted to see what others have done or come up with.

  • Don't have access to a computer right now, but have you tried digging into the python source code to see what co_code does?
    – Avery3R
    Commented Apr 26, 2013 at 20:56
  • yeah, co_code is just a buffer that stores the bytecode of the given function.
    – mikeazo
    Commented Apr 26, 2013 at 20:59

2 Answers 2


First, just a small reminder about "what is co_code".

In Python, every element of the language (functions, methods, classes, ...) is defined and stored in an object. The co_code is one of the fields attached to the class used to represent a function or a method. Lets practice a bit with Python 2.7.

$> python2.7
Python 2.7.3 (default, Mar  4 2013, 14:57:34) 
[GCC 4.7.2] on linux2
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> def foo():
...     print('Hello World!')
>>> dir(foo.__code__)

['__class__', '__cmp__', '__delattr__', '__doc__', '__eq__', '__format__', '__ge__', 
 '__getattribute__', '__gt__', '__hash__', '__init__', '__le__', '__lt__', '__ne__', 
 '__new__',  '__reduce__', '__reduce_ex__', '__repr__', '__setattr__', '__sizeof__', 
 '__str__', '__subclasshook__', 'co_argcount', 'co_cellvars', 'co_code', 'co_consts', 
 'co_filename', 'co_firstlineno', 'co_flags', 'co_freevars', 'co_lnotab', 'co_name', 
 'co_names', 'co_nlocals', 'co_stacksize', 'co_varnames']
>>> foo.__code__.co_code

So, you can see that the co_code field contain the compiled bytecode of the function we just defined previously. In fact, it seems that co_code is just a buffer to store the compiled bytecode in a lazy manner. It is compiled only when it is accessed for the first time.

Assuming this, the co_code is just a unified helper to access the bytecode which might be stored in several forms. One form are the *.pyc files which are storing the compiled Python bytecode of a whole file. Another form is just the on-the-fly compilation of the function/method.

Nevertheless, there is a way to access directly the function/method definition and, thus, to the bytecode. The point is to intercept the Python process with gdb and analyze it. A few tutorials exists in the web about this (see here, here, here or here). But, here is a quick example (you need to install the python-gdb package first):

$> python2.7-dbg
Python 2.7.3 (default, Mar  4 2013, 14:27:19) 
[GCC 4.7.2] on linux2
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> def foo():
...     print('Hello World!')
[40809 refs]
>>> foo
<function foo at 0x1a5e1b0>
[40811 refs]
>>> foo.__code__.co_code
[40811 refs]
[1]+  Stopped                 python2.7-dbg

Then, you need to get the PID of the Python process and attach gdb on it.

$ gdb -p 5164
GNU gdb (GDB) 7.4.1-debian
Attaching to process 5164
Program received signal SIGTSTP, Stopped (user).
Reading symbols from /usr/bin/python2.7-dbg...done.
Reading symbols from /lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libpthread.so.0...
Reading symbols from /usr/lib/debug/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libpthread-2.13.so...done.
[Thread debugging using libthread_db enabled]
Using host libthread_db library "/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libthread_db.so.1".done.
(gdb) print *(PyFunctionObject*)0x1a5e1b0
$1 = {_ob_next = 0x187aca0, _ob_prev = 0x189dd08, ob_refcnt = 2, 
      ob_type = 0x87ce00, func_code = <code at remote 0x187aca0>, 
      func_globals = {'__builtins__': <module at remote 0x7f5ebcb5e470>,
      '__name__': '__main__', 'foo': <function at remote 0x1a5e1b0>, '__doc__': None, 
      '__package__': None}, func_defaults = 0x0, func_closure = 0x0, func_doc = None, 
      func_name = 'foo', func_dict = 0x0, func_weakreflist = 0x0, 
      func_module = '__main__'}
(gdb) print  (*(PyFunctionObject*)0x1a5e1b0)->func_name
$2 = 'foo'
(gdb) print (*(PyCodeObject*)0x187aca0)
$3 = {_ob_next = 0x18983a8, _ob_prev = 0x1a5e1b0, ob_refcnt = 1, ob_type = 0x872680, 
      co_argcount = 0, co_nlocals = 0, co_stacksize = 1, co_flags = 67,
      co_code = 'd\x01\x00GHd\x00\x00S', co_consts = (None, 'Hello World!'),
      co_names = (), co_varnames = (), co_freevars = (), co_cellvars = (),
      co_filename = '<stdin>', co_name = 'foo', co_firstlineno = 1,
      co_lnotab = '\x00\x01', co_zombieframe = 0x0, co_weakreflist = 0x0}
(gdb) print (*(PyCodeObject*)0x187aca0)->co_code
$4 = 'd\x01\x00GHd\x00\x00S'

So, here is the way to access directly the bytecode, given the address of the function.

Just to try to be complete, the best documentation I found on Python bytecode (and how to access it), is the Python code itself and especially the inspect module (2.7, 3.2). Try to look at it, it is quite instructive.

Another help you can use is the dis module that provide a disassembler for the Python bytecode. Here is an example of what can do this disassembler.

$> python2.7
Python 2.7.3 (default, Mar  4 2013, 14:57:34) 
[GCC 4.7.2] on linux2
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> def foo():
...     print("Hello World!")
>>> import dis
>>> dis.dis(foo)
  2           0 LOAD_CONST               1 ('Hello World!')
              3 PRINT_ITEM          
              4 PRINT_NEWLINE       
              5 LOAD_CONST               0 (None)
              8 RETURN_VALUE 
  • That's pretty cool! I'm not 100% sure this would have worked in the particular project I was working on as it had a custom python interpreter that I probably couldn't install the gdb bindings for. Still a great technique nonetheless. Thanks for sharing!
    – mikeazo
    Commented Apr 27, 2013 at 19:14

perror's answer I think is the correct way to do it. I wanted to post the way I ended up doing this for other's sake just in case the issue I mentioned in my comment to perror's answer is correct. I don't have all my notes with me right now and will update if necessary.

Basically I ran the program in gdb, set a break point in PyObject_New (or possibly PyObject_Init). I set the break point near the end of the function so that the object would be created. From there I was able to look into the object in memory to extract the byte code.

To get this info back to pyREtic, I dumped function names and bytecode to a file from within GDB, modified pyREtic so that instead of calling co_code to get the bytecode, it would extract it from the file.

Like I said, it has been a while now (the stackoverflow question was from Sept 2012). I'll look back over my notes and fill in the details.

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