· cpython ctypes python object structure

Python list object representation


In the previous blog post we were looking at internal representation of Python string objects in memory.

In this article we’ll delve into the C-level details and read the internals of another Python data type - a list.

NOTE: All examples in this post are specific to CPython (Python 3.9) implementation so there is no guarantee that these structures won’t change in future releases. The results may also vary in case of a different platforms and their data models (LP64 or LLP64).

The PyListObject is defined in cpython/Include/cpython/listobject.h file and has the following structure:

typedef struct {
    /* Vector of pointers to list elements.  list[0] is ob_item[0], etc. */
    PyObject **ob_item;

    /* ob_item contains space for 'allocated' elements.  The number
     * currently in use is ob_size.
     * Invariants:
     *     0 <= ob_size <= allocated
     *     len(list) == ob_size
     *     ob_item == NULL implies ob_size == allocated == 0
     * list.sort() temporarily sets allocated to -1 to detect mutations.
     * Items must normally not be NULL, except during construction when
     * the list is not yet visible outside the function that builds it.
    Py_ssize_t allocated;
} PyListObject;

The ob_item structure member holds pointers to the elements of the list and we’ll use ctypes module to re-create the structs in Python:

#!/usr/bin/env python3

import ctypes
import sys

lst = ["red", "blue", "green"]

class PyListObject(ctypes.Structure):
    _fields_ = [
        ("ob_refcnt", ctypes.c_long),
        ("ob_type", ctypes.c_void_p),
        ("ob_size", ctypes.c_long),
        ("ob_item", ctypes.POINTER(ctypes.c_void_p)),
        ("allocated", ctypes.c_long),

class PyUnicodeObject(ctypes.Structure):
    _fields_ = [
        ("ob_refcnt", ctypes.c_long),
        ("ob_type", ctypes.c_void_p),
        ("length", ctypes.c_ssize_t),
        ("hash", ctypes.c_ssize_t),
        ("interned", ctypes.c_uint, 2),
        ("kind", ctypes.c_uint, 3),
        ("compact", ctypes.c_uint, 1),
        ("ascii", ctypes.c_uint, 1),
        ("ready", ctypes.c_uint, 1),

def main():
    pylist_obj = PyListObject.from_address(id(lst))

    for idx, s in enumerate(lst):
        addr = pylist_obj.ob_item[idx]
        pyunicode_obj = PyUnicodeObject.from_address(addr)
        s_mem = ctypes.string_at(addr, sys.getsizeof(s))

            f"{s_mem[-len(s) - 1 : -1].decode()}",
            f"length: {pyunicode_obj.length}",
            f"hash: {pyunicode_obj.hash} ({hash(s)})",

if __name__ == "__main__":

So, in the example above we read directly from the underlying PyObject objects:

$ python test.py
red length: 3 hash: -2831683529608114332 (-2831683529608114332)
blue length: 4 hash: -1701992703184244183 (-1701992703184244183)
green length: 5 hash: -1362686309841740019 (-1362686309841740019)