Frozen Binaries

Sometimes when people ask for a "real" Python compiler, what they're really seeking is simply a way to generate standalone binary executables from their Python programs. This is more a packaging and shipping idea than an execution-flow concept, but it's somewhat related. With the help of third-party tools that you can fetch off the Web, it is possible to turn your Python programs into true executables, known as frozen binaries in the Python world.

Frozen binaries bundle together the byte code of your program files, along with the PVM (interpreter) and any Python support files your program needs, into a single package. There are some variations on this theme, but the end result can be a single binary executable program (e.g., an .exe file on Windows) that can easily be shipped to customers. In Figure 2-2, it is as though the byte code and PVM are merged into a single component—a frozen binary file.

Today, three primary systems are capable of generating frozen binaries: py2exe (for Windows), PyInstaller (which is similar to py2exe but also works on Linux and Unix and is capable of generating self-installing binaries), and freeze (the original). You may have to fetch these tools separately from Python itself, but they are available free of charge. They are also constantly evolving, so consult or your favorite web search engine for more on these tools. To give you an idea of the scope of these systems, py2exe can freeze standalone programs that use the tkinter, PMW, wxPython, and PyGTK GUI libraries; programs that use the pygame game programming toolkit; win32com client programs; and more.

Frozen binaries are not the same as the output of a true compiler—they run byte code through a virtual machine. Hence, apart from a possible startup improvement, frozen binaries run at the same speed as the original source files. Frozen binaries are not small (they contain a PVM), but by current standards they are not unusually large either. Because Python is embedded in the frozen binary, though, it does not have to be installed on the receiving end to run your program. Moreover, because your code is embedded in the frozen binary, it is more effectively hidden from recipients.

This single file-packaging scheme is especially appealing to developers of commercial software. For instance, a Python-coded user interface program based on the tkinter toolkit can be frozen into an executable file and shipped as a self-contained program on a CD or on the Web. End users do not need to install (or even have to know about) Python to run the shipped program.

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