Pyret Summer Updates 2021

We’ve been working on a few improvements and new features in Pyret that you’ll surely notice!

  • A UI refresh
  • Reduced Google Drive permissions
  • All of the image library functions available in new programs by default
  • A new language feature — a way to control the names in programs based on the modules work deployed last year

There should be no backwards incompatibilities in this release, which is kind of the point (see below about how we define and accomplish that).

UI Refresh

The most immediate thing you’ll notice when visiting is the UI work of Adam Solove. We think the page is cleaner and easier to navigate, and a number of menus and dialogs have either had bugs fixed or gotten more readable layouts. This means a more consistent, thoughtful design across the whole interface.

These are just a few places where the consistent, clutter-free and familiar style has been applied.

Updated, Reduced Google Drive Permissions

Pyret used to have a permissions screen that asked for access to users’ entire Google Drive and all images and spreadsheets. These broad permissions were needed to make the “Insert Image” button work on a wide variety of default browser settings, to allow users to import spreadsheets of data that they owned but were not public, and to allow to find Pyret files in Drive that weren’t created in

We’ve long heard from teachers and students that they’d prefer giving as little access to as possible (and we agree with them). As time has gone on, we’ve realized these use cases and settings are rare and concentrated in experienced users, and we’ve found technical solutions to enable all of the common use cases without broad permissions. We’ve happily reached a point where there is little reason to ask all incoming users for these broad permissions when a smaller set will do.

To that end, we’ve reduced the set of default permissions that asks for to just “Connect itself to your Google Drive” and “See, edit, create, and delete only the specific Google Drive files you use with this app.”

For users who need the more advanced uses, under the Pyret menu there’s a new option to “Enable Full Google Access” which connects to Google Drive with the larger set of permissions. You may want to use the larger permission set if:

  • You rely on a workflow that involves putting Pyret files into your Google Drive in some way other than creating them yourself through (for example, students share files with you and you’d like to see those files on your homepage, or you collaborate on a non-public library file with others and want to import it with my-gdrive)
  • You want to work with private spreadsheets saved in your drive that haven’t been made public
  • You have certain security options enabled in your browser and want to insert images from your Drive – in particular if you have “3rd party cookies” disabled, the “Insert” button for images cannot work without broader permissions.

Images Available without include in New Programs

Many curricula that use Pyret have early exercises involving images. This means that an early step many students need to perform is writing include image at the top of their program. This can be an onerous extra step.

When you start a blank program in now, you’ll see a line that says use context essentials2021. This makes it so that the image library is included by default into that program (this has some other positive consequences, detailed below). In addition, all of lists is included, which had some previous inconsistencies in which functions were provided by the module versus the default environment.

We can do this in a backwards-compatible way because of a new feature, use context.

A New Feature – Contexts

Programming languages aren’t useful without some functionality provided “out of the box.” To that end, most languages have some names of built-in functions and values defined for the programmer without the programmer having to type any extra import or include statements; Pyret is no different. We call this set of names the default environment or the default context.

Pyret has had roughly the same default environment for a long time, with only a handful of names added. Because Pyret is particular about shadowing, we risk breaking folks’ code each time we we add a new name!

We designed a combined language feature and user interface solution to get around this (that hopefully reflects some lessons from other languages, like Racket’s #lang line). The new feature is that programs can write, as the first line:

use context <some-module>

where <some-module> is anything that could be used with import or include. The key difference between use context and include is that only the names from that module are included, rather than being added to the default context.

From now on, new programs created in will use the context we’ve designed to be up to date and useful for the current academic year. It still won’t change much, but it will reflect additions to the standard library and new libraries used by broadly-used curricula. Crucially, for backwards compatibility:

  • The use context line is saved as part of the file. This means that if you have a program you saved in 2021, and you reopen it in or import it in 2023, it will still have the use context essentials2021 line it originally had, which will have all the right names from that time.
  • Programs without a use context line will act just as they did before. (In fact, they will be using a context called essentials2020 behind the scenes which has exactly the context had before this update).

Finally, use context doesn’t just work with our built-in modules, it works with any module you’ve made. So you can publish a file and have students use it as a context to design your own environment for them. More documentation and examples are in the use documentation.


This release includes contributions from Adam Solove, Raj Paul, Thomas Castleman, Joe Gibbs Politz, and Benjamin S. Lerner.