What is the best way to convert an expression to a string in a reversible manner?

I need a toStr function so that it is always true that

ToExpression@toStr[expr] === expr

ToString is not satisfactory because it may use special, irreversible formatting. Example:

(* "-Graphics-" *)

In this case the problem is that it uses OutputForm by default. Requesting InputForm would solve this. But then consider

Format[x, InputForm] = "foo"

ToString[x, InputForm]
(* "foo" *)

x does exist as a proper expression in-memory. It can be written to disk by exporting to MX and then reliably re-imported. I am looking for the same functionality, but through strings.

Note: I am aware that there are some expressions which can't be safely cycled through a string, or even through Compress or through MathLink. An example would be

asc = <| a -> 1|>
a = 5;

(* <| a -> 1|> *)

ToExpression@ToString[asc]  (* or use Uncompress@Compress[...] if you like *)
(* <| 5 -> 1 |> *)

I am not aiming to solve these types of difficulties, which are separate from my main problem.

  • $\begingroup$ Related: "How to convert arbitrary raw boxes directly into String?" $\endgroup$ Aug 24, 2016 at 12:28
  • $\begingroup$ InputForm does not actually solve this completely, as it returns "Graphics[{Circle[{0, 0}]}]" $\endgroup$
    – Feyre
    Aug 24, 2016 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Feyre That's due to Circle[] evaluating to Circle[{0,0}]. I changed the example to read Circle[{0,0}] to avoid misunderstanding. I do not need to prevent evaluation, just to cycle an expression through a string reliably. $\endgroup$
    – Szabolcs
    Aug 24, 2016 at 12:53
  • $\begingroup$ How about a cases structure, where it can evaluate to ToString[HoldForm[a]] if necessary? $\endgroup$
    – Feyre
    Aug 24, 2016 at 12:56
  • $\begingroup$ Can using "ExpressionJSON" help? For example, str=ExportString[Graphics[{Circle[{0, 0}]}], "ExpressionJSON", "Compact" -> True] then ImportString[#,"ExpressionJSON"]&@str. $\endgroup$
    – chuy
    Aug 24, 2016 at 18:06

1 Answer 1


This may fail in some obvious way, but it works on the example you give

toStr = ToString@*FullForm

For example with the following

testcases = {Graphics[{Circle[{0, 0}]}], Series[Sin[x], {x, 0, 3}], Integrate[f[x], x]}

I have

strs = toStr/@testcases
results = ToExpression /@ strs
testcases === results
(* True *)

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