Python Virtual Environments


Anyone who uses Python regularly will soon encounter the need to install an extra package be it MySQLdb, numpy or Django. Thanks to tools like pip and easy_install this is very trivial to do, as long as you have internet access from your command-line. Those of you behind corporate firewalls might want to try cntlm to help. Typically they will install the package into your home directory for only you to use. If you are root they will install into the system installation for all users to use. In both scenarios it is hard to mix and match multiple versions of packages. As a developer this becomes very important, I might want to try the lastest version of a package, but for my production code I want to remain on the stable release. The easiest way to manage this is using virtual environments. Virtualenv is a python package that allows you to manage multiple python instances with different combinations of packages. It is easy to mix python and package versions for development and production code. Virtualenv is great and has been extended with virtualenvwrappers, which adds even more functionality.

To get started run the following:

$ easy_install virtualenv
$ easy_install virtualenvwrappers  

Next you need to alter your environment slightly in ~/.bashrc or equivalent add:

export WORKON_HOME=$HOME/.virtualenvs
export PROJECT_HOME=$HOME/projects
export VIRTUALENVWRAPPER_VIRTUALENV=/usr/local/bin/virtualenv
source /usr/local/bin/

Fire up a new terminal or run source ~/.bashrc and the new commands are now available to you. Lets create our new virtual environment with  mkvirtualenv test. This creates and loads the new virtual environment called test. Your command prompt will indicate you are using test as well. Now run easy_install to install your packages. You can see what packages are available with lssitepackages. To leave this environment run deactivate. Create another environment and list your packages, there will be none. Switch back to test with workon test.

You can tie this virtual environment to Eclipse by pointing at the python for the test environment, which can be found at ~/.virtualenvs/test/bin/python.

See all the commands available for virtualenvwrappers at

Enjoy your new virtual python environments!

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