This article outlines how to set up a Python development environment, and introduces tools to aid development work. This article is intended for those who are unfamiliar with Python, but have experience using a text editor and the command line. The Python language itself is not covered.
Python can be installed in the following ways:
Mac (assumes Homebrew is installed):
$ brew install python
Windows: download and run the installer.
$ sudo apt-get install python $ sudo yum install python
For more information on installing Python, check this guide.
Running Python Code
An interactive Python interpreter can be brought up by typing
python into your
terminal. This starts a Python REPL (Read–eval–print loop) which executes each
command as it is entered and displays the result:
>> print "hello" hello >> 1 + 1 2
To exit the interpreter, type
exit() and press
While the interpreter is useful for testing out ideas, Python will mostly be used by writing programs and running them.
Python programs are a file or set of files when contain a series of python commands. Python programs can be run from the cli using the syntax:
$ python <path/to/python_file>
$ ls program.py $ cat program.py print "hello" $ python program.py hello
Packages in Python are managed by the tool
pip is a recursive acronym
which stands for “pip installs packages”. Pip should be installed alongside
Windows and Mac Brew installations of Python. Pip can be installed on linux with
To install a package, run:
$ pip install <package_name>
Python has a rich collection of packages, and before implementing something, it’s worth Googling to see if it’s been done before. Packages are listed on the Python Package Index.
For example, the library requests can be installed by running:
$ pip install requests
To see what packages have been installed, run:
$ pip freeze requests==2.11.1
To uninstall a package, run:
$ pip uninstall requests
When writing new programs, the latest version should usually be used. In the pip commands above, pip downloaded the latest version of that package, as no version number was specified. There are however, some times when a particular package version should be installed. This can be done with:
$ pip install <package_name>==<version_number>
$ pip install requests==2.0.0
The packages required by a program are conventionally added to a file named
requirements.txt. This allows other developers to install all requirements
with a single command:
$ pip install -r requirements.txt
pip, packages are installed globally for the user in question. This
can cause problems if two separate programs require different versions of the
same package. For example, a developer could be simultaneously working on two
programs, A and B. Program A may depend on the package
requests version 0.9,
whereas B depends on
requests version 1.3, where versions 0.9 and 1.3 of
requests are incompatible. To work on A, the developer must install v0.9. To
switch over and work on B requires the developer to
pip uninstall requests and
pip install requests==1.3. The opposite process must be performed to switch
back to working on A.
Virtual environments allow Python packages to be installed non-globally. This
allows the above developer to work on A and B simultaneously without having to
uninstall and reinstall
requests. Virtual environments work by installing
packages to a folder specified by the user, rather than the global folder.
Virtual environments are managed by the tool
virtualenv. This can be installed
$ pip install virtualenv
A virtualenv can be created with:
$ virtualenv <name of virtualenv>
Virtual environments are conventionally named
venv, and are created with:
$ virtualenv venv
Running this command will create a new folder named
venv. For a virtualenv to
work, it must be activated:
$ source venv/bin/activate.sh
When a virtual environment is activated, it prepends the name of the environment
to XXX. When a virual env is activated, all packages which are pip installed are
Using virtual environments is best practice, and should always be done.
Styling code in a common, expected way should be done to improve its readability. Multiple tools exist for doing this, one of which is outlined here.
Flake8 is a CLI tool which checks code for compliance with two documents, PEP8 and PyFlakes. Flake8 can be installed with pip:
$ pip install flake8
Flake8 can lint a python file with:
$ flake8 <file>.py
Flake8 can lint all python files in a directory its subdirectories with:
$ flake8 <directory>
Flake8 can also be added as a plugin to most text editors, so it checks code as it is written.
Compliance with Flake8 is best practice, and all Python code should do so.
For example, the following code has too many blank lines between the two
$ cat demo.py print "hello" print "world" $ flake8 demo.py demo.py:5:1: E303 too many blank lines (3)
When code isn’t running as it is supposed to, it is useful to check the state of
variables in the broken section of code. This can be done by printing out
variables, but it can be quicker to do this using a debugger. The builtin
debugger is named
pdb is often used through the function
As a program is executed, when the function
set_trace() is called, execution
is paused, and the user is dropped into an interactive REPL session. From this
session, the user has access to all variables which in scope at the line where
set_trace() has been added. For example:
# debug.py import pdb def func(): a = 10 pdb.set_trace()
Running this code:
$ python debug.py --Return-- > /private/tmp/t/debug.py(6)func()->None -> pdb.set_trace() (Pdb) (Pdb) print a 10
After debugging is done, the user can continue the execution of the program by
c, which stands for continue.