tyler butler

How To Install Python, pip, and virtualenv on Windows with PowerShell

Updated October 7, 2014

If you do any Python development, you’ll probably run into an awful lot of package installation instructions that read:

To install, use pip:

pip install engineer

Now, that’s all fine and dandy, but what is pip? And what is this virtualenv thing people keep telling me I should use?

If you’re new to Python, getting up and running with pip and virtualenv can be a challenge, especially on Windows. Many guides I’ve seen out there assume either a) you’re working on Linux or UNIX or b) you already have pip/setuptools installed, or you know how to install packages and manage virtualenv. Heck, when I was learning this I didn’t even know what pip was! Having gone through this process several times now, I decided to write it all down from the beginning in the hopes that it’ll be useful to someone in the future.

Before We Start

A brief note before we start… To make sure we’re all on the same page, pip is a Python package installer. It integrates with PyPI, the Python Package Index, and lets you download and install a package from the package index without manually downloading the package, uncompressing it, running python setup.py install etc. Pip makes installing libraries for your Python environment a breeze, and when you start developing your own packages it provides a way for you to declare dependencies so those dependent packages will get installed automatically as well.

The more Python development you do, though, the more packages you’re going to need. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could install all the packages into a ‘special’ location where they wouldn’t interfere with any other packages? This is where virtualenv comes in. It creates a virtual Python interpreter and isolates any packages installed for that interpreter from others on the system. There are lots of ways this comes in handy; I’ll leave enumerating them as an exercise for the reader, but if you think for a minute you can see why this will come in handy. And if you can’t yet, then give yourself a few weeks of Python development, then come back and look at this post again once you realize you need to use virtualenv.

Finally, there’s a wrapper utility for virtualenv aptly called virtualenvwrapper. This wrapper makes creating new virtual environments and switching between them really straightforward. Unfortunately, it relies on a UNIX shell, which is kind of a pain on Windows. Luckily there’s a PowerShell clone of the wrapper that works wonderfully and gives us Windows users the same kind of awesomeness that we’ve come to expect from PowerShell.

So with the definitions out of the way, let’s get started…

Ensure You Can Execute PowerShell Scripts

For the most part, this guide assumes you’ve actually used PowerShell a few times and know how to run scripts. If that’s not the case, though, then the very first thing you’ll want to do is enable scripts to run on your system using the Set-ExecutionPolicy command. There’s a great article on TechNet that covers this in detail, so I won’t go into detail here. You can also skip this step for now if you want. Just read that article if you run into the following error message at any point:

...cannot be loaded because the execution of scripts is disabled on
this system. Please see "get-help about_signing" for more details.

Get Python

First things first – get Python! You can get the Python 2.7.8 (the current Python 2.x version as of this writing) 32-bit installer from https://www.python.org/downloads/windows/. There is a 64-bit version of Python as well, but I have personally found it to be more hassle than it’s worth. Some packages won’t have 64-bit versions available, and I personally haven’t found any need for the 64-bit version in any project I’ve worked on. Feel free to go with the 64-bit version if you’d like, but this guide assumes you’re using the 32-bit one.

Recent Python installers include an explicit option to add C:\Python27\ to your path. I find checking that option to be the easiest thing to do, and it’s generally what you want. It’s not selected by default, though, so watch for it and enable it if you want. If you don’t do that, and you need to do it manually later, the Using Python on Windows documentation includes more details.

Unfortunately, the installer does not add the Scripts (i.e. C:\Python27\Scripts) subdirectory, which is also really needed, since that’s where pip will end up being installed. So even if you check that box chances are you’ll need to edit your path anyway.

Once you’ve installed Python, open up a PowerShell window and type python and press enter. You should see something like this:

PS C:\> python
Python 2.7.8 (default, Jun 30 2014, 16:03:49) [MSC v.1500 32 bit (Intel)] on win32
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>>

Press Ctrl-Z and hit return to exit the Python prompt. If you get an error when you type python saying “The term ‘foo’ is not recognized as the name of a cmdlet, function, script file, or operable program,” then Python is not on your path. Add it first, and once your path is updated, restart PowerShell to ensure the new path is loaded and try typing python again. You should be good to go!

Get Pip

Note: Previous versions of this guide included a step to download and install Distribute. That is no longer needed; just get pip.

The easiest way to install pip is to download the get-pip.py script, save it locally, then run it using Python.

PS C:\> python get-pip.py
Downloading/unpacking pip
Downloading/unpacking setuptools
Installing collected packages: pip, setuptools
Successfully installed pip setuptools
Cleaning up...
PS C:\>

There are other ways to get pip, but this is the easiest way I have found. There are more details on this at the pip website. To check if everything is working, just type pip at the command line:

PS C:\> pip

Usage:
  pip <command> [options]

If you get another “command is not recognized” error, check that C:\Python27\Scripts\ is on your path.

Install virtualenv and virtualenvwrapper-powershell

Pip should now be installed, so type the following commands to get virtualenv and the PowerShell virtualenvwrapper installed:

PS C:\> pip install virtualenv
PS C:\> pip install virtualenvwrapper-powershell

Now you need to import the wrapper module in PowerShell, so type Import-Module virtualenvwrapper. You will probably get one of two errors – or both. The first will be something like this:

PS C:\> Import-Module virtualenvwrapper
Get-Content : Cannot find path 'Function:\TabExpansion' because it does not exist.

Unfortunately that’s a bug in the current released version (12.7.8) of virtualenvwrapper-powershell. It doesn’t actually cause any problems in practice as far as I know. It seems to have been fixed in the project but the fix hasn’t made it into a released version yet. I don’t know why; I’m not involved with the project.

The other error you might see will say something like this:

Virtualenvwrapper: Virtual environments directory 
'C:\Users\tyler/.virtualenvs' does not exist. Create it or 
set $env:WORKON_HOME to an existing directory.

Well, at least you know you’re on the right track! Do exactly what the message says: create the missing directory.

mkdir '~\.virtualenvs'

You might also want to change the location to store your virtual environments. To do that, set the $env:WORKON_HOME variable to wherever you want to store them. I generally stick with the default of ~\.virtualenvs though. Whatever you do, remember this location; it will come in handy.

Now try to import the module again. Success! Now you have access to a bunch of virtualenv management commands directly in PowerShell. To see all of them, you can type:

PS C:\> Get-Command *virtualenv*

CommandType     Name                                               ModuleName
-----------     ----                                               ----------
Alias           cdvirtualenv -> CDIntoVirtualEnvironment           virtualenvwrapper
Alias           cpvirtualenv -> Copy-VirtualEnvironment            virtualenvwrapper
Alias           lsvirtualenv -> Get-VirtualEnvironment             virtualenvwrapper
Alias           mkvirtualenv -> New-VirtualEnvironment             virtualenvwrapper
Alias           rmvirtualenv -> Remove-VirtualEnvironment          virtualenvwrapper
Alias           setvirtualenvproject -> Set-VirtualEnvProject      support
Function        add2virtualenv                                     virtualenvwrapper
Function        CDIntoVirtualEnvironment                           virtualenvwrapper
Function        Copy-VirtualEnvironment                            virtualenvwrapper
Function        Get-VirtualEnvironment                             virtualenvwrapper
Function        New-VirtualEnvironment                             virtualenvwrapper
Function        New-VirtualEnvProject                              support
Function        Remove-VirtualEnvironment                          virtualenvwrapper
Function        Set-VirtualEnvironment                             virtualenvwrapper
Function        Set-VirtualEnvProject                              support
Function        showvirtualenv                                     virtualenvwrapper
Function        VerifyVirtualEnv                                   support
Application     virtualenv.exe
Application     virtualenv-2.7.exe
Application     virtualenv-clone.exe

You’ll see that there are a bunch of nice PowerShell style cmdlets, like New-VirtualEnvironment, but there are also aliases set up mapping those cmdlets to commands you might be more familiar with, like mkvirtualenv. Of course you also get regular PowerShell tab completion for these cmdlets and aliases.

Managing virtualenvs

Now that we have virtualenv installed, let’s make a new virtualenv:

New-VirtualEnvironment engineer

Replace engineer with whatever you want to call your virtualenv. I usually name it after the project I plan to use that virtualenv for, but whatever you want works.

After the command completes, you should see a PowerShell prompt that looks like this:

(engineer)PS C:\>

The (engineer) prepended to your prompt reminds you that you’re currently working within that virtualenv. If you type workon now you should see the available virtualenvs, and if you type workon name_of_another_virtualenv you’ll flip to that environment.

PS C:\> workon

PathInfo         Name          PathToScripts                 PathToSitePackages
--------         ----          -------------                 ------------------
engineer         engineer      C:\Users\tyler\.virtuale...   C:\Users\tyler\.virtuale...

Install Packages with pip

Now that your virtual environments are configured, you can install packages into them using pip. Open a PowerShell prompt, type workon name_of_virtualenv and then type pip install package_name. There are also a couple of additional pip commands that might be useful to know. If you have a project with lots of package requirements, it might have come with (or you might have written) a requirements file (often called requirements.txt). To have pip load all of the packages in that file, type:

PS C:\> pip install -r path_to_requirements_file

Also, you might have downloaded a package’s source manually that has a setup.py file in it. You can have pip install that for you by typing:

PS C:\> pip install -e path_to_source

The -e option can also check out source directly from a Mercurial, Git, Subversion, or Bazaar repository and install a package from there.

Automatically Importing the virtualenvwrapper PowerShell Module

You might notice at some point – probably once you open a new PowerShell prompt – that you can no longer use the workon and New-VirtualEnvironment commands. Well, silly, you forgot to import the virtualenvwrapper module! Now, you could just import it and move on with your life, but that’s going to get annoying really quickly, so you can configure your PowerShell profile so that the module is loaded every time you open up a PowerShell window. First, though, you’re going to need to find your profile. To make matters a bit more confusing, there are actually several profiles that PowerShell uses. But only one or two of them are really relevant to us. To see all the profiles available to you, type:

PS C:\> $profile | Format-List * -Force

AllUsersAllHosts       : C:\Windows\System32\WindowsPowerShell\v1.0\profile.ps1
AllUsersCurrentHost    : C:\Windows\System32\WindowsPowerShell\v1.0\Microsoft.PowerShell_profile.ps1
CurrentUserAllHosts    : C:\Users\tyler\Documents\WindowsPowerShell\profile.ps1
CurrentUserCurrentHost : C:\Users\tyler\Documents\WindowsPowerShell\Microsoft.PowerShell_profile.ps1
Length                 : 77

Looks like there are four available profile scripts, and based on their names, they all have different scopes. In our case, we probably want the CurrentUserAllHosts profile, since that will execute for us in every PowerShell instance. If you navigate to the location listed, there might not be a file there to edit. In that case, the following command will create a file there in the right format:

PS C:\> New-Item -Path $Profile.CurrentUserAllHosts -Type file -Force

Or you could just create a file in your favorite text editor and save it in that location (with the correct name, of course).

In that file, put the command you used to import the virtualenvwrapper modules earlier

Import-Module virtualenvwrapper

It’s worth noting that this file is just a regular PowerShell script, so you can put other stuff in it too, such as aliases you like to set up, etc. Anyway, once that’s done, save the file and open a new PowerShell window. Now the workon command and other virtualenv cmdlets should start functioning.

Configuring Your IDE

There is one final step to getting everything really ready for developing Python projects – setting up your IDE to use the appropriate virtualenv for your project. There are several different IDEs out there or you could just rock Notepad++. I personally like PyCharm a lot though; I use it almost exclusively for Python development.

If you are using PyCharm, version 2.5+ has built-in support for virtualenv. You can create virtual environments directly in PyCharm or you can import ones you created earlier using virtualenvwrapper. Personally I prefer the latter since virtualenvwrapper doesn’t pick up the environments created by PyCharm (so they don’t show up when you use the workon command, among another things).

Anyway, if you want to use an existing virtualenv, you’ll need to tell PyCharm about it. The PyCharm support site has details, but the key thing to know is that you need to point it to the python.exe inside your virtualenv‘s Scripts directory. In my case, the full path is C:\Users\tyler\.virtualenvs\engineer\Scripts\python.exe.

After all of that’s done you should be good to go! You can pop open a PowerShell window and create/switch to virtualenvs as needed and install packages using pip. At this point you should have most of what you need to follow the installation instructions for most Python packages (except those that require C extension compilation, but that’s a topic for another post).

This guide was last updated October 7, 2014. It was tested on a fresh Windows VM image. If you notice any errors or missing/out-of-date information, please let me know at: tyler AT tylerbutler DOT com.

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