Virtualenv Tips

Virtualenv is a project that is indispensable for most Python devs these days. I am writing down some tips here so mainly for personal reference, and because I found them useful.

Virtualenv & Upstart

For my ReadTheDocs project, I was wanting to run celery as a background process that processes documentation building. I’m running Ubuntu, so their built-in upstart service seems like a logical choice. I really like upstart because of it’s simple configuration, but it is rather undocumented (this Stanzas) page is a useful starting point).

Carl Meyer pointed out to me that in order to get inside the context of a virtualenv, you don’t need to munge your pythonpath or anything, but simply run the correct script from inside the virtualenv. So a simple /path/to/virtualenv/bin/ celeryd was all that was needed to get inside the virtualenv’s context.

This also true of the python executable inside your python directory. /path/to/virtualenv/bin/python will allow you to run any python script inside of that virtualenv’s context.

I also wanted to be running my jobs as the user for that site, so sudo is the correct tool for that. The final file ended up looking like this:

description "Celery for ReadTheDocs"

start on runlevel [2345]
stop on runlevel [!2345]
#Send KILL after 20 seconds
kill timeout 20

exec sudo -i -u docs celeryd -f /home/docs/sites/ -c 2 -B
end script


The only other interesting bit there is the -i option to sudo, which means it will run the command as a login shell, picking up the environment for the user. This means it has the correct path and everything set, so that works without an explicit PATH.

Adding site-packages in after initial creation

Frank Wiles ran into this problem on IRC, where he wanted to add in the site-packages after creating a virtualenv with --no-site-packages. It turns out to be really simple, in that you only have to remove the no-global-site-packages.txt in the lib/python2.x directory inside the virtualenv. After that virtualenv will go ahead and fallback to the global site packages happily.

I’d imagine this would work the other way as well, if you want to not have your site-packages included, you could add this file into your virtualenv.

Use virtualenvwrapper

Virtualenvwrapper is a nice set of extensions around virtualenv. It gives you handy command line helpers, like workon which autocompletes the names of your virtualenv’s. It has its own Tips and Tricks page that has some neat ideas about how to improve your virtualenv experience.

Deploying Virtualenv

Deploying with virtualenv and apache has been well covered. I recommend this Caktus post that gives some good examples.

The main idea however, is that you make sure your the virtualenv’s pythonpath is on your pythonpath, or that you are running the virtualenv’s python when you run your webserver. For apache, in your wsgi file, you generally do something like:

site_packages = os.path.join(PROJECT_ROOT, 'env/lib/python2.6/site-packages')

For a gunicorn deployment, you would do something along the lines of /path/to/virtualenv/bin/python run_gunicorn.

Your tips

I’d love to hear your tips about how to use virtualenv in the best way possible. I know that my workflow is probably lacking, and these aren’t all or even many of the neat things you can do with virtualenv.

Hey there! I'm Eric and I work on communities in the world of software documentation. Feel free to email me if you have comments on this post!