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Creating a Portable Python Environment from Imports

Published June 30, 2020



Kim Pevey

Python environments provide sandboxes in which packages can be added. Conda helps us deal with the requirements and dependencies of those packages. Occasionally we find ourselves working in a constrained remote machine which can make development challenging. Suppose we wanted to take our exact dev environment on the remote machine and recreate it on our local machine. While conda relieves the package dependency challenge, it can be hard to reproduce the exact same environment.

Creating a Portable Python Environment

This walkthrough will demonstrate a method to copy an exact environment on one machine and transfer it to a another machine. We'll start by collecting the package requirements of a given set of python files, create an environment based on those requirements, then export it as a tarball for distribution on a target machine.


Sample files

For this walkthrough we'll assume you have a folder with some python files as a rudimentary "package".

If you want to create some example files, run the following commands:

mkdir -p ./test_package
echo "import scipy" >> ./test_package/
echo "import numpy" >> ./test_package/
echo "import pandas" >> ./test_package/
echo "import sklearn" >> ./test_package/

Each file has a few import statements - nothing fancy.

Extracting the required packages

In order to roll up the environment for the package, we first need to know what the package requires. We will collect all the dependencies and create an environment file.

Get direct dependencies

The first step is to collect dependencies. We'll do this using depfinder. It can be installed into your environment: conda install -c conda-forge depfinder

This will be as simple as calling depfinder on our test_package directory. We add the -y command to return yaml format.

depfinder -y ./test_package

This command returns a YAML formatted list with our dependencies. We are interested in the required dependencies, which are the external package requirements.

- numpy
- pandas
- scikit-learn
- scipy
- ipython

Create a temporary environment

Now we have a list of the direct dependencies but what about all the sub-dependencies? To capture these, we'll create a temporary environment.

Copy the yaml formatted dependencies into an environment file named environment.yml.

name: my_env
- conda-forge
- python>=3.7
- numpy
- pandas
- scikit-learn
- scipy
- ipython
- conda-pack

Notice that we've added two extra packages to our environment.yml. In this example, we'll set a minimum python version to include in the package. We could also have explicitly set the Python version. You may notice that we have also added an additional package called called conda-pack. This will be used for wrapping up the environment for distribution - more on that later.

Create a conda environment from this yaml that will include all of the necessary dependencies.

conda env create -f environment.yml

Activate the temporary conda env:

conda activate my_env

Wrap up the environment into a tarball

At this point, we're ready to wrap up our environment into a single tarball. To do this, we'll use a package called conda-pack. Conda-pack is going to help us wrap up our exact environment, including python itself. This means that the target machine is not required to have python installed for this environment to be utilized. Much of what follows is taken directly from the conda-pack docs.

Pack environment my_env into out_name.tar.gz

conda pack -n my_env -o my_env.tar.gz

Unpacking the environment on the target machine

At this point you will have a portable tarball that you can send to a different machine. Note that the tarball you've created must only be used on target machines with the same operating system.

Now we'll go over how to unpack the tarball on the target machine and utilize this environment.

Unpack environment into directory my_env:

$ mkdir -p my_env $ tar -xzf my_env.tar.gz -C my_env

We could stop here and start using the python environment directly. Note that most Python libraries will work fine, but things that require prefix cleanups (since we've built it in one directory and moved to another) will fail.

$ ./my_env/bin/python

Alternatively we could activate the environment. This adds my_env/bin to your path

$ source my_env/bin/activate

And then run python from the activated environment

(my_env) $ python

Cleanup prefixes from inside the active environment. Note that this command can also be run without activating the environment as long as some version of python is already installed on the machine.

(my_env) $ conda-unpack

At this point the environment is exactly as if you installed it here using conda directly. All scripts should be fully functional, e.g.:

(my_env) $ ipython --version

When you're done, you may deactivate the environment to remove it from your path

(my_env) $ source my_env/bin/deactivate


We've successfully collected the Python package requirements for a set of Python files. We've created the environment to run those files and wrapped that environment into a tarball. Finally, we distributed the tarballed environment onto a different machine and were immediately able to utilize an identical copy of Python environment from the original machine.

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