Basti's Scratchpad on the Internet
24 Nov 2016

Pip is great

Installing Python packages used to be a pain. Very surprisingly, this is no longer the case. Nowadays, pip install whatever will reliably install pretty much anything without any trouble.

To recap, the problem is that many Python packages rely on C code, which needs to be compiled before installation. In the past, this burden was mostly on the user. Depending on the user's knowledge of C and compilers, and the user's operating system, this could become almost arbitrarily hairy.

This problem was solved, to some extent, using pre-compiled packages, first as binary installers on the package websites, then pre-packaged Python distributions, and later through third-party package managers such as conda.

This worked well, but it fractured the ecosystem into several different mostly-compatible package sources. This was no big problem, but users had to decide on a package-by-package basis whether to download an installer, use conda, or use pip.

But I am happy to announce that these dark days are behind us now. Pip now automatically installs binary Python packages called wheels, and most package developers do now provide wheels on PyPI. This is so obviously superior to the past that many high-profile packages don't even provide binary installers any more.

For me, this means I don't have to rely on conda any longer. I don't have to keep a mental list of which packages to install though conda and which packages to install through pip any longer. I can go back to using virtualenv instead of conda-envs1 again. I don't have to tell students to download pre-packaged Python distributions any longer. Pip is great!

Footnotes:

1

Not because I dislike conda, just to simplify my development environment.

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