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pyctdev: python packaging common tasks for developers

Tools (and documentation) to support common tasks across many similar projects, focusing on those making up

Note: documentation is draft/currently being written

What is pyctdev?

The main part of pyctdev is a cross-platform, make-like tool plus library of common tasks to allow project admin tasks to be run equally well locally or on various CI systems, on different platforms, or to support different python package 'ecosystems' (pip and conda):

$ doit list
build_docs        build docs
develop_install   python develop install with specified optional groups of dependencies.
ecosystem_setup   Common pip setup
env_capture       Report all information required to recreate current environment.
env_create        TODO: create named environment if it doesn't already exist.
env_export        TODO
package_build     Build pip package, then install and test all_quick (or other
package_upload    Upload pip packages to pypi
test_all          Run "all" tests
test_examples     Run "examples" tests
test_flakes       Run "flakes" tests
test_unit         Run "unit" tests

$ doit ecosystem=conda list
build_docs           build docs
develop_install      python develop install, with specified optional groups of dependencies (installed by conda only).
ecosystem_setup      Common conda setup (must be run in base env).
env_capture          Report all information required to recreate current conda environment
env_create           Create named environment if it doesn't already exist
env_export           Generate a pinned environment.yaml from specified env, filtering against specified groups of deps.
miniconda_download   Download Miniconda3-latest
miniconda_install    Install Miniconda3-latest to location if not already present
package_build        Build and then test conda.recipe/ (or specified alternative).
package_upload       Upload package built from conda.recipe/ (or specified alternative).
test_all             Run "all" tests
test_examples        Run "examples" tests
test_flakes          Run "flakes" tests
test_unit            Run "unit" tests

Although doit+pyctdev must be installed to run these tasks, the approach is trying to call standard python and/or conda tools where possible, so that people can run commands independently without installing doit+pyctdev. This means pyctdev can be viewed as:

  • documentation of what all the common tasks are

  • documentation of the commands necessary to perform those tasks

  • a way to expose gaps in underlying tools that we might like to fill (or exposes our lack of knowledge of how to use them, so we can be corrected :) )

  • a way to map relatively unchanging "high level tasks" (e.g. "run the unit tests") to underlying specific commands that might change over time (e.g. as the python packaging ecosystem changes) or that vary between projects (e.g. run tests with nose or with pytest).

  • our current best understanding of how to perform the various tasks (balancing the best possible way with what's practically possible in general, given what tools are currently widely available).

The accompanying background document (even more draft than this one!) contains more details, along with explanations for choices. It's broken into the same sections, so can be read alongside this document.

There's also an instructions document for setting up a new project (but it's only a placeholder right now...).

If you have a question, please feel free to open an issue (after first checking the FAQ.

What does pyctdev cover?

pyctdev is a work in progress, and when it stabilizes we will need to expand this description to include a clear mission statement about what is intended to be covered by pyctdev and which aspects of package management are out of scope.

0. What are all the tasks? How to run a task?

pyctdev shows what tasks there are, e.g. "run unit tests", "build conda package", "upload conda package", "install as a developer", and so on.

pyctdev also documents how to perform those tasks, i.e. what the necessary command(s) are for a task, or what tasks should be run before others.

To see all the tasks, you can type doit list in a project using pyctdev to get a list of the tasks with descriptions. doit info gives more detail on any particular task. Alternatively, you can read the pyctdev source code; most tasks are straightforward commands.

1. Can run project admin tasks locally, on CI, and across platforms

doit/pyctdev are written in python so should work everywhere python's available (not just on Unix-like systems, unlike many project configuration files). (And once any python's available, doit can be used to install other pythons if necessary - currently miniconda and anaconda.) Having the same command to run on each platform helps ensure that testing, package building, and related tasks are done consistently across platforms, which is particularly important when developers use one platform but users will download packages for another.

Other suggested tools used by pyctdev are also cross platform: tox, conda, pip, etc.

2. support python and conda ecosystems

pyctdev supports performing most tasks with either the python/pip or the conda ecosystem. E.g. doit develop_install will typically run pip install -e .[tests], which installs the dependencies using pip and then does an editable install. Alternatively, doit ecosystem=conda develop install will install dependencies using conda, followed by an editable install. Projects can set a default ecosystem.

The ability to install with pip or conda, create reproducible/isolated environments with python tools (virtualenv+pip, or pipenv) or with conda tools (conda env), package for pip or conda, helps developers using primarily one ecosystem to still support the other (e.g. via CI systems).

3. support multiple versions of python

Similarly to allowing developers to support both pip and conda ecosystems, pyctdev allows developers to support multiple versions of python. For python, doit uses tox to run same tests over multiple environments using tox. For conda, pyctdev runs conda build over multiple versions of python.

4. dependencies in one place

pyctdev allows developers to express their project's "abstract" dependencies in one place. Currently this place is, as it's widely supported by both python and conda tools. The dependencies listed in are used for:

  • end-user pip packages

  • end-user conda packages

  • developers using conda

  • developers using pip

  • generating environment files (e.g. examples environment.yml)

The abstract dependencies may be transformed to more concrete ones, e.g. for a tutorial examples environment, versions of all dependencies may be pinned to ensure reproducibility (see 10/environment files, below).

pyctdev supports transforming dependencies and generating environment.yml (and possibly pipenv or similar).

5. dependencies labelled for different purposes

pyctdev supports expressing build and install/runtime dependencies, plus various optional groups of dependencies (e.g. for running examples, building docs, etc).

pyctdev uses standard/generally supported python/pip/setuptools arguments to do this (install_requires and extras_require). pip understands these, so the same optional dependency groups are available to users (e.g. a user can run pip install package[examples] to get package and the dependencies necessary to run its examples.

To support 'options' in the conda ecosystem, multiple packages are generated - though typically our projects just have "base" and "examples" packages. package-examples depends on a specific pinned package (pinned at build time).

6. testing of what users install

pyctdev encourages testing of the packages that users will install, rather than focusing only on testing what developers work with.

In the python ecosystem, tox is used to build a package, create a clean virtual environment, installs the package, and then run the tests. tox additionally supports running the same tests over multiple versions of python, in multiple environments (e.g. with different sets of dependencies installed), etc.

In the conda ecosystem, conda build is called multiple times to achieve the same.

7. testing of what developers do

It's often difficult to contribute to a project, because setting it up to the point of being able to run the tests is difficult. Seasoned project developers know what they are doing, but it's less obvious to occasional developers.

pyctdev ensures the dependencies required to develop a project are obvious, and encourages developers to keep them up to date (e.g. by testing doit develop_install on neutral CI machines).

pyctdev also tries to capture how developers set up their environment. E.g. dependencies installed by conda, with a python develop --no-deps on top.

8. Testing in different environments

E.g. doit package_build --test-python=py36 --test_requires=with_xarray --test-group=unit will build a package then install it into a python 3.6 environment, and will then further install with_xarray dependencies, and then will run the unit tests. The dependencies for with_xarray are specified in tox.ini (as are the unit test commands). This works with ecosystem=pip and ecosystem=conda. It's also possible to have extra test commands that only run in a particular test environment (e.g. with_xarray).

doit test_unit will run the unit tests in your current environment. If there are extra commands for a particular environment, they will be run if you select it. E.g. doit test_unit --test-group with_xarray. However, your current environment is not altered by test commands, so you would need to have installed with_xarray dependencies if necessary.

9. packages on demand? simplify packaging recipes?

As well as specifying dependencies once, pyct attempts to express other package metadata only once. Currently this is in Templating is then used for conda build. This prevents the common situation where descriptions, URLs, licenses, etc, are mismatched.

pyctdev expects project is being released first on pypi and on an channel. From these sources, conda-forge can be updated, followed by anaconda defaults (but we are not necessarily the maintainers of those channels).

pyctdev is currently primarily supporting pure Python packages. While they may often have complex, platform specific dependencies, the packages controlled by pyct are so far all pure Python. Therefore we build noarch:python conda packages where possible. If we start maintaining packages with binary code, pyct will be extended to support platform-specific packages, but for now none of our packages require that.

10. Channels/sources of dependencies

For python/pip: typically just But other 'channels' can be specified. E.g., or a private server.

The conda packages we maintain for can usually be installed on top of either anaconda defaults or conda-forge. We currently put them on pyviz (releases) and pyviz/label/dev (dev versions), and only our specific packages are on this channel. For a variety of reasons we recommend that any one install should not mix conda-forge and defaults. For a project with tricky requirements, we recommend one above the other. Or if a project suffers in performance on one or the other, we make a recommendation.

Our dev builds and dev package releases of projects on Travis CI use pyviz/label/dev to get other packages, while release package builds just use pyviz. And then if devs are happy with those packages, conda-forge and defaults should be updated.

11. How to structure project

Although it's not necessary, a common structure simplifies things across multiple similar projects. HoloViz projects typically have repositories that look like:

examples -> package/examples

doc/       # minimal nbsite skeleton only
doc/assets # e.g. favicon - not relevant to notebooks

We try to limit differences between what's in the repository and what's in the package shipped to users, to avoid creating custom package building code.

12. Unify how various tools are run

Often, it's not clear how to run the tests for a project. Pyct already helps with this by having high level tasks such as "run unit tests". However, pyctdev also encourages internal command definitions to appear only once.

Currently, setup.cfg is used to store global options for commands (e.g. flake8 rules), while tox.ini is used to store the various actual commands used for different things (e.g. running unit tests, running tests in different environments, etc). (TODO: what is shared across projects, and how? Would rather not have a config file for pyctdev...)

13. What's tested, and how.

There are various tools for running tests (e.g. pytest, nose). An aim of pyctdev is for our HoloViz projects to all end up using the same developer tools where possible. And to configure those tools in the same kind of way.

  • unit tests: pytest

  • flakes: pyflakes

  • examples:

    • notebooks run without error: pytest plugin nbsmoke

    • notebooks flakes: pytest plugin nbsmoke

    • notebooks "data tests": pytest plugin nbva

  • performance/benchmark tests: (pytest-benchmark, custom stuff, airspeed velocity, ??)

  • ...?

pytest has features for defining ("marking") and then selecting groups of tests to run. So pyctdev expects there to be:

  • "slow tests" (pytest -m slow)

  • ...?

14. docs


  • nbsite for examples -> website

live docs

  • Live/browser way for users to try examples: mybinder

15. versioning

Version via git tag. Version is stored only in one place in the repository (a git tag), and is written into packages. Every place that needs to know version (; packaging:, meta.yaml; docs) reads it from the single source.

Storing in one place, and it being the tag rather than in the git repo source code, makes it easier to automate various other 'release time' tasks. Our projects generally use autover (via param).

Versioning scheme:

  • we use vX.Y.Z

  • post 1.0, (TODO: copy hv's scheme?)

16. automate release type tasks on travis

As far as possible, just by running one or a couple of doit commands, we avoid CI-provided magic except where it's truly unavoidable or very useful (e.g. parallelizing builds, etc), because we need to support multiple CI systems (Travis CI for Linux and Mac, plus Appveyor for Windows).

automatically generated packages

Every (dev) release:

  • conda packages are built and uploaded to (pyviz/label/dev) pyviz/label/main

  • pip packages (sdist zip, universal wheel) are built and uploaded to (

A release happens when a vX.Y.Z tag is pushed. Dev releases can either be defined as "every merge to master" (e.g. for a mature project), or "every time a vX.Y.ZaN style tag is pushed (for a rapidly changing project).

Note: "package build" means generate package, install package into clean environment, run tests.

automatically generated website

Two main options:

  1. for young, fast-moving projects: a single main website (default: updated on releases (plus maybe also special post-release tags where we're fixing minor docs issues without changing code, which presumably must be tagged specially), with a separate dev website (default: updated on every push to master (or every time an alpha/beta/rc format tag is pushed ?).

  2. Same as 1, but also archiving websites for each major release (i.e. one copy for X.Y, updated for each new .Z) over time until we eventually delete them. Presumably could actually just make 2 the default, with the definition that only versions 1.0 or greater count as a major release, in which case it would follow policy 1 until reaching 1.0, then policy 2, thereby acting as appropriate for a young, fast-moving project until release 1.0, then archiving each x.y version.

Note: for e.g. datashader, using Travis CI isn't currently feasible (build takes too long/uses too much memory/requires too-large data). But Travis is just using doit commands, so same can be run locally at release time.

17. Extra CI things


  • Ubuntu (Travis CI)

  • MacOS (Travis CI)

  • Windows (appveyor)


Installing miniconda and dependencies from scratch every time takes up quite a lot of build time for some projects.

Caching of miniconda/conda environments is therefore supported. (Supported also for python/pip, although speed is not an issue there).

In many ways, this could be a better test than installing from scratch, since many devs/users will be updating existing conda installations/environments rather than starting from scratch.

build stages/parallelization of builds

Rather than running tasks sequentially (wall clock time consuming; a task might affect subsequent ones), tasks can be run independently in parallel.

To add to docs

  • generating pinned conda package
  • generating environment.yml


Python packaging Common Tasks for Developers







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