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Python and the Build System
The Python programming language is used significantly in the build
system. If we need to write code for the build system or for a tool
related to the build system, Python is typically the first choice.
The tree requires Python 3.6 or greater to build.
All Python packages not in the Python distribution are included in the
source tree. So all you should need is a vanilla Python install and you
should be good to go.
Only CPython (the Python distribution available from www.python.org) is
Compiled Python Packages
There are some features of the build that rely on compiled Python packages
(packages containing C source). These features are currently all
optional because not every system contains the Python development
headers required to build these extensions.
We recommend you have the Python development headers installed (``mach
bootstrap`` should do this for you) so you can take advantage of these
Issues with OS X System Python
The Python that ships with OS X has historically been littered with
subtle bugs and suboptimalities.
OS X 10.8 and below users will be required to install a new Python
distribution. This may not be necessary for OS X 10.9+. However, we
still recommend installing a separate Python because of the history with
OS X's system Python issues.
We recommend installing Python through Homebrew or MacPorts. If you run
``mach bootstrap``, this should be done for you.
The build system relies heavily on
`venv <https://docs.python.org/3/library/venv.html>`_. Venv provides
standalone and isolated Python "virtual environments". The problem a venv
solves is that of dependencies across multiple Python components. If two
components on a system relied on different versions of a package, there
could be a conflict. Instead of managing multiple versions of a package
simultaneously, Python and venv take the route that it is easier
to just keep them separate so there is no potential for conflicts.
Very early in the build process, a venv is created inside the
:term:`object directory`. The venv is configured such that it can
find all the Python packages in the source tree. The code for this lives
There are numerous deficiencies with the way virtual environments are
handled in the build system.
* mach reinvents the venv.
There is code in ``build/mach_initialize.py`` that configures ``sys.path``
much the same way the venv does. There are various bugs tracking
this. However, no clear solution has yet been devised. It's not a huge
problem and thus not a huge priority.
* They aren't preserved across copies and packaging.
If you attempt to copy an entire tree from one machine to another or
from one directory to another, chances are the venv will fall
apart. It would be nice if we could preserve it somehow. Instead of
actually solving portable venv, all we really need to solve is
encapsulating the logic for populating the venv along with all
dependent files in the appropriate place.
* .pyc files written to source directory.
We rely heavily on ``.pth`` files in our venv. A ``.pth`` file
is a special file that contains a list of paths. Python will take the
set of listed paths encountered in ``.pth`` files and add them to
When Python compiles a ``.py`` file to bytecode, it writes out a
``.pyc`` file so it doesn't have to perform this compilation again.
It puts these ``.pyc`` files alongside the ``.pyc`` file. Python
provides very little control for determining where these ``.pyc`` files
go, even in Python 3 (which offers customer importers).
With ``.pth`` files pointing back to directories in the source tree
and not the object directory, ``.pyc`` files are created in the source
tree. This is bad because when Python imports a module, it first looks
for a ``.pyc`` file before the ``.py`` file. If there is a ``.pyc``
file but no ``.py`` file, it will happily import the module. This
wreaks havoc during file moves, refactoring, etc.
There are various proposals for fixing this. See bug 795995.
Installing Python Manually
We highly recommend you use your system's package manager or a
well-supported 3rd party package manager to install Python for you. If
these are not available to you, we recommend the following tools for
* `buildout.python <https://github.com/collective/buildout.python>`_
* `pyenv <https://github.com/yyuu/pyenv>`_
* An official installer from http://www.python.org.
If all else fails, consider compiling Python from source manually. But this
should be viewed as the least desirable option.
Common Issues with Python
Upgrading your Python distribution breaks the venv
If you upgrade the Python distribution (e.g. install Python 3.6.15
from 3.6.9), chances are parts of the venv will break.
This commonly manifests as a cryptic ``Cannot import XXX`` exception.
More often than not, the module being imported contains binary/compiled
If you upgrade or reinstall your Python distribution, we recommend
clobbering your build.
Packages installed at the system level conflict with build system's
It is common for people to install Python packages using ``sudo`` (e.g.
``sudo pip install psutil``) or with the system's package manager
(e.g. ``apt-get install python-mysql``.
A problem with this is that packages installed at the system level may
conflict with the package provided by the source tree. As of bug 907902
and changeset f18eae7c3b27 (September 16, 2013), this should no longer
be an issue since the venv created as part of the build doesn't
add the system's ``site-packages`` directory to ``sys.path``. However,
poorly installed packages may still find a way to creep into the mix and
interfere with our venv.
As a general principle, we recommend against using your system's package
manager or using ``sudo`` to install Python packages. Instead, create
virtual environments and isolated Python environments for all of your
Python on $PATH is not appropriate
Tools like ``mach`` will look for Python by performing ``/usr/bin/env
python`` or equivalent. Please be sure the appropriate Python 2.7.3+
path is on $PATH. On OS X, this likely means you'll need to modify your
shell's init script to put something ahead of ``/usr/bin``.