Packaging Python Libraries - Dive Into Python 3

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Packaging Python Libraries

You’ll find the shame is like the pain; you only feel it once.
— Marquise de Merteuil, Dangerous Liaisons


Diving In

Real artists ship. Or so says Steve Jobs. Do you want to release a Python script, library, framework, or application? Excellent. The world needs more Python code. Python 3 comes with a packaging framework called Distutils. Distutils is many things: a build tool (for you), an installation tool (for your users), a package metadata format (for search engines), and more. It integrates with the Python Package Index (“PyPI”), a central repository for open source Python libraries.

All of these facets of Distutils center around the setup script, traditionally called In fact, you’ve already seen several Distutils setup scripts in this book. You used Distutils to install httplib2 in HTTP Web Services and again to install chardet in Case Study: Porting chardet to Python 3.

In this chapter, you’ll learn how the setup scripts for chardet and httplib2 work, and you’ll step through the process of releasing your own Python software.

# chardet's
from distutils.core import setup
    name = "chardet",
    packages = ["chardet"],
    version = "1.0.2",
    description = "Universal encoding detector",
    author = "Mark Pilgrim",
    author_email = "",
    url = "",
    download_url = "",
    keywords = ["encoding", "i18n", "xml"],
    classifiers = [
        "Programming Language :: Python",
        "Programming Language :: Python :: 3",
        "Development Status :: 4 - Beta",
        "Environment :: Other Environment",
        "Intended Audience :: Developers",
        "License :: OSI Approved :: GNU Library or Lesser General Public License (LGPL)",
        "Operating System :: OS Independent",
        "Topic :: Software Development :: Libraries :: Python Modules",
        "Topic :: Text Processing :: Linguistic",
    long_description = """\
Universal character encoding detector

 - ASCII, UTF-8, UTF-16 (2 variants), UTF-32 (4 variants)
 - Big5, GB2312, EUC-TW, HZ-GB-2312, ISO-2022-CN (Traditional and Simplified Chinese)
 - EUC-JP, SHIFT_JIS, ISO-2022-JP (Japanese)
 - EUC-KR, ISO-2022-KR (Korean)
 - KOI8-R, MacCyrillic, IBM855, IBM866, ISO-8859-5, windows-1251 (Cyrillic)
 - ISO-8859-2, windows-1250 (Hungarian)
 - ISO-8859-5, windows-1251 (Bulgarian)
 - windows-1252 (English)
 - ISO-8859-7, windows-1253 (Greek)
 - ISO-8859-8, windows-1255 (Visual and Logical Hebrew)
 - TIS-620 (Thai)

This version requires Python 3 or later; a Python 2 version is available separately.

chardet and httplib2 are open source, but there’s no requirement that you release your own Python libraries under any particular license. The process described in this chapter will work for any Python software, regardless of license.

Things Distutils Can’t Do For You

Releasing your first Python package is a daunting process. (Releasing your second one is a little easier.) Distutils tries to automate as much of it as possible, but there are some things you simply must do yourself.

  • Choose a license. This is a complicated topic, fraught with politics and peril. If you wish to release your software as open source, I humbly offer five pieces of advice:
    1. Don’t write your own license.
    2. Don’t write your own license.
    3. Don’t write your own license.
    4. It doesn’t need to be GPL, but it needs to be GPL-compatible.
    5. Don’t write your own license.
  • Classify your software using the PyPI classification system. I’ll explain what this means later in this chapter.
  • Write a “read me” file. Don’t skimp on this. At a minimum, it should give your users an overview of what your software does and how to install it.

Directory Structure

To start packaging your Python software, you need to get your files and directories in order. The httplib2 directory looks like this:

  1. Make a root directory to hold everything. Give it the same name as your Python module.
  2. To accomodate Windows users, your “read me” file should include a .txt extension, and it should use Windows-style carriage returns. Just because you use a fancy text editor that runs from the command line and includes its own macro language, that doesn’t mean you need to make life difficult for your users. (Your users use Notepad. Sad but true.) Even if you’re on Linux or Mac OS X, your fancy text editor undoubtedly has an option to save files with Windows-style carriage returns.
  3. Your Distutils setup script should be named unless you have a good reason not to. You do not have a good reason not to.
  4. If your Python software is a single .py file, you should put it in the root directory along with your “read me” file and your setup script. But httplib2 is not a single .py file; it’s a multi-file module. But that’s OK! Just put the httplib2 directory in the root directory, so you have an file within an httplib2/ directory within the httplib2/ root directory. That’s not a problem; in fact, it will simplify your packaging process.

The chardet directory looks slightly different. Like httplib2, it’s a multi-file module, so there’s a chardet/ directory within the chardet/ root directory. In addition to the README.txt file, chardet has HTML-formatted documentation in the docs/ directory. The docs/ directory contains several .html and .css files and an images/ subdirectory, which contains several .png and .gif files. (This will be important later.) Also, in keeping with the convention for (L)GPL-licensed software, it has a separate file called COPYING.txt which contains the complete text of the LGPL.

|  |
|  +--index.html
|  |
|  +--usage.html
|  |
|  +--images/ ...

Writing Your Setup Script

The Distutils setup script is a Python script. In theory, it can do anything Python can do. In practice, it should do as little as possible, in as standard a way as possible. Setup scripts should be boring. The more exotic your installation process is, the more exotic your bug reports will be.

The first line of every Distutils setup script is always the same:

from distutils.core import setup

This imports the setup() function, which is the main entry point into Distutils. 95% of all Distutils setup scripts consist of a single call to setup() and nothing else. (I totally just made up that statistic, but if your Distutils setup script is doing more than calling the Distutils setup() function, you should have a good reason. Do you have a good reason? I didn’t think so.)

The setup() function can take dozens of parameters. For the sanity of everyone involved, you must use named arguments for every parameter. This is not merely a convention; it’s a hard requirement. Your setup script will crash if you try to call the setup() function with non-named arguments.

The following named arguments are required:

  • name, the name of the package.
  • version, the version number of the package.
  • author, your full name.
  • author_email, your email address.
  • url, the home page of your project. This can be your PyPI package page if you don’t have a separate project website.

Although not required, I recommend that you also include the following in your setup script:

  • description, a one-line summary of the project.
  • long_description, a multi-line string in reStructuredText format. PyPI converts this to HTML and displays it on your package page.
  • classifiers, a list of specially-formatted strings described in the next section.

Setup script metadata is defined in PEP 314.

Now let’s look at the chardet setup script. It has all of these required and recommended parameters, plus one I haven’t mentioned yet: packages.

from distutils.core import setup
    name = 'chardet',
    packages = ['chardet'],
    version = '1.0.2',
    description = 'Universal encoding detector',
    author='Mark Pilgrim',

The packages parameter highlights an unfortunate vocabulary overlap in the distribution process. We’ve been talking about the “package” as the thing you’re building (and potentially listing in The Python “Package” Index). But that’s not what this packages parameter refers to. It refers to the fact that the chardet module is a multi-file module, sometimes known as… a “package.” The packages parameter tells Distutils to include the chardet/ directory, its file, and all the other .py files that constitute the chardet module. That’s kind of important; all this happy talk about documentation and metadata is irrelevant if you forget to include the actual code!

Classifying Your Package

The Python Package Index (“PyPI”) contains thousands of Python libraries. Proper classification metadata will allow people to find yours more easily. PyPI lets you browse packages by classifier. You can even select multiple classifiers to narrow your search. Classifiers are not invisible metadata that you can just ignore!

To classify your software, pass a classifiers parameter to the Distutils setup() function. The classifiers parameter is a list of strings. These strings are not freeform. All classifier strings should come from this list on PyPI.

Classifiers are optional. You can write a Distutils setup script without any classifiers at all. Don’t do that. You should always include at least these classifiers:

  • Programming Language. In particular, you should include both "Programming Language :: Python" and "Programming Language :: Python :: 3". If you do not include these, your package will not show up in this list of Python 3-compatible libraries, which linked from the sidebar of every single page of
  • License. This is the absolute first thing I look for when I’m evaluating third-party libraries. Don’t make me hunt for this vital information. Don’t include more than one license classifier unless your software is explicitly available under multiple licenses. (And don’t release software under multiple licenses unless you’re forced to do so. And don’t force other people to do so. Licensing is enough of a headache; don’t make it worse.)
  • Operating System. If your software only runs on Windows (or Mac OS X, or Linux), I want to know sooner rather than later. If your software runs anywhere without any platform-specific code, use the classifier "Operating System :: OS Independent". Multiple Operating System classifiers are only necessary if your software requires specific support for each platform. (This is not common.)

I also recommend that you include the following classifiers:

  • Development Status. Is your software beta quality? Alpha quality? Pre-alpha? Pick one. Be honest.
  • Intended Audience. Who would download your software? The most common choices are Developers, End Users/Desktop, Science/Research, and System Administrators.
  • Framework. If your software is a plugin for a larger Python framework like Django or Zope, include the appropriate Framework classifier. If not, omit it.
  • Topic. There are a large number of topics to choose from; choose all that apply.

Examples of Good Package Classifiers

By way of example, here are the classifiers for Django, a production-ready, cross-platform, BSD-licensed web application framework that runs on your web server. (Django is not yet compatible with Python 3, so the Programming Language :: Python :: 3 classifier is not listed.)

Programming Language :: Python
License :: OSI Approved :: BSD License
Operating System :: OS Independent
Development Status :: 5 - Production/Stable
Environment :: Web Environment
Framework :: Django
Intended Audience :: Developers
Topic :: Internet :: WWW/HTTP
Topic :: Internet :: WWW/HTTP :: Dynamic Content
Topic :: Internet :: WWW/HTTP :: WSGI
Topic :: Software Development :: Libraries :: Python Modules

Here are the classifiers for chardet, the character encoding detection library covered in Case Study: Porting chardet to Python 3. chardet is beta quality, cross-platform, Python 3-compatible, LGPL-licensed, and intended for developers to integrate into their own products.

Programming Language :: Python
Programming Language :: Python :: 3
License :: OSI Approved :: GNU Library or Lesser General Public License (LGPL)
Operating System :: OS Independent
Development Status :: 4 - Beta
Environment :: Other Environment
Intended Audience :: Developers
Topic :: Text Processing :: Linguistic
Topic :: Software Development :: Libraries :: Python Modules

And here are the classifiers for httplib2, the library featured in the HTTP Web Services chapter. httplib2 is beta quality, cross-platform, MIT-licensed, and intended for Python developers.

Programming Language :: Python
Programming Language :: Python :: 3
License :: OSI Approved :: MIT License
Operating System :: OS Independent
Development Status :: 4 - Beta
Environment :: Web Environment
Intended Audience :: Developers
Topic :: Internet :: WWW/HTTP
Topic :: Software Development :: Libraries :: Python Modules

Specifying Additional Files With A Manifest

By default, Distutils will include the following files in your release package:

  • README.txt
  • The .py files needed by the multi-file modules listed in the packages parameter
  • The individual .py files listed in the py_modules parameter

That will cover all the files in the httplib2 project. But for the chardet project, we also want to include the COPYING.txt license file and the entire docs/ directory that contains images and HTML files. To tell Distutils to include these additional files and directories when it builds the chardet release package, you need a manifest file.

A manifest file is a text file called Place it in the project’s root directory, next to README.txt and Manifest files are not Python scripts; they are text files that contain a series of “commands” in a Distutils-defined format. Manifest commands allow you to include or exclude specific files and directories.

This is the entire manifest file for the chardet project:

include COPYING.txt                                
recursive-include docs *.html *.css *.png *.gif    
  1. The first line is self-explanatory: include the COPYING.txt file from the project’s root directory.
  2. The second line is a bit more complicated. The recursive-include command takes a directory name and one or more filenames. The filenames aren’t limited to specific files; they can include wildcards. This line means “See that docs/ directory in the project’s root directory? Look in there (recursively) for .html, .css, .png, and .gif files. I want all of them in my release package.”

All manifest commands preserve the directory structure that you set up in your project directory. That recursive-include command is not going to put a bunch of .html and .png files in the root directory of the release package. It’s going to maintain the existing docs/ directory structure, but only include those files inside that directory that match the given wildcards. (I didn’t mention it earlier, but the chardet documentation is actually written in XML and converted to HTML by a separate script. I don’t want to include the XML files in the release package, just the HTML and the images.)

Manifest files have their own unique format. See Specifying the files to distribute and the manifest template commands for details.

To reiterate: you only need to create a manifest file if you want to include files that Distutils doesn’t include by default. If you do need a manifest file, it should only include the files and directories that Distutils wouldn’t otherwise find on its own.

Checking Your Setup Script for Errors

There’s a lot to keep track of. Distutils comes with a built-in validation command that checks that all the required metadata is present in your setup script. For example, if you forget to include the version parameter, Distutils will remind you.

c:\Users\pilgrim\chardet> c:\python31\python.exe check
running check
warning: check: missing required meta-data: version

Once you include a version parameter (and all the other required bits of metadata), the check command will look like this:

c:\Users\pilgrim\chardet> c:\python31\python.exe check
running check

Creating a Source Distribution

Distutils supports building multiple types of release packages. At a minimum, you should build a “source distribution” that contains your source code, your Distutils setup script, your “read me” file, and whatever additional files you want to include. To build a source distribution, pass the sdist command to your Distutils setup script.

c:\Users\pilgrim\chardet> c:\python31\python.exe sdist
running sdist
running check
reading manifest template ''
writing manifest file 'MANIFEST'
creating chardet-1.0.2
creating chardet-1.0.2\chardet
creating chardet-1.0.2\docs
creating chardet-1.0.2\docs\images
copying files to chardet-1.0.2...
copying COPYING -> chardet-1.0.2
copying README.txt -> chardet-1.0.2
copying -> chardet-1.0.2
copying chardet\ -> chardet-1.0.2\chardet
copying chardet\ -> chardet-1.0.2\chardet
copying chardet\ -> chardet-1.0.2\chardet
copying chardet\ -> chardet-1.0.2\chardet
copying docs\faq.html -> chardet-1.0.2\docs
copying docs\history.html -> chardet-1.0.2\docs
copying docs\how-it-works.html -> chardet-1.0.2\docs
copying docs\index.html -> chardet-1.0.2\docs
copying docs\license.html -> chardet-1.0.2\docs
copying docs\supported-encodings.html -> chardet-1.0.2\docs
copying docs\usage.html -> chardet-1.0.2\docs
copying docs\images\caution.png -> chardet-1.0.2\docs\images
copying docs\images\important.png -> chardet-1.0.2\docs\images
copying docs\images\note.png -> chardet-1.0.2\docs\images
copying docs\images\permalink.gif -> chardet-1.0.2\docs\images
copying docs\images\tip.png -> chardet-1.0.2\docs\images
copying docs\images\warning.png -> chardet-1.0.2\docs\images
creating dist
creating 'dist\' and adding 'chardet-1.0.2' to it
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\COPYING'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\PKG-INFO'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\README.txt'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\chardet\'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\chardet\'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\chardet\'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\chardet\'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\chardet\'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\docs\faq.html'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\docs\history.html'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\docs\how-it-works.html'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\docs\index.html'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\docs\license.html'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\docs\supported-encodings.html'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\docs\usage.html'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\docs\images\caution.png'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\docs\images\important.png'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\docs\images\note.png'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\docs\images\permalink.gif'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\docs\images\tip.png'
adding 'chardet-1.0.2\docs\images\warning.png'
removing 'chardet-1.0.2' (and everything under it)

Several things to note here:

  • Distutils noticed the manifest file (
  • Distutils successfully parsed the manifest file and added the additional files we wanted — COPYING.txt and the HTML and image files in the docs/ directory.
  • If you look in your project directory, you’ll see that Distutils created a dist/ directory. Within the dist/ directory the .zip file that you can distribute.
c:\Users\pilgrim\chardet> dir dist
 Volume in drive C has no label.
 Volume Serial Number is DED5-B4F8

 Directory of c:\Users\pilgrim\chardet\dist

07/30/2009  06:29 PM    <DIR>          .
07/30/2009  06:29 PM    <DIR>          ..
07/30/2009  06:29 PM           206,440
               1 File(s)        206,440 bytes
               2 Dir(s)  61,424,635,904 bytes free

Creating a Graphical Installer

In my opinion, every Python library deserves a graphical installer for Windows users. It’s easy to make (even if you don’t run Windows yourself), and Windows users appreciate it.

Distutils can create a graphical Windows installer for you, by passing the bdist_wininst command to your Distutils setup script.

c:\Users\pilgrim\chardet> c:\python31\python.exe bdist_wininst
running bdist_wininst
running build
running build_py
creating build
creating build\lib
creating build\lib\chardet
copying chardet\ -> build\lib\chardet
copying chardet\ -> build\lib\chardet
copying chardet\ -> build\lib\chardet
copying chardet\ -> build\lib\chardet
copying chardet\ -> build\lib\chardet
installing to build\bdist.win32\wininst
running install_lib
creating build\bdist.win32
creating build\bdist.win32\wininst
creating build\bdist.win32\wininst\PURELIB
creating build\bdist.win32\wininst\PURELIB\chardet
copying build\lib\chardet\ -> build\bdist.win32\wininst\PURELIB\chardet
copying build\lib\chardet\ -> build\bdist.win32\wininst\PURELIB\chardet
copying build\lib\chardet\ -> build\bdist.win32\wininst\PURELIB\chardet
copying build\lib\chardet\ -> build\bdist.win32\wininst\PURELIB\chardet
copying build\lib\chardet\ -> build\bdist.win32\wininst\PURELIB\chardet
running install_egg_info
Writing build\bdist.win32\wininst\PURELIB\chardet-1.0.2-py3.1.egg-info
creating 'c:\users\pilgrim\appdata\local\temp\' and adding '.' to it
adding 'PURELIB\chardet-1.0.2-py3.1.egg-info'
adding 'PURELIB\chardet\'
adding 'PURELIB\chardet\'
adding 'PURELIB\chardet\'
adding 'PURELIB\chardet\'
adding 'PURELIB\chardet\'
removing 'build\bdist.win32\wininst' (and everything under it)
c:\Users\pilgrim\chardet> dir dist
c:\Users\pilgrim\chardet>dir dist
 Volume in drive C has no label.
 Volume Serial Number is AADE-E29F

 Directory of c:\Users\pilgrim\chardet\dist

07/30/2009  10:14 PM    <DIR>          .
07/30/2009  10:14 PM    <DIR>          ..
07/30/2009  10:14 PM           371,236 chardet-1.0.2.win32.exe
07/30/2009  06:29 PM           206,440
               2 File(s)        577,676 bytes
               2 Dir(s)  61,424,070,656 bytes free

Building Installable Packages for Other Operating Systems

Distutils can help you build installable packages for Linux users. In my opinion, this probably isn’t worth your time. If you want your software distributed for Linux, your time would be better spent working with community members who specialize in packaging software for major Linux distributions.

For example, my chardet library is in the Debian GNU/Linux repositories (and therefore in the Ubuntu repositories as well). I had nothing to do with this; the packages just showed up there one day. The Debian community has their own policies for packaging Python libraries, and the Debian python-chardet package is designed to follow these conventions. And since the package lives in Debian’s repositories, Debian users will receive security updates and/or new versions, depending on the system-wide settings they’ve chosen to manage their own computers.

The Linux packages that Distutils builds offer none of these advantages. Your time is better spent elsewhere.

Adding Your Software to The Python Package Index

Uploading software to the Python Package Index is a three step process.

  1. Register yourself
  2. Register your software
  3. Upload the packages you created with sdist and bdist_*

To register yourself, go to the PyPI user registration page. Enter your desired username and password, provide a valid email address, and click the Register button. (If you have a PGP or GPG key, you can also provide that. If you don’t have one or don’t know what that means, don’t worry about it.) Check your email; within a few minutes, you should receive a message from PyPI with a validation link. Click the link to complete the registration process.

Now you need to register your software with PyPI and upload it. You can do this all in one step.

c:\Users\pilgrim\chardet> c:\python31\python.exe register sdist bdist_wininst upload  
running register
We need to know who you are, so please choose either:
 1. use your existing login,
 2. register as a new user,
 3. have the server generate a new password for you (and email it to you), or
 4. quit
Your selection [default 1]:  1                                                                 
Username: MarkPilgrim                                                                          
Registering chardet to                                             
Server response (200): OK
running sdist                                                                                  
... output trimmed for brevity ...
running bdist_wininst                                                                          
... output trimmed for brevity ...
running upload                                                                                 
Submitting dist\ to
Server response (200): OK
Submitting dist\chardet-1.0.2.win32.exe to
Server response (200): OK
I can store your PyPI login so future submissions will be faster.
(the login will be stored in c:\home\.pypirc)
Save your login (y/N)?n                                                                        
  1. When you release your project for the first time, Distutils will add your software to the Python Package Index and give it its own URL. Every time after that, it will simply update the project metadata with any changes you may have made in your parameters. Next, it builds a source distribution (sdist) and a Windows installer (bdist_wininst), then uploads them to PyPI (upload).
  2. Type 1 or just press ENTER to select “use your existing login.”
  3. Enter the username and password you selected on the the PyPI user registration page. Distuils will not echo your password; it will not even echo asterisks in place of characters. Just type your password and press ENTER.
  4. Distutils registers your package with the Python Package Index…
  5. …builds your source distribution…
  6. …builds your Windows installer…
  7. …and uploads them both to the Python Package Index.
  8. If you want to automate the process of releasing new versions, you need to save your PyPI credentials in a local file. This is completely insecure and completely optional.

Congratulations, you now have your own page on the Python Package Index! The address is, where NAME is the string you passed in the name parameter in your file.

If you want to release a new version, just update your with the new version number, then run the same upload command again:

c:\Users\pilgrim\chardet> c:\python31\python.exe register sdist bdist_wininst upload

The Many Possible Futures of Python Packaging

Distutils is not the be-all and end-all of Python packaging, but as of this writing (August 2009), it’s the only packaging framework that works in Python 3. There are a number of other frameworks for Python 2; some focus on installation, others on testing and deployment. Some or all of these may end up being ported to Python 3 in the future.

These frameworks focus on installation:

These focus on testing and deployment:

Further Reading

On Distutils:

On other packaging frameworks:

© 2001–11 Mark Pilgrim