28.3. venv — Creation of virtual environments

New in version 3.3.

Source code: Lib/venv

The venv module provides support for creating lightweight “virtual environments” with their own site directories, optionally isolated from system site directories. Each virtual environment has its own Python binary (allowing creation of environments with various Python versions) and can have its own independent set of installed Python packages in its site directories.

See PEP 405 for more information about Python virtual environments.

28.3.1. Creating virtual environments

Creation of virtual environments is done by executing the pyvenv script:

pyvenv /path/to/new/virtual/environment

Running this command creates the target directory (creating any parent directories that don’t exist already) and places a pyvenv.cfg file in it with a home key pointing to the Python installation the command was run from. It also creates a bin (or Scripts on Windows) subdirectory containing a copy of the python binary (or binaries, in the case of Windows). It also creates an (initially empty) lib/pythonX.Y/site-packages subdirectory (on Windows, this is Lib\site-packages).

On Windows, you may have to invoke the pyvenv script as follows, if you don’t have the relevant PATH and PATHEXT settings:

c:\Temp>c:\Python35\python c:\Python35\Tools\Scripts\pyvenv.py myenv

or equivalently:

c:\Temp>c:\Python35\python -m venv myenv

The command, if run with -h, will show the available options:

usage: venv [-h] [--system-site-packages] [--symlinks | --copies] [--clear]
            [--upgrade] [--without-pip]
            ENV_DIR [ENV_DIR ...]

Creates virtual Python environments in one or more target directories.

positional arguments:
  ENV_DIR             A directory to create the environment in.

optional arguments:
  -h, --help             show this help message and exit
  --system-site-packages Give the virtual environment access to the system
                         site-packages dir.
  --symlinks             Try to use symlinks rather than copies, when symlinks
                         are not the default for the platform.
  --copies               Try to use copies rather than symlinks, even when
                         symlinks are the default for the platform.
  --clear                Delete the contents of the environment directory if it
                         already exists, before environment creation.
  --upgrade              Upgrade the environment directory to use this version
                         of Python, assuming Python has been upgraded in-place.
  --without-pip          Skips installing or upgrading pip in the virtual
                         environment (pip is bootstrapped by default)

Depending on how the venv functionality has been invoked, the usage message may vary slightly, e.g. referencing pyvenv rather than venv.

Changed in version 3.4: Installs pip by default, added the --without-pip and --copies options

Changed in version 3.4: In earlier versions, if the target directory already existed, an error was raised, unless the --clear or --upgrade option was provided. Now, if an existing directory is specified, its contents are removed and the directory is processed as if it had been newly created.

The created pyvenv.cfg file also includes the include-system-site-packages key, set to true if venv is run with the --system-site-packages option, false otherwise.

Unless the --without-pip option is given, ensurepip will be invoked to bootstrap pip into the virtual environment.

Multiple paths can be given to pyvenv, in which case an identical virtualenv will be created, according to the given options, at each provided path.

Once a venv has been created, it can be “activated” using a script in the venv’s binary directory. The invocation of the script is platform-specific:

Platform Shell Command to activate virtual environment
Posix bash/zsh $ source <venv>/bin/activate
  fish $ . <venv>/bin/activate.fish
  csh/tcsh $ source <venv>/bin/activate.csh
Windows cmd.exe C:> <venv>/Scripts/activate.bat
  PowerShell PS C:> <venv>/Scripts/Activate.ps1

You don’t specifically need to activate an environment; activation just prepends the venv’s binary directory to your path, so that “python” invokes the venv’s Python interpreter and you can run installed scripts without having to use their full path. However, all scripts installed in a venv should be runnable without activating it, and run with the venv’s Python automatically.

You can deactivate a venv by typing “deactivate” in your shell. The exact mechanism is platform-specific: for example, the Bash activation script defines a “deactivate” function, whereas on Windows there are separate scripts called deactivate.bat and Deactivate.ps1 which are installed when the venv is created.

New in version 3.4: fish and csh activation scripts.


A virtual environment (also called a venv) is a Python environment such that the Python interpreter, libraries and scripts installed into it are isolated from those installed in other virtual environments, and (by default) any libraries installed in a “system” Python, i.e. one which is installed as part of your operating system.

A venv is a directory tree which contains Python executable files and other files which indicate that it is a venv.

Common installation tools such as Setuptools and pip work as expected with venvs - i.e. when a venv is active, they install Python packages into the venv without needing to be told to do so explicitly. Of course, you need to install them into the venv first: this could be done by running ez_setup.py with the venv activated, followed by running easy_install pip. Alternatively, you could download the source tarballs and run python setup.py install after unpacking, with the venv activated.

When a venv is active (i.e. the venv’s Python interpreter is running), the attributes sys.prefix and sys.exec_prefix point to the base directory of the venv, whereas sys.base_prefix and sys.base_exec_prefix point to the non-venv Python installation which was used to create the venv. If a venv is not active, then sys.prefix is the same as sys.base_prefix and sys.exec_prefix is the same as sys.base_exec_prefix (they all point to a non-venv Python installation).

When a venv is active, any options that change the installation path will be ignored from all distutils configuration files to prevent projects being inadvertently installed outside of the virtual environment.

When working in a command shell, users can make a venv active by running an activate script in the venv’s executables directory (the precise filename is shell-dependent), which prepends the venv’s directory for executables to the PATH environment variable for the running shell. There should be no need in other circumstances to activate a venv – scripts installed into venvs have a shebang line which points to the venv’s Python interpreter. This means that the script will run with that interpreter regardless of the value of PATH. On Windows, shebang line processing is supported if you have the Python Launcher for Windows installed (this was added to Python in 3.3 - see PEP 397 for more details). Thus, double-clicking an installed script in a Windows Explorer window should run the script with the correct interpreter without there needing to be any reference to its venv in PATH.

28.3.2. API

The high-level method described above makes use of a simple API which provides mechanisms for third-party virtual environment creators to customize environment creation according to their needs, the EnvBuilder class.

class venv.EnvBuilder(system_site_packages=False, clear=False, symlinks=False, upgrade=False, with_pip=False)

The EnvBuilder class accepts the following keyword arguments on instantiation:

  • system_site_packages – a Boolean value indicating that the system Python site-packages should be available to the environment (defaults to False).
  • clear – a Boolean value which, if true, will delete the contents of any existing target directory, before creating the environment.
  • symlinks – a Boolean value indicating whether to attempt to symlink the Python binary (and any necessary DLLs or other binaries, e.g. pythonw.exe), rather than copying. Defaults to True on Linux and Unix systems, but False on Windows.
  • upgrade – a Boolean value which, if true, will upgrade an existing environment with the running Python - for use when that Python has been upgraded in-place (defaults to False).
  • with_pip – a Boolean value which, if true, ensures pip is installed in the virtual environment. This uses ensurepip with the --default-pip option.

Changed in version 3.4: Added the with_pip parameter

Creators of third-party virtual environment tools will be free to use the provided EnvBuilder class as a base class.

The returned env-builder is an object which has a method, create:


This method takes as required argument the path (absolute or relative to the current directory) of the target directory which is to contain the virtual environment. The create method will either create the environment in the specified directory, or raise an appropriate exception.

The create method of the EnvBuilder class illustrates the hooks available for subclass customization:

def create(self, env_dir):
    Create a virtualized Python environment in a directory.
    env_dir is the target directory to create an environment in.
    env_dir = os.path.abspath(env_dir)
    context = self.ensure_directories(env_dir)

Each of the methods ensure_directories(), create_configuration(), setup_python(), setup_scripts() and post_setup() can be overridden.


Creates the environment directory and all necessary directories, and returns a context object. This is just a holder for attributes (such as paths), for use by the other methods. The directories are allowed to exist already, as long as either clear or upgrade were specified to allow operating on an existing environment directory.


Creates the pyvenv.cfg configuration file in the environment.


Creates a copy of the Python executable (and, under Windows, DLLs) in the environment. On a POSIX system, if a specific executable python3.x was used, symlinks to python and python3 will be created pointing to that executable, unless files with those names already exist.


Installs activation scripts appropriate to the platform into the virtual environment.


A placeholder method which can be overridden in third party implementations to pre-install packages in the virtual environment or perform other post-creation steps.

In addition, EnvBuilder provides this utility method that can be called from setup_scripts() or post_setup() in subclasses to assist in installing custom scripts into the virtual environment.

install_scripts(context, path)

path is the path to a directory that should contain subdirectories “common”, “posix”, “nt”, each containing scripts destined for the bin directory in the environment. The contents of “common” and the directory corresponding to os.name are copied after some text replacement of placeholders:

  • __VENV_DIR__ is replaced with the absolute path of the environment directory.
  • __VENV_NAME__ is replaced with the environment name (final path segment of environment directory).
  • __VENV_PROMPT__ is replaced with the prompt (the environment name surrounded by parentheses and with a following space)
  • __VENV_BIN_NAME__ is replaced with the name of the bin directory (either bin or Scripts).
  • __VENV_PYTHON__ is replaced with the absolute path of the environment’s executable.

The directories are allowed to exist (for when an existing environment is being upgraded).

There is also a module-level convenience function:

venv.create(env_dir, system_site_packages=False, clear=False, symlinks=False, with_pip=False)

Create an EnvBuilder with the given keyword arguments, and call its create() method with the env_dir argument.

Changed in version 3.4: Added the with_pip parameter

28.3.3. An example of extending EnvBuilder

The following script shows how to extend EnvBuilder by implementing a subclass which installs setuptools and pip into a created venv:

import os
import os.path
from subprocess import Popen, PIPE
import sys
from threading import Thread
from urllib.parse import urlparse
from urllib.request import urlretrieve
import venv

class ExtendedEnvBuilder(venv.EnvBuilder):
    This builder installs setuptools and pip so that you can pip or
    easy_install other packages into the created environment.

    :param nodist: If True, setuptools and pip are not installed into the
                   created environment.
    :param nopip: If True, pip is not installed into the created
    :param progress: If setuptools or pip are installed, the progress of the
                     installation can be monitored by passing a progress
                     callable. If specified, it is called with two
                     arguments: a string indicating some progress, and a
                     context indicating where the string is coming from.
                     The context argument can have one of three values:
                     'main', indicating that it is called from virtualize()
                     itself, and 'stdout' and 'stderr', which are obtained
                     by reading lines from the output streams of a subprocess
                     which is used to install the app.

                     If a callable is not specified, default progress
                     information is output to sys.stderr.

    def __init__(self, *args, **kwargs):
        self.nodist = kwargs.pop('nodist', False)
        self.nopip = kwargs.pop('nopip', False)
        self.progress = kwargs.pop('progress', None)
        self.verbose = kwargs.pop('verbose', False)
        super().__init__(*args, **kwargs)

    def post_setup(self, context):
        Set up any packages which need to be pre-installed into the
        environment being created.

        :param context: The information for the environment creation request
                        being processed.
        os.environ['VIRTUAL_ENV'] = context.env_dir
        if not self.nodist:
        # Can't install pip without setuptools
        if not self.nopip and not self.nodist:

    def reader(self, stream, context):
        Read lines from a subprocess' output stream and either pass to a progress
        callable (if specified) or write progress information to sys.stderr.
        progress = self.progress
        while True:
            s = stream.readline()
            if not s:
            if progress is not None:
                progress(s, context)
                if not self.verbose:

    def install_script(self, context, name, url):
        _, _, path, _, _, _ = urlparse(url)
        fn = os.path.split(path)[-1]
        binpath = context.bin_path
        distpath = os.path.join(binpath, fn)
        # Download script into the env's binaries folder
        urlretrieve(url, distpath)
        progress = self.progress
        if self.verbose:
            term = '\n'
            term = ''
        if progress is not None:
            progress('Installing %s ...%s' % (name, term), 'main')
            sys.stderr.write('Installing %s ...%s' % (name, term))
        # Install in the env
        args = [context.env_exe, fn]
        p = Popen(args, stdout=PIPE, stderr=PIPE, cwd=binpath)
        t1 = Thread(target=self.reader, args=(p.stdout, 'stdout'))
        t2 = Thread(target=self.reader, args=(p.stderr, 'stderr'))
        if progress is not None:
            progress('done.', 'main')
        # Clean up - no longer needed

    def install_setuptools(self, context):
        Install setuptools in the environment.

        :param context: The information for the environment creation request
                        being processed.
        url = 'https://bitbucket.org/pypa/setuptools/downloads/ez_setup.py'
        self.install_script(context, 'setuptools', url)
        # clear up the setuptools archive which gets downloaded
        pred = lambda o: o.startswith('setuptools-') and o.endswith('.tar.gz')
        files = filter(pred, os.listdir(context.bin_path))
        for f in files:
            f = os.path.join(context.bin_path, f)

    def install_pip(self, context):
        Install pip in the environment.

        :param context: The information for the environment creation request
                        being processed.
        url = 'https://raw.github.com/pypa/pip/master/contrib/get-pip.py'
        self.install_script(context, 'pip', url)

def main(args=None):
    compatible = True
    if sys.version_info < (3, 3):
        compatible = False
    elif not hasattr(sys, 'base_prefix'):
        compatible = False
    if not compatible:
        raise ValueError('This script is only for use with '
                         'Python 3.3 or later')
        import argparse

        parser = argparse.ArgumentParser(prog=__name__,
                                         description='Creates virtual Python '
                                                     'environments in one or '
                                                     'more target '
        parser.add_argument('dirs', metavar='ENV_DIR', nargs='+',
                            help='A directory to create the environment in.')
        parser.add_argument('--no-setuptools', default=False,
                            action='store_true', dest='nodist',
                            help="Don't install setuptools or pip in the "
                                 "virtual environment.")
        parser.add_argument('--no-pip', default=False,
                            action='store_true', dest='nopip',
                            help="Don't install pip in the virtual "
        parser.add_argument('--system-site-packages', default=False,
                            action='store_true', dest='system_site',
                            help='Give the virtual environment access to the '
                                 'system site-packages dir.')
        if os.name == 'nt':
            use_symlinks = False
            use_symlinks = True
        parser.add_argument('--symlinks', default=use_symlinks,
                            action='store_true', dest='symlinks',
                            help='Try to use symlinks rather than copies, '
                                 'when symlinks are not the default for '
                                 'the platform.')
        parser.add_argument('--clear', default=False, action='store_true',
                            dest='clear', help='Delete the contents of the '
                                               'environment directory if it '
                                               'already exists, before '
                                               'environment creation.')
        parser.add_argument('--upgrade', default=False, action='store_true',
                            dest='upgrade', help='Upgrade the environment '
                                               'directory to use this version '
                                               'of Python, assuming Python '
                                               'has been upgraded in-place.')
        parser.add_argument('--verbose', default=False, action='store_true',
                            dest='verbose', help='Display the output '
                                               'from the scripts which '
                                               'install setuptools and pip.')
        options = parser.parse_args(args)
        if options.upgrade and options.clear:
            raise ValueError('you cannot supply --upgrade and --clear together.')
        builder = ExtendedEnvBuilder(system_site_packages=options.system_site,
        for d in options.dirs:

if __name__ == '__main__':
    rc = 1
        rc = 0
    except Exception as e:
        print('Error: %s' % e, file=sys.stderr)

This script is also available for download online.