by Brandon Rhodes • Home


Update: these days, I tend to use a simple virtual environment in conjunction with pip -e for development instead of using buildout. But buildout is still a simpler tool than most people realize, and I like to think that this old screencast of mine does a good job of illustrating a simplest-possible use case!

January 2008

This page is where I am collecting all of the hints that I accumulate about using buildout, the Python development and deployment technology invented by the Zope folks. To understand why I'm excited about it, try watching my screencast of this talk that I gave at Python Atlanta:

A Brief Introduction to Buildout (YouTube)

Q: Where can I get a copy of the example module that you used in your PyAtl talk?

A: You can download the source code for the lunar module that I use as my central example in the talk right here:

Q: How can I start developing my Python package with buildout?

A: Move into the top-level directory of your package — the directory that has your file inside — and place two files there:, which you can get in its most recent official version from this link, and a buildout.cfg that describes the development tools you want available. To gain the three tools I discuss in my presentations — a Python interpreter, access to the command-line scripts defined in your package, and a way to invoke your test suite — try out this sample buildout.cfg:

mypkgs = lunar

develop = .
parts = python scripts test

recipe = zc.recipe.egg
interpreter = python
eggs = {config:mypkgs}

recipe = zc.recipe.egg:scripts
eggs = {config:mypkgs}

recipe = zc.recipe.testrunner
eggs = {config:mypkgs}

Edit the first section of the file (whose name is arbitrary, by the way; config just made it easy for me to remember why I put it there) and change the package name lunar to the name you gave your package in the name option of its Then, run:

$ python
$ ./bin/buildout

And you should find that a ./bin/ directory appears with a python interpreter, a test runner, and any command-line scripts your module defines as console entry-points in its

Q: Does the buildout system destroy anything?

A: Yes; buildout will consider itself the owner of these three directories at the top level of your project, so make sure that you are not using directories with these names if you do not want them overwritten:


Q: What if I need a buildout that pulls eggs from other locations than the main Python Package Index?

A: Add some URLs to your buildout.cfg — they can point to any package index pages that the easy_install command would normally be able to digest — by adding this parameter (you can list several URLs if you want; the following URL is simply for illustration):

find-links =

Q: How can I avoid having every buildout on my system download a separate copy of each egg it needs?

A: You should tell your buildouts to download eggs into a single cache somewhere under your home directory. The buildouts will still be safely isolated from each other, since each version of an egg has its own filename! But instead of modifying every single buildout.cfg file to accomplish this, just create a ~/.buildout/ directory inside of your home directory, and place the following inside of a file named default.cfg:

eggs-directory = /home/brandon/eggs

Q: How can I develop against another package's source code, before it gets packaged up as an egg?

A: Download or checkout the other package's source code into either a sub-directory of your project, or another directory under your account. Then, mention that directory's name in the develop declaration in the main section of your buildout. For example, in my presentation above I check out the SQLAlchemy trunk into the directory sqlalchemy, and then adjust my develop line to look like:

develop = . sqlalchemy

But sometimes putting other projects in a sub-directory of your own project can be annoying. Your version control system might then start trying to include the other project in your commits, and if you have several projects that need access to the development version of a particular library, it might be annoying to have to check it out several times. So I often check out several projects, both my own and some others, into a single top-level directory, and then have their develop lines look something like:

develop = . ../sqlalchemy ../gatech.identity

This way, a small cluster of applications and libraries that I will be releasing as a set of eggs can all get developed together. But it does have the disadvantage that if I actually check in my buildout.cfg while it looks this way, then other developers will have to mimic my directory structure (or re-edit the buildout.cfg) before they too can work on the project.

Q: Buildout keeps disrupting my development by downloading newer versions of dependency packages when they appear, which often have slight changes that break my application.

A: A quick fix is to add this line to the buildout section of your buildout.cfg file:

newest = false

But I argue that this is inadequate protection, because if you move to another machine and re-create the buildout, then you are still vulnerable to getting newer versions of dependencies than the ones you were already working with. And specifying newer = false provides no protection for co-workers on other machines, or for your customers who might later be installing your product as an egg using easy_install!

That's why the real solution is to always specify absolute version numbers in your project's Instead of just requiring 'pyephem', require something specific like:


If you are afraid that you or your customers might miss out on critical security updates to a package by being stuck on a single version, then leave the lowest version number unspecified by saying something like:

install_requires=['sqlalchmey >= 0.4, < 0.5'],