What is the difference between venv, pyvenv, pyenv, virtualenv, virtualenvwrapper, pipenv, etc?
Recommendation for beginners:
This is my personal recommendation for beginners: start by learning
pip, tools which work with both Python 2 and 3 and in a variety of situations, and pick up other tools once you start needing them.
PyPI packages not in the standard library:
virtualenvis a very popular tool that creates isolated Python environments for Python libraries. If you're not familiar with this tool, I highly recommend learning it, as it is a very useful tool, and I'll be making comparisons to it for the rest of this answer.
It works by installing a bunch of files in a directory (eg:
env/), and then modifying the
PATH environment variable to prefix it with a custom
bin directory (eg:
env/bin/). An exact copy of the
python3 binary is placed in this directory, but Python is programmed to look for libraries relative to its path first, in the environment directory. It's not part of Python's standard library, but is officially blessed by the PyPA (Python Packaging Authority). Once activated, you can install packages in the virtual environment using
pyenvis used to isolate Python versions. For example, you may want to test your code against Python 2.7, 3.6, 3.7 and 3.8, so you'll need a way to switch between them. Once activated, it prefixes the
PATHenvironment variable with
~/.pyenv/shims, where there are special files matching the Python commands (
pip). These are not copies of the Python-shipped commands; they are special scripts that decide on the fly which version of Python to run based on the
PYENV_VERSIONenvironment variable, or the
.python-versionfile, or the
pyenvalso makes the process of downloading and installing multiple Python versions easier, using the command
pyenv-virtualenvis a plugin for
pyenvby the same author as
pyenv, to allow you to use
virtualenvat the same time conveniently. However, if you're using Python 3.3 or later,
pyenv-virtualenvwill try to run
python -m venvif it is available, instead of
virtualenv. You can use
pyenv-virtualenv, if you don't want the convenience features.
virtualenvwrapperis a set of extensions to
virtualenv(see docs). It gives you commands like
lssitepackages, and especially
workonfor switching between different
virtualenvdirectories. This tool is especially useful if you want multiple
pyenv-virtualenvwrapperis a plugin for
pyenvby the same author as
pyenv, to conveniently integrate
pipenvaims to combine
virtualenvinto one command on the command-line. The
virtualenvdirectory typically gets placed in
XXXbeing a hash of the path of the project directory. This is different from
virtualenv, where the directory is typically in the current working directory.
pipenvis meant to be used when developing Python applications (as opposed to libraries). There are alternatives to
pipenv, such as
poetry, which I won't list here since this question is only about the packages that are similarly named.
pyvenv(not to be confused with
pyenvin the previous section) is a script shipped with Python 3 but deprecated in Python 3.6 as it had problems (not to mention the confusing name). In Python 3.6+, the exact equivalent is
python3 -m venv.
venvis a package shipped with Python 3, which you can run using
python3 -m venv(although for some reason some distros separate it out into a separate distro package, such as
python3-venvon Ubuntu/Debian). It serves the same purpose as
virtualenv, but only has a subset of its features (see a comparison here).
virtualenvcontinues to be more popular than
venv, especially since the former supports both Python 2 and 3.
I would just avoid the use of
virtualenv after Python3.3+ and instead use the standard shipped library
venv. To create a new virtual environment you would type:
$ python3 -m venv <MYVENV>
virtualenv tries to copy the Python binary into the virtual environment's bin directory. However it does not update library file links embedded into that binary, so if you build Python from source into a non-system directory with relative path names, the Python binary breaks. Since this is how you make a copy distributable Python, it is a big flaw. BTW to inspect embedded library file links on OS X, use
otool. For example from within your virtual environment, type:
$ otool -L bin/pythonpython: /usr/lib/libSystem.B.dylib (compatibility version 1.0.0, current version 1238.0.0)
Consequently I would avoid
pyvenv is deprecated.
pyenv seems to be used often where
virtualenv is used but I would stay away from it also since I think
venv also does what
pyenv is built for.
venv creates virtual environments in the shell that are fresh and sandboxed, with user-installable libraries, and it's multi-python safe.
Fresh: because virtual environments only start with the standard libraries that ship with python, you have to install any other libraries all over again with
pip install while the virtual environment is active.
Sandboxed: because none of these new library installs are visible outside the virtual environment, so you can delete the whole environment and start again without worrying about impacting your base python install.
User-installable libraries: because the virtual environment's target folder is created without
sudo in some directory you already own, so you won't need
sudo permissions to install libraries into it.
multi-python safe: because when virtual environments activate, the shell only sees the python version (3.4, 3.5 etc.) that was used to build that virtual environment.
pyenv is similar to
venv in that it lets you manage multiple python environments. However with
pyenv you can't conveniently rollback library installs to some start state and you will likely need
admin privileges at some point to update libraries. So I think it is also best to use
In the last couple of years I have found many problems in build systems (emacs packages, python standalone application builders, installers...) that ultimately come down to issues with
virtualenv. I think python will be a better platform when we eliminate this additional option and only use
EDIT: Tweet of the BDFL,I use venv (in the stdlib) and a bunch of shell aliases to quickly switch.— Guido van Rossum (@gvanrossum) October 22, 2020
Added below "Conclusion" paragraph
I've went down the
pipenv rabbit hole (it's a deep and dark hole indeed...) and since the last answer is over 2 years ago, felt it was useful to update the discussion with the latest developments on the Python virtual envelopes topic I've found.
This answer is NOT about continuing the raging debate about the merits of pipenv versus venv as envelope solutions- I make no endorsement of either. It's about PyPA endorsing conflicting standards and how future development of virtualenv promises to negate making an either/or choice between them at all. I focused on these two tools precisely because they are the anointed ones by PyPA.
As the OP notes, venv is a tool for virtualizing environments. NOT a third party solution, but native tool. PyPA endorses venv for creating VIRTUAL ENVELOPES: "Changed in version 3.5: The use of venv is now recommended for creating virtual environments".
pipenv- like venv - can be used to create virtual envelopes but additionally rolls-in package management and vulnerability checking functionality. Instead of using
pipenv delivers package management via Pipfile. As PyPA endorses pipenv for PACKAGE MANAGEMENT, that would seem to imply
pipfile is to supplant
HOWEVER: pipenv uses virtualenv as its tool for creating virtual envelopes, NOT venv which is endorsed by PyPA as the go-to tool for creating virtual envelopes.
So if settling on a virtual envelope solution wasn't difficult enough, we now have PyPA endorsing two different tools which use different virtual envelope solutions. The raging Github debate on venv vs virtualenv which highlights this conflict can be found here.
The Github debate referenced in above link has steered virtualenv development in the direction of accommodating venv in future releases:
prefer built-in venv: if the target python has venv we'll create theenvironment using that (and then perform subsequent operations on thatto facilitate other guarantees we offer)
So it looks like there will be some future convergence between the two rival virtual envelope solutions, but as of now pipenv- which uses
virtualenv - varies materially from
Given the problems pipenv solves and the fact that PyPA has given its blessing, it appears to have a bright future. And if virtualenv delivers on its proposed development objectives, choosing a virtual envelope solution should no longer be a case of either pipenv OR venv.
An oft repeated criticism of Pipenv I saw when producing this analysis was that it was not actively maintained. Indeed, what's the point of using a solution whose future could be seen questionable due to lack of continuous development? After a dry spell of about 18 months, Pipenv is once again being actively developed. Indeed, large and material updates have since been released.