skip to content

Python's virtual environments

// The venv module and how to use it.

Why you should use venv

It can be quite tempting to just install all your dependencies globally, but you’ll soon find yourself running into issues.

By default, every Python project on your system uses the same directories to store and retrieve third party libraries (site-packages) and given that Python isn’t able to differentiate between various versions of packages in the site-packages directory, a real problem arises.

A virtual environment is a tool that helps to keep dependencies required by different projects separate by creating an isolated python environment for them.

Creating virtual environments

The easiest way to create a virtual environment in Python (version 3.3 and later) is to use the venv package that is built into the standard library.

A virtual environment can be created in your current working directory by running the following command in a terminal:

python -m venv venv

The python -m command tells Python to run a library module as a script. The first venv specifies which module should be run i.e. the venv module. The second venv is the name of the virtual environment. I like naming my virtual environments venv, but you can really name it anything you like.

You should now be able to see a new folder named venv in your current working directory. The structure of this folder should look similar to the following:

# Windows
├── Include
├── Lib
│   └── site-packages
├── Scripts
│   ├── activate
│   ├── activate.bat
│   ├── activate.ps1
│   ├── deactivate.bat
│   ├── pip.exe
│   └── python.exe
└── pyvenv.cfg

This is the virtual environment. As seen above, a version of python or python.exe is placed in the scripts folder as well as a version of pip. This will be found in .\venv\bin on mac.

So now when you pip install packages into your virtual environment, they will get placed in the site-packages folder above. The scripts folder also contains scripts that can be used to activate the virtual environment. Again, venv is just a Python package and the version of Python that exists inside the virtual environment will depend on the version of Python used to create the environment.

Note that any Python scripts you create e.g. should sit outside of the venv folder.

Activating the virtual environment

In order to pip install packages into the virtual environment you need to first activate it. This step is quite important as it allows you to specify that all project dependencies must come from the virtual environment and not the global environment. As seen in the Scripts folder above, creating a new virtual environment will create various scripts that can be used to activate and deactivate the virtual environment.

From the root of your project folder, you can activate the venv with one of the following:

# windows

# mac
source ./venv/bin/activate

Once the virtual environment has been activated you can them pip install a package e.g. pip install pip-install-test and it will be installed to the site-packages folder in the virtual environment. You can then proceed to the import packages as you usually would in your Python scripts.


To quickly and easily replicate environments elsewhere or even on other machines, you can create a requirements.txt file using the commands:

pip freeze > requirements.txt

This will create a file which specifies all the dependencies of a project along with the specific version of each required package. The requirements.txt file sits outside of the venv folder and looks something like this:


You can copy this file elsewhere, create another virtual environment and install all the listed packages into your new virtual environment using:

pip install -r requirements.txt

Note that the requirements.txt file does not specify the version of Python that is required.

Deactivating the virtual environment

The easiest way to get out of a virtual environment is to use the deactivate command in the terminal.

Other alternatives for creating virtual environments

There are many ways to create virtual environments in Python. In this post, I demonstrated how to use venv simply because it is built into the standard library and doesn’t require any additional packages. However there are many other feature rich packages out there worth exploring.

Some notable ones are virtualenv and pipenv.