Python Isolated Environment (PIE)

Here's a proposal I will send to the python-dev. What do you think ?

(Disclaimer : this proposal is highly inspired from the work done by people in various tools, it does not reinvent anything)

The problem

Python developers distribute and deploy their packages using myriads of dependencies. Some of them are not yet available as official OS python packages. Even sometimes one package conflicts with the official version of a package installed in a given OS.

In any case, the cycle of development of most Python applications is shorter than the release cycle of Linux distributions, so it is impossible for application Foo to wait that Bar 5.6 is officialy available in Debian 4.x.

Therefore, there's a need to provide or describe a specific list of dependencies for their application to work.

And this list of dependency might conflict with the existing list of packages installed in Python. In other words, even if this is not a wanted behavior from an os packager point of view, an application might need to provide its own execution context.

Right now, when Python is loaded, it uses the site module to browse the site-packages directory to populate the path with packages it find there. .pth files are also parsed to provide extra paths.

Python 2.6 has introduced per-user site-packages directory, where you can define an extra directory, which is added in the path like the central one.

But both will append new paths to the environment without any rule of exclusion or version checking.

The workarounds

A few workarounds exist to be able to express what packages (and version) an application needs to run, or to set up an isolated environment for it:
- setuptools provides the install_requires mechanism where you can define dependencies directly inside the package, as a new metadata. It also provides a way to install two different versions of one package and let you pick by code or when the program starts, which one you want to activate. - virtualenv will let you create an isolated Python environment, where you can define your own site-packages. This allows you to make sure you are not conflicting with a incompatible version of a given package. - zc.buildout relies on setuptools and provides an isolated environment a bit similar in some aspects to virtualenv. - pip provides a way to describe requirements in a file, which can be used to define bundles, which are very similar to what zc.buildout provides.

But they all aim at the same goal : define a specific execution context for a specific application, and declare dependencies with no respect to other applications or to the OS environment.

This proposal describes a solution that can be added to Python to provide that feature.

The solution

A isolated environment file that describes dependencies is added. This file can be tweaked by the application packager, or later by the OS packager if something goes wrong.

The isolated environment file

A new file called a Python Isolated Environment file (PIE file) can be provided by any application to define the list of dependencies and their versions.

It is a simple text file with a first line that provides :
- a list of paths, separated by ':', on line 1 - then one package per line, starting at line 2. each package can be prefixed by a `!`

For example:
/var/myapp/myenv

lxml

sqlite

sqlalchemy

!sqlobject

This list of packages might or might not be installed in Python.

Versions can be provided as well in this file :
/var/myapp/myenv:/var/myapp/myenv2

lxml >= 0.9

sqlite > 1.8

sqlalchemy == 0.7

!sqlobject == 0.6

The file is saved with the pie extension,

Loading an isolated environment file

A new function called load_isolated_environment is added in site.py, that let you load a PIE file.

Loading a PIE file means:
- for each package defined, starting at line 2, load_isolated_environment will look into the environment if the package with the particular version exists. The version is given by the package.__version__ value or the PKG-INFO one when available. If the package exists but the version is not available, the version 0.0 is used. - for packages without the ! prefix:
- if the package is not found, it will scan each path provided on line 1 of the file, using the site-packages method, looking for that package. - if the package is found, it is added in the path. - if the package is not found, a PackageMissing error is raised.

  • for packages starting with the ! prefix:
  • if the package is found, it is removed from the path

This function can be called by code like this:

from site import load_isolated_environment

>>> load_isolated_environment('/path/to/context.pie')

From there, sys.path meets the requirements and the code that is executed after this call will benefit from this context.
Another context can be loaded in the same process :

load_isolated_environment('/path/to/another_context.pie')

Limitations:
- if the new context brakes other programs in the process. It's up to the application packager to fix the context file. - it's not the job of load_isolated_environment to resolve dependencies issues : if the foo package needs the bar package, it won't complain. - it is not the job of load_isolated_environment to get missing dependencies.

Using an isolated environment file

Typically, an isolated environment file can be used into high-level Python scripts. For example, any script an application provides to be launched :
# this script runs zope

from site import load_isolated_environment

load_isolated_environment('zope-3.4.pie')



import zope



if __name__ == '__main__':

    zope.run()

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