Isolated Python Environment Guide – Virtualenv-Wrapper

Isolated Python Environment Guide

Using an isolated Python Environment for developing code is a practice I should be employing. So this article is a guide to setting up and using a virtual environment for Python projects.

Creating an isolated Python environment with a tool called virtualenv is a way to separate different Python projects. So instead of having every Python project sharing the same dependencies, we can isolate projects with its own specific dependencies. As a result we avoid breaking some Python projects through global site-packages updates.


For those who are new to Python, dependencies are basically packages that contain a collection of modules. Some modules are already included with Python, but it is likely that you will soon start installing your own modules. Modules may also be referred to as libraries. Popular libraries you might include in your Python project, for example, are:

  • Requests -The http library by Kenneth Reitz.
  • NumPy – It provides some advance maths functionalities.
  • SciPy – A library of algorithms and mathematical tools.
  • Pygame – A game development library.

Anybody beginning to use Python will benefit from creating isolated Python environments. Thus this will keep the global site-packages neat and tidy.

Isolated Python Environment


Isolated Python environments might not seem like a big deal at first. But when you come to install libraries to support OpenCV for instance, you might want to be doing everything you can to protect it. After all, you might have spent hours pacing up and down watching the libraries compile.

If you work on many different projects in the usual Python environment, over time, you are likely to install and update many packages. Consequently, this will cause the global site-packages directory to change constantly. Continuing to install and update Python packages might eventually cause some Python projects to stop working – as well as the OpenCV libraries you might have installed.


Basically, Isolated Python Environment allow me to develop and run Python projects in separate clean environments. I can install Python modules specific to my project in its own isolated environment. As a result, my project will be protected from global site-packages updates.

A newly created Python Environment will not include packages from the site-packages directory. Therefore, pip package manager will be used to add the packages the project requires.

Set-up Isolated Python Environment

You will want to login to the platform you are working with. The following commands will be entered in the terminal. Commands are for both Python 2 and Python 3. However, do not enter the comment lines that begin with the hash (#) character.

Now it is time to install the isolated Python environment package. For my purpose, I’m using Raspberry PI with Raspian Stretch Lite installed. If I remember correctly, only the Raspbian desktop versions have pip installed. So install Python pip, if you don’t have it installed already. To test for pip you can try the following:

pip -h
pip3 -h

You can install pip for each version of Python or you can just install the one you prefer:

sudo apt-get install python-pip
sudo apt-get install python3-pip

Next we install isolated Python environment packages. Then we clear the pip cache:

sudo pip install virtualenv virtualenvwrapper
sudo pip3 install virtualenv virtualenvwrapper
sudo rm -rf ~/.cache/pip    # Careful with this command.

We add some lines to the profile file so that virtualenvwrapper can be set-up in each new terminal login. We first add a description line, then we tell virtualenvwrapper where we want the virtual folders to be stored. Then the virtualenvwrapper installation supplied script is added.

echo -e "\n# virtualenv and virtualenvwrapper" >> ~/.profile
echo "export WORKON_HOME=$HOME/.virtualenvs" >> ~/.profile
echo "source /usr/local/bin/" >> ~/.profile

Optionally, append further lines to the profile file so that we can get a reminder message after terminal login. The reminder message tell us how to create or open a project virtual environment.

echo “echo \”Virtual Python Environment\”” >> ~/.profile
echo “echo \”$ mkvirtualenv project_name -p python3\”” >> ~/.profile
echo “echo \”$ workon project_name\”” >> ~/.profile

Create Isolated Python Environment

If you are continuing from above, updating profile file, you will need to logout, login. Else you can run the following command to reload the profile set-up.

source ~/.profile

Finally, we create our first Python environment. You could name the new environment that relates it to a project it belongs to. The project robot_cv is just a random project name. The purpose of the following command is only to create virtual environments. We use a different command, later in the next section, to enter virtual environments we create.

mkvirtualenv robot_cv -p python2
mkvirtualenv robot_cv -p python3

So there you have it. First isolated Python environment created.

Isolated Python Environment Prompt
Isolated Python Environment Prompt

The terminal command prompt above show that the virtual environment is active. You will see which environment we are currently in by looking at the project name in brackets.


Thus we return to the normal command prompt by using the deactivate command. This will take us out of the virtual environment.

Using Isolated Python Environment


All the virtual environment commands we use are provided by the virtualenv wrapper. This adds more flexibility than had we only installed the virtualenv package. So when you come to lookup commands to use the virtual environment, you need virtualenvwrapper command reference.

While you are in the virtual environment you will still be able to navigate around your home user directory as normal. So you can navigate to your python project files and run them as you did before.

However, you need to remember, your python project will not have access to global site-packages while in the virtual environment. But you can still install packages that your project needs by using the pip install command.

Useful Commands

Create A New Virtual Environment

mkvirtualenv robot_cv -p python3
Isolated Python Environment - Create New Environment
Isolated Python Environment – Create New Environment

Deactivate The Current Evironment

Isolated Python Environment - Deactivate
Isolated Python Environment – Deactivate

Delete A Virtual Environment

rmvirtualenv robot_cv3
Isolated Python Environment - Remove
Isolated Python Environment – Remove

Load A Virtual Environment To Work In

At the terminal command prompt, to list all the virtual environments you have created, run the following command:

Terminal Command virtualenvwrapper workon
Terminal Command virtualenvwrapper workon

To jump in a virtual environment we just select one we have created before:

# robot_cv is the name of the virtual environment I created earlier.
workon robot_cv
Terminal Command virtualenvwrapper workon Project
Terminal Command virtualenvwrapper workon Project

So now that your in the virtual environment, you can perform some of the following commands.

Run A Python Program

python3 python3/helloworld/
Terminal Command virtualenvwrapper helloworld
Terminal Command virtualenvwrapper helloworld

Switch Virtual Environments

workon robot_cv2
Terminal Command virtualenvwrapper workon Project Switch
Terminal Command virtualenvwrapper workon Project Switch

You will notice the change by checking the name within the brackets on the command prompt.

List Python Packages available In Current Virtual Environment

pip3 freeze --all
Isolated Python Environment pip3 freeze
Isolated Python Environment pip3 freeze

Python Package List output To Text File

pip3 freeze --all > robot_cv2_req.txt
Isolated Python Environment Package List Output To File
Isolated Python Environment Package List Output To File
Isolated Python Environment View Package List
Isolated Python Environment View Package List

Install Packages From List

pip3 install -r robot_cv2_req.txt
Virtual Environment pip Install Packages From List
Virtual Environment pip Install Packages From List

Virtualenv Wrapper Command List

  • workon
  • deactivate
  • lsvirtualenv
  • showvirtualenv
  • mkvirtualenv
  • rmvirtualenv
  • allvirtualenv
  • mktmpenv
  • add2virtualenv
  • cdsitepackages
  • lssitepackages
  • cdvirtualenv
  • mkproject
  • setvirtualenvproject
  • cdproject
  • wipeenv


  • virtualenvwrapper Command Reference – Link.
  • pip Reference Guide – Link.
  • virtualenv Reference Guide – Link.

Related Articles

How To Start Raspberry Pi Programming

How To Start Raspberry Pi Programming – Link.

Buying Featured Items

The purchase price is going to vary greatly depending on how quickly you want the items. Therefore shop around checking out Amazon, Ebay, Adafruit and local electronic stores.

UK Searches:

UK Amazon:

  • Raspberry Pi – Search
  • MicroSD Card – Search
  • Raspberry Pi Compatible Wi-Fi Dongle – Search

US Searches:

US Amazon:

  • Raspberry Pi – Search
  • MicroSD Card – Search
  • Raspberry Pi Compatible Wi-Fi Dongle – Search

On Closing

I hope you fined this article useful – Raspberry Pi Controller For Robot Control Review, please like and share.