How to use a virtualenv in your web app (to get newer versions of django, flask etc)

A virtualenv is a way to create a python environment that's isolated and separate from the normal system-wide installed packages. It's particularly useful if you decide our 'default' versions of packages are not the versions you want to use -- to get the latest django, for example.

Using a virtualenv in your web app

Create a new web app using the "manual config" option, or visit one of your existing web apps, and you'll see a section called "Virtualenvs" in the config tab. This allows you to specify the path to an existing virtualenv. Read on for instructions on how to create one.

Creating a virtualenv

We recommend using virtualenvwrapper, a handy command-line tool, to create your virtualenv. Here's an example:

$ mkvirtualenv myvirtualenv --python=/usr/bin/python3.6


Running virtualenv with interpreter /usr/bin/python3.6
Using base prefix '/usr'
New python executable in myvirtualenv/bin/python3.6
Also creating executable in myvirtualenv/bin/python
Installing setuptools, pip...done.


(myvirtualenv) $ which python
/home/myusername/.virtualenvs/bin/python
(myvirtualenv) $ deactivate
$ which python
/usr/bin/python
$ workon myvirtualenv
(myvirtualenv) $ which python
/home/myusername/.virtualenvs/bin/python


(myvirtualenv) $ python
Python 3.6.0 (default, Apr 11 2014, 13:05:11)
[GCC 4.8.2] on linux
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>>
  • You can specify whichever version of Python you like for your virtualenv, but it must match the version of python you've chosen for your web app
  • Once you create your virtualenv, you need to activate it. It's automatically activate straight after you create it with mkvirtualenv, and you can re-activate it later with workon myvirtualenv.
  • You can tell whether your virtualenv is active, because its name appears in your prompt -- you see (myvirtualenv) $.

Installing virtualenvwrapper if you need to

If you see a command not found error when trying to run mkvirtualenv, you'll find some installation instructions here: InstallingVirtualenvWrapper

Installing stuff into your virtualenv

$ workon myvirtualenv


(myvirtualenv) $ which pip  # this lets you check that the virtualenv has been activated
/home/myusername/.virtualenvs/myvirtualenv/bin/pip


(myvirtualenv) $ pip install django==1.7.1 # or flask, or whichever modules you want to use, optionally specifying a version number


Downloading/unpacking django==1.7.1
  Downloading Django-1.7.1-py2.py3-none-any.whl (7.4MB): 7.4MB downloaded
Installing collected packages: django
Successfully installed django
Cleaning up...

Using your virtualenv back in your web app

Now that you have a virtualenv, and you know its path, you can go and enter it back in the Web tab.

Go to the Virtualenv section, and enter the path: /home/myusername/.virtualenvs/myvirtualenv

  • TIP: if you're using virtualenvwrapper, you can just enter the name of the virtualenv, myvirtualenv, and the system will automatically guess the rest of the path (/home/myusername/.virtualenvs etc) after you hit ok

Now, Reload your web app, and you should find it has access to all the packages in your virtualenv, instead of the system ones.