Python for Formula Authors

This document explains how to successfully use Python in a Homebrew formula.

Homebrew draws a distinction between Python applications and Python libraries. The difference is that users generally do not care that applications are written in Python; it is unusual that a user would expect to be able to import foo after installing an application. Examples of applications are ansible and jrnl.

Python libraries exist to be imported by other Python modules; they are often dependencies of Python applications. They are usually no more than incidentally useful in a terminal. Examples of libraries are certifi and numpy.

Bindings are a special case of libraries that allow Python code to interact with a library or application implemented in another language. An example is the Python bindings installed by libxml2.

Homebrew is happy to accept applications that are built in Python, whether the apps are available from PyPI or not. Homebrew generally won’t accept libraries that can be installed correctly with pip install foo. Bindings may be installed for packages that provide them, especially if equivalent functionality isn’t available through pip. Similarly, libraries that have non-trivial amounts of native code and have a long compilation as a result can be good candidates. If in doubt, though: do not package libraries.

Applications should unconditionally bundle all their Python-language dependencies and libraries and should install any unsatisfied dependencies; these strategies are discussed in depth in the following sections.


Python declarations for applications

Formulae for apps that require Python 3 must declare an unconditional dependency on "python@3.y". These apps must work with the current Homebrew Python 3.y formula.

Installing applications

Starting with Python@3.12, Homebrew follows PEP 668. Applications must be installed into a Python virtual environment rooted in libexec. This prevents the app’s Python modules from contaminating the system site-packages and vice versa.

All the Python module dependencies of the application (and their dependencies, recursively) should be declared as resources in the formula and installed into the virtual environment as well. Each dependency should be explicitly specified; please do not rely on or pip to perform automatic dependency resolution, for the reasons described here.

You can use brew update-python-resources to help you write resource stanzas. To use it, simply run brew update-python-resources <formula>. Sometimes, brew update-python-resources won’t be able to automatically update the resources. If this happens, try running brew update-python-resources --print-only <formula> to print the resource stanzas instead of applying the changes directly to the file. You can then copy and paste resources as needed.

If using brew update-python-resources doesn’t work, you can use homebrew-pypi-poet to help you write resource stanzas. To use it, set up a virtual environment and install your package and all its dependencies. Then, pip install homebrew-pypi-poet into the same virtual environment. Running poet some_package will generate the necessary resource stanzas. You can do this like:

# Use a temporary directory for the virtual environment
cd "$(mktemp -d)"

# Create and source a new virtual environment in the venv/ directory
python3 -m venv venv
source venv/bin/activate

# Install the package of interest as well as homebrew-pypi-poet
pip install some_package homebrew-pypi-poet
poet some_package

# Destroy the virtual environment
rm -rf venv

Homebrew provides helper methods for instantiating and populating virtual environments. You can use them by putting include Language::Python::Virtualenv at the top of the Formula class definition.

For most applications, all you will need to write is:

class Foo < Formula
  include Language::Python::Virtualenv

  # ...
  url ""
  sha256 "abc123abc123abc123abc123abc123abc123abc123abc123abc123abc123abc1"

  depends_on "python@3.y"

  def install

This is exactly the same as writing:

class Foo < Formula
  include Language::Python::Virtualenv

  # ...
  url ""
  sha256 "abc123abc123abc123abc123abc123abc123abc123abc123abc123abc123abc1"

  depends_on "python@3.y"

  def install
    # Create a virtualenv in `libexec`.
    venv = virtualenv_create(libexec, "python3.y")
    # Install all of the resources declared on the formula into the virtualenv.
    venv.pip_install resources
    # `pip_install_and_link` takes a look at the virtualenv's bin directory
    # before and after installing its argument. New scripts will be symlinked
    # into `bin`. `pip_install_and_link buildpath` will install the package
    # that the formula points to, because buildpath is the location where the
    # formula's tarball was unpacked.
    venv.pip_install_and_link buildpath

Example formula

Installing a formula with dependencies will look like this:

class Foo < Formula
  include Language::Python::Virtualenv

  desc "Description"
  homepage ""
  url "..."

  resource "six" do
    url ""
    sha256 "1e61c37477a1626458e36f7b1d82aa5c9b094fa4802892072e49de9c60c4c926"

  resource "parsedatetime" do
    url ""
    sha256 "4cb368fbb18a0b7231f4d76119165451c8d2e35951455dfee97c62a87b04d455"

  def install

You can also use the more verbose form and request that specific resources be installed:

class Foo < Formula
  include Language::Python::Virtualenv

  desc "Description"
  homepage ""
  url "..."

  def install
    venv = virtualenv_create(libexec)
    %w[six parsedatetime].each do |r|
      venv.pip_install resource(r)
    venv.pip_install_and_link buildpath

in case you need to do different things for different resources.


To add bindings for Python 3, please add depends_on "python@3.y" to work with the current Homebrew Python 3.y formula.

Dependencies for bindings

Bindings should follow the same advice for Python module dependencies as libraries; see below for more.

Installing bindings

If the bindings are installed by invoking a, do something like:

system "python3.y", "-m", "pip", "install", *std_pip_args(build_isolation: true), "./source/python"


If the configure script takes a --with-python flag, it usually will not need extra help finding Python. However, if there are multiple Python formulae in the dependency tree, it may need help finding the correct one.

If the configure and make scripts do not want to install into the Cellar, sometimes you can:

  1. call ./configure --without-python (or a similar named option)
  2. call pip on the directory containing the Python bindings (as described above)

Sometimes we have to edit a Makefile on-the-fly to use our prefix for the Python bindings using Homebrew’s inreplace helper method.


If cmake finds a different Python than the direct dependency, sometimes you can help it find the correct Python by setting one of the following variables with the -D option:


As a side effect of Homebrew’s symlink installation and the Python sysconfig patch, meson may be unable to automatically detect the Cellar directories to install Python bindings into. If the formula’s meson build definition uses install_sources() or similar methods, you can set python.purelibdir and/or python.platlibdir to override the default paths.

If meson finds a different Python than the direct dependency and the formula’s meson option definition file does not provide a user-settable option, then you will need to check how the Python executable is being detected. A common approach is the find_installation() method which will behave differently based on what the name_or_path argument is set to.


Remember: there are very limited cases for libraries (e.g. significant amounts of native code is compiled) so, if in doubt, do not package them.

We do not use the python- prefix for these kinds of formulae!

Examples of allowed libraries in homebrew-core

Python declarations for libraries

Libraries built for Python 3 must include depends_on "python@3.y", which will bottle against Homebrew’s Python 3.y.

Installing libraries

Libraries may be installed to libexec and added to sys.path by writing a .pth file (named like “homebrew-foo.pth”) to the prefix site-packages. This simplifies the ensuing drama if pip is accidentally used to upgrade a Homebrew-installed package and prevents the accumulation of stale .pyc files in Homebrew’s site-packages.

Most formulae presently just install to prefix. Any stale .pyc files are handled by brew cleanup.

Dependencies for libraries

Library dependencies must be installed so that they are importable. To minimise the potential for linking conflicts, dependencies should be installed to libexec/<vendor> and added to sys.path by writing a second .pth file (named like “homebrew-foo-dependencies.pth”) to the prefix site-packages.

Formulae with general Python library dependencies (e.g. setuptools, six) should not use this approach as it will contaminate the system site-packages with all libraries installed inside libexec/<vendor>.

Further down the rabbit hole

Additional commentary that explains why Homebrew does some of the things it does.

Setuptools vs. Distutils vs. pip

Distutils was a module in the Python standard library that provided developers a basic package management API until its removal in Python 3.12. Setuptools is a module distributed outside the standard library that extends and replaces Distutils. It is a convention that Python packages provide a that calls the setup() function from either Distutils or Setuptools.

Setuptools used to provide the easy_install command, which was an end-user package management tool that fetched and installed packages from PyPI, the Python Package Index. The easy_install console script was removed in Setuptools v52.0.0 and direct usage has been deprecated since v58.3.0. pip is another, newer end-user package management tool, which is also provided outside the standard library. While pip supplants easy_install, it does not replace the other functionality of the Setuptools module.

Distutils and pip use a “flat” installation hierarchy that installs modules as individual files under site-packages while easy_install installs zipped eggs to site-packages instead.

Distribute (not to be confused with Distutils) is an obsolete fork of Setuptools. Distlib is a package maintained outside the standard library which is used by pip for some low-level packaging operations and is not relevant to most users.


For when a formula needs to interact with instead of calling pip, Homebrew provides the helper method Language::Python.setup_install_args which returns useful arguments for invoking Your formula should use this instead of invoking explicitly. The syntax is:

system Formula["python@3.y"].opt_bin/"python3.y", *Language::Python.setup_install_args(prefix)

where prefix is the destination prefix (usually libexec or prefix).

What is --single-version-externally-managed?

--single-version-externally-managed (“SVEM”) is a Setuptools-only argument to install. The primary effect of SVEM is using Distutils to perform the install instead of Setuptools’ easy_install.

easy_install does a few things that we need to avoid:

Setuptools requires that SVEM be used in conjunction with --record, which provides a list of files that can later be used to uninstall the package. We don’t need or want this because Homebrew can manage uninstallation, but since Setuptools demands it we comply. The Homebrew convention is to name the record file “installed.txt”.

Detecting whether a uses setup() from Setuptools or Distutils is difficult, but we always need to pass this flag to Setuptools-based scripts. pip faces the same problem that we do and forces setup() to use the Setuptools version by loading a shim around that imports Setuptools before doing anything else. Since Setuptools monkey-patches Distutils and replaces its setup function, this provides a single, consistent interface. We have borrowed this code and use it in Language::Python.setup_install_args.

--prefix vs --root accepts a slightly bewildering array of installation options. The correct switch for Homebrew is --prefix, which automatically sets the --install-foo family of options with sane POSIX-y values.

--root is used when installing into a prefix that will not become part of the final installation location of the files, like when building a RPM or binary distribution. When using a Setuptools, --root has the side effect of activating --single-version-externally-managed. It is not safe to use --root with an empty --prefix because the root is removed from paths when byte-compiling modules.

It is probably safe to use --prefix with --root=/, which should work with either Setuptools- or Distutils-based’s, but it’s kinda ugly.

pip vs.

PEP 453 makes a recommendation to downstream distributors (us) that sdist tarballs should be installed with pip instead of by invoking directly. For historical reasons we did not follow PEP 453, so some formulae still use installs. Nowadays, most core formulae use pip as we have migrated them to this preferred method of installation.

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