Virtualenv vs Virtualenvwrapper



virtualenv is a tool to create isolated Python environments. It’s core advantage is you can manage different version of python libraries in your different projects.

It works by creating a new folder on your harddisk and then copying basic python executable and libraries into it. It also add some scripts which can be used to activate the python environment. These activation scripts when executed, they change the PYTHONPATH environment variable to point the folder it recides in. This is as simple as that.

You can create the virtualenv folder anywhere you like as far you execute the activation scripts provided in that folder, your current shell session will pick up the correct version of libraries.

Virtualenvwrapper is a utility on top of virtualenv that adds a bunch of utilities that allow the environment folders to be created at a single place, instead of spreading around everywhere.

Make virtualenv work, the way it should

My preferred way to working around virtualenv is to go the root folder of the project i’m working on, create a virtualenv folder called venv. You can name it anything you like as far as you stick to it.

cd ~/work/myproject
virtualenv venv

This is the common name I use in every project. This gives advantage that I can add this folder in my global .gitignore file.

# if you don't have it already.
echo "venv/" >> ~/.gitignore  

Now you can the following shell alias to your ~/.bashrc or ~/.zshrc, depending on your default shell.

alias sv="source venv/bin/activate"

Now everytime you want to work on a project, that has virtualenv at venv folder you can run.

$ sv 
(venv) $ 

(venv) before your prompt indicates that you are in the virtualenv active in that folder. To deactivate, you can run

(venv) $ deactivate

Tip: If you like to include the name of directory in the prompt also, instead of just (venv), you can use the following alias instead:

alias sv='source venv/bin/activate && export PS1="(${PWD##*/}-venv)$_OLD_VIRTUAL_PS1"'

So having this setup makes me get over two cliams by virtualenvwrapper.

  • It’s easy to activate, here I just have to type sv, after going to project folder, which anyways I’ll be going to.
  • Adding venv/ to your global gitignore will make sure it doesn’t get included in git by default.

This way you can avoid learning yet another tool or manage one less dependency. The best advantage is that all the source code of different libraries just lives by the side your project. In your favorite editor you can search globally for a term or defination.

If you use sublime text editor, it’s as easy as pressing cmd + shift + f and type what you are looking for, or use cmd + p to navigate to any file inside installed python package.


  • We learnt how to live without virtualenv wrapper
  • having python libraries installed, alongside your project helps you search and go over code base easily


  • Add enhancemnet to alias sv, based on @chadhs suggestion
  • Use && in sv alias so that PS is updated only when command succeed. Thanks @petrjoachim.

Category: software Tags: shell, python, virtualenv