Learning Python with Advent of Code Walkthroughs

Dazbo's Advent of Code solutions, written in Python

The Python Journey - Packages and Environments

Useful Links

Python Package IndexPython Packaging AuthorityPip documentationPython Environments in VS Code

The Need for Packages

Frequently we will need to import a package that is not part of the core Python installation. For example, my Advent of Code solutions often make use of installable packages like:

Package Managers

To install packages like these, we need to use a Package Manager. A package manager provides the ability to install and uninstall packages. But in addition, a package manager resolves dependencies. This means that if you want to install package x, but package x depends on package y, then the package manager will automatically install both x and y, in the right order.


Python comes pre-installed with its own package manager, called pip. To use pip, simply type pip <command>, e.g.

# install matplotlib
pip install matplotlib

# uninstall matplotlib
pip uninstall matplotlib

# upgrade matplotlib
pip install --upgrade matplotlib

# upgrade pip itself
pip install --upgrade pip

Although you can just use pip <command> as shown above, it’s generally recommended to instead use this syntax:

py -m pip <command>

This syntax ensures that pip installs the package to the currently active Python runtime or environment.

Virtual Environments

What is a Virtual Environment?

Virtual environments are isolated Python contexts in which we can install Python packages. In short, virtual environments isolate dependencies of Python projects.

Say what?

Well, you might be working on project a that requires packages x, and package x depends on package y. And then you might start working on project b, which needs package z. But package z won’t work if you have package y installed. So your two projects have incompatible package requirements.

The answer? Virtual environments! You simply create a dedicate virtual environment for each project.

Here are some reasons why virtual environments are a good thing:

Creating a Virtual Environment

  1. Create your project folder, as usual.
  2. Within your project folder, create a virtual enviroment. You do this using the venv command. For example, to create a virtual environment called .my-proj-venv:
    py -m venv .my-proj-venv
  3. Add .my-proj-env to your project’s .gitignore, since we don’t want it included in version control.

In case it’s useful, here’s the .gitignore file I tend to use on Python projects:

# Env
# Build / distribution / packaging
# Byte-compiled / optimized / DLL files
# Build docs
# Unit test / coverage reports
# Jupyter stuff
# secrets
# Random

Using Your Virtual Environment

You need to activate the virtual environment, every time you want to use it. I.e. every time you’re working in an associated Python project.

Once activated, any pip installs you perform will be done within the virtual environment.


pip install numpy

Fortunately, if you’re using VS Code, then VS Code will automatically detect your virtual environment the next time you open your project folder. From then onwards, it will automatically activate the virtual environment for you.

Tips for Working with Virtual Environments

Here are my general thoughts on how to work with virtual environments: