This document contains information about how to make use of Python virtual environments such as created by Ian Bicking’s virtualenv with mod_wsgi.
The purpose of such Python virtual environments is to allow one to create multiple distinct Python environments for the same version of Python, but with different sets of Python modules and packages installed into the Python ‘site-packages’ directory.
A virtual Python environment is useful where it is necessary to run multiple WSGI applications which have conflicting requirements as to what version of a Python module or package needs to be installed. They can also be used where Apache and daemon mode of mod_wsgi is used to host WSGI applications for different users and each user wants to be able to separately install their own Python modules and packages.
Note that aspects of the configuration described here will not work if mod_python is being loaded into Apache at the same time as mod_wsgi. This is because mod_python will in that case be responsible for initialising the Python interpreter, thereby overriding what mod_wsgi is trying to do. For best results, you should therefore use only mod_wsgi and not try and use mod_python on the same server at the same time.
The first step in using virtual environments with mod_wsgi is to point mod_wsgi at a baseline Python environment. This step is actually optional and if not done the main Python installation for the system, usually that which mod_wsgi was compiled for, would be used as the baseline environment.
Although the main Python installation can be used, especially in a shared environment where daemon mode of mod_wsgi is used to host WSGI applications for different users, it is better to make the baseline environment a virgin environment with an effectively empty ‘site-packages’ directory. This way there is no possibility of conflicts between modules and packages in a users individual Python virtual environment and the baseline environment.
To create a virgin environment using the ‘virtualenv’ program, the ‘–no-site-packages’ option should be supplied when creating the environment.
$ cd /usr/local/pythonenv
$ virtualenv --no-site-packages BASELINE
New python executable in BASELINE/bin/python
Note that the version of Python from which this baseline environment is created must be the same version of Python that mod_wsgi was compiled for. It is not possible to mix environments based on different major/minor versions of Python.
Once the baseline Python environment has been created, the WSGIPythonHome directive should be defined within the global part of the main Apache configuration files. The directive should refer to the top level directory for the baseline environment created by the ‘virtualenv’ script.
This Python environment will now be used as the baseline environment for all WSGI applications running under mod_wsgi, whether they be run in embedded mode or daemon mode.
There is no need to set the WSGIPythonHome directive if you want to use the main Python installation as the baseline environment.
If for a specific WSGI application you have created a dedicated virtual environment, then this environment can now be overlayed on top of the baseline environment. If the baseline environment was a virgin environment, this virtual environment should also be initially created as a virgin environment.
For example, to create a virtual environment dedicated to developing Pylons applications the following would be used.
$ virtualenv --no-site-packages PYLONS-1
New python executable in
$ source PYLONS-1/bin/activate
(PYLONS-1)$ easy_install Pylons
Searching for Pylons
The Pylons instructions for creating a Pylons application would then be followed and the application tested using the Pylons inbuilt web server.
Once the application is ready for deployment under mod_wsgi, the instructions for Integration With Pylons would be followed.
As an additional step however, the WSGI script file described in the instructions would be modified to overlay the virtual environment for the application on top of the baseline environment. This would be done by adding at the very start of the WSGI script file the following:
Note that in this case the full path to the ‘site-packages’ directory for the virtual environment needs to be specified and not just the root of the virtual environment.
Using ‘site.addsitedir()’ is a bit different to simply adding the directory to ‘sys.path’ as the function will open up any ‘.pth’ files located in the directory and process them. This is necessary to ensure that any special directories related to Python eggs are automatically added to ‘sys.path’.
Note that although virtualenv includes the script ‘activate_this.py’, which the virtualenv documentation claims should be invoked using ‘execfile()’ in the context of mod_wsgi, you may want to be cautious using it. This is because the script modifies ‘sys.prefix’ which may actually cause problems with the operation of mod_wsgi or Python modules already loaded into the Python interpreter, if the code is dependent on the value of ‘sys.prefix’ not changing. The WSGIPythonHome directive already described should instead be used if wanting to associate Python as a whole with the virtual environment.
Despite that, the ‘activate_this.py’ script is an attempt to resolve an issue with how ‘site.addsitedir()’ works. That is that any new directories which are added to ‘sys.path’ by ‘site.addsitedir()’ are actually appended to the end. The problem with this in the context of mod_wsgi is that if WSGIPythonHome was not used to associate mod_wsgi with a virgin baseline environment, then any packages/modules in the main Python installation will still take precedence over those in the virtual environment.
To work around this problem, what ‘activate_this.py’ does is invoke ‘site.addsitedir()’ but then also reorders ‘sys.path’ so any newly added directories are shifted to the front of ‘sys.path’. This will then ensure that where there are different versions of packages in the virtual environment that they take precedence over those in the main Python installation.
As explained, because ‘activate_this.py’ is doing other things which may not be appropriate in the context of mod_wsgi, if unable to set WSGIPythonHome to point mod_wsgi at a virgin baseline environment, instead of just calling ‘site.addsitedir()’ you should use the code:
ALLDIRS = ['usr/local/pythonenv/PYLONS-1/lib/python2.5/site-packages']
# Remember original sys.path.
prev_sys_path = list(sys.path)
# Add each new site-packages directory.
for directory in ALLDIRS:
# Reorder sys.path so new directories at the front.
new_sys_path = 
for item in list(sys.path):
if item not in prev_sys_path:
sys.path[:0] = new_sys_path
If you still want to use the activation script from virtualenv, then use:
activate_this = '/usr/local/pythonenv/PYLONS-1/bin/activate_this.py'
If the fact that ‘sys.prefix’ has been modified doesn’t give an issue, then great. If you see subtle unexplained problems that may be linked to the change to ‘sys.prefix’, then use the more long handed approach above whereby ‘site.addsitedir()’ is used directly and ‘sys.path’ reorderd subsequently.
When ‘site.addsitedir()’ is used from a WSGI script file to overlay a virtual environment on top of the baseline environment, it is only applied to the specific Python interpreter instance that the application has been delegated to run in. This means that WSGI applications running in the same process but within different Python interpreter instances can use different virtual environments.
At the same time though, if needing all WSGI applications running in the same process but within different Python interpreters, to use the same virtual environment, you would need to setup ‘sys.path’ in the WSGI script file for all applications.
Alternatively, if using mod_wsgi 2.0 and embedded mode, the WSGIPythonPath directive can be used to setup the virtual environment for all Python interpreters created within the process in one step.
Similarly, if using mod_wsgi 2.0 or later and daemon mode, the ‘python-path’ option to the WSGIDaemonProcess directive can be used to setup the virtual environment.
WSGIDaemonProcess pylons \
Note that WSGIPythonPath does not have this effect for mod_wsgi prior to version 2.0. This is because in older versions WSGIPythonPath merely added any listed directories to ‘sys.path’, whereas in mod_wsgi 2.0 and later it calls ‘site.addsitedir()’ for each listed directory.
Do note though that all mod_wsgi 2.X versions prior to mod_wsgi 2.4 do not perform the reordering of ‘sys.path’ as explained previously, when using WSGIPythonPath directive or ‘python-path’ option for WSGIDaemonProcess. Thus, you would need to be using WSGIPythonHome to reference a virgin baseline environment when using mod_wsgi 2.3 or earlier if the standard Python site-packages directory has conflicting packages. For mod_wsgi 2.4 onwards this is not an issue and a virtual environments site-packages will always override that in standard Python installation.