digip.org blog

Generating data files in setup.py

By Petri Lehtinen on 2011-01-28

In a work project, I have a few JavaScript files that are generated from a bunch of other files. The project is a Django website, so I just have views that generate the files on-the-fly when running in debug mode, and everything works nice and smooth.

For production, though, I needed the flat files that would be served from disk. I figured out that the best approach would be to generate the files in setup.py upon installation, but I could only find very superficial documentation on how to do that.

A brief intro to setup.py: In every project's setup.py file, the setup function, from Python standard library's distutils.core module, is used to define the project's files and metadata. (setup can also be imported from from setuptools or distribute, but they're compatible with distutils.) With the standard commands that setup.py provides, the files and metadata can be compiled to an egg, distributed as a source tarball, uploaded to PyPI, and so on.

The entry point to altering setup.py's behaviour is the optional cmdclass argument to the setup function. It's value is a dict from command names to distutils.command.Command subclasses that implement the commands. The build_py command is where the package data files are installed, so to override build_py, I created the class my_build_py and registered it, like this:

from distutils.core import setup
from distutils.command.build_py import build_py

class my_build_py(build_py):
    # ...

    # Define metadata, files, etc.
    # ...
    cmdclass={'build_py': my_build_py}

The run method of build_py, along with copying and compiling the Python source files, is responsible for copying the packages data files to the build directory build/lib.<platform>. (The actual directory name is stored in the build_py instance's self.build_lib variable.)

To install your own files, just override the run method. Remember to call the superclass after you're done with your own files.

def generate_content():
    # generate the file content...
    return content

class my_build_py(build_py):
    def run(self):
        # honor the --dry-run flag
        if not self.dry_run:
            target_dir = os.path.join(self.build_lib, 'mypkg/media')

            # mkpath is a distutils helper to create directories

            with open(os.path.join(target_dir, 'myfile.js'), 'w'):

        # distutils uses old-style classes, so no super()

And that's it! A later phase of the installation copies everything from build/lib.<platform> to the correct place, so your generated file gets in, too.