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PEP 650 -- Specifying Installer Requirements for Python Projects

Title:Specifying Installer Requirements for Python Projects
Author:Vikram Jayanthi <vikramjayanthi at>, Dustin Ingram <di at>, Brett Cannon <brett at>


Python package installers are not completely interoperable with each other. While pip is the most widely used installer and a de-facto standard, other installers such as Poetry [5] or Pipenv [4] are popular as well due to offering unique features which are optimal for certain workflows.

While the abundance of installer options is good for end-users with specific needs, the lack of interoperability between them makes them hard to support uniformly. Specifically, the lack of a standard requirements file for declaring dependencies means that each tool must be explicitly used in order to install dependencies specified with their respective format.

By providing a standardized API that can be used to invoke a compatible installer, we can solve this problem without needing to resolve individual concerns, unique requirements, and incompatibilities between different installers and their lock files.

Installers that implement the specification can be invoked in a uniform way, allowing users to use their installer of choice as if they were invoking it directly.


Installer interface
The interface by which an installer backend and a universal installer interact.
Universal installer
An installer that can invoke an installer backend by calling the optional invocation methods of the installer interface.
Installer backend
An installer that implements the installer interface, allowing it to be invoked by a universal installer. An installer backend may also be a universal installer as well, but it is not required.
Dependency group
A set of dependencies that are related. For example, a development environment dependency group might include linting and formatting modules while a production dependency group contains dependencies required for deployment.


This specification allows anyone to invoke and interact with installers that implement the specified interface, allowing for a universally supported layer on top of existing tool-specific installation processes.

This in turn would enable the use of all installers that implement the specified interface to be used in environments that support a single universal installer, as long as that installer implements this specification as well.

Below, we identify various use cases applicable to stakeholders in the Python community and anyone who interacts with Python package installers. For developers or companies, this PEP would allow for increased functionality and flexibility with Python package installers.


Providers are the parties (organization, person, community, etc.) that supply a service or software tool which interacts with Python packaging and consequently Python package installers. Two different types of providers are considered:

Platform/Infrastructure Providers

Platform providers (cloud environments, application hosting, etc.) and infrastructure service providers need to support package installers for their users to install Python dependencies. Most support only pip, however there is user demand for other Python installers. Most providers do not want to maintain support for more than one installer because of the complexity it adds to their software or service and the resources it takes to do so.

Via this specification, we can enable the provider-supported universal installer to invoke the user-desired installer backend without the provider’s platform needing to have specific knowledge of said backend.

IDE Providers

Integrated development environments may interact with Python package installation and management. Most only support pip as a Python package installer, and users are required to find work arounds to install their dependencies using other package installers. Similar to the situation with PaaS & IaaS providers, IDE providers do not want to maintain support for N different Python installers. Instead, implementers of the installer interface (installer backends) could be invoked by the IDE by it acting as a universal installer.


Developers are teams, people, or communities that code and use Python package installers and Python packages. Three different types of developers are considered:

Developers using PaaS & IaaS providers

Most PaaS and IaaS providers only support one Python package installer: pip [3]. (Some exceptions include Heroku's Python buildpack [1], which supports pip and Pipenv [4]). This dictates the installers that developers can use while working with these providers, which might not be optimal for their application or workflow.

Installers adopting this PEP to become installer backends would allow users to use third party platforms/infrastructure without having to worry about which Python package installer they are required to use as long as the provider uses a universal installer.

Developers using IDEs

Most IDEs only support pip or a few Python package installers. Consequently, developers must use workarounds or hacky methods to install their dependencies if they use an unsupported package installer.

If the IDE uses/provides a universal installer it would allow for any installer backend that the developer wanted to be used to install dependencies, freeing them of any extra work to install their dependencies in order to integrate into the IDE's workflow more closely.

Developers working with other developers

Developers want to be able to use the installer of their choice while working with other developers, but currently have to synchronize their installer choice for compatibility of dependency installation. If all preferred installers instead implemented the specified interface, it would allow for cross use of installers, allowing developers to choose an installer regardless of their collaborator’s preference.

Upgraders & Package Infrastructure Providers

Package upgraders and package infrastructure in CI/CD such as Dependabot [2], PyUP [6], etc. currently support a few installers. They work by parsing and editing the installer-specific dependency files directly (such as requirements.txt or poetry.lock) with relevant package information such as upgrades, downgrades, or new hashes. Similar to Platform and IDE providers, most of these providers do not want to support N different Python package installers as that would require supporting N different file types.

The current system relies on these services/bots to keep up support as new file formats and types are created and existing ones are changed. By implementing this specification we can allow these services/bots to interface through the spec and parse/write changes to dependencies consistently, regardless of which installer is being used. Additionally it would allow for more innovation in the space as it becomes easier to support different installers and gives developers a standardized way of interacting with them.

Open Source Community

Specifying installer requirements and adopting this PEP will reduce the friction between Python package installers and people's workflows. Consequently it will reduce the friction between Python package installers and 3rd party infrastructure/technologies such as PaaS or IDEs. Overall, it will allow for easier development, deployment and maintenance of Python projects as Python package installation becomes simpler and more interoperable.

Specifying requirements and creating an interface for installers can also increase the pace of innovation around installers. This would allow for installers to experiment and add unique functionality without requiring the rest of the ecosystem to do the same. Support becomes easier and more likely for a new installer regardless of the functionality it adds and the format in which it writes dependencies, while reducing the developer time and resources needed to do so.


Similar to how PEP 517 specifies build systems, the install system information will live in the pyproject.toml file under the install-system table.


The install-system table is used to store install-system relevant data and information. There are multiple required keys for this table: requires and install-backend. The requires key holds the minimum requirements for the install system to execute. The install-backend key holds the name of the install backend’s entry point. This will allow the universal installer to install the requirements for the installer backend itself to execute (not the requirements that the installer backend itself will install) as well as invoke the installer backend.

If either of the required keys are missing or empty then the universal installer SHOULD raise an error.

All package names interacting with this interface are assumed to follow PEP 508's "Dependency specification for Python Software Packages" format.

An example install-system table:

#Eg : pipenv
requires = ["pipenv"]
install-backend = "pipenv.api:main"

Installer Requirements:

The requirements specified by the requires key must be within the constraints specified by PEP 517. Specifically, that dependency cycles are not permitted and the universal installer SHOULD refuse to install the dependencies if a cycle is detected.

Additional parameters or tool specific data

Additional parameters or tool (installer backend) data may also be stored in the pyproject.toml file. This would be in the “tool.*” table as specified by PEP 518. For example if the installer backend is Poetry and you wanted to specify multiple dependency groups, the tool.poetry tables could look like this:

dependencies = "dev"

dependencies = "deploy"

Installer interface:

The installer interface contains mandatory and optional hooks. Compliant installer backends MUST implement the mandatory hooks and MAY implement the optional hooks. A universal installer MAY implement any of the installer backend hooks itself, to act as both a universal installer and installer backend, but this is not required.

All hooks take **kwargs arbitrary parameters that a installer backend may require that are not already specified, allowing for backwards compatibility. If unexpected parameters are passed to the installer backend, it should ignore them.

The following information is akin to the corresponding section in PEP 517. The hooks may be called with keyword arguments, so installer backends implementing them should be careful to make sure that their signatures match both the order and the names of the arguments above.

All hooks MAY print arbitrary informational text to stdout and stderr. They MUST NOT read from stdin, and the universal installer MAY close stdin before invoking the hooks.

The universal installer may capture stdout and/or stderr from the backend. If the backend detects that an output stream is not a terminal/console (e.g. not sys.stdout.isatty()), it SHOULD ensure that any output it writes to that stream is UTF-8 encoded. The universal installer MUST NOT fail if captured output is not valid UTF-8, but it MAY not preserve all the information in that case (e.g. it may decode using the replace error handler in Python). If the output stream is a terminal, the installer backend is responsible for presenting its output accurately, as for any program running in a terminal.

If a hook raises an exception, or causes the process to terminate, then this indicates an error.

Mandatory hooks:


Installs the dependencies:

def  invoke_install(
    path : typing.Union[str, bytes, os.PathLike[str]],
    dependency_group : string = None,
) -> int:
  • path : An absolute path where the installer backend should be invoked from (e.g. the directory where pyproject.toml is located).
  • dependency_group : An optional flag specifying a dependency group that the installer backend should install. The install will error if the dependency group doesn't exist. A user can find all dependency groups by calling get_dependencies_to_install().keys() if dependency groups are supported by the installer backend.
  • **kwargs : Arbitrary parameters that a installer backend may require that are not already specified, allows for backwards compatibility.
  • Returns : An exit code (int). 0 if successful, any positive integer if unsuccessful.

The universal installer will use the exit code to determine if the installation is successful and SHOULD return the exit code itself.

Optional hooks:


Uninstall the specified dependencies:

def  invoke_uninstall(
    dependency_group : string = None,
) -> int:
  • dependency_group : An optional flag specifying a dependency group that the installer backend should uninstall.
  • **kwargs : Arbitrary parameters that a installer backend may require that are not already specified, allows for backwards compatibility.
  • Returns : An exit code (int). 0 if successful, any positive integer if unsuccessful.

The universal installer MUST invoke the installer backend at the same path that the universal installer itself was invoked.

The universal installer will use the exit code to determine if the uninstall is successful and SHOULD return the exit code itself.


Returns the dependencies that would be installed by invoke_install(...). This allows package upgraders (e.g., Dependabot) to retrieve the dependencies attempting to be installed without parsing the dependency file:

def get_dependencies_to_install(
    dependency_group : string = None,
) -> List[str]:
  • dependency_group : Specify a dependency group to get the dependencies invoke_install(...) would install for that dependency group.
  • **kwargs : Arbitrary parameters that a installer backend may require that are not already specified, allows for backwards compatibility.
  • Returns: A list of dependencies (PEP 508 strings) to install.

If the group is specified, the installer backend MUST return the dependencies corresponding to the provided dependency group. If the specified group doesn't exist, or dependency groups are not supported by the installer backend, the installer backend MUST raise an error.

If the group is not specified, and the installer backend provides the concept of a default/unspecified group, the installer backend MAY return the dependencies for the default/unspecified group, but otherwise MUST raise an error.


Returns the dependency groups available to be installed. This allows universal installers to enumerate all dependency groups the installer backend is aware of:

def get_dependency_groups(
) -> FrozenSet[str]
  • **kwargs : Arbitrary parameters that a installer backend may require that are not already specified, allows for backwards compatibility.
  • Returns: A set of known dependency groups, as strings The empty set represents no dependency groups.


Outputs a dependency file based off of inputted package list:

def update_dependencies(
    dependency_specifiers : Iterable[str],
) -> int:
  • dependency_specifiers : An iterable of dependencies as PEP 508 strings that are being updated, for example : ["requests==2.8.1", ...]. Optionally for a specific dependency group.
  • dependency_group : The dependency group that the list of packages is for.
  • **kwargs : Arbitrary parameters that a installer backend may require that are not already specified, allows for backwards compatibility.
  • Returns : An exit code (int). 0 if successful, any positive integer if unsuccessful.


All hooks take **kwargs to allow for backwards compatibility and allow for tool specific installer backend functionality which requires a user to provide additional information not required by the hook.

While installer backends must be Python packages, what they do when invoked is an implementation detail of that tool. For example, an installer backend could act as a wrapper for a platform package manager (e.g., apt).

Backwards Compatibility

This PEP would have no impact on pre-existing code and functionality as it only adds new functionality to a universal installer. Any existing installer should maintain its existing functionality and use cases, therefore having no backwards compatibility issues. Only code aiming to take advantage of this new functionality will have motivation to make changes to their pre existing code.

Security Implications

A malicious user has no increased ability or easier access to anything with the addition of standardized installer specifications. The installer that could be invoked by a universal installer via the interface specified in this PEP would be explicitly declared by the user. If the user has chosen a malicious installer, then invoking it with a universal installer is no different than the user invoking the installer directly. A malicious installer being an installer backend doesn't give it additional permissions or abilities.

Rejected Ideas

A standardized lock file

A standardized lock file would solve a lot of the same problems that specifying installer requirements would. For example, it would allow for PaaS/IaaS to just support one installer that could read the standardized lock file regardless of the installer that created it. The problem with a standardized lock file is the difference in needs between Python package installers as well as a fundamental issue with creating reproducible environments via the lockfile (one of the main benefits).

Needs and information stored in dependency files between installers differ significantly and are dependent on installer functionality. For example, a Python package installer such as Poetry requires information for all Python versions and platforms and calculates appropriate hashes while pip wouldn't. Additionally, pip would not be able to guarantee recreating the same environment (install the exact same dependencies) as it is outside the scope of its functionality. This makes a standardized lock file harder to implement and makes it seem more appropriate to make lock files tool specific.

Have installer backends support creating virtual environments

Because installer backends will very likely have a concept of virtual environments and how to install into them, it was briefly considered to have them also support creating virtual environments. In the end, though, it was considered an orthogonal idea.