Distutils is Python’s built-in mechanism for packaging and installing Python modules. It is very convenient for packaging up your source code, scripts and other files and creating a distribution to be uploaded to pypi as I’ve mentioned before. Distutils was discussed (pdf) at PyCon last year and it looks like there are efforts afoot to improve it to add some much needed features like unittesting and metadata. Add-on packages like pip add additional features like uninstallation and dependency management but nothing guarantees that your users have it. Although Python’s packaging and distribution model beats PHP’s hands down, there is still a lot of room for improvement to make it seamless.
In essence, these issues and enhancements boil down to making release management easier. When releasing your package, you want to make sure that it contains all the appropriate files, is tested and can be installed easily. Distutils helps with the installation, pip with the dependencies and virtualenv (a topic for a later post) helps a lot with testing package interactions. But what about unittests? What about cleaning up after setup.py? What about generating documentation or other files?
Until all these features get put into distutils, you have to extend it yourself in setup.py. Fortunately, this is not very complicated and can buy you some reliability in your build process. Adding a command like python setup.py test is pretty trivial:
from distutils.core import setup, Command
from unittest import TextTestRunner, TestLoader
cmdclasses = dict()
"""Runs the unit tests for mymodule"""
user_options = 
loader = TestLoader()
t = TextTestRunner()
# 'test' is the parameter as it gets added to setup.py
cmdclasses['test'] = TestCommand
setup(cmdclass = cmdclasses
The same sort of functionality could be used to verify any prerequisites not already checked by distutils or pip, generate documentation without external dependencies like Make (although Django supports Python 2.3 before this functionality was available) or to create a uniform way to take source control diffs and submit patches. Executing these commands from one place makes the whole process more consistent and easy to understood. Hopefully the new enhancements to distutils will make the process even better.