Further Configuration of pip and Virtualenv


Requiring an active virtual environment for pip

By now it should be clear that using virtual environments is a great way to keep your development environment clean and keeping different projects’ requirements separate.

When you start working on many different projects, it can be hard to remember to activate the related virtual environment when you come back to a specific project. As a result of this, it is very easy to install packages globally while thinking that you are actually installing the package for the virtual environment of the project. Over time this can result in a messy global package list.

In order to make sure that you install packages to your active virtual environment when you use pip install, consider adding the following line to your ~/.bashrc file:


After saving this change and sourcing the ~/.bashrc file with source ~/.bashrc, pip will no longer let you install packages if you are not in a virtual environment. If you try to use pip install outside of a virtual environment pip will gently remind you that an activated virtual environment is needed to install packages.

$ pip install requests
Could not find an activated virtualenv (required).

You can also do this configuration by editing your pip.conf or pip.ini file. pip.conf is used by Unix and Mac OS X operating systems and it can be found at:


Similarly, the pip.ini file is used by Windows operating systems and it can be found at:


If you don’t have a pip.conf or pip.ini file at these locations, you can create a new file with the correct name for your operating system.

If you already have a configuration file, just add the following line under the [global] settings to require an active virtual environment:

require-virtualenv = true

If you did not have a configuration file, you will need to create a new one and add the following lines to this new file:

require-virtualenv = true

You will of course need to install some packages globally (usually ones that you use across different projects consistently) and this can be accomplished by adding the following to your ~/.bashrc file:

gpip() {
    PIP_REQUIRE_VIRTUALENV=false pip "$@"

After saving the changes and sourcing your ~/.bashrc file you can now install packages globally by running gpip install. You can change the name of the function to anything you like, just keep in mind that you will have to use that name when trying to install packages globally with pip.

Caching packages for future use

Every developer has preferred libraries and when you are working on a lot of different projects, you are bound to have some overlap between the libraries that you use. For example, you may be using the requests library in a lot of different projects.

It is surely unnecessary to re-download the same packages/libraries each time you start working on a new project (and in a new virtual environment as a result). Fortunately, starting with version 6.0, pip provides an on-by-default caching mechanism that doesn’t need any configuration.

When using older versions, you can configure pip in such a way that it tries to reuse already installed packages, too.

On Unix systems, you can add the following line to your .bashrc or .bash_profile file.

export PIP_DOWNLOAD_CACHE=$HOME/.pip/cache

You can set the path to anywhere you like (as long as you have write access). After adding this line, source your .bashrc (or .bash_profile) file and you will be all set.

Another way of doing the same configuration is via the pip.conf or pip.ini files, depending on your system. If you are on Windows, you can add the following line to your pip.ini file under [global] settings:

download-cache = %USERPROFILE%\pip\cache

Similarly, on Unix systems you should simply add the following line to your pip.conf file under [global] settings:

download-cache = $HOME/.pip/cache

Even though you can use any path you like to store your cache, it is recommended that you create a new folder in the folder where your pip.conf or pip.ini file lives. If you don’t trust yourself with all of this path voodoo, just use the values provided here and you will be fine.