Thursday, April 25, 2019

Benefits of Different Python Distributions on Mac

There are at least 5 popular ways to install Python on OS X / Mac.

  • OS X default Python installation, currently Python 2.7.10
  • Use brew install python
  • Use brew install pyenv
  • Anaconda
  • Python pkg installer from

I have used all of these distributions. They are all high quality and easy to install, but you run into conflicts later. You think that you are installing a library into one Python distribution but it get installed into another distribution so you cannot use it. This causes many frustrating errors.

Every time I install a Mac I have to decide what is the best Python distribution for my use case and there is no simple choice. It has been hard to find good documentation on the trade offs between the Python distributions. I have a compiled a short list of benefits and issues and where I think that the different distribution make sense.

OS X Default Python Installation

  • You don't have to install anything
  • If you only want to have one Python distribution this will be the one
  • It is a pretty recent version of Python 2.7 currently 2.7.10


  • Not supporting Python 3 which is now in common use

If you only are doing light Python 2 scripting this is probably the easiest choice.

brew install python

  • Brew is the de facto package manager on OS X so most software is installed with brew
  • Very up to date versions of Python 2 and Python 3
  • Works well when you want to install many Python libraries
  • Python 3 is the default, but brew install python@2 will install Python 2
  • It takes precedence over the OS X default Python by being in earlier on PATH env
  • Brew will probably install Python as a requirement for other packages so you get it whether you want it or not

Good for more demanding programming and installing libraries.

brew install pyenv 

  • pyenv is a tool to have different versions of Python to chose from
  • It has no dependencies on either Python 2 or 3 but manipulate PATH env
  • It can co exists with brew install python 
  • It can also work with virtual environments


  • You have to install other libraries say gzip before you can install this
  • Python is compiled from scratch and you easily run into compile problems

Good if you are a serious programmer who need many different versions of Python possibly with conflicting versions of libraries.

Use Anaconda

  • Anaconda installs different version of Python with high quality curated packages specialized for data science libraries
  • It can be hard to get data science libraries working with manual installs
  • It is a whole ecosystem of software 
  • Includes good Python GUI called Spyder
  • Great support for Jupyter notebook
  • Has good built in support for Python's virtual environments 


  • It is a pretty heavy distribution taking up around 3GB

I usually need the data science libraries so I install Anaconda but also end up with the brew version of Python.

Python pkg Installer From

  • It is the official Python distribution
  • You can always get the newest version of Python
  • Self contained installer

It is an easy way to get the last versions of Python installed.

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