Building wxPython for Linux via Pip

[ Post updated 2018-02-03, see new Build Steps section below. ]

wxPython Wheels for Linux?

Before reading further, you may want to check and see if there are already some wxPython wheels available for your flavor of Linux. A few are built as part of the release process and are available from one of wxPython's servers. More details and some links are on the download page.

If there are no existing wheels there for your distro, (or perhaps a close relative,) then read on to find out why we can't just provide wheels for all Linuxes, and what you need to build one for yourself.

The Problem

There have been some issues flowing into Phoenix's issue tracker since the release of wxPython 4.0.0b1 related to installation issues on Linux using pip, which have caused some overhead and soaked up unnecessary amounts of time. So lets start with getting some of the basics out of the way. There are a lot of flavors of linux. To name a few there's the Debian family, Debian, Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Elementary, Mint, etc., Arch, Gentoo, RHEL and CentOS, and so on. Each flavor has differences which can make binary distributions incompatible across flavors.

Why does this affect wxPython you may ask? It's just a Python package, and Python source is independent across operating systems after all, right?. Well, not all Python packages are just Python. wxPython as an example contains binary extension modules (compiled C or C++ code that is platform and architecture dependent.) wxPython by default also contains a copy of the compiled version of the wxWidgets library written in C++, which also depends on other 3rd party libraries which need to not only be present at runtime, but also have their development-related files present at wxWidgets' and wxPython's compile time.

Pip in its infinite wisdom can detect this, and knows how to select the appropriate binary wheel for the following criteria:

  • OS (Windows, macOS, Linux)
  • Architecture (i386, x86_64, etc)
  • Python Version (2.7, 3.5, 3.6, etc)

See how pip doesn't care about the specific linux distribution? That's the issue. The binary content and dependencies of wxPython can't be delivered consistently via pip. There are some efforts to get around this (eg. PEP 513 a.k.a. manylinux1) but they don't quite work for wxPython yet. Packages that are able to fit into the very narrow manylinux1 requirements can be hosted on PyPI and will install with pip just as smoothly as pure-python packages do. Unfortunately the manylinux1 spec does not include a version of GTK+ and its dependencies that are new enough to be able to provide all the features that wxWidgets requires.

The Fix

In order to deploy to linux systems wxPython4 (Phoenix) simply builds itself from a source tarball as part of the pip setup process. All of the code generated by wxPython's build system is already present in the tarball, it merely needs to be compiled. This causes a very lengthy installation times, but is a necessary evil. Because the build is just that, a build, you will need all of wxWidgets and wxPython's binary dependencies present at build time. wxWidgets' configure will be run, and if it detects missing libraries the whole build, and therefore the pip installation, will fail.

What You Need

You will need the following packages (please consult your distribution's package list for the appropriate package names) and their dependencies:

  • python-dev (for your version of python)
  • gtk (preferably version 3, but depends on your needs)
  • gstreamer
  • gstreamer-plugins-base
  • glut
  • libwebkitgtk (matching your gtk version)
  • libjpeg
  • libpng
  • libtiff
  • libsdl
  • libnotify
  • libsm

on Debian based systems, or other systems that separate development packages from standard packages, you will need the corresponding -dev or -devel package in addition to the standard package.

Once the appropriate packages are present on your system then wxPython should build with no problems, either with pip or from a source tree extracted from the source tarball. If it still doesn't work for you then be sure to look closely at the build log as there will likely be some clues there that may point you in the right direction. For example, this:

checking for OpenGL headers... not found
checking for GL/gl.h... no
configure: error: OpenGL libraries not available

will tell you that the OpenGL libraries are missing. They are usually a dependency of the glut or freeglut packages and should have been installed along with that library, but perhaps your system's dependencies are different and you'll need to do a little investigation to determine the proper system packages that need to be installed.

Build Steps

Once you have installed the required depenency libraries, it should take just a few steps to build a wxPython that will work on your system with your Python. The steps shown here are just one option, but seems to be one of the simpler approaches to take, and will require nothing extra to be installed in your system Python. These instructions assume that you will be using a 3.4+ version of Python and that the executable is called "python3". If you are using 2.7 or the binary is called something else then adapt accordingly.

Step 1: The first thing we'll do is create and activate a new virtual environment for the build and the initial testing. This is optional, but highly recommended as it will ensure that there is nothing left over from a previous build that could trip things up. The last two commands shown here are just so you can verify that the python and pip commands are now being found in the new virtual environment instead of from the system or other Python environment.

cd [some tmp folder]

python3 -m venv builder_py
source builder_py/bin/activate

which python
which pip

Step 2: Next, you'll want to update pip and add a few more packages.

pip install -U pip
pip install -U six wheel setuptools

Step 3: Use pip to download the latest source archive from PyPI.

pip download wxPython

Step 4: Use pip to build a wxPython wheel file. We'll also redirect the build output to a file so you can review it later if needed. This step will take a while to complete, as it will be compiling all the wxWidgets and wxPython source code, but you'll be able to watch the build output to monitor the progress. Be sure to use the actual name of the downloaded source archive file, which may be different than the one shown here.

pip wheel -v wxPython-4.0.1.tar.gz  2>&1 | tee build.log

Step 5: If the build was successful then you should now have a wxPython wheel file in the current working directory. If there was a problem then review the build.log file and see if you can spot any clues as to what dependencies may be missing or out of date. (Build problems from wxPython release sources are almost always due to missing dependencies.) Once you think you have solved the problem go back to step 4 and try the build again.

Step 6: The next step is to install the wheel file in the virtual environment and give it a quick test run. (Use the actual name of the wheel file you built, which may be different than the one shown here.)

pip install wxPython-4.0.1-cp35-cp35m-linux_x86_64.whl

python -c "import wx; a=wx.App(); wx.Frame(None,title='hello world').Show(); a.MainLoop();"

You should see a new window open with a "hello world" title bar, which will indicate that this build was successful and this wxPython wheel can be used on your system. You can now use pip to install the wheel file in other Python environments or virtual environments that use the same base Python executable that you used for this build.

Known Issues

wxPython's build tools on Linux assume that the Python being used was configured with the --enable-shared flag. That is usually true for Pythons installed from the Linux distro's repositories, as well as for most known 3rd Party Python distributions for Linux. However, that flag is not enabled by default. So if your Python is one that you've configured and built yourself, then double-check that you used the flag. If it wasn't then you'll likely see a configuration error when the build gets to the wxPython portion (after it has built wxWidgets).

Similarly, the pyenv does not use the --enable-shared flag when it builds a Python environment for you. There is a note in the pyenv wiki that shows how to add the flag when it builds a new Python environment.


Q1: "Why can't you just install the necessary packages as part of wxPython's installation"

A1: Lots of good reasons, among them are: Pip is NOT your linux package manager, Phoenix is not responsible for maintaining your system.

Q2: "I can install PyQt(4/5) just fine via pip! Why can't wxPython do the same?"

A2: Qt does not depend on system provided libraries other than the low- level basic libs. wxWidgets does, it's one of the defining differences of the two toolkits. As such PyQt can deliver to all linuxes in the same manner.


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