Lab 1: Getting Started with Python

William Gilpin

Additional information about Python and conda environments can be found in William’s detailed notes

  1. Install Miniconda on your development environment. OS-specific instructions can be found here. macOS or Linux users should install Homebrew as well

  2. Open your computer’s terminal app. On Windows, Miniconda will install the Anaconda Terminal, which you can use as the default Terminal for this class. Otherwise, you may need to use Windows Terminal or gitbash instead. If you plan to use Windows for the class, please keep track of any bugs or compatibility issues you encounter, as well as their solutions—that will make it easier to make the materials more accessible in future iterations.

  3. In your terminal app, create a new virtual environment using the base Python install.

  $ conda create -n hwenv python=3

This virtual environment will be used to isolate your code and the packages on which it depends from your system’s own Python installation, as well as from other Python projects you might make in the future. For example, you will likely want to make a separate environment for your final project, and for separate personal projects. On my personal computer, I have about a half-dozen environments—one for each different project, including one for this class. If I make a mistake while working on this class and break my environment’s Python installation, it won’t affect my other projects.

  1. Before writing any code, always make sure that you have activated your environment.
  $ conda activate hwenv
  1. We can now start Python and check that it is working
    (hwenv) $ python
  1. Check that your Python version is greater than 3.0
  >> import sys
  >> print("User Current Version:-", sys.version)
  1. Terminate the Python process with Ctrl + D on *nix, or Ctrl + Z followed by Enter on Windows.

  2. (Optional). If your Python version does not start with a 3, delete your environment and then make a new environment with a newer version

  $ (hwenv) $ conda deactivate
  $ conda remove -n hwenv --all
  $ conda create -n hwenv python=3
  $ conda activate hwenv
  1. Back in the Terminal, install some other packages that we will end up using a lot
  $ conda install numpy matplotlib 
  $ conda install -c conda-forge jupyterlab
  1. There are two ways that I would recommend using Jupyter notebooks for the class. One option is to manually activate an environment and then launch the notebook server from the Terminal. The other option is to let an IDE like VSCode handle everything for you, and just launch notebooks from the GUI. There are lots of other options (like PyCharm). To try the browser option, make sure your hwenv (or whatever you called it) is activated in the Terminal. From the same prompt, run
    (hwenv) $ jupyter lab

This should forcefully open a browser window running the environment.

  1. For a slightly more user-friendly experience, I recommend run our Jupyter Notebooks within a full-featured integrated development environment (IDE). I really like Visual Studio Code and would currently recommend it over JupyterLab for the time being. Installation instructions. You might also use PyCharm, although I am less familiar with that one.

  2. (Optional, recommended). If you successfully install VSCode above, you can just open the course notebooks using the VSCode GUI, as you would a document or slide deck. However, if opening a .ipynb file, you should always check in the upper-right-hand corner of the notebook that you are using the correct conda environment (since we skipped using the Terminal, we never specified what environment to use). VSCode should automatically find and list the available environments in a drop-down menu, and it will remember your selection for each notebook.

For VSCode, you will still need to use the Terminal to create/edit your conda environments, as well as install and update packages into your environment.

  1. To test that you have everything working, try running the Mandelbrot set example at the end of the first lecture notebook. You can also test out some of the code in the first homework.


Any questions or problems that arise, as well as their solutions, can go here.

On windows, conda create fails. Unset SSL or use the Anaconda terminal

Name of environment doesn’t appear in Terminal on macOS

  • ???

Downloading and accessing files on GitHub

  • Through GUI, and git clone

Downloading ipynb file – watch out for conversion to .txt

Anaconda Navigator

VSCode fails to automatically detect the environment.

  • If VSCode failed to detect the environment automatically, you can point it toward the virtualenv like this: bring up the VSCode command palette by pressing Ctrl/Command + Shift + p Then type in the search bar Open Workspace Settings (JSON) This creates a settings.json file in a .vscode directory where you have opened the VSCode. Then add these lines to it:
    "python.defaultInterpreterPath": "PATH_TO_ENV/hwenv/bin/python"

    After that head to the command palette again and search for Python: Select Interpreter then from the list that shows up you can select your environment. If you create a new Terminal you can find that all your changes have been applied.