Choosing between Python eclasses

Build-time vs runtime use

The first basis for choosing Python eclass is whether Python is used merely at build-time or at runtime as well.

A runtime use occurs if the package explicitly needs Python to be installed along with it, in order for it to function correctly. This generally happens if the package installs Python modules, extensions, scripts, or executables calling the Python interpreter or linking to libpython. This also applies to bash scripts or other executables that call python inline.

A build-time use occurs if the package calls the Python interpreter or any kind of aforementioned executables during package’s build (or install) phases.

If the package uses Python purely at build-time, the python-any-r1 eclass is appropriate. Otherwise, python-single-r1, python-r1 or their derivatives are to be used.

A specific exception to that rule is when the package is only calling external Python scripts directly (i.e. not via python /usr/bin/foo). If the called executables can be considered fully contained dependency-wise, there is no need to use an eclass.

For example, when using dev-util/meson to build a package, there is no need to use a Python eclass since Meson abstracts away its Pythonic implementation details and works as a regular executable for your packages. However, dev-util/scons requires Python eclass since it loads Python code from the package and a compatible Python version must be enforced.

Single-impl vs multi-impl

The second important basis for packages using Python at runtime is whether the package in question should support multi-implementation install or not.

A single-impl package is a package requiring the user to choose exactly one Python implementation to be built against. This means that the scripts installed by that package will be run via specified Python interpreter, and that the modules and extensions will be importable from it only. The package’s Python reverse dependencies will also have to use the same implementation. Since the package can’t support having more than one implementation enabled, its reverse dependencies have to be simple-impl as well.

Single-impl packages use python-single-r1 eclass. Writing ebuilds for them is easier since it is generally sufficient to call setup function early on, and the upstream build system generally takes care of using selected Python version correctly. Making packages single-impl is recommended when dealing with packages that are not purely written for Python or have single-impl dependencies.

A multi-impl package allows user to enable multiple (preferably any number of) implementations. The modules, extensions and scripts installed by the package are installed separately for each enabled implementation, and can therefore be used from any of them. The package can have reverse dependencies enabling only a subset of its implementations.

Multi-impl packages use python-r1 eclass. Ebuilds are more complex since they need to explicitly repeat build and install steps for each enabled implementation. Using this model is recommended for packages providing Python modules or extensions only, or having multi-impl reverse dependencies. In some cases supporting multi-impl build requires applying hacks, e.g. dev-libs/boost[python] uses non-standard names to install libboost_python for multiple Python versions.

The implementation for single-impl packages is selected via PYTHON_SINGLE_TARGET, while multi-impl uses PYTHON_TARGETS. These USE flag sets can be set independently to provide greater flexibility for developers and end users.

A rule of thumb

As a rule of thumb, the following checklist can be used to determine the eclass to use:

  1. If the package has or pyproject.toml file, use distutils-r1.

  2. If the package primarily installs Python modules or extensions or has multi-impl reverse dependencies, use python-r1.

  3. If the package (possibly conditionally) qualifies as using Python at runtime, use python-single-r1.

  4. If the package uses Python at build time only, use python-any-r1.


Besides the aforementioned eclasses, the suite includes a common utility eclass python-utils-r1. This eclass is inherited by all other eclasses, and it is considered to be a part of their API. Therefore, it must not be inherited directly if any other of the eclasses is inherited.

The only case for direct inherit of python-utils-r1 is when you are only using some of its utility functions without inheriting any of the remaining eclasses. However, note that the majority of those utility functions actually rely on mechanics provided by these eclasses and are not suitable for being used otherwise.