How to use subprocess to efficiently use multiple conda environments in the same project

Siddharth Sah
4 min readFeb 2, 2023

Let's start with the most basic method of managing conda environments.

  1. Create separate environments for each project requirement:
conda create -n env1 python=x.x 
conda create -n env2 python=y.y

2. Activate the desired environment before working on the project:

conda activate env1

3. Deactivate the current environment before switching to another:

conda deactivate

4. Export the environment’s specifications to a file:

conda env export > env1.yml

By doing this, you can have different packages and dependencies for each environment, and switch between them easily as needed through the terminal.

This works fine unless you need to do this on the fly, i.e., between different conda environments for the same project.

Multiple conda environments in a Python project can be necessary for several reasons, including:

  1. Package management: Different projects may require different versions of packages or different packages altogether. Having separate conda environments ensures that each project has the specific packages it requires and reduces the risk of version conflicts.
  2. Reproducibility: Separate environments ensure that the project can be easily run on different machines and that results can be reproduced.
  3. Isolation: Different environments can be isolated from one another, which is useful for testing and development.
  4. Compatibility: By using separate conda environments, you can create an environment that is compatible with the specific requirements of a project, such as a specific Python version.

In short, using multiple conda environments provides greater control and organization for Python projects and reduces the risk of conflicts and compatibility issues.

The below code defines a function switch_conda_environment which takes the name of a conda environment as an argument and switches to that environment using the subprocess.run function. The shell=True argument is used to run the command in a shell, which is required to use the conda command. The function prints the name of the environment that was switched to, which can be useful for debugging purposes.

In the example usage section, the function is used to switch between two different environments, “env1” and “env2”. You can replace these names with the names of your own conda environments.

import subprocess

def switch_conda_environment(env_name):
subprocess.run(f"conda activate {env_name}", shell=True)
print(f"Switched to conda environment: {env_name}")

# Example usage:
switch_conda_environment("env1")
switch_conda_environment("env2")

For deployment, I advise adding another function that checks if the environment exists else creates one for you with the given requirements. You can go crazy and handle errors too. Just purge and reinstall. For demo I am going to stick to the fundamentals.

import subprocess

def create_conda_environment(env_name, requirements_file):
env_exists = False
try:
subprocess.run(f"conda activate {env_name}", shell=True, check=True)
env_exists = True
except subprocess.CalledProcessError as e:
pass

if not env_exists:
subprocess.run(f"conda create --name {env_name} --file {requirements_file}", shell=True)
print(f"Conda environment {env_name} created.")
else:
print(f"Conda environment {env_name} already exists.")

# Example usage:
create_conda_environment("env1", "requirements.txt")

This code defines a function `create_conda_environment which takes the name of a conda environment and a requirements file as arguments. The function first attempts to activate the environment using the subprocess.run function. If the environment does not exist, a CalledProcessError is raised, and the function proceeds to create the environment using the `conda create command and the requirements file. The shell=True argument is used to run the command in a shell, which is required to use the conda command. The function prints a message indicating whether the environment was created or already existed.

In the example usage section, the function is used to create an environment named “env1” using the requirements file "requirements.txt". You can replace these values with your own environment name and requirements file.

Having multiple conda environments in the same project also means you have the flexibility to use different Python versions for different projects. This is a big relief if you want to work with papers that use different Python versions, but the Python versions are not compatible. It even works with Python 2. Here is the code, which also takes the Python version as an argument.

import subprocess

def create_conda_environment(env_name, requirements_file, python_version):
env_exists = False
try:
subprocess.run(f"conda activate {env_name}", shell=True, check=True)
env_exists = True
except subprocess.CalledProcessError as e:
pass

if not env_exists:
subprocess.run(f"conda create --name {env_name} python={python_version} --file {requirements_file}", shell=True)
print(f"Conda environment {env_name} created.")
else:
print(f"Conda environment {env_name} already exists.")

# Example usage:
create_conda_environment("env1", "requirements.txt", "3.9")

In this updated code, the function create_conda_environment takes a third argument python_version, which specifies the desired version of Python for the conda environment. This version is passed to the conda create command using the python option.

In the example usage section, the function is used to create an environment named “env1” with Python version 3.9 and the requirements file “requirements.txt”. You can replace these values with your own environment name, requirements file, and desired Python version.

Here is a master function which puts all of this together and works seamlessly when working with multiple environments.

import subprocess

def handle_conda_environment(env_name, requirements_file, python_version):
def create_conda_environment():
subprocess.run(f"conda create --name {env_name} python={python_version} --file {requirements_file}", shell=True)
print(f"Conda environment {env_name} created.")

def switch_conda_environment():
subprocess.run(f"conda activate {env_name}", shell=True)
print(f"Switched to conda environment: {env_name}")

env_exists = False
try:
switch_conda_environment()
env_exists = True
except subprocess.CalledProcessError as e:
pass

if not env_exists:
create_conda_environment()
else:
print(f"Conda environment {env_name} already exists.")

# Example usage:
handle_conda_environment("env1", "requirements.txt", "3.9")

This code defines a function handle_conda_environment which takes the name of a conda environment, a requirements file, and a Python version as arguments. The function contains two inner functions create_conda_environment and switch_conda_environment which perform the respective tasks as described in previous answers.

The handle_conda_environment function first attempts to switch to the specified environment using the switch_conda_environment function. If the environment does not exist, a CalledProcessError is raised, and the function proceeds to create the environment using the create_conda_environment function. The function prints messages indicating the state of the environment, whether it was created, switched to, or already existed.

In the example usage section, the function is used to handle an environment named “env1” with Python version 3.9 and the requirements file “requirements.txt”. You can replace these values with your own environment name, requirements file, and desired Python version.

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Siddharth Sah

Sr. Research Engineer. Follow me for articles on AI, Machine Learning, and more.