Tag: software engineering

Versioning in Python

I have recently been thinking about versioning in Python, both of Python and also of the Python packages. This is a record of how it is done for a current project and the reasoning behind it.

Python Versioning

At the beginning of the project we made a conscious decision to use Python 3.9, however our package is also used by our Airflow code which does integration tests, and provides reference Docker images based on Python 3.7 (their strategy is to use the oldest version of Python still in support). This approach is documented here. And the end of life dates for recent Python versions are listed here:

Since we started the project, Python 3.11 has been released so it makes sense to extend our testing from just Python 3.9 to include Python 3.7 and 3.11 too.

The project uses an Azure Pipeline to run continuous integration / continuous development tests, it is easy to add tests for multiple versions of Python using the following stanza in the configuration file for the pipeline.

Extending testing resulted in only a small number of minor issues, typically around Python version support for dependencies which were easily addressed by allowing more flexible versions in Python’s requirements.txt rather than pinning to a specific version. We needed to address one failing test where it appears Python 3.11 handles escaping of characters in Windows-like path strings differently from Python 3.9.

Package Versioning

Our project publishes a package to a private PyPi repository. This process fails if we attempt to publish the same version of the package twice, where the version is that specified in the “pyproject.toml”* configuration file rather than the state of the code.

Python has views on package version numbering which are described in PEP-440, this describes permitted formats. It is flexible enough to allow both Calendar Versioning (CalVer – https://calver.org/) or Semantic Versioning (SemVer – https://semver.org/) but does not prescribe how the versioning process should be managed or which of these schemes should be used.

I settled on Calendar Versioning with the format YYYY.MM.Micro. This is a considered personal taste. I like to know at a glance how old a package is, and I worry about spending time working out whether I need to bump major, minor or patch parts of a semantic version number whilst with Calendar Versioning I just need to look at the date! I use .Micro rather than .DD (meaning Day) because the day to be used is ambiguous in my mind i.e. is the day when we open a pull request to make a release or when it is merged?

It is possible to automate the versioning numbering process using a package such as bumpversion but this is complicated when working in a CI/CD environment since it requires the pipeline to make a git commit to update the version.

My approach is to use a pull request template to prompt me to update the version in pyproject.toml since this where I have stored version information to date, as noted below I moved project metadata from setup.cfg to pyproject.toml as recommended by PEP-621 during the writing of this blog post. The package version can be obtained programmatically using the importlib.metadata.version method introduced in Python 3.8. In the past projects defined __version__ programmatically but this is optional and is likely to fall out of favour since the version defined in setup.cfg/pyproject.toml is compulsory.

Should you wish to use Semantic Versioning then there are libraries that can help with this, as long as you following commit format conventions such as those promoted by the Angular project.

Once again I am struck on how this type of activity is a moving target – PEP-621 was only adopted in November 2020.

* Actually when this blog post was started version information and other project metadata were stored in setup.cfg but PEP-621 recommends it is put in pyproject.toml and is preferred by the packaging library. Setuptools has parallel instructions for using pyproject.toml or setup.cfg, although some elements to do with package and data discovery are in beta.

Software Engineering for Data Scientists

For a long time I have worked as a data scientist, and before that a physical scientist – writing code to do data processing and analysis. I have done some work in software engineering teams but only in a relatively peripheral fashion – as a pair programmer to proper developers. As a result I have picked up some software engineering skills – in particular unit testing and source control. This year, for the first time, I have worked as a software engineer in a team. I thought it was worth recording the new skills and ways of working I have picked up in the process. It is worth pointing out that this was a very small team with only three developers working about 1.5 FTE.

This blog assumes some knowledge of Python and source control systems such as git.

Coding standards

At the start of the project I did some explicit work on Python project structure, which resulted in this blog post (my most read by a large margin). At this point we also discussed which Python version would be our standard, and which linters (syntax/code style enforcers) we would use (Black, flake and pylint) – previously I had not used any linters/syntax checkers other than those built-in to my preferred editors (Visual Studio Code). My Python project layout used to be a result of rote learning – working in a team forced me to clarify my thinking in this area.

Agile development

We followed an Agile development process, with work specified in JIRA tickets which were refined and executed in 2 week sprints. Team members were subjected to regular rants (from me) on the non-numerical “story points” which have the appearance of numbers BUT REALLY THEY ARE NOT! Also the metaphor of sprinting all the time is exhausting. That said I quite like the structure of working against tickets and moving them around the JIRA board. Agile development is the subject of endless books, I am not going to attempt to describe it in any detail here.

Source control and pull requests

To date my use of source control (mainly git these days) has been primitive; effectively I worked on a single branch to which I committed all of my code. I was fairly good at committing regularly, and my commit messages were reasonable useful. I used source control to delete code with confidence and as a record of what I was doing when.

This project was different – as is common we operated on the basis of developing new features on branches which were merged to the main branch by a process of “pull requests” (GitHub language) / “merge requests” (GitLab language). For code to be merged it needed to pass automated tests (described below) and review by another developer.

I now realise we were using the GitHub Flow strategy (a description of source control branching strategies is here) which is relatively simple, and fits our requirements. It would probably have been useful to talk more explicitly about our strategy here since I had had no previous experience in this way of working.

I struggled a bit with the code review element, my early pull requests were massive and took ages for the team to review (partly because they were massive, and partly because the team was small and had limited time for the project). At one point I Googled for dealing with slow code review and read articles starting “If it takes more than a few hours for code to be reviewed….” – mine were taking a couple of weeks! My colleagues had a very hard line on comments in code (they absolutely did not want any comments in code!)

On the plus side I learnt a lot from having my code reviewed – often in pushing me to do stuff I knew I should have done. I also learned from reviewing other’s code, often I would review someone else’s code and then go change my own code.

Automated pipelines

As part of our development process we used Azure Pipelines to run tests on pull requests. Azure is our corporate preference – very similar pipeline systems can be found in GitHub and GitLab. This was all new to me in practical, if not theoretical, terms.

Technically configuring the pipeline involved a couple of components. The first is optional, we used Linux “make” targets to specify actions such as running installation, linters, unit tests and integration tests. Make targets are specified in a Makefile, and are involved with simple commands like “make install”. I had a simple MakeFile which looked something like this:

The make targets can be run locally as well as in the pipeline. In practice we could fix all issues raised by black and flake8 linters but pylint produced a huge list of issues which we considered then ignored (so we forced a pass for pylint in the pipeline).

The Azure Pipeline was defined using a YAML file, this is a simple example:

This YAML specifies that the pipeline will be triggered on attempting a pull request against a main branch. The pipeline is run on an Ubuntu image (the latest one) with Python 3.9 installed. Three actions are done, first installation of the Python package specified in the git repo, then unit tests are run and finally a set of linters is run. Each of these actions is run regardless of the status of previous actions. Azure Pipelines offers a lot of pre-built tasks but they are not portable to other providers, hence the use of make targets.

The pipeline is configured by navigating to the Azure Pipeline interface and pointing at the GitHub repo (and specifically this YAML file). The pipeline is triggered when a new commit is pushed to the branch on GitHub. The results of these actions are shown in a pretty interface with extensive logging.

The only downside of using a pipeline from my point of view was that my standard local operating environment is Windows with the git-bash prompt providing a Linux-like commandline interface. The pipeline was run on an Ubuntu image, which meant that certain tests would pass locally, but not in the pipeline, and were consequently quite difficult to debug. Regular issues were around checking file sizes (line endings mean that file sizes on Linux and Windows differ) and file paths – even with Python’s pathlib – are different between Windows and Linux systems. Using a pipeline forces you to ensure your installation process is solid, since the pipeline image is built on every run.

We also have a separate pipeline to publish the Python package to a private PyPi repository but that is the subject of another blog post.


I learnt a lot working with other, more experienced, software engineers and as a measure of the usefulness of this experience I have retro-fitted the standard project structure and make targets to my legacy projects. I have started using pipelines for other applications.