How To Build a Wheel in Python

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Python, known for its versatility and ease of use, is a preferred language for many software developers and hobbyists alike. One of its most distinct features is its package distribution system, allowing developers to share and utilize code written by others. A critical component of this system is the Python “wheel”. A wheel is a built-package format that allows for faster installation compared to the traditional source distribution. This tutorial will guide you through the intricacies of building a wheel in Python. Whether you’re planning to distribute your own package or simply want to understand the underlying mechanics, you’re in the right place!

  1. What Is a Wheel and Why Is It Important
  2. How to Structure Your Python Package
  3. How to Generate a Wheel Using Setuptools
  4. Common Errors and How to Troubleshoot Them
  5. Real World Benefits of Using Wheels
  6. Are All Packages Suitable for Wheel Distribution
  7. Examples of Successful Wheel Implementations
  8. Troubleshooting Installation Issues

What Is a Wheel and Why Is It Important

A wheel is a package format in Python, designed to ensure faster and more efficient software distribution. In its essence, a wheel, represented with the .whl file extension, is a built-package that’s meant to speed up the installation process of Python packages.

Advantages of Using Wheel:

SpeedWheel allows for quicker installations than traditional source distributions.
ConsistencyWith wheels, users are less likely to encounter build-related inconsistencies.
SimplicityBeing pre-built, wheels often eliminate the need for users to have a specific build environment.
Binary ExtensionsWheel supports binary extensions, making it easier to distribute packages with compiled code.

Now, let’s dive into the reasons this format is crucial in the Python community:

  1. Efficiency: Wheels significantly reduce the time it takes to install Python packages, especially those with complex dependencies or compiled components.
  2. Reliability: By distributing pre-built binaries, developers can ensure that users don’t run into unexpected build-related issues.
  3. Flexibility: While source distributions are still valuable, wheels give package maintainers the ability to offer a faster alternative for installations.

In conclusion, understanding the importance of wheels can aid developers in streamlining the distribution of Python packages, resulting in smoother user experiences and a more efficient development ecosystem.

How to Structure Your Python Package

Structuring your Python package is crucial for both maintainability and ease of distribution. A well-organized package promotes clarity, reduces potential errors, and ensures efficient code reuse. Let’s delve into the recommended practices:

  1. Project Root: This is where your setup script (, README, and other meta files reside.
    • Example: my_package/
  2. Package Directory: This contains the actual Python modules and sub-packages. It should have the same name as your package.
    • Example: my_package/my_package/
  3. Initialization: The file allows Python to recognize a directory as a package or subpackage, and can also be used to execute package-level initialization code.
    • Location: my_package/my_package/
  4. Modules & Sub-packages: Inside the package directory, you’ll have your modules (.py files) and potential sub-packages (directories).
    • Example: my_package/my_package/ and my_package/my_package/subpackage1/
  5. Static Data & Resources: If your package requires non-code files, such as images or datasets, place them in a relevant subdirectory.
    • Example: my_package/my_package/data/image1.png
  6. Tests: It’s a good practice to include tests for your package. Many developers prefer a separate tests directory at the project root, while others include it within the package directory.
    • Example: my_package/tests/
  7. Documentation: If you’re planning to include inline documentation, create a docs directory. Tools like Sphinx can help generate documentation from source code and comments.
    • Example: my_package/docs/
  8. README & Other Files: A (or .rst) file is essential for providing users with basic information about your package. Also consider adding a LICENSE, .gitignore, and other relevant meta files at the project root.

A visual representation of the basic structure:

├── my_package/
│   ├──
│   ├──
│   ├── subpackage1/
│   └── data/
│       └── image1.png
├── tests/
├── docs/

Remember, this structure can vary based on the complexity and needs of your package. The key is consistency and clarity. Organize your files in a way that makes sense to both you and anyone else who might use or contribute to your package.

How to Generate a Wheel Using Setuptools

Before diving into generating a wheel, ensure you have setuptools and wheel installed. You can get them using the following command:

pip install setuptools wheel

Your project should have a script at its root, which provides metadata and instructions about your package. A simple example might resemble:

from setuptools import setup, find_packages

        # List your package's dependencies here

To generate the wheel, navigate to your project root in the terminal and execute:

python sdist bdist_wheel

This command creates a source distribution and generates the wheel, placing both inside a dist directory at your project’s root. You’ll find both a .tar.gz (source distribution) and a .whl (wheel) file for your package there.

If you’re keen on distributing your package via PyPI, use twine to upload both the source distribution and wheel:

pip install twine twine upload dist/*

To test the wheel you’ve created, you can install it locally with:

pip install ./dist/my_package-0.1-py3-none-any.whl

Ensure the package name and version match those specified in Generating a wheel using setuptools streamlines installation, providing a faster and more hassle-free experience for users.

Common Errors and How to Troubleshoot Them

Creating and distributing Python wheels can sometimes lead to errors. Let’s explore some common pitfalls and their respective solutions:

Error: invalid command 'bdist_wheel'

  • Cause: This usually means the wheel package is not installed.
  • Solution:
  • pip install wheel

Error: error: option --plat-name not recognized

  • Cause: This error surfaces when trying to build a wheel for a different platform. It may arise from a misconfiguration or missing tools.
  • Solution: Ensure you have the necessary tools and libraries for cross-compilation, or reconsider if cross-compilation is essential for your needs.

Error: twine not found

  • Cause: Occurs if you try to upload your package to PyPI without having twine installed.
  • Solution:
  • pip install twine

Error: HTTPError: 403 Forbidden when using twine upload

  • Cause: You might be using an old or incorrect PyPI token, or your account might not have the necessary permissions.
  • Solution: Generate a new token from the PyPI website and ensure you have the correct permissions.

Error: ModuleNotFoundError after installing your wheel

  • Cause: Possible mismatches between the modules declared in and those present in your package.
  • Solution: Ensure all necessary modules and packages are declared in Rebuild and test the wheel locally before distributing.

Error: UnicodeDecodeError during wheel creation

  • Cause: Non-ASCII characters present without the proper encoding.
  • Solution: Make sure your and all related files are saved with UTF-8 encoding. If you’re reading files, ensure you specify the encoding.

General Troubleshooting Tips:

  1. Check Dependencies: Always ensure all your dependencies, especially build dependencies, are correctly installed and up-to-date.
  2. Use Virtual Environments: By isolating your environment, you can easily pinpoint issues and avoid conflicts with other packages.
  3. Read the Logs: Often, the detailed error message provides clues or the exact cause of the issue.
  4. Consult the Documentation: Packages like setuptools, wheel, and twine have extensive documentation that can guide you through nuances and common issues.

Real World Benefits of Using Wheels

Python wheels have transformed the way developers distribute and install packages. By offering pre-built distributions, wheels provide several tangible benefits that impact developers, maintainers, and end-users alike. Let’s explore these real-world advantages:

Faster Installations

Traditional source distributions require the package to be built on the target system, a process that can be time-consuming. Wheels, being pre-built distributions, bypass this step, resulting in significantly faster installations.

Consistent Environments

When building from source, variations in the build environment (like different library versions or OS differences) can lead to inconsistencies. Wheels offer a consistent pre-built binary, ensuring that the package behaves the same way across various environments.

Reduced Complexity for End Users

Compiling packages, especially those with C extensions or other non-Python components, often requires a proper build environment, compiler tools, and libraries. With wheels, end-users don’t need to worry about these complexities, as they can simply install the pre-compiled package.

Efficient Distribution of Binary Extensions

For packages that include binary components, wheels provide a mechanism to distribute platform-specific binaries efficiently. This is especially useful for packages that rely on optimized code or external libraries.

Reduced Server Load

When distributing popular packages, there’s a considerable load on servers every time a user installs the package and it gets built from source. With wheels, the server sends the pre-built binary, saving computational resources and bandwidth.

Streamlined Development Workflow

For package maintainers and developers, wheels simplify the release and update process. Once the wheel is built and tested, it can be distributed without further alterations, ensuring that users receive the exact version that was validated.

Inclusion of Non-Python Data

Wheels facilitate the inclusion of non-Python files, like data files, images, or shared libraries. This makes it easier for packages that rely on external resources to function correctly.

Are All Packages Suitable for Wheel Distribution

While wheels have become a popular means of distributing Python packages, the format may not be ideal for every situation. Here’s an examination of when wheels shine and when other options might be better suited:

Suitability of Wheels

  1. Binary Extensions: Wheels are especially beneficial for packages with binary components (like C extensions). These can be pre-compiled and packaged, saving end-users from needing a compilation environment.
  2. Static Resources: For packages that need to ship with non-Python files (like images, data files, or shared libraries), wheels facilitate this with ease.
  3. Performance: Installing from wheels is typically faster than source distributions because there’s no need for compilation or building during installation.
  4. Consistency: Wheels provide consistent installations across environments because users install pre-built binaries.

Limitations and Considerations

  1. Platform Specificity: Pure Python wheels (tagged as py2.py3-none-any) work across platforms and Python versions. However, if a wheel contains compiled binaries, it becomes platform-specific. This necessitates building and distributing separate wheels for different platforms and Python versions.
  2. Source Modifications: Some packages might need to be built with modifications specific to a user’s environment. Distributing only as a wheel could limit this flexibility.
  3. Transparency & Trust: Some users and organizations prefer to build from source for transparency and security reasons. They might be wary of binary distributions where they can’t inspect or modify the source.
  4. Dynamic Content: If a package dynamically generates content during setup, creating a static wheel might not be suitable.
  5. Larger File Size: Binary wheels, especially those that cater to multiple platforms or contain large resources, might be considerably larger than their source distribution counterparts.

Examples of Successful Wheel Implementations

The adoption of the wheel format has been widespread in the Python community, with many popular and impactful packages distributing wheels alongside source distributions. Here are some notable examples of successful wheel implementations:

NumPy and SciPy

These are foundational packages in the scientific computing and data science ecosystems. Due to their reliance on C and Fortran extensions for performance, building from source can be challenging. Their wheels provide pre-compiled binaries that simplify installation, especially on platforms where setting up a build environment can be tricky.

Pillow (PIL Fork)

Pillow, a fork of the Python Imaging Library (PIL), handles image processing tasks. The library has native extensions for performance. Wheels ensure users don’t need to wrestle with image libraries and compilers when installing Pillow.


A popular PostgreSQL adapter for Python, psycopg2 has binary components that interface with the PostgreSQL library. Wheels allow for hassle-free installations without needing PostgreSQL development files.


A library for processing XML and HTML, lxml wraps the C libraries libxml2 and libxslt. By offering wheels, users can avoid challenges tied to compiling these C libraries.


This package provides cryptographic recipes and primitives to Python developers. With dependencies on OpenSSL and other native libraries, building from source can be intricate. Wheels simplify the installation process.


While not a package in the traditional sense, manylinux is a PEP specification (e.g., PEP 513 for manylinux1) that defines a platform tag for Linux wheels. It’s been instrumental in promoting the use of wheels for Linux distributions by ensuring compatibility with a wide array of Linux versions.


Black, the uncompromising Python code formatter, distributes wheels to provide faster installations. Given its pure Python nature, the wheels ensure compatibility across platforms.

These examples underscore the power and convenience of wheels in the Python ecosystem. Both small utility libraries and large, complex packages have benefited from the streamlined installation process that wheels afford. As wheels continue to gain traction, more packages are likely to adopt this distribution mechanism to enhance user experience.

Troubleshooting Installation Issues

When installing Python packages, especially from wheels, users might encounter various issues. Here’s a guide to diagnose and resolve common installation problems:

1. ERROR: Could not find a version that satisfies the requirement

Cause: The package/version you’re trying to install might not be available, or there might be compatibility issues with your environment.


  • Double-check the package name and version.
  • Ensure you’re using an updated version of pip.
  • Check if the package has wheels compatible with your platform and Python version.

2. ERROR: Failed building wheel for <package_name>

Cause: While attempting to install from a source distribution, the build process for a wheel fails.


  • Ensure you have required build tools and dependencies installed.
  • Check the error logs for specific issues and address them.
  • Consider using a pre-built wheel if available.

3. ERROR: No matching distribution found for <package_name>

Cause: The package might not be available for your specific platform or Python version.


  • Look for alternative packages or wheels.
  • Consider using a virtual environment with a different Python version.

4. ModuleNotFoundError after installation

Cause: The installed package might be missing modules, or there could be a path issue.


  • Reinstall the package.
  • Ensure your Python path is set correctly.
  • Check if the package was installed in a location accessible to your Python interpreter.

5. Permission Errors during installation

Cause: Lack of proper permissions to install packages, especially when not using virtual environments.


  • Use a virtual environment to avoid system-wide installations.
  • Use --user with pip to install the package for the current user only.
  • (Not recommended for production) Use sudo for system-wide installations on Linux/macOS.

6. Binary incompatibility errors

Cause: The wheel might have been built for a different platform or with incompatible libraries.


  • Ensure you’re downloading the correct wheel for your platform.
  • Use pip to install the package directly, allowing it to choose the correct wheel.

7. Outdated pip or setuptools

Cause: Older versions might have bugs or lack support for newer wheel formats.


pip install --upgrade pip setuptools

8. Dependency Conflicts

Cause: Two or more packages require different versions of the same dependency.


  • Use virtual environments to isolate installations.
  • Check for package updates that might have resolved dependency conflicts.

General Tips:

  • Logs are Gold: Always refer to the error logs. They often contain detailed messages that can pinpoint the issue.
  • Virtual Environments: Using tools like venv or virtualenv can help isolate your project and its dependencies, minimizing conflicts.
  • Stay Updated: Ensure pip, setuptools, and wheel are regularly updated.
  • Community & Forums: If you’re stuck, platforms like Stack Overflow and the package’s GitHub issues page can be invaluable resources.
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