FAQs

This section is to help contributors get up to speed on various topics related to building and testing conda packages.

What’s the difference between Anaconda, conda, and Miniconda?

The Anaconda Python distribution started out as a bundle of scientific Python packages that were otherwise difficult to install. It was created by ContinuumIO and remains the easiest way to install the full scientific Python stack.

Many packaging problems had to be solved in order to provide a cross-platform bundle, and one of the tools that came out of that work was the conda package manager. So conda is part of Anaconda. But conda ended up being very useful on its own and for things other than Python, so ContinuumIO spun it out into its own separate open-source package.

However, conda is not just for Python, it is not “pip-installable” and rather needs to be installed in a language-agnostic manner. The conda installer is called Miniconda, to differentiate it from the full-size Anaconda.

So: conda is a package manager, Miniconda is the conda installer, and Anaconda is a scientific Python distribution that also includes conda.

Recipe vs package

A recipe is a directory containing small set of files that defines name, version, dependencies, and URL for source code. A recipe typically contains a meta.yaml file that defines these settings and a build.sh script that builds the software. A recipe is converted into a package by running conda-build on the recipe. A package is a bgzipped tar file (.tar.bz2) that contains the built software. Packages are uploaded to anaconda.org so that users can install them with conda install.

See also

The conda package specification has details on exactly what a package contains and how it is installed into an environment.

Continuous integration (Travis-CI)

We use the Travis-CI continuous integration service. Continuous integration tests each small incremental change to code to ensure that everything is up-to-date and correct. Travis-CI graciously provides this service for free to open-source projects. It is connected to GitHub such that each time a pull request or merge occurs, a new Travis-CI build is created. For bioconda, a “build” means identifying any recipes that need to built, running conda-build on them, and testing to make sure they work.

How is Travis-CI set up and configured?

  • .travis.yml is read by the Travis-CI worker.
  • The worker runs scripts/travis-setup.sh. This installs conda, adds channels, and installs bioconda-utils
  • The worker runs scripts/travis-run.sh. If the system is Linux, then the build is performed in a docker container (the one listed in .travis.yml). If OSX, then the build is performed without docker.

There are some environmental variables that exist on Travis-CI. The simulate-travis.py script adds these so that a locally-run test behaves close as possible to the Travis-CI run.

What does “SUBDAG” mean on Travis-CI?

The test results page on travis-ci.org for a PR or merge shows 4 separate sub-tests. There are two for Linux and two for OSX.

We have limited resources on Travis-CI on which to build packages. In an attempt to speed up builds, we split the full DAG of recipes that need to be built in to multiple independent sub-DAGs. These are named SUBDAG 0 and SUBDAG 1. Each sub-DAG is considered an independent build and they are run in parallel. If you submit a single recipe, which sub-DAG it is built on is nondeterministic so if you don’t see log output for the recipe in one sub-DAG, check the other.

The simulate-travis.py script sets the number of sub-DAGs to 1 so that there is only a single process running the builds.

How are environmental variables defined and used?

In some cases a recipe may need to pin the version of a dependency. Jinja2 templating is used within recipes to use a uniform set of versions for core packages used by bioconda packages. For example, see this meta.yaml that uses a variable to hold the current GSL (GNU Scientific Library) version supported by bioconda.

The currently defined dependencies are defined in scripts/env_matrix.yml and are sent to conda-build by setting them as environment variables. More specifically:

What’s the lifecycle of a bioconda package?

  • Submit a pull request with a new recipe or an updated recipe
  • Travis-CI automatically builds and tests the changed recipe[s] using conda-build. Test results are shown on the PR.
  • If tests fail, push changes to PR until they pass.
  • Once tests pass, merge into master branch
  • Travis-CI tests again, but this time after testing the built packages are uploaded to the bioconda channel on anaconda.org
  • Users can now install the package just like any other conda package with conda install.

Once uploaded to anaconda.org, it is our intention to never delete any old packages. Even if a recipe in the bioconda repo is updated to a new version, the old version will remain on anaconda.org. ContinuumIO has graciously agreed to sponsor the storage required by the bioconda channel.