Anaconda vs. Miniconda vs. Virtualenv

This post briefly introduces which to choose among Anaconda, Miniconda, and Virtualenv.

If you have used pip and virtualenv in the past, you can use conda to perform all of the same operations. Pip is a package manager, and virtualenv is an environment manager; and conda is both.

Specifically, conda is a packaging tool and installer that aims to do more than what pip does; it handles library dependencies outside of the Python packages as well as the Python packages themselves. Conda also creates a virtual environment, like virtualenv does.

Both Anaconda and Miniconda uses Conda as the package manager. The difference among Anaconda and Miniconda is that Miniconda only comes the package management system. So when you install it, there is just the management system and not coming with a bundle of pre-installed packages like Anaconda does. Once Conda is installed, you can then install whatever package you need from scratch along with any desired version of Python.

Choose Anaconda if you:

  • Are new to conda or Python
  • Prefer having Python and 720+ open source certified packages automatically installed at once
  • Have the time and disk space (a few minutes and 3 GB), and/or
  • Don’t want to install each of the packages you want to use individually.

Choose Miniconda if you:

  • Know what package(s) you need to install
  • Do not have time or disk space (about 3 GB) to install over 720+ packages (many of the packages are never used and could be easily installed when needed), and/or
  • Just want fast access to Python and the conda commands, and prefer to sorting out the other packages later.

Choose Virtualenv only when you have sudo access to the machine you are working on. It is much easier to setup conda rather than virtualenv for a regular (i.e., non sudo/root) user on a linux/Mac machine.

I use Miniconda myself (because it is much more light weight than Anaconda) when I need to setup python programming environment and when I do not have sudo privilege, and I use Virtualenv when I have sudo access on the machine.

(Thanks to  Dr. Brendt Wohlberg  for introducing Miniconda — Miniconda makes me switching from pip & virtualenv to conda.)



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