Arbitrary Python versions on Flip

A question in the #osu-lug channel about running python 2.7 on a school server (which only has python 2.6.6) made me realize I should know how to do that but have never tried it. Stackoverflow provides instructions for solving a similar problem, so I’m testing them out to make sure they work for Python 2.7.7 and Python 3.

The Setup

At Oregon State University, students in the engineering department have access to a trio of servers which, for most purposes, are interchangeable. If you’re running a screen session for IRC, it’s important to log in to the same flip (,, or every time because the session exists in that particular server’s memory. If you only care about stuff stored to disk, you can just ssh to to be round-robined onto an available server. Your NFS home directory is shared between all the flip servers, which is why the same files are also available whenever you log in with your engineering account to a Windows, Linux, or Mac computer in the university’s computer.

All 3 flips are identical; I happen to be on flip1 at the start of this tutorial:

-bash-4.1$ hostname

It’s running CentOS 6.6 and has Python 2.6.6 and Virtualenv 1.10.1 installed:

$ python --version
Python 2.6.6
$ virtualenv --version
$ cat /etc/redhat-release
CentOS release 6.6 (Final)

tl;dr: Just ssh to You only need to specify flip{1-3} if you’re doing IRC stuff.

Install Python locally

On Flip, run the following commands:

tar -zxvf Python-2.7.7.tgz

# then you wait. it may take a few minutes.

cd Python-2.7.7
mkdir ~/python27

# all 3 of the following steps may take awhile.
./configure --prefix=$HOME/python27
make install

Use Python2.7.7

Instead of invoking python and getting the old version from your path, specify which python you want to run your program with:


Or Make a Virtualenv

$ virtualenv -p ~/python27/bin/python venv27
$ source venv27/bin/activate

(venv27)-bash-4.1$ python --version
Python 2.7.7


If you get a permission denied error, check that files actually ended up in your ~/python27 directory. If the directory is empty, run make; make install in your Python-2.7.7 directory.

Re-installing solved the failure-to-install issue for me.

Trying it with Python 3, too

Repeating the same process with Python 3.4.2 yields the error:

ImportError: No module named '_collections_abc'
ERROR: The executable venv3/bin/python3 is not functioning
ERROR: It thinks sys.prefix is '/nfs/stak/students/d/dunhame' (should be '/nfs/stak/students/d/dunhame/venv3')
ERROR: virtualenv is not compatible with this system or executable

So, Flip’s virtualenv version is too old. Fortunately, Python3 shipped with pyvenv:

$ python3/bin/pyvenv-3.4 venv3
$ source venv3/bin/activate
(venv3)$ python --version
Python 3.4.2

For anyone who wants to copy and paste, the commands for installing Python 3.4.2 are:

tar -zxvf Python-3.4.2.tgz
cd Python-3.4.2
mkdir ~/python3
./configure --prefix=$HOME/python3
make install