# Project dependency management in Julia

I have already written several posts about project dependency management practices in Julia. You can find these materials here, here, and here.

In all these posts I emphasize that one should use project-specific Project.toml and Manifest.toml files. But the question is what should one do if one wants to distribute some Julia code as a single .jl file without Project.toml and Manifest.toml files attached?

Now, you might ask why someone would have a problem with adding Project.toml and Manifest.toml to ones files when distributing them? There are several potential reasons:

• It is easy to forget to attach them to your source code.
• By accident you might update your Project.toml and Manifest.toml files (and unless you use version control of your repository you have a problem; sometimes undo command in the Package Manager mode will help you, but not in all cases).
• You store many projects in the same directory (so it gets hard to manage Project.toml and Manifest.toml files then) — this scenario happens when you have e.g. a collection of small scripts for data preprocessing that you reuse across different tasks.
• If an inexperienced user of Julia gets your source code along with Project.toml and Manifest.toml, one might have a problem understanding how to properly activate the project environment and (especially when working on a fresh installation) run into problems by not running instantiate command in the Package Manager.

If any of these scenarios is your use case in this post I explain how to automatically set up a proper project environment within a Julia script.

The codes were run under Julia 1.4.2.

# Embedding project environment setup in your Julia script

I will use here a simple example of a script that depends on DataFrames.jl and CSV.jl, creates a random DataFrame and writes it to a disk. So the operation we want to do is the following:

Assume that I want to use CSV.jl version 0.6.1 and DataFrames.jl version 0.20.1 (note that I picked some old versions of the packages to make sure that indeed we test that we get what we want).

How to make sure they are properly loaded by the script above? Just add the following header to it:

What are important elements of this process:

• Using mktempdir we create a temporary directory that will be deleted after our script terminates (so each time we run the code a new random directory will be created and instantiated).
• As we add packages one-by one and want their specific versions in all but the first Pkg.add commands I use preserve=PRESERVE_DIRECT to ensure that the Package Manager does not change the version of an already added package.
• I run Pkg.status to visually make sure that all is installed correctly.
• Note that Julia normally uses a federated repository of packages; this means that when such a script is run several times Julia will just reuse the already downloaded packages (so it does not have to fetch packages from the Internet every time and the process is relatively fast)
• Finally, in this way you ensure that it is clear within the script what are versions of its dependencies.

So here is a full code of our example (if you would want to copy-paste it for testing):

Here is the output I got when running it (I show everything that is printed as in this case it is relevant):

julia> using Pkg

julia> cd(mktempdir()) do
Pkg.activate(".")
preserve=PRESERVE_DIRECT)
Pkg.status()
end
Activating new environment at /tmp/jl_Mit7P2/Project.toml
Updating registry at ~/.julia/registries/General
Updating git-repo https://github.com/JuliaRegistries/General.git
Resolving package versions...
Updating /tmp/jl_Mit7P2/Project.toml
[336ed68f] + CSV v0.6.1
Updating /tmp/jl_Mit7P2/Manifest.toml
[336ed68f] + CSV v0.6.1
[324d7699] + CategoricalArrays v0.7.7
[34da2185] + Compat v3.12.0
[9a962f9c] + DataAPI v1.3.0
[a93c6f00] + DataFrames v0.20.2
[864edb3b] + DataStructures v0.17.19
[e2d170a0] + DataValueInterfaces v1.0.0
[48062228] + FilePathsBase v0.7.0
[41ab1584] + InvertedIndices v1.0.0
[82899510] + IteratorInterfaceExtensions v1.0.0
[682c06a0] + JSON v0.21.0
[e1d29d7a] + Missings v0.4.3
[bac558e1] + OrderedCollections v1.2.0
[69de0a69] + Parsers v1.0.6
[2dfb63ee] + PooledArrays v0.5.3
[189a3867] + Reexport v0.2.0
[a2af1166] + SortingAlgorithms v0.3.1
[3783bdb8] + TableTraits v1.0.0
[bd369af6] + Tables v1.0.4
[ea10d353] + WeakRefStrings v0.6.2
[2a0f44e3] + Base64
[8bb1440f] + DelimitedFiles
[8ba89e20] + Distributed
[9fa8497b] + Future
[b77e0a4c] + InteractiveUtils
[76f85450] + LibGit2
[8f399da3] + Libdl
[37e2e46d] + LinearAlgebra
[56ddb016] + Logging
[d6f4376e] + Markdown
[44cfe95a] + Pkg
[de0858da] + Printf
[3fa0cd96] + REPL
[9a3f8284] + Random
[ea8e919c] + SHA
[9e88b42a] + Serialization
[1a1011a3] + SharedArrays
[6462fe0b] + Sockets
[2f01184e] + SparseArrays
[10745b16] + Statistics
[8dfed614] + Test
[cf7118a7] + UUIDs
[4ec0a83e] + Unicode
Resolving package versions...
Updating /tmp/jl_Mit7P2/Project.toml
[a93c6f00] + DataFrames v0.20.1
Updating /tmp/jl_Mit7P2/Manifest.toml
[a93c6f00] ↓ DataFrames v0.20.2 ⇒ v0.20.1
Status /tmp/jl_Mit7P2/Project.toml
[336ed68f] CSV v0.6.1
[a93c6f00] DataFrames v0.20.1

julia> using CSV, DataFrames

julia> CSV.write("random_file.csv", DataFrame(rand(100, 5)))
"random_file.csv"


What are important things to note here:

• Before you terminate the Julia session the temporary directory will exist (in my case its name is /tmp/jl_Mit7P2 as you can see in the output; you can check yourself that it is the case on your system).
• When you exit Julia the directory gets deleted (again — you can make sure that this is the case).
• Initially DataFrames.jl was added in version v0.20.2, and later we downgraded its version (so as you can see sequential adding of packages influences the versions of packages already added, that is why preserve=PRESERVE_DIRECT is an important switch to make sure that the package you added are in correct versions).
• The Package Manager updates registry by looking up https://github.com/JuliaRegistries/General.git, so it has some cost, but later in my case the packages themselves were not downloaded as they were already present in the federated package repository (so the process is quite fast, yet still has a non-negligible cost; the additional benefit of doing this is that you do not have to run instantiate as adding packages explicitly ensures that they get instantiated).

# What are the limitations of the proposed approach

There are three details that one should keep in mind when using the method that I have presented in this post:

• Sharing Project.toml and Manifest.toml makes Julia recreate the project environment exactly. In the process I have described above we only ensure that the packages we install have a fixed version. Versions of their recursive dependencies will be dynamically resolved by the Package Manager (and thus might differ from versions used when the script was created; however, in practice this is not a problem unless some of these packages do not correctly follow Semantic Versioning).
• The process that dynamically creates the project environment costs a bit — it is of course better to just ship Project.toml and Manifest.toml along your files so that you do not have to pay extra start-up time (but if your script does some heavy computations this is probably negligible).

# Update — adding several packages

After writing the post I have realized that I have forgotten that you actually can add several packages using Pkg.add in one shot. So actually you can simply write:

to add two packages in their specific versions. In this case preserve=PRESERVE_DIRECT is not required (unless you add packages to an environment that already has some packages that you want to avoid being updated).

The reason is that if you pass several packages in a single call to Pkg.add it is smart enough to check if all packages can be added in the specified versions.

To see this consider the following example. I assume that you are working on an empty project environment (I have cut out some output and replaced it with … to make the listing shorter):

julia> Pkg.status()
Status ~/Project.toml
(empty environment)

PackageSpec(name="DataFrames", version="0.18")])
Updating registry at ~/.julia/registries/General
Updating git-repo https://github.com/JuliaRegistries/General.git
Resolving package versions...
ERROR: Unsatisfiable requirements detected for package DataFrames [a93c6f00]:
DataFrames [a93c6f00] log:
├─possible versions are: [0.11.7, 0.12.0, 0.13.0-0.13.1, 0.14.0-0.14.1, 0.15.0-0.15.2, 0.16.0, 0.17.0-0.17.1, 0.18.0-0.18.4, 0.19.0-0.19.4, 0.20.0-0.20.2, 0.21.0-0.21.3] or uninstalled
├─restricted to versions 0.18 by an explicit requirement, leaving only versions 0.18.0-0.18.4
└─restricted by compatibility requirements with CategoricalArrays [324d7699] to versions: [0.11.7, 0.12.0, 0.13.0-0.13.1, 0.14.0-0.14.1, 0.15.0-0.15.2] or uninstalled — no versions left
└─CategoricalArrays [324d7699] log:
├─possible versions are: [0.3.11, 0.3.13-0.3.14, 0.4.0, 0.5.0-0.5.5, 0.6.0, 0.7.0-0.7.7, 0.8.0-0.8.1] or uninstalled
└─restricted to versions 0.5.1 by an explicit requirement, leaving only versions 0.5.1
...

julia> Pkg.status()
Status ~/Project.toml
(empty environment)

...

julia> Pkg.status()
Status ~/Project.toml
[324d7699] CategoricalArrays v0.5.1

...

julia> Pkg.status()
Status ~/Project.toml
[324d7699] CategoricalArrays v0.5.5
[a93c6f00] DataFrames v0.18


In the example you see that we try to install CategoricalArrays.jl 0.5.1 and DataFrames.jl version 0.18. The first call to Pkg.add specifies both packages in one call — in this case we get an error, as it is not possible to have these packages in the specified versions at the same time.

Below I show what would happen if we installed these packages sequentially and avoided using preserve=PRESERVE_DIRECT. You see that first CategoricalArrays.jl is installed in version 0.5.1 and if in the next step you install DataFrames.jl in version 0.18 then actually it gets resolved to 0.18.4 (the latest patch for 0.18 release) and updates CategoricalArrays.jl to version 0.5.5. If alternatively we would write:

Pkg.add(PackageSpec(name="DataFrames", version="0.18"), preserve=PRESERVE_DIRECT)


as the last command we would get an error as in the first call to Pkg.add.