Installing Pants

There are a few ways to get a runnable version of Pants set up for your workspace. Before beginning, make sure your machine fits the requirements. At a minimum, Pants requires the following to run properly:

  • Linux or macOS.
  • Python 3.6+.
  • A C compiler, system headers, Python headers (to compile native Python modules) and the libffi library and headers (to compile and link modules that use CFFI to access native code).
  • Internet access (so that Pants can fully bootstrap itself).

Additionally, if you use the JVM backend to work with Java or Scala code:

  • OpenJDK or Oracle JDK version 8 or greater.

After you have Pants installed, you'll need to Set up your code workspace to work with Pants.

To set up Pants in your repo, we recommend installing our self-contained pants bash script in the root (i.e. the "build root") of your repo:

curl -L -O && chmod +x pants

To verify that Pants bootstraps correctly, run:

./pants --version

Now, run this command to create an initial pants.toml config file:

printf "[GLOBAL]\npants_version = \"$(./pants --version)\"\n" > pants.toml

This config pins the pants_version. When you'd like to upgrade Pants, edit the version in pants.toml and ./pants will self-update on the next run.

To use Pants plugins published to PyPI, add them to a plugins list, like so:

pants_version = ...

plugins: [

Pants will notice you changed your plugins and will install them the next time you run ./pants.

The ./pants Runner Script

We highly recommend invoking pants via a checked-in runner script named pants in the root of your workspace, as demonstrated above. Pants uses the presence of such a file, in the current working directory or in any of its ancestors, to detect the build root, e.g., when invoked in a subdirectory.

If, for whatever reason, you don't want to run Pants that way, you can also just check in an empty file named BUILD_ROOT to act as the sentinel for determining your project's build root.

PEX-based Installation

The virtualenv-based method is the recommended way of installing Pants. However in cases where you can't depend on a local pants installation (e.g., your machines prohibit software installation), some sites fetch a pre-built executable pants.pex using the pants_version defined in pants.toml. To upgrade pants, they generate a pants.pex and upload it to a file server at a location computable from the version number. They then write their own ./pants script that checks the pants_version in pants.toml and download the appropriate pex from the file server to the correct spot.


While pants is written in pure Python, some of its dependencies contain native code. Therefore, you'll need to make sure you have the appropriate compiler infrastructure installed on the machine where you are attempting to bootstrap pants. In particular, if you see an error similar to this:

Installing setuptools, pip...done.
    Command "/Users/someuser/workspace/pants/build-support/pants_deps.venv/bin/python2.7 -c "import setuptools, tokenize;__file__='/private/var/folders/zc/0jhjvzy56s723lpq23q89f6c0000gn/T/pip-build-mZzSSA/psutil/';exec(compile(getattr(tokenize, 'open', open)(__file__).read().replace('\r\n', '\n'), __file__, 'exec'))" install --record /var/folders/zc/0jhjvzy56s723lpq23q89f6c0000gn/T/pip-iONF8p-record/install-record.txt --single-version-externally-managed --compile --install-headers /Users/someuser/workspace/pants/build-support/pants_deps.venv/bin/../include/site/python2.7/psutil" failed with error code 1 in /private/var/folders/zc/0jhjvzy56s723lpq23q89f6c0000gn/T/pip-build-mZzSSA/psutil

Failed to install requirements from /Users/someuser/workspace/pants/3rdparty/python/requirements.txt.

This indicates that pants was attempting to pip install the psutil dependency into it's private virtualenv, and that install failed due to a compiler issue. On macOS, we recommend running xcode-select --install to make sure you have the latest compiler infrastructure installed, and unset any compiler-related environment variables (i.e. run unset CC).

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