Bootstrapping a buildout gives its own buildout script, independent of its Python environment. There are 2 reasons you might use this:

Enable automatic Buildout upgrade (or downgrade).

If the buildout script is local to the buildout, then Buildout will check for newest versions of Buildout and its dependencies that are consistent with any version pins and install any that are different, in which case, it restarts to use the new versions.

Doing automatic upgrades allows buildouts to be more independent of their environments and more repeatable.

Using a local buildout script may be necessary for a project that pins the version of Buildout itself and the pinned version is different from the version in the Python environment.

Avoid modifying the python environment.

From a philosophical point of view, Buildout has tried to be isolated from its environment, and requiring the Python environment to be modified, by installing Buildout, was inconsistent.

Before virtualenv existed, it might not have been possible to modify the environment without building Python from source.

Unfortunately, doing this requires using a bootstrap script.

Local bootstrapping using the bootstrap command

You can use the bootstrap command of a buildout script installed in your Python environment to boostrap the buildout in the current directory:

buildout bootstrap

If you have any other buildouts that have local buildout scripts, you can use their buildout scripts:

/path/to/some/buildout/bin/buildout bootstrap

In this case, the buildout being bootstrapped will have the same Python environment as the buildout that was used to bootstrap it.

Using a bootstrapping script

If you download:

And then run it:


It will download the software needed to run Buildout and install it in the current directory.

This has been the traditional approach to bootstrapping Buildout. It was the best approach for a long time because the pip and easy_install commands usually weren’t available. In the early days, if easy_install was installed, it was likely to have an incompatible version of setuptools, because Buildout and setuptools were evolving rapidly, sometimes in lock step.

This approach fails from time to time, due to changes in setuptools or the package index and has been a source of breakage when automated systems depended on it.

It’s also possible that this approach will stop being supported. Buildout’s bootstrapping script relies on setuptools’ bootstrap script, which was used to bootstrap easy_install. Now that pip is ubiquitous, there’s no reason to bootstrap easy_install and setuptools’ bootstrapping script exists solely to support Buildout. At some point, that may become too much of a maintenance burden, and there may not be Buildout volunteers motivated to create a new bootstrapping solution.

Bootstrapping requires a buildout.cfg, init creates one

Normally, when bootstrapping, the local directory must have a buildout.cfg file.

If you don’t have one, you can use the init command instead:

buildout init

This can be used with the bootstrapping script as well:

python init

This creates an empty Buildout configuration:

parts =

If you know you’re going to use some packages, you can supply requirements on the command line after init:

buildout init bobo six

In which case it will generate and run a buildout that uses them. The command above would generate a buildout configuration file:

parts = py

recipe = zc.recipe.egg
interpreter = py
eggs =

This can provide an easy way to experiment with a package without adding it to your Python environment or creating a virtualenv.