Python 3

Python 2 has an end-of-life date set for 2020 and now that most third-party packages support both 2 and 3 we are starting to think about a migration strategy for Mantid.

Building Against Python 3

This is currently only possible on a Linux system with a pre-installed version of python 3. You need to install some additional packages as shown below:

apt-get install python3-sip-dev python3-pyqt4  python3-numpy  python3-scipy  python3-sphinx \
  python3-sphinx-bootstrap-theme  python3-dateutil python3-matplotlib ipython3-qtconsole \
  python3-h5py python3-yaml

or on fedora, with slightly different package names

dnf install python3-sip-devel python3-PyQt4-devel python3-numpy python3-scipy python3-sphinx \
  python3-sphinx-theme-bootstrap python3-dateutil python3-matplotlib python3-ipython-gui \
  boost-python3-devel python3-h5py python3-yaml

then set -DPYTHON_EXECUTABLE=/usr/bin/python3 when running cmake before building.


If any of these packages are installed via pip, this could cause conflicts. Install as described here only.

Supporting Python 2 and 3

Python 3 introduces many exciting new features. For a full description see the official Python 3 changes document. For a shorter overview see here or here.

Some features of Python 3 have been backported to Python 2.x within the __future__ module. These make it easier to write code that is compatible with both versions.

This cheat sheet provides helpful examples of how to write code in a 2/3 compatible manner. Where an option is given to use either the six or future (not to be confused with __future__!) modules then six is used.

All new code should be written to be compatible with Python 2 & 3 and as a minimum the first import line of the module should be:

from __future__ import (absolute_import, division, print_function)

It is quite common to also see unicode_literals in the above import list, however, when running under Python 2 Boost.Python will not automatically convert a Python str to C++ std::string automatically if the string is unicode. When running with Python 3 Boost.Python will do this conversion automatically for unicode strings so this is in fact not a huge issue going forward.

Migrating From Python 2 to 3

One way to migrate a file from python 2 to 3 is as follows…


To perform the following procedure on windows:
1. Git Bash or similar will be required.
2. To run the 2to3 script you will need to start the command-prompt.bat in the build directory and run %PYTHONHOME%\Scripts\2to3

Run the following script to run the python 2 to 3 translation tool and rename the file to

2to3 --no-diffs -w

Run one of the following commands to append the import statement listed above.

awk '/(from|import)/ && !x {print "from __future__ import (absolute_import, division, print_function)\n"; x=1} 1' \ >


sed -i '0,/^import\|from.*/s/^import\|from.*/from __future__ import (absolute_import, division, print_function)\n&/'

Check each changed block,

  • If any change has replaced xrange with range then add from six.moves import range to the imports list
  • If any change has replaced ifilterfalse with filterfalse from itertools then replace a statement like from itertools import filterfalse with from six.moves import filterfalse in the imports list. There are more cases like this documented here.
  • If any change has replaced for k, v in knights.iteritems() with for k, v in knights.items() then add from six import iteritems to the import list and update the replacement to for k, v in iteritems(knights).

In some cases like range, pylint will complain about Replacing builtin ‘range’ or similar. Make sure to put the proper ignore statement on that line using #pylint: disable=redefined-builtin.

Check the code still runs as expected in Python 2.


2to3 will try to keep the type of the objects the same. So, for example range(5) will become list(range(5)). This is not necessary if you use it just for iteration. Things like for i in range(5) will work in both versions of Python, you don’t need to transform it into a list.