Robin's Blog

How to: Get Python packages which need a C compiler installed easily on Windows

Summary: Microsoft now provides a single, small installer to get all that you need to compile Python 2.7 binary packages on Windows!

This is just a brief post to share the news on something that I didn’t know about until yesterday – but that would have saved me a lot of trouble!

You may have experienced this situation: you’re trying to install a Python package on Windows, and you run pip install packagename but get loads of errors because Python can’t find a C compiler on your system. This usually manifests itself as an error about vcvarsall.bat – but all sorts of other errors point to the same problem.

Often the easiest way to solve this is to go to Christoph Gohlke‘s wonderful page which has Windows binary downloads for loads of useful Python packages. It is very comprehensive, but sometimes I find a package that isn’t available – or I want to compile a development build of a package for some reason.

Previously my strategy was to install the whole of Microsoft Visual Studio and muck around with the paths etc until it worked. However, yesterday I found a very useful download on the Microsoft website. Downloading that file, and running through the install process, gets everything that you need all set up – and then my pip install command just worked!

This was where I was going to leave this article…however the next time I tried a pip install command on the same machine I ran into problems. I’ve absolutely no idea why…but it seems that sometimes (and no, I don’t know why it isn’t always the time) you need to use the link you’ll find in your Start Menu for the Microsoft Visual C++ for Python Command Prompt, rather than a normal Command Prompt window. Once you’ve loaded up this command prompt, run the following, and then your normal pip install command:


The only problem is that this is only available for Python 2.7. For Python 3.x you still have to go through the whole process of downloading Microsoft Visual Studio and mucking about with everything (see this link for some guidance). Hopefully Microsoft will make a similar download available for Python 3.x soon – downloading 6Gb of Visual Studio rubbish just to get a tiny Python package installed is just silly!

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This post originally appeared on Robin's Blog.

Categorised as: How To, Programming, Python


  1. Israel Fruchter says:

    Ask the maintainer for wheel package, that would make your life even easier.

  2. Mark Lawrence says:

    I believe that the “Microsoft Visual C++ for Python Command Prompt” automatically runs the batch file which sets up the environment for you. Steve Dower, a Microsoft employee who does the Python 3 Windows builds, is trying to get a tiny Python 3 package available, but I do not suggest holding your breath 🙂

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