Packaging a python GUI Application

Ogi Moore

December 28, 2019

Who Am I

Ogi Moore


Technologist @ Sensory

What are we talking about?

How can we distribute our python GUI applications to a widespread audience…

Difference between a library and an application

my own definitions, and I am not an authority on this matter…

“library” is meant to be used by other developers

  • NumPy, requests, etc..

“application” is meant to be used by end-users

  • youtube-dl, spyder, qutebrowser…

Libraries should be packaged for developers

  1. Create python wheel with setuptools (or flit)
  2. Upload to pypi, and then anyone can install via pip
pip install <library>

Applications need to be distributed differently

  • users may or may not have python installed
    • if they don’t the last thing you want to maintain is a set of instructions that universally apply for setting up a python environment on each OS
  • users may not feel comfortable interacting with the command line
  • you may use a dependency that is not on PyPI

How do we make a GUI application?

Qt (pronunced “cute”, not “cue-tea”)

  • cross-platform framework to create modern and native looking GUIs
  • considered most full-featured, powerful option available for python users
  • alternatives like tkinter, wxPython, and kivy exist, and in some cases may be preferred
    • realistically most “alternatives” are effetively web services

Little more on Qt

  • C++ framework with python bindings available (PySide2, PyQt5)
    • best to abstract differences away by using qtpy library
  • it’s a huge framework
  • great add ons
    • pyqtgraph
    • pytest-qt


How should we deploy a GUI App?

  • Make it into a wheel and upload to PyPI?
    • Does not address the problems listed earlier…end users may not be developers
  • can we create a “native” installer like any other application we install on our machines?

Something like this would be nice

Sure we can!

but it’s tricky…

The fbs library

  • with fbs, we can create native installers
  • generate executables can be launched like any other application you install
  • has awesome fbs startproject command to create a bare minimum example that you can modify for your project

fbs does have requirements…

  • needs to be a PyQt5/PySide2 application
  • project must have specific directory structure
  • base.json to define project parameters
  • requirements/base.txtto define dependencies
    • in my CI process I just run

      cp requirements.txt requirements/base.txt
  • docs are very good, source code is easy to read too…

How to use fbs?

  • fbs freeze - Converts your python package into a stand-alone executable (via pyinstaller)
  • fbs installer - Bundles your executable into a single file installer
    • AppSetup.exe for Windows (using NSIS)
    • App.dmg for macOS (using create-dmg)
      • create-dmg is bundled with fbs
    • App.deb for Ubuntu/Debian (using fpm)

More considerations

  • Windows installers can only be created on windows machines
    • same with macOS and linux
  • Ubuntu needs a fpm to make the .deb packages
  • Windows needs pypiwin32, Windows10 SDK, Visual C++ redistributables and NSIS
  • Really annoying to setup a bunch of VMs and do manually

Runs from source != executable will run

  • Executable creation may not capture your dependencies correctly, or something else can go wrong
    • with NumPy 1.17.0 pyinstaller did not grab numpy.random.common
    • SciPy 1.3.1 → 1.3.2+ had Windows based .dll’s relocated, pyinstaller did not grab them
    • app referencing the current git commit hash
    • writing a log file to the project main directory

Testing the Executable

  • Start the application wait 10 seconds, kill it by name
    • If you get an error when killing the application, it means it didn’t start successfully, and you need to investigate more
    • If it kills without an error code, it means your application was running 👍
    • Trickier on windows, need to make into non-windowed executable first, test, then make into windowed executable

How to test executables

# Linux
target/App/App & sleep 10 ; kill $!

# macOS
(target/ & sleep 10 ; kill $!

# Windows
start target\App\App.exe & waitfor timeVoid /t 10 2>NUL & taskkill /im App.exe /f

CI to the rescue

  • Many CI services free for open source projects
    • azure pipelines
    • travis
    • github actions
  • make installers artifacts

Demo Fred

Bonus - Code-Signing

  • code-sign your application to skip scary warnings when installing
    • isn’t free…

Wrap up

  • Qt framework is amazing, if you need to make a GUI application, and want to use python, it is a fantastic way to go
  • fbs can bundle your GUI application into an installable package by leveraging pyinstaller and other dependencies
  • process is very fragile, care must be taken to ensure your application was bundled successfully
  • pin your runtime dependencies
  • use a CI service, this is really a pain to do manually

Future Work

  • Create a cookie cutter template that generates the right directory strcture and does simple CI configs from the get go


  • macOS walkthrough -
  • fbs
  • pyinstaller -
  • Qt -
  • qtpy -

Content Created Using

  • reveal.js - javascript library used to show presentation
  • pandoc - contents started off as markdown, used pandoc to convert to revealjs
  • fontawesome - for some icons
  • sublimetext - editor I decided to use