moving the lamppost

random musings of a molecular biologist turned code jockey in the era of big data and open science.

Installing PyQt... because it’s too good for pip or easy_install.

This is a tutorial on installing PyQt and its dependency SIP. I am currently working on a Python package to integrate multiple disparate types of Omics data using a graph model. Some of my code requires ETE: a Python Environment for phylogenetic Tree Exploration which requires PyQt.

Normally, I would simply use

pip install -U package_name

to install package_name and ensure that all of its dependencies are installed and updated. However, PyQt and SIP do not use the standard file for encoding the installation procedures. They use So pip and other PyPI installer scripts will locate and download the code, but they will fail during the installation phase and complain that they can not be installed with setuptools.

This was frustrating me since I know that I had these installed on my last system. I just couldn’t remember how I did it. I must have done the whole thing manually. In any case, thanks to a post I found using the google box at, I found a slightly easier way to get the job done. I am posting it here to maybe help others, but also so that I have it documented for myself the next time I have to do this.

I am borrowing heavily from the post above but adding some extras that I ran into on my Arch Linux system.

Installing assorted dependencies


sudo apt-get install python-pip python2.7-dev libxext-dev python-qt4 qt4-dev-tools build-essential


As far as I can tell you should be pretty close with:

sudo pacman -S base-devel qt4 python2-pip

However, you Arch folks are generally a pretty self-sufficient lot, so if there are more things you need, I am sure that you can look at the Ubuntu packages above and figure out what else you should try installing.

Installing PyQt and SIP


If you need help installing pip, you can take a look at the installation instructions provided at the project’s documentation site. Multiple install methods are explained; hopefully one will get you where you need to be.

So we are going to cheat a bit and try to do the install with pip:

pip install SIP

pip install PyQt

These will both fail but the code will have been downloaded and left in the build location that pip uses. If you are not using virtualenv (which you should be, btw), then the build is probably at


If you are using virtualenv (good for you, btw), then your build directory will be in the root directory of whichever virtualenv you have activated.

From here on I will refer to your build directory as $BUILD. Now cd into the $BUILD/SIP/ directory and build/install it with:

[sudo] make install


cd $BUILD/PyQt
[sudo] make install

Here is a place that I ran into a difference when doing this in Arch. You need to specify the qmake path to since Arch names them based on the version of qt you are using (qmake-qt4). So in Arch the configure line would look like this if you are using qt4:

python -q /usr/bin/qmake-qt4


PyQt is a big package and a lot of compile/linking has to be done so be prepared to go get a cup of coffee or tea or something!

Testing your install

That should be it! To make sure it worked fire up your IPython shell (you are using IPython aren’t you?) and try to import some stuff!

from PyQt4 import QtCore, QtGui

If there are no errors, then you are all set!

Happy coding!