5 Creating a Source Distribution

As shown in section 2.1, you use the sdist command to create a source distribution. In the simplest case,

python sdist

(assuming you haven't specified any sdist options in the setup script or config file), sdist creates the archive of the default format for the current platform. The default format is gzip'ed tar file (.tar.gz) on Unix, and ZIP file on Windows. ** no MacOS support here **

You can specify as many formats as you like using the --formats option, for example:

python sdist --formats=gztar,zip

to create a gzipped tarball and a zip file. The available formats are:
Format  Description  Notes 
zip zip file (.zip) (1),(3)
gztar gzip'ed tar file (.tar.gz) (2),(4)
bztar bzip2'ed tar file (.tar.gz) (4)
ztar compressed tar file (.tar.Z) (4)
tar tar file (.tar) (4)


default on Windows
default on Unix
requires either external zip utility or zipfile module (not part of the standard Python library)
requires external utilities: tar and possibly one of gzip, bzip2, or compress

5.1 Specifying the files to distribute

If you don't supply an explicit list of files (or instructions on how to generate one), the sdist command puts a minimal default set into the source distribution:

Sometimes this is enough, but usually you will want to specify additional files to distribute. The typical way to do this is to write a manifest template, called by default. The manifest template is just a list of instructions for how to generate your manifest file, MANIFEST, which is the exact list of files to include in your source distribution. The sdist command processes this template and generates a manifest based on its instructions and what it finds in the filesystem.

If you prefer to roll your own manifest file, the format is simple: one filename per line, regular files (or symlinks to them) only. If you do supply your own MANIFEST, you must specify everything: the default set of files described above does not apply in this case.

The manifest template has one command per line, where each command specifies a set of files to include or exclude from the source distribution. For an example, again we turn to the Distutils' own manifest template:

include *.txt
recursive-include examples *.txt *.py
prune examples/sample?/build

The meanings should be fairly clear: include all files in the distribution root matching *.txt, all files anywhere under the examples directory matching *.txt or *.py, and exclude all directories matching examples/sample?/build. All of this is done after the standard include set, so you can exclude files from the standard set with explicit instructions in the manifest template. (Or, you can use the --no-defaults option to disable the standard set entirely.) There are several other commands available in the manifest template mini-language; see section 7.2.

The order of commands in the manifest template matters: initially, we have the list of default files as described above, and each command in the template adds to or removes from that list of files. Once we have fully processed the manifest template, we remove files that should not be included in the source distribution:

Now we have our complete list of files, which is written to the manifest for future reference, and then used to build the source distribution archive(s).

You can disable the default set of included files with the --no-defaults option, and you can disable the standard exclude set with --no-prune.

Following the Distutils' own manifest template, let's trace how the sdist command builds the list of files to include in the Distutils source distribution:

  1. include all Python source files in the distutils and distutils/command subdirectories (because packages corresponding to those two directories were mentioned in the packages option in the setup script--see section 3)
  2. include README.txt,, and setup.cfg (standard files)
  3. include test/test*.py (standard files)
  4. include *.txt in the distribution root (this will find README.txt a second time, but such redundancies are weeded out later)
  5. include anything matching *.txt or *.py in the sub-tree under examples,
  6. exclude all files in the sub-trees starting at directories matching examples/sample?/build--this may exclude files included by the previous two steps, so it's important that the prune command in the manifest template comes after the recursive-include command
  7. exclude the entire build tree, and any RCS or CVS directories
Just like in the setup script, file and directory names in the manifest template should always be slash-separated; the Distutils will take care of converting them to the standard representation on your platform. That way, the manifest template is portable across operating systems.

5.2 Manifest-related options

The normal course of operations for the sdist command is as follows:

There are a couple of options that modify this behaviour. First, use the --no-defaults and --no-prune to disable the standard ``include'' and ``exclude'' sets.4

Second, you might want to force the manifest to be regenerated--for example, if you have added or removed files or directories that match an existing pattern in the manifest template, you should regenerate the manifest:

python sdist --force-manifest

Or, you might just want to (re)generate the manifest, but not create a source distribution:

python sdist --manifest-only

--manifest-only implies --force-manifest. -o is a shortcut for --manifest-only, and -f for --force-manifest.


... set3
In versions of the Distutils up to and including 0.9.2 (Python 2.0b1), this feature was broken; use the -f (--force-manifest) option to work around the bug.
... sets.4
Note that if you have no manifest template, no manifest, and use the --no-defaults, you will get an empty manifest. Another bug in Distutils 0.9.2 and earlier causes an uncaught exception in this case. The workaround is: Don't Do That.
See About this document... for information on suggesting changes.