Note: This tutorial assumes that you have completed the previous tutorials: ROS tutorials.
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Writing a ROS Python Makefile

Description: I know what you're saying: "Python... Makefile?" Believe it or not, you do need Makefile (and CMakeLists), even if you just hack Python all day.

Tutorial Level: BEGINNER

Next Tutorial: Setting Up Your PYTHONPATH

This tutorial repeats information from earlier tutorials with a focus on the Makefiles. You can skip this tutorial unless you just need information about the makefile and CMakelists.txt.


These build files (CMakeLists.txt, Makefile) are fairly simple, but they provide important functionality such as:

  • autogenerating message and service code
  • running tests

The test functionality is especially important as we have the ability to run tests on your package plus every package that depends on it (rospack pkg test), which is very important for finding regressions prior to checkin.

These build files are not difficult to write. In fact, we have an automated tool that will create a all the necessary build files for you:

$ roscreate-pkg my_pkg rospy

This will create my_pkg and add in a dependency on rospy so that you can use in it your code.

If you want to write the necessary build files by hand, here's what you need:


Your Makefile only needs to be one line:


include $(shell rospack find mk)/

This loads up our cmake definitions, which ensure our builds are cross-platform.


You also need to provide the CMakeLists file, which is also fairly simple. Here is an example for a Package that has Messages, Services, and tests:


cmake_minimum_required(VERSION 2.4.6)

Feel free to omit the rosbuild_genmsg/rosbuild_gensrv/rosbuild_add_rostest lines as appropriate.

With catkin, you only need a CMakefile, which will generate a Makefile in your buildfolder.

Your package.xml should contain the lines:


You can create a new package in your catkin workspace like this:

$ cd ~/catkin_ws/src
$ catkin_create_pkg my_pkg message_generation rospy

This will create my_pkg and add in a dependency on rospy so that you can use in it your code. We use message_generation here for the second part of the tutorial, you only need this if your catkin packages defines new ROS messages or services.

Your CMakeLists.txt should at least contain the lines:

cmake_minimum_required(VERSION 2.8.3)

find_package(catkin REQUIRED COMPONENTS message_generation rospy ...)

Messages and Services

To add Messages or Services, you need a few additions to your package.xml and CMakeLists.txt.

Your package.xml should contain the lines:


This line will have no effect when message_generation exists outside your workspace, since message_generation is already installed. But for people using your package in the same workspace as message_generation will benefit from this line.

You should add the following runtime dependency:


Your CMakelists.txt should contain:

cmake_minimum_required(VERSION 2.8.3)

find_package(catkin REQUIRED COMPONENTS message_generation rospy)

  FILES  # e.g. Floats.msg HeaderString.msg
  FILES AddTwoInts.srv BadTwoInts.srv

## Generate services in the 'srv' folder
# add_service_files(
#  FILES  # e.g. Floats.srv HeaderString.srv

## Generate added messages and services with any dependencies

  CATKIN_DEPENDS message_runtime

Installing scripts and exporting modules

With catkin, ROS packages can have an install target. This makes it much easier for other package managers to automatically create installable packages than apt-get, e.g. also for MacOS, Arch, BSD, Windows, etc.

However the responsibility is with the developer to describe what needs to be installed, since it is generally bad if every file in your source tree is installed on other people's computers. So for python projects what we want to install are scripts, python modules for others to use as libraries (Other resources are currently not supported for declaration in, use CMakeLists.txt instead).

For the sake of this tutorial, create an example python package in the source folder:

$ cd ~/catkin_ws/src/my_pkg    # new catkin package, in the workspace
$ mkdir bin
$ mkdir src
$ mkdir src/tutorial_package
$ touch src/tutorial_package/

This defines a python package called tutorial_package. Usually, you should call the package the same as your catkin package (my_pkg in this case) to avoid confusion, but here we name them differently so that you see what goes where.

We also add a simple module and script to our project. Within my_pkg, create file src/tutorial_package/

def say(name):
    print('Hello ' + name)

And also create file bin/hello:

   1 #! /usr/bin/env python
   3 import tutorial_package.hello
   6 if __name__ == '__main__':
   7     tutorial_package.hello.say('my friend!')

Make the file executable:

$ chmod u+x bin/hello

if we try to run the executable just like that, we get an import error:

$ bin/hello 
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "bin/hello", line 3, in <module>
    import tutorial_package.hello
ImportError: No module named tutorial_package.hello

One way to quickly fix this would be to change your PYTHONPATH, but that would only work for you. In order to make this work generally, you need to define an installation procedure that moves the files into the PYTHONPATH.

For python packages and scripts, catkin provides a cmake macro that gets this information from a file called

So create a file called with these contents in the root of the my_pkg project:

   3 from distutils.core import setup
   4 from catkin_pkg.python_setup import generate_distutils_setup
   6 # fetch values from package.xml
   7 setup_args = generate_distutils_setup(
   8     packages=['tutorial_package'],
   9     package_dir={'': 'src'},
  10 )
  12 setup(**setup_args)

Remember this: The is for catkin to use, and not for users to invoke. catkin will make sure installs files to the right location. If you invoke manually, you may break your ROS installation.

The first line shows we will be using distutils (setuptools is not recommended since it generates files into your src folder).

Then we use a function generate_distutils_setup to read out values from the package.xml, and also perform some convenience transformations, such as nicely listing all maintainers and authors in the package.xml.

So all we additionally have to provide is the information that is not in the package.xml, the name of the scripts you want to have installed, the name of the python packages, where to find those packages, and python package dependencies (Those can have different names than what we use in the package.xml, so we need a separate list).

In order for our to be used by catkin, we also need to uncomment this line in the CMakeLists.txt:

## Uncomment if the package has a

Finally, for our script to be installed to the right location, if users install your package, this line is required in CMakeLists.txt:

catkin_install_python(PROGRAMS bin/hello

Now we can build our package:

$ cd ~/catkin_ws
$ catkin_make

To setup the environment to include the new devel space:

$ . devel/setup.bash

Now your scripts and modules are available via rosrun, and will also be available If other people install your package.

$ rosrun my_pkg hello 
Hello my friend!

Also refer to ROS/Tutorials/CreatingMsgAndSrv for making message and service.

Next tutorial: Setting Up Your PYTHONPATH.

Wiki: rospy_tutorials/Tutorials/Makefile (last edited 2015-08-04 16:23:20 by EdVenator)