Create Custom conda Environment

Compute Resources

Docker Usage


The purpose of this tutorial is to demonstrate the steps required to build and use a custom conda-based environment in RIS using an existing Docker image. The conda environment will be located in the RIS Data Storage Platform so that any changes will persist between jobs.

As an example, a sequence analysis conda environment will be created containing the following tools:

Interactive Job Submission

Defining Environment Variables

Begin by defining the environment variables that will be used during creation of the conda environment. The environment variables can be defined in your .bashrc or .condarc file to avoid having to enter them for each job.

The environment variables are:

  • CONDA_ENVS_DIRS: the path to the directory where conda environments

    will be created.

  • CONDA_PKGS_DIRS: the path to the directory where conda packages

    will be downloaded to.

  • See the conda documentation for more information.

In the example below, the CONDA_ENVS_DIRS and CONDA_PKGS_DIRS are set to a folder in the RIS Data Storage Platform. Make sure the folders exist and are writable.

export CONDA_ENVS_DIRS="/storage1/fs1/${STORAGE_ALLOCATION}/Active/conda/envs/"
export CONDA_PKGS_DIRS="/storage1/fs1/${STORAGE_ALLOCATION}/Active/conda/pkgs/"

Please also define the following environment variables to mount the RIS Data Storage Platform and add conda binaries to the PATH:

export LSF_DOCKER_VOLUMES="/storage1/fs1/${STORAGE_ALLOCATION}/Active:/storage1/fs1/${STORAGE_ALLOCATION}/Active"
export PATH="/opt/conda/bin:$PATH"

Job Submission

Once the appropriate environment variables are defined, the next step is to submit the interactive job using the continuumio/anaconda3:2021.11 Docker image.

bsub -Is -q general-interactive -a 'docker(continuumio/anaconda3:2021.11)' /bin/bash


After the interactive job lands on an execution host, the command-line prompt will begin with (base). For example:

(base) tahan@compute1-exec-132:~$

If this is not the case, conda needs to be initialized. Please see our documentation for instructions on how to resolve this issue.

Creating the conda Environment File

The conda environment will be created using an environment YAML file. The interactive session has the nano text editor installed to create the file with. The file will be saved in the home folder and named environment.yml. Please see the conda documentation for more information.


For users wanting to create multiple environments, naming each YAML file the same name as the environment is recommended to avoid confusion. If using more than one YAML file, be sure to replace the occurrences of environment.yml in the tutorial with the name of each YAML file.

Open a New File in nano named environment.yml:

nano ~/environment.yml

Copy and paste following into the file:

name: sequencing
  - conda-forge
  - bioconda
  - bwa
  - fastp
  - fastqc
  - multiqc>=1.7
  - samtools<=1.11
  - spades=3.9.1
  - pip
  - pip:
    - citipy


The pip dependency is required to install the citipy package using the pip package manager. The pip dependencies are added to the end of the environment file to reduce conda/pip installation issues from being used in the same environment. This is the ideal order of dependencies and should be followed to reduce possible installation issues.

The environment.yml file provides the following instructions for creating the conda environment:

  • name: the name of the conda environment. This name will be used to reference the environment in the conda activate command.

  • channels: the channels to be used when creating the conda environment. Channels can be thought of as additional repositories that contain packages.

  • dependencies: the packages that will be installed in the conda environment.

  • pip: the pip package manager is used to install additional packages. In the example, the citipy package is installed using pip.

  • Specific package versions can be specified using the < , > and = operators.

    • For example, samtools<=1.11 will install the latest version of samtools less than or equal to 1.11.

Please see the conda environment file documentation for more information.


Install ipykernel and register the environment with a name if intending to change python environments from within the Jupyter Notebook GUI.
Otherwise, only the environment used to start the notebook is available for use.

See the `official documentation
for further information installing and registering ipykernel.

Installing the conda Environment From environment.yml

Run the following command to install the conda environment using the environment.yml file:

conda env create -f ~/environment.yml

The conda environment creation may take several minutes to complete. Please be patient as the environment is created. Once the environment is created, the following output will be displayed:

# To activate this environment, use
#     $ conda activate sequencing
# To deactivate an active environment, use
#     $ conda deactivate

Activating the conda Environment

Once the example sequencing conda environment is created, it can be activated using the following command:

conda activate sequencing

All of the packages listed in the environment.yml file are available for use. To view a list of the installed packages in an environment, run the following command after activating the environment:

conda list

For example, the sequencing environment will list the following packages:

(sequencing) tahan@compute1-exec-132:~$ conda list
# packages in environment at /storage1/fs1/tahan/Active/projects/conda/envs/sequencing:
# Name                    Version                   Build  Channel
_libgcc_mutex             0.1                 conda_forge    conda-forge
_openmp_mutex             4.5                      1_llvm    conda-forge
blas                      2.17                   openblas    conda-forge
bwa                       0.7.17               h5bf99c6_8    bioconda
bzip2                     1.0.8                h7f98852_4    conda-forge
c-ares                    1.18.1               h7f98852_0    conda-forge
ca-certificates           2021.10.8            ha878542_0    conda-forge
certifi                   2018.8.24             py35_1001    conda-forge
citipy                    0.0.5                    pypi_0    pypi
click                     7.1.2              pyh9f0ad1d_0    conda-forge
colormath                 3.0.0                      py_2    conda-forge
cycler                    0.10.0                     py_2    conda-forge
dbus                      1.13.6               h48d8840_2    conda-forge
decorator                 5.1.1              pyhd8ed1ab_0    conda-forge
expat                     2.4.3                h9c3ff4c_0    conda-forge
fastp                     0.23.2               h79da9fb_0    bioconda
fastqc                    0.11.9               hdfd78af_1    bioconda
font-ttf-dejavu-sans-mono 2.37                 hab24e00_0    conda-forge
fontconfig                2.13.1            he4413a7_1000    conda-forge
freetype                  2.10.4               h0708190_1    conda-forge
future                    0.16.0                   py35_2    conda-forge
gettext                   h0b5b191_1005    conda-forge
glib                      2.68.4               h9c3ff4c_0    conda-forge
glib-tools                2.68.4               h9c3ff4c_0    conda-forge
gst-plugins-base          1.14.0               hbbd80ab_1
gstreamer                 1.14.0               h28cd5cc_2
htslib                    1.11                 hd3b49d5_2    bioconda
icu                       58.2              hf484d3e_1000    conda-forge
importlib-metadata        2.0.0                      py_1    conda-forge
isa-l                     2.30.0               ha770c72_4    conda-forge
jinja2                    2.11.3             pyh44b312d_0    conda-forge
jpeg                      9d                   h36c2ea0_0    conda-forge
kdtree                    0.16                     pypi_0    pypi
kiwisolver                1.0.1            py35h2d50403_2    conda-forge
krb5                      1.19.2               hcc1bbae_3    conda-forge
libblas                   3.8.0               17_openblas    conda-forge
libcblas                  3.8.0               17_openblas    conda-forge
libcurl                   7.81.0               h2574ce0_0    conda-forge
libdeflate                1.7                  h7f98852_5    conda-forge
libedit                   3.1.20191231         he28a2e2_2    conda-forge
libev                     4.33                 h516909a_1    conda-forge
libffi                    3.3                  h58526e2_2    conda-forge
libgcc-ng                 11.2.0              h1d223b6_11    conda-forge
libgfortran-ng            7.5.0               h14aa051_19    conda-forge
libgfortran4              7.5.0               h14aa051_19    conda-forge
libglib                   2.68.4               h3e27bee_0    conda-forge
libiconv                  1.16                 h516909a_0    conda-forge
liblapack                 3.8.0               17_openblas    conda-forge
liblapacke                3.8.0               17_openblas    conda-forge
libnghttp2                1.43.0               h812cca2_1    conda-forge
libopenblas               0.3.10          pthreads_hb3c22a3_5    conda-forge
libpng                    1.6.37               h21135ba_2    conda-forge
libssh2                   1.10.0               ha56f1ee_2    conda-forge
libstdcxx-ng              11.2.0              he4da1e4_11    conda-forge
libuuid                   2.32.1            h7f98852_1000    conda-forge
libxcb                    1.13              h7f98852_1004    conda-forge
libxml2                   2.9.9                h13577e0_2    conda-forge
libzlib                   1.2.11            h36c2ea0_1013    conda-forge
llvm-openmp               12.0.1               h4bd325d_1    conda-forge
lzstring                  1.0.4                   py_1001    conda-forge
markdown                  3.3.3              pyh9f0ad1d_0    conda-forge
markupsafe                1.0              py35h470a237_1    conda-forge
matplotlib                3.0.0            py35h5429711_0
more-itertools            8.12.0             pyhd8ed1ab_0    conda-forge
multiqc                   1.7                        py_4    bioconda
ncurses                   6.2                  h58526e2_4    conda-forge
networkx                  2.4                        py_1    conda-forge
numpy                     1.15.2           py35h99e49ec_0
numpy-base                1.15.2           py35h2f8d375_0
openjdk                   11.0.1            h516909a_1016    conda-forge
openssl                   1.1.1l               h7f98852_0    conda-forge
pcre                      8.45                 h9c3ff4c_0    conda-forge
perl                      5.32.1          1_h7f98852_perl5    conda-forge
pip                       20.3.4             pyhd8ed1ab_0    conda-forge
pthread-stubs             0.4               h36c2ea0_1001    conda-forge
pyparsing                 2.4.7              pyh9f0ad1d_0    conda-forge
pyqt                      5.9.2            py35h05f1152_2
python                    3.5.6                h12debd9_1
python-dateutil           2.8.1                      py_0    conda-forge
pytz                      2021.3             pyhd8ed1ab_0    conda-forge
pyyaml                    3.12                     py35_1    conda-forge
qt                        5.9.7                h5867ecd_1
readline                  8.1                  h46c0cb4_0    conda-forge
requests                  2.13.0                   py35_0    conda-forge
samtools                  1.11                 h6270b1f_0    bioconda
setuptools                40.4.3                   py35_0    conda-forge
simplejson                3.16.1           py35h470a237_0    conda-forge
sip                       4.19.8          py35hf484d3e_1000    conda-forge
six                       1.16.0             pyh6c4a22f_0    conda-forge
spades                    3.9.1                h9ee0642_1    bioconda
spectra                   0.0.11                     py_1    conda-forge
sqlite                    3.37.0               h9cd32fc_0    conda-forge
tk                        8.6.11               h27826a3_1    conda-forge
tornado                   5.1.1            py35h470a237_0    conda-forge
wheel                     0.37.1             pyhd8ed1ab_0    conda-forge
xorg-libxau               1.0.9                h7f98852_0    conda-forge
xorg-libxdmcp             1.1.3                h7f98852_0    conda-forge
xz                        5.2.5                h516909a_1    conda-forge
yaml                      0.2.5                h7f98852_2    conda-forge
zipp                      1.0.0                      py_0    conda-forge
zlib                      1.2.11            h36c2ea0_1013    conda-forge

Using the above command, we can ensure that the version requirements for the conda environment were met. As a reminder, the environment file had the following version requirements:


From the package list, we can validate that the version requirements were met.

# Name                  Version               Build    Channel
  multiqc               1.7                    py_4    bioconda
  samtools              1.11             h6270b1f_0    bioconda
  spades                3.9.1            h9ee0642_1    bioconda

A list of the currently installed environments can be viewed with the command:

conda env list

Sharing conda Environments

To share a conda environment with others, you can create an environment file. First activate the environment you wish to share. Then, run the following command:

conda env export > ~/environment.yml

This will create a file in your home folder named environment.yml. It is recommended to name the environment file after the environment you wish to share. Once the environment file is shared, another user can create the environment using this tutorial.

Compatible Docker Images

The following Docker images have been tested with this tutorial to create a custom conda environment: