Have you ever tried to demo a piece of software you wrote only to have the majority of participants get stuck when trying to configure their computational environment? Difficulty replicating computational environments can prevent effective demonstration or distribution of even simple codes. Luckily, new tools are emerging that automate this process for us. This post will focus on Binder, a tool for creating custom computing environments that can be distributed and used by many remote users simultaneously. Binder is language agnostic tool, and can be used to create custom environments for R, Python and Julia. Binder is powered by BinderHub, an open source service in the cloud. At the bottom of this post, I’ll provide an example of an interactive Python Jupyter Notebook that I created using BinderHub.
BinderHub combines two useful libraries: repo2docker and JupyterHub. repo2docker is a tool to build, run and push Docker images from source code repositories. This allows you to create copies of custom environments that users can replicate on any machine. These copies are can be stored and distributed along with the remote repository. JuptyerHub is a scalable system that can be used to spawn multiple Jupyter Notebook servers. JuptyerHub takes the Docker image created by repo2docker and uses it to spawn a Jupyter Notebook server on the cloud. This server can be accessed and run by multiple users at once. By combining repo2docker and JupyterHub, BinderHub allows users to both replicate complex environments and easily distribute code to large numbers of users.
Creating your own BinderHub deployment
Creating your own BinderHub deployment is incredibly easy. To start, you need a remote repository containing two things: (1) a Jupyter notebook with supporting code and (2) configuration files for your environment. Configuration files can either be an environment.yml file (a standard configuration file that can be generated with conda, see example here) or a requirements.txt file (a simple text file that lists dependencies, see example here).
To create an interactive BinderHub deployment:
- Push your code to a remote repository (for example Github)
- Go to mybinder.org and paste the repository’s URL into the dialoge box (make sure to select the proper hosting service)
- Specify the branch if you are not on the Master
- Click “Launch”
The website will generate a URL that you can copy and share with users. I’ve created an example for our Rhodium tutorial, which you can find here:
To run the interactive Jupyter Notebook, click on the file titled “Rhodium_Demo.ipynb”. Happy sharing!