Channels and generating an index

Channel layout

├── channeldata.json
├── linux-32
|   ├── repodata.json
│   └── package-0.0.0.tar.bz2
├── linux-64
|   ├── repodata.json
│   └── package-0.0.0.tar.bz2
├── win-64
|   ├── repodata.json
│   └── package-0.0.0.tar.bz2
├── win-32
|   ├── repodata.json
│   └── package-0.0.0.tar.bz2
├── osx-64
|   ├── repodata.json
│   └── package-0.0.0.tar.bz2

Parts of a channel

  • Channeldata.json contains metadata about the channel, including:

    • What subdirs the channel contains.

    • What packages exist in the channel and what subdirs they are in.

  • Subdirs are associated with platforms. For example, the linux-64 subdir contains packages for linux-64 systems.

  • Repodata.json contains an index of the packages in a subdir. Each subdir will have it's own repodata.

  • Channels have packages as tarballs under corresponding subdirs.


  "channeldata_version": 1,
  "packages": {
    "super-fun-package": {
      "activate.d": false,
      "binary_prefix": false,
      "deactivate.d": false,
      "home": "",
      "license": "BSD",
      "post_link": false,
      "pre_link": false,
      "pre_unlink": false,
      "reference_package": "win-64/super-fun-package-0.1.0-py37_0.tar.bz2",
      "run_exports": {},
      "subdirs": [
      "summary": "A fun package! Open me up for rainbows",
      "text_prefix": false,
      "version": "0.1.0"
    "subdirs": [


  "packages": {
    "super-fun-package-0.1.0-py37_0.tar.bz2": {
      "build": "py37_0",
      "build_number": 0,
      "depends": [
      "license": "BSD",
      "md5": "a75683f8d9f5b58c19a8ec5d0b7f796e",
      "name": "super-fun-package",
      "sha256": "1fe3c3f4250e51886838e8e0287e39029d601b9f493ea05c37a2630a9fe5810f",
      "size": 3832,
      "subdir": "win-64",
      "timestamp": 1530731681870,
      "version": "0.1.0"

How an index is generated

For each subdir:

  • Look at all the packages that exist in the subdir.

  • Generate a list of packages to add/update/remove.

  • Remove all packages that need to be removed.

For all packages that need to be added/updated:

  • Extract the package to access metadata including full package name, mtime, size, and index.json.

  • Aggregate package metadata to repodata collection.

  • Apply repodata hotfixes (patches).

  • Compute and save the reduced current_index.json index.

Example: Building a channel

To build a local channel and put a package in it, follow the directions below.

  1. Make the channel structure.

    $ mkdir local-channel
    $ cd local-channel
    $ mkdir linux-64 osx-64
  2. Put your favorite package in the channel.

    $ wget -P linux-64
    $ wget -P osx-64
  3. Run a conda index. This will generate both channeldata.json for the channel and repodata.json for the linux-64 and osx-64 subdirs, along with some other files.

    $ conda index .
  4. Check your work by searching the channel.

    $ conda search -c file:/<path to>/local-channel scipy | grep local-channel

More details behind the scenes

Caching package metadata

Caching utilizes the existing repodata.json file if it exists. Indexing checks which files to update based on which files are new, removed, or changed since the last repodata.json was created. When a package is new or changed, its metadata is extracted and cached in the subdir to which the package belongs. The subfolder is the .cache folder. This folder has one file of interest: stat.json, which contains results from the stat command for each file. This is used for understanding when a file has changed and needs to be updated. In each of the other subfolders, the extracted metadata file for each package is saved as the original package name, plus a .json extension. Having these already extracted can save a lot of time in fully re-creating the index, should that be necessary.

An aside: one design goal of the .conda package format was to make indexing as fast as possible. To achieve this, the .conda format separates metadata from the actual package contents. Where the old .tar.bz2 container required extracting the entire package to obtain the metadata, the new package format allows extraction of metadata without touching the package contents. This allows indexing speed to be independent of the package size. Large .tar.bz2 packages can take a very long time to extract and index.

It is generally never necessary to manually alter the cache. To force an update/rescan of all cached packages, you can delete the .cache folder, or you can delete just the .cache/stat.json file. Ideally, you could remove only one package of interest from the cache, but that functionality does not currently exist.

Repodata patching

Package repodata is bootstrapped from the index.json file within packages. Unfortunately, that metadata is not always correct. Sometimes a version bound needs to be added retroactively. The process of altering repodata from the values derived from package index.json files is called "hotfixing." Hotfixing is tricky, as it has the potential to break environments that have worked, but it is also sometimes necessary to fix environments that are known not to work.

Repodata patches generated from a python script

On your own server, you're probably fine to run arbitrary python code that you have written to apply your patches. The advantage here is that the patches are generated on the fly every time the index is generated. That means that any new packages that have been added since the patch python file was last committed will be picked up and will have hotfixes applied to them where appropriate.

Anaconda applies hotfixes by providing a python file to conda index that has logic on how to alter metadata. Anaconda's repository of hotfixes is at

Repodata patches applied from a JSON file

Unfortunately, you can't always run your python code directly - other people who host your patches may not allow you to run code. What you can do instead is package the patches as .json files. These will clobber the entries in the repodata.json when they are applied.

This is the approach that conda-forge has to take, for example. Their patch creation code is here:

What that code does is to download the current repodata.json, then runs their python logic to generate the patch JSON file. Those patches are placed into a location where Anaconda's mirroring tools will find them and apply them to conda-forge's repodata.json at mirroring time.

The downside here is that this JSON file is only as new as the last time that the repodata-patches feedstock last generated a package. Any new packages that have been added to the index in the meantime will not have any hotfixes applied to them, because the hotfix JSON file does not know about those files.

Trimming to "current" repodata

The number of packages available is always growing. That means conda is always having to do more and more work. To slow down this growth, in conda 4.7, we added the ability to have alternate repodata.json files that may represent a subset of the normal repodata.json. One in particular is current_repodata.json, which represents:

  1. the latest version of each package

  2. any earlier versions of dependencies needed to make the latest versions satisfiable

current_repodata.json also keeps only one file type: .conda where it is available, and .tar.bz2 where only .tar.bz2 is available.

For Anaconda's defaults "main" channel, the current_repodata.json file is approximately 1/7 the size of repodata.json. This makes downloading the repodata faster, and it also makes loading the repodata into its python representation faster.

For those interested in how this is achieved, please refer to the code at