Anaconda is an open-source Python distribution that makes is possible to easily install and manage many pre-packaged third party Python modules. It is a competing fully open-source alternative to the Enthought Python Distribution (EPD).
It has some big advantages over using the Python Esri provides with ArcGIS:
The general workflow to make this happen is to:
At this point, you will have full Anaconda version of the python environment that's spiffy and new and totally useless with ArcMap.
The following workflow will demonstrate how set up a custom Python environment within Anaconda that is similar to that of ArcGIS Python, and then add a compatible version pandas module. Pandas is great for a whole variety of data processing tasks (just google "python pandas"). If you get this far, you can adapt this workflow to include any other modules you may want.
The following example is for ArcGIS 10.2.2.
A. Find the versions of numpy and matplotlib ArcGIS is using.
Open ArcMap and its Python window, and enter these commands:
>>> import sys, numpy, matplotlib
>>> print(sys.version, numpy.__version__, matplotlib.__version__)
'2.7.5 (default, May 15 2013, 22:43:36) [MSC v.1500 32 bit (Intel)]', '1.7.1', '1.3.0')
B. Create a custom Anaconda environment (including pandas) that is compatible with ArcGIS 10.2.2.
The critical modules for compatibility are the three above. We'll also include a few others that we know are shipped the ArcGIS 10.2.2's Python stack.
C. Test the virtual environment
Since this new custom environment is not the Anaconda default, you need to let it know that's what you want to use. Then, you'll ask it to tell you what's installed. So, at the Anaconda Command Prompt, type:
Activating environment "arc1022"...
[arc1022] D:\Users\cprice>conda list
# packages in environment at D:\Users\cprice\Anaconda\envs\arc1022:
dateutil 2.4.1 py27_0
np17py27_0numpy 1.7.1 py27_3
Python 2.7.5 |Continuum Analytics, Inc.| (default, Jul 1 2013, 12:41:55) [MSC v.1500 32 bit (Intel)] on win32
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
D. More packages
You can add more packages using conda install, but make sure you specify version numbers for these that won't change the environment's version of python or numpy (or ArcGIS will not be able to use that environment anymore).
Let's add the pandas module. Specifying python, numpy, and matplotlib versions makes sure the environment will still work with ArcGIS tools.
conda install -n arc1022 python=2.7.5 matplotlib=1.3.0 numpy=1.7.1 pandas
The following NEW packages will be INSTALLED:
pandas: 0.13.0-np17py27_0 ### this version works with python 2.7 and numpy 1.7
You can search for more packages available in conda with conda search.
You're not limited to adding only packages to which conda has access to your new environment. Here's an example on how to install a commonly desired GIS-related package (shapely) into a conda virtual environment using the python pip utility:
This can easily be done with a Python startup script
If you get an error message when you try to import, the most common cause I've seen is that the version of the module is still too new. In the pandas example, version 0.10.1 also appears to use the same 1.6.1 version of numpy but for some mysterious ESRI-specific reason that we could not get support to solve or really talk about, pandas 0.10.1 does not work. The solution was to modify the Anaconda "esri" environment to hold 0.10.0 pandas and all worked. To do change this:
How to do a separate Python installation with ArcGIS? (GIS Stack Exchange)
Using ArcPy with Anaconda (PyMorton)