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How to run Jupyter Lab at startup on macOS

by on under blog
6 minute read

In my day to day work I generally access a variety of Jupyter installations. Sometimes these are short lived installation in conda environments on my laptop, sometimes they are running on a remote server and sometimes I use a managed service like JupyterHub or Binder.

However I find it really useful to keep a simple minimal installation always running on my laptop. Jupyter notebooks are my preferred Python REPL to quickly testing out a bit of syntax. I also find them useful for exploring Python objects with tab completion and viewing docstrings.

Example of tab completion

Example of tab completion

Example of viewing docstrings

Example of viewing docstrings

In this post I’m going to walk through my Jupyter Lab setup on my MacBook and how I have it set to run automatically on startup.


I use conda to manage my local Python environments and install packages. You can set up conda on your own machine quickly and easily using the miniconda installers.

I tend to avoid the base environment in conda as I often end up accidentally installing things here. I generally create new conda environments for each project or task I am working on. These can be short lived (minutes or hours) or hang around forever.

For my persistent Jupyter Lab installation I’m going to create a new conda environment called jupyter, which will probably hang around forever.

$ conda create -n jupyter python ipython jupyterlab nodejs

$ conda activate jupyter

In this environment I’ve installed Python, IPython, Jupyter Lab and NodeJS.

NodeJS is an optional requirement of Jupyter Lab which you need to install frontend extensions, so we may as well install it now as we probably want to install some extensions later.

Running Jupyter Lab

Let’s test our Jupyter Lab installation by running it for the first time.

$ jupyter lab

Jupyter Lab running

Great we have our Jupyter Lab successfully running. In theory I could stop here and every time I start my computer I could open a shell and run a couple of commands to get Jupyter Lab up and running.

$ conda activate jupyter
$ jupyter lab

But I’m lazy, I don’t want to have to remember to do that every time I reboot. I just want it to start automatically.


On macOS there is a directory called ~/Library/LaunchAgents/. In this directory you can place Apple .plist files which will be parsed when you login.

You can configure many things in here but the one we are interested in today is running a shell script automatically when we log in. Let’s place our own .plist file in this directory called jupyter.plist.

We will configure this file to run a script which we will create in a minute.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "">
<plist version="1.0">

In this config file we have specified that we want /path/to/my/jupyter/startup/ to run whenever we log in and the stdout and stderr from that script should go to /Users/<username>/Library/Logs/jupyter.log.

Of course these locations are different on my laptop and you will want to point them to somewhere sensible on yours.

Startup script

Next we want to write our startup script.


PATH="/path/to/your/miniconda3/bin:<rest of your path>"

eval "$(conda shell.bash hook)"
conda activate jupyter

cd ~ && /path/to/your/miniconda3/envs/jupyter/bin/python -m jupyter lab --port 8888 --no-browser

This script starts out by setting our PATH environment variable. As this script runs on login none of your regular bash environment will be available. Therefore I recommend you run echo $PATH in your terminal and copy the output into this script. You also need to ensure that the miniconda bin directory is on the path too.

Next we are going to get conda to set up it’s bash hooks and then to activate our jupyter environment.

Lastly we are going to cd to our home directory (just as a sensible place for the Jupyter Lab file explorer to start from) and directly call the Python executable within our environment. Again this is because our script will be running in a minimal bash environment and it’s good to be explicit in that case and give the full path.

Lastly our Python command will call jupyter lab using it’s module name with the -m flag rather than using the command line convenience function. We specify that it should run on port 8888 and not open a browser for you automatically when it starts up.


To test your LaunchAgent and script without logging out and back in you can run launchctl directly.

$ launchctl load ~/Library/LaunchAgents/jupyter.plist

You should now be able to visit https://localhost:8888 in your browser and access your Jupyter Lab installation.

If you have any trouble with this have a look in the log files you specified in your .plist file or in /var/log/system.log.

You can stop your Jupyter Lab session again also using launchctl.

$ launchctl unload ~/Library/LaunchAgents/jupyter.plist

Finally once you are happy that things are working you should restart your laptop and then visit the Jupyter Lab URL in your browser to ensure everything started correctly.

You might also want to bookmark this or pin the tab so that it is quick and easy to access in the future.

Jupyter Lab extensions

Now that we have our persistent Jupyter Lab environment we may want to augment it with a few extensions.


The most important extension I install when setting up my persistent environment is nb_conda_kernels.

$ conda install -n jupyter nb_conda_kernels

I want to keep the jupyter conda environment that we created as clean and minimal as possible. It’s just for Jupyter and I don’t want to use it for doing any Python work. Therefore you can install nb_conda_kernels which automatically makes any local conda environment available as a kernel in Jupyter Lab. This was I can continue to create task and project specific environments and easily access them from Jupyter Lab.

Conda environments

Note: Environments only show up in the list if they have the ipykernel package installed.

Other extensions

Other than that you can tailor your Jupyter Lab environment however you like. I recommend checking out this Awesome Jupyter list.

Wrap up

That’s it! We now have Jupyter Lab installed in it’s own conda environment, it will start automatically when you log in and you can access all your other conda environments from it.

I find this a very useful thing to have on my laptop and use it every day.

jupyter, jupyterlab, macos, startup
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