How to Solve Python ModuleNotFoundError: no module named ‘google.protobuf’

by | Programming, Python, Tips

A common error you may encounter when using Python is modulenotfounderror: no module named ‘google.protobuf’.

This error occurs if you do not install protobuf before importing it into your program or installing the module in the wrong environment.

You can install protobuf in Python 3 with python3 -m pip install protobuf.

Or conda install -c anaconda protobuf for conda environments.

This tutorial goes through the exact steps to troubleshoot this error for the Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems.

What is Protobuf?

Protocol buffers (Protobuf) is Google’s language-neutral, cross-platform, extensible mechanism for serializing structured data before transportation. Protobuf is similar to XML but is described as smaller, faster, and simpler. Google has a Python API for protobuf.

The simplest way to install protobuf is to use the package manager for Python called pip. The following installation instructions are for the major Python version 3.

Always Use a Virtual Environment to Install Packages

It is always best to install new libraries within a virtual environment. You should not install anything into your global Python interpreter when you develop locally. You may introduce incompatibilities between packages, or you may break your system if you install an incompatible version of a library that your operating system needs. Using a virtual environment helps compartmentalize your projects and their dependencies. Each project will have its environment with everything the code needs to run. Most ImportErrors and ModuleNotFoundErrors occur due to installing a library for one interpreter and trying to use the library with another interpreter. Using a virtual environment avoids this. In Python, you can use virtual environments and conda environments. We will go through how to install protobuf with both.

How to Install protobuf on Windows Operating System

First, you need to download and install Python on your PC. Ensure you select the install launcher for all users and Add Python to PATH checkboxes. The latter ensures the interpreter is in the execution path. Pip is automatically on Windows for Python versions 2.7.9+ and 3.4+.

You can check your Python version with the following command:

python3 --version

You can install pip on Windows by downloading the installation package, opening the command line and launching the installer. You can install pip via the CMD prompt by running the following command.


You may need to run the command prompt as administrator. Check whether the installation has been successful by typing.

pip --version
virtualenv env

You can activate the environment by typing the command:

# Activate on Windows


# Activate on Windows (cmd.exe)


# Activate on Windows (PowerShell)


You will see “env” in parenthesis next to the command line prompt. You can install protobuf within the environment by running the following command from the command prompt.

python3 -m pip install protobuf

We use python -m pip to execute pip using the Python interpreter we specify as Python. Doing this helps avoid ImportError when we try to use a package installed with one version of Python interpreter with a different version. You can use the command which python to determine which Python interpreter you are using.

How to Install protobuf on Mac Operating System using pip

Open a terminal by pressing command (⌘) + Space Bar to open the Spotlight search. Type in terminal and press enter. To get pip, first ensure you have installed Python3:

python3 --version
Python 3.8.8

Download pip by running the following curl command:

curl -o

The curl command allows you to specify a direct download link. Using the -o option sets the name of the downloaded file.

Install pip by running:


To install protobuf, first, create the virtual environment:

python3 -m venv env

Then activate the environment using:

source env/bin/activate 

You will see “env” in parenthesis next to the command line prompt. You can install protobuf within the environment by running the following command from the command prompt.

python3 -m pip install protobuf

How to Install protobuf on Linux Operating Systems

All major Linux distributions have Python installed by default. However, you will need to install pip. You can install pip from the terminal, but the installation instructions depend on the Linux distribution you are using. You will need root privileges to install pip. Open a terminal and use the commands relevant to your Linux distribution to install pip.

Installing pip for Ubuntu, Debian, and Linux Mint

sudo apt install python-pip3

Installing pip for CentOS 8 (and newer), Fedora, and Red Hat

sudo dnf install python-pip3

Installing pip for CentOS 6 and 7, and older versions of Red Hat

sudo yum install epel-release

sudo yum install python-pip3

Installing pip for Arch Linux and Manjaro

sudo pacman -S python-pip

Installing pip for OpenSUSE

sudo zypper python3-pip

protobuf Installation on Linux with Pip

To install protobuf, first, create the virtual environment:

python3 -m venv env

Then activate the environment using:

source env/bin/activate 

You will see “env” in parenthesis next to the command line prompt.

Once you have activated your virtual environment, you can install protobuf using:

python3 -m pip install protobuf

Installing protobuf Using Anaconda

Anaconda is a distribution of Python and R for scientific computing and data science. You can install Anaconda by going to the installation instructions. Once you have installed Anaconda, you can create a virtual environment and install protobuf.

To create a conda environment you can use the following command:

conda create -n project python=3.8

You can specify a different Python 3 version if you like. Ideally, choose the latest version of Python. Next, you will activate the project container. You will see “project” in parentheses next to the command line prompt.

source activate project

Now you’re ready to install protobuf using conda.

Once you have installed Anaconda and created your conda environment, you can install protobuf using the following command:

conda install -c conda-forge protobuf

Check protobuf Version

Once you have successfully installed protobuf, you can check its version. If you used pip to install protobuf, you can use pip show from your terminal.

python3 -m pip show protobuf
Name: protobuf
Version: 4.21.4

You can also check the version of protobuf by importing the module google.protobuf and printing the __version__ attribute.

import google.protobuf

If you used conda to install protobuf, you could check the version using the following command:

conda list -f protobuf
# Name                    Version                   Build  Channel
protobuf                  3.20.0                   pypi_0    pypi


Congratulations on reading to the end of this tutorial.

Go to the online courses page on Python to learn more about Python for data science and machine learning.

For further reading on missing modules in Python, go to the articles:

Have fun and happy researching!

Research Scientist at Moogsoft | + posts

Suf is a research scientist at Moogsoft, specializing in Natural Language Processing and Complex Networks. Previously he was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Data Science working on adaptations of cutting-edge physics analysis techniques to data-intensive problems in industry. In another life, he was an experimental particle physicist working on the ATLAS Experiment of the Large Hadron Collider. His passion is to share his experience as an academic moving into industry while continuing to pursue research. Find out more about the creator of the Research Scientist Pod here and sign up to the mailing list here!