Developer QuickStart in Python: Unlock the Power of OpenAI API in Your Applications

Discover the powerful features of OpenAI API. This guide provides step-by-step instructions on setting up your development environment, installing SDKs, and sending your first API request using Python.

OpenAI API offers a streamlined interface that enables developers to seamlessly integrate an intelligent layer powered by OpenAI’s state-of-the-art models into their applications. With the Chat Completions endpoint, you can leverage ChatGPT and utilize GPT-4, one of the most advanced models, to process text input and generate creative and contextually relevant output.

If you’re ready to dive straight into the code, feel free to skip this quickstart guide and explore the comprehensive API reference documentation.

Account Setup

Before you embark on this exciting journey, make sure you have an OpenAI account. If you don’t, sign up for one, and then proceed to the API key page to create a new secret key. You may choose to name the key as per your preference. Remember, your secret key is confidential and should never be shared with anyone.

QuickStart Language Selection

OpenAI API supports various programming languages, and Python is one of the most popular choices among developers. Python’s versatility makes it suitable for a range of programming tasks, from data applications to web development. OpenAI provides a custom Python library that simplifies working with the OpenAI API in Python.

Step 1: Setting Up Python

First and foremost, you need to have Python installed on your computer. If you don’t, you can download it from the official Python website. The OpenAI Python library requires Python version 3.7.1 or newer. Once you have Python installed, you can verify it by opening your terminal or command line:

  • For MacOS, open Terminal. You can find it in the Applications folder or search for it using Spotlight (Command + Space).
  • For Windows, open Command Prompt. You can find it by searching “cmd” in the start menu.

Next, type the word ‘python’ and press return/enter. If the Python interpreter opens, you’re all set. If not, you might need to install Python and ensure it’s available in your terminal or command line.

(Optional) Setting Up a Virtual Environment

Creating a virtual Python environment is a good practice, as it provides a clean workspace for installing the OpenAI Python library without any conflicts with other libraries. Although it’s not mandatory, it is recommended. To create a virtual environment, use the built-in venv module with the following command:

python -m venv openai-env

This command creates a virtual environment named “openai-env” in your current folder. Once the virtual environment is created, activate it with the following commands:

  • On Windows:
  • On Unix or MacOS:
source openai-env/bin/activate

After activation, your terminal or command line interface should show “openai-env” to the left of the cursor. For more details on working with virtual environments, please refer to the official Python documentation.

Installing the OpenAI Python Library

Now that you have Python 3.7.1 or newer installed and your virtual environment set up (if you chose to), you can proceed to install the OpenAI Python library. Run the following command in your terminal or command line:

pip install --upgrade openai

Once the installation is complete, running pip list will show you the list of Python libraries installed in your current environment, and you should see the OpenAI Python library listed there.

Step 2: Setting Up Your API Key

To facilitate seamless integration, it’s recommended to make your API key accessible for all projects. This way, the Python library will automatically detect and use the API key without any additional code. Follow these steps based on your operating system:

For MacOS:

  • Open Terminal.
  • Edit Bash Profile with nano ~/.bash_profile or nano ~/.zshrc (for newer MacOS versions).
  • Add the following line, replacing your-api-key-here with your actual API key:
    bash export OPENAI_API_KEY='your-api-key-here'
  • Save and exit by pressing Ctrl+O, followed by Ctrl+X.
  • Load your profile with source ~/.bash_profile or source ~/.zshrc.
  • Verify the setup by typing echo $OPENAI_API_KEY in the terminal. It should display your API key.

For Windows:

  • Open Command Prompt.
  • Set the environment variable in the current session with the following command, replacing your-api-key-here with your actual API key:
    bash set OPENAI_API_KEY=your-api-key-here
  • To make the environment variable permanent, add it to your system properties.
  • Verify the setup by typing echo %OPENAI_API_KEY% in the command prompt. It should display your API key.

If you prefer to make your API key accessible only for a single project, create a .env file in your project folder. Add the following line, replacing abc123 with your actual API key:


Ensure the .env file is added to your .gitignore file to prevent it from being shared in version control.

Step 3: Making Your First API Request

Now that your development environment is set up, you are ready to make your first API request to OpenAI. Follow these steps:

  1. Create a new file named in your project folder.
  2. Copy and paste the following code into the file:
import os
import openai

openai.api_key = os.getenv("OPENAI_API_KEY")

completion = openai.ChatCompletion.create(
    {"role": "system", "content": "You are a poetic assistant, skilled in explaining complex programming concepts with creative flair."},
    {"role": "user", "content": "Compose a poem that explains the concept of recursion in programming."}

  1. Save the file.
  2. Run the file with the following command in your terminal or command prompt:

This command sends a request to the OpenAI API to generate a poetic explanation of the concept of recursion in programming. The response from the API will be printed to your terminal or command prompt.

That’s it! You have successfully set up your development environment, installed the necessary SDKs, and made your first API request to OpenAI. Now, you are ready to explore the full potential of OpenAI API. Dive into the GPT guide and OpenAI Cookbook for more advanced use cases and example prompts. Remember to adhere to OpenAI’s usage policies as you explore the capabilities of this powerful tool.

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