Learn whether Jupyter Notebook or Google Colab would be better for your data science needs in this in-depth feature comparison.
Creating and organizing computation documents is an essential part of programming and data sciences. Most people turn to one of two popular tools — Jupyter Notebook and Google Colab — to help them manage their files.
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What is Jupyter Notebook?
Jupyter is a free, open-source, web-based interactive computing platform that was spun off of IPython; Jupyter Notebook is a web application that allows users to create and share computation documents with each other.
What is Google Colab?
Google Colaboratory is a freemium tool offered by Google Research that allows users to write and execute Python code in their web browsers. Colab is actually based on the Jupyter open source, and essentially allows you to create and share computation files without having to download or install anything.
Jupyter Notebook vs. Google Colab: Feature comparison
|Feature||Jupyter Notebook||Google Colab|
|File view without install||No||Yes|
Head-to-head comparison: Jupyter Notebook vs. Google Colab
Google Colab’s major differentiator from Jupyter Notebook is that it is cloud-based and Jupyter is not. This means that if you work in Google Collab, you do not have to worry about downloading and installing anything to your hardware. It also means that you can rest easy knowing that your work will autosave and backup to the cloud without you having to do anything.
Google Colab is great for people who need to work across multiple devices — such as one computer at home and one at work, or a laptop and a tablet — since it syncs seamlessly across devices.
In contrast, Jupyter Notebook is run on your local machine, and files are saved to your hard disk. Jupyter does offer an autosaving interval (which you can change) but it doesn’t back up to a cloud, so if something happens to your machine, you’re out of luck. Jupyter can’t sync or share your files across devices without a third-party filing sharing service such as DropBox or GitHub.
We couldn’t talk about Jupyter Notebook vs. Google Colab without mentioning collaboration. As the name suggests, Google Colab is built to make it easy to share your notebooks with anyone — even if they’re not a data scientists. Other people can view your notebook without having to download any software, which is a big advantage if you regularly work with non-techies who need to be able to view the files.
On the other hand, anyone else will need to have Jupyter Notebook installed on their device if you want to share their notebooks with them. This won’t be a hindrance if you solely work with developers, data scientists and other tech people who will already have Jupyter installed, but if you work on a more diverse team, then you might want to consider Google Colab since it makes it easier to share files.
Since Google Colab is cloud-based, it comes preinstalled with just about every library you could need in the cloud. This means that you don’t have to separate precious disk space or time to download the libraries manually. The free version also comes with a certain level of GPU, memory and run time, which can fluctuate. If you need more capacity, you can upgrade to one of the paid plans. Google does not disclose limits for any of its Colab plans due to the need for flexibility.
With Jupyter Notebook, you will need to install each library that you want to use onto your device using pip or another package manager. You will also be limited by your computer’s available RAM, disk space, GPU and CPU. That being said, having the notebooks stored on your hardware vs. hosted in a third-party cloud is more secure, so the manual library install can actually be a plus for more sensitive data.
Choosing between Jupyter Notebook and Google Colab
Both Jupyter Notebook and Google Colab may be the right choice in particular circumstances. Google Colab is an excellent choice for the entry-level developer or the non-programmer who wants to get started fast without having to install anything. It’s also a great idea for anyone who needs to share notebook files with people who won’t have the proper software installed on their devices. Finally, Google Colab is a must for anyone looking to back their work up to the cloud and to sync their notebooks across multiple devices — but the ease of cloud sharing means reduced data security.
Meanwhile, Jupyter is a better choice for sensitive files that need to be kept off the cloud. Installing the notebooks on your own hardware also means that you never have to worry about your GPU or runtimes getting throttled, which can happen sometimes on the Colab free accounts.