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Building GMT

This document describes how to build GMT from source codes (stable release or development version) on Linux, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, macOS and Windows.


Build and runtime dependencies

GMT is dependent on some software and libraries to run. Please refer to the GMT wiki page for instructions to install these dependencies on various operation systems.

Required dependencies

To build GMT, you have to install:

Optional dependencies

Optionally install these for more capabilities within GMT:

  • Ghostscript (Ability to convert PostScript plots to PDF and rasters)
  • GDAL (Ability to read and write numerous grid and image formats)
  • PCRE or PCRE2 (Regular expression support)
  • FFTW single-precision (Fast FFTs, >=3.3 [not needed under macOS])
  • GLib GTHREAD support (>=2.32)
  • LAPACK (Fast matrix inversion [not needed under macOS])
  • BLAS (Fast matrix multiplications [not needed under macOS])

For movie-making capabilities these executables are needed:

For viewing documentation under Linux via gmt docs, your need xdg-open:

  • xdg-open (Unified open for a variety of files)

Development dependencies

Install for building GMT documentation and running tests (not required for general use):

  • Sphinx (>=1.8, for building the documentation)
  • GraphicsMagick (for running the tests)
  • Ninja (optional, build system focused on speed)
  • pngquant (optional, for optimizing PNG images in the documentation)

Required support data

You also need to download support data:

  • GSHHG: A Global Self-consistent, Hierarchical, High-resolution Geography Database (>=2.2.0)
  • DCW: The Digital Chart of the World (optional, >=2.0.0)

Getting GMT source codes

The latest stable release of the GMT source codes (filename: gmt-x.x.x-src.tar.gz) are available from GMT repository on GitHub.

If you want to build/use the latest developing/unstable GMT, you can get the source codes by cloning the GMT repository on GitHub. Here we use --depth 50 option for a shallow clone which can reduce the repository size to download.

git clone --depth 50

You can also get supporting data GSHHG and DCW (filename: gshhg-gmt-x.x.x.tar.gz and dcw-gmt-x.x.x.tar.gz) from the GMT main site.

Extract the files and put them in a separate directory (need not be where you eventually want to install GMT).

Note for developers: Refer to the git workflow tutorial for more detailed instructions on cloning and forking the repository. It is recommended that you use a full clone rather than a shallow clone.


GMT can be built on any platform supported by CMake. CMake is a cross-platform, open-source system for managing the build process. The building process is controlled by three configuration files in the cmake directory:

  • ConfigDefault.cmake is version controlled and used to add new default variables and set defaults for everyone. You should NOT edit this file.
  • ConfigUser.cmake is not version controlled and is used to override basic default settings on a per-user basis.
  • ConfigUserAdvanced.cmake is not version controlled and is used to override more advanced default settings on a per-user basis.

GMT provides two template files, ConfigUserTemplate.cmake and ConfigUserAdvancedTemplate.cmake in the cmake directory. In that directory, you may copy ConfigUserTemplate.cmake to ConfigUser.cmake and edit to change basic installation parameters. For more advanced parameters, you may copy ConfigUserAdvancedTemplate.cmake to ConfigUserAdvanced.cmake and edit.

Note for developers: It is necessary to create both ConfigUser.cmake and ConfigUserAdvanced.cmake in the cmake directory using the templates provided in order to enable testing. Refer to the section Configuring CMake for testing GMT in the maintenance guide for instructions on setting up cmake/ConfigUserAdvanced.cmake.

Here is an example of settings you may want to change after copying cmake/ConfigUserTemplate.cmake to cmake/ConfigUser.cmake.

set (CMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX "/opt/gmt")
set (GSHHG_ROOT "/path/to/gshhg")
set (DCW_ROOT "/path/to/dcw")

For Windows users, a good example is:

set (CMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX "C:/programs/gmt6")
set (GSHHG_ROOT "C:/path/to/gshhg")
set (DCW_ROOT "C:/path/to/dcw")

See the additional comments in cmake/ConfigUserTemplate.cmake for more details.

Now that you made your configuration choices, it is time for invoking CMake. To keep generated files separate from source files in the source tree, you should create a build directory in the top-level directory, where the build files will be generated, and change into your build directory:

mkdir build
cd build
cmake ..

For Windows users, you need to open a command prompt and run:

NOTE: Commands below are valid only if you have GMT's dependency libraries installed via vcpkg following these instructions.

mkdir build
cd build
# For x64 build
cmake .. -DCMAKE_TOOLCHAIN_FILE=C:\vcpkg\scripts\buildsystems\vcpkg.cmake -DCMAKE_GENERATOR_PLATFORM=x64
# For x86 build
cmake .. -DCMAKE_TOOLCHAIN_FILE=C:\vcpkg\scripts\buildsystems\vcpkg.cmake -DCMAKE_GENERATOR_PLATFORM=x86

For advanced users, you can append the option -G Ninja to use the build tool Ninja, which is a small build system with a focus on speed.

Building GMT source codes

In the build directory, type

# Linux/macOS/FreeBSD/OpenBSD
cmake --build .

# Windows
cmake --build . --config Release

which will compile all the programs. You can also append --parallel [jobs] to enable parallel build, in which jobs is the maximum number of concurrent processes to use when building. If jobs is omitted the native build tool's default number is used.

Note: These instructions build the source code for GMT. Optionally, follow the instructions for building the documentation in the maintenance guide to build the documentation (for example, to develop the documentation or to use gmt docs without the GMT server).

Note for developers: Refer to the file admin/bashrc_for_gmt for useful aliases for configuring and building GMT.


# Linux/macOS/FreeBSD/OpenBSD
cmake --build . --target install

# Windows
cmake --build . --target install --config Release

will install gmt executable, library, development headers and built-in data to the specified GMT install location. Optionally it will also install the GSHHG shorelines (if found), DCW (if found), UNIX manpages, and HTML documentations.

Depending on where GMT is being installed, you might need write permission for this step so you can copy files to system directories. Using sudo will often do the trick.

Note for developers: Refer to the section Updating the development source codes in the maintenance guide for instructions on how to update the development version of GMT. Also refer to the file admin/bashrc_for_gmt for useful aliases for updating the development source code.

Setting path

Make sure you set the PATH to include the directory containing the GMT executables if this is not a standard directory like /usr/local/bin.

For Linux/macOS users, open your SHELL configuration file (usually ~/.bashrc) and add the line below to it.

export PATH=${PATH}:/path/to/gmt/bin

Then, you should now be able to run GMT programs.

Advanced instructions

For advanced users who are interested in building documentation, running tests, or contributing more to GMT, please refer the Maintenance Guide.