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install with bioconda install with EasyBuild install with Docker install with Singularity Anaconda-Server Badge Anaconda-Server Badge


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(C) Copyright SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics available from under GPL v2. See LICENSE.

Version 3 contains the original FORTRAN 77 pftools (release 2.3) and the new pftoolsV3 programs.


Using Docker

First you must have Docker installed and running.
Secondly have a look at the availabe pftools biocontainers at or at Docker Hub.

# get the chosen pftools container version
docker pull
#   or
docker pull sibswiss/pftools:3.2.12
# use an pftools's tool e.g. pfscan 
docker run pfscan -h
#   or
docker run sibswiss/pftools:3.2.12 pfscan -h

Using Singularity

First you must have Singularity installed and running. Secondly have a look at the availabe pftools biocontainers at or at Docker Hub.

# get the chosen pftools container version
singularity pull docker://
#   or
singularity pull docker://sibswiss/pftools:3.2.12
# run the container
singularity run pftools_3.2.11--pl5321r41h4b1256a_2.sif

You are now in the container. You can use an pftools's tool e.g. pfscan doing

pfscan -h


conda install -c bioconda pftools


eb --robot --rpath pftoolsV3-3.2.11-foss-2021a.eb


See here for more information

After installation, in the share/examples/ subdirectory, the shell script is a good starting point for using pfsearchV3/pfscanV3.

Generalized profile syntax

A description of the generalized profile syntax is given in file:

it was originally published in

  • Bucher P, Bairoch A. A generalized profile syntax for biomolecular sequence motifs and its function in automatic sequence interpretation. Proc Int Conf Intell Syst Mol Biol. 1994;2:53-61. PubMed PMID: 7584418.

Algorithms description

Technical details about how profiles can be constructed and parametrized are summarized in file:

The very first paper describing the PFTOOLS algorithms is

  • Lüthy R, Xenarios I, Bucher P. Improving the sensitivity of the sequence profile method. Protein Sci. 1994 Jan;3(1):139-46. PubMed PMID: 7511453; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2142471.

The generalized profile alignment method is closely related to other "classical" algorithm for aligning sequences. For example, it encompasses the Smith-Waterman algorithm and the Viterbi decoding of profile-HMM (as implemented in HMMER2 for example). Relationships between these algorithm were investigated in

  • Bucher P, Hofmann K. A sequence similarity search algorithm based on a probabilistic interpretation of an alignment scoring system. Proc Int Conf Intell Syst Mol Biol. 1996;4:44-51. Review. PubMed PMID: 8877503.

  • Bucher P, Karplus K, Moeri N, Hofmann K. A flexible motif search technique based on generalized profiles. Comput Chem. 1996 Mar;20(1):3-23. PubMed PMID: 8867839.

Relatively detailed explanations about the profile normalized scores, as well as its comparisons with other popular statistics for sequence alignments can be found in

  • Pagni M, Jongeneel CV. Making sense of score statistics for sequence alignments. Brief Bioinform. 2001 Mar;2(1):51-67. PubMed PMID: 11465063.

The heuristic score is succinctly described in

  • Schuepbach T, Pagni M, Bridge A, Bougueleret L, Xenarios I, Cerutti L. pfsearchV3: a code acceleration and heuristic to search PROSITE profiles. Bioinformatics. 2013 May 1;29(9):1215-7. doi: 10.1093/bioinformatics/btt129. PubMed PMID: 23505298; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3634184.

Applications of the Pftools

Two databases were created based on the PFTOOLS technology: PROSITE and HAMAP and they are still actively maintained


The PFTOOLS were initially designed with handling capabilities of DNA sequences. The latest released pfsearchV3 feature support for FASTQ and SAM formats. DNA applications are for example given in

  • Pagni M, Niculita-Hirzel H, Pellissier L, Dubuis A, Xenarios I, Guisan A, Sanders IR, Goudet J, Guex N. Density-based hierarchical clustering of pyro-sequences on a large scale - the case of fungal ITS1. Bioinformatics. 2013 May 15;29(10):1268-74. doi: 10.1093/bioinformatics/btt149. PubMed PMID: 23539304 ; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3654712.

  • Schmid-Siegert E, Richard S, Luraschi A, Mühlethaler K, Pagni M, Hauser PM. Mechanisms of Surface Antigenic Variation in the Human Pathogenic Fungus Pneumocystis jirovecii. MBio. 2017 Nov 7;8(6). pii: e01470-17. doi: 10.1128/mBio.01470-17. PubMed PMID: 29114024; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5676039.



  • Philipp Bucher developped the Fortran code
  • Thierry Schuepbach developped the C code

Other contributors:

  • Kay Hofmann
  • Volker Flegel
  • Edouard de Castro
  • Lorenzo Cerruti
  • Marco Pagni
  • Sébastien Moretti
  • Jerven Tjalling Bolleman

SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics Vital-IT Group Quartier Sorge - Batiment Amphipole 1015 Lausanne Switzerland