This page describe the different installation methods for the C and C++ interfaces to chemfiles. If you want to use chemfiles from a different language, please see the corresponding pages:

Pre-compiled chemfiles

We provide pre-compiled version of chemfiles (both a static library build and a shared library build) on github. Please look for the version you need on the chemfiles/chemfiles-prebuilt repository.

We also provide three conda packages in the conda-forge community channel for Linux and Os X.

  • chemfiles package contains both the C++ and Python libraries. This is the one you want most of the time.

  • chemfiles-lib package contains the C++ library alone;

  • chemfiles-python package contains the Python binding to Chemfiles alone.

# Get all the packages
conda install -c conda-forge chemfiles

# Get the C++ and C library
conda install -c conda-forge chemfiles-lib

Building from sources

Provided you have all the required dependencies, you can also build chemfiles from sources.

Core library dependencies

In order to build the core library, you will need a C++11 capable compiler. Chemfiles is automatically tested against GCC (>= 4.8) on Linux, OSX and Windows (mingw-w64); clang (>= 3.3) on Linux and OS X and MSCV 14 on Windows. It was also compiled successfully with Intel C++ compilers. Please report any successful compilation with other compilers! Chemfiles also uses the CMake build system, which is available in all the package managers.

On UNIX-like systems (Linux, OS X, …)

All these dependencies can be installed in one command:

# On apt-get based distributions
apt-get update
apt-get install build-essential cmake

# On yum based distribution (CentOS/RHEL)
yum install gcc gcc-c++ make cmake

# On dnf based distribution (Fedora)
dnf install @development-tools cmake

# On OS X with Homebrew
brew install cmake

On Windows

You can use either MSVC 2015 compiler, or gcc as provided by mingw. MSYS2 offer a package manager to install all the needed libraries. After the initial installation steps, you can run the following to install a recent C++ compiler:

# On 64-bits windows
pacman -S mingw64/mingw-w64-x86_64-gcc

# On 32-bits windows
pacman -S mingw32/mingw-w64-i686-gcc

You will also need to install cmake, which can be found here.

Build steps

You can get the source code from either git, or from the release page of Github. In the later case, just unpack the archive wherever you want the source code to live. To get the latest development version, use git:

cd where/you/whant/chemfiles/to/live
git clone
cd chemfiles

The following command build and install chemfiles

cd chemfiles
mkdir build
cd build
cmake .. # various options are allowed here
cmake --build .
# if you whant to run the tests before installing:
cmake --build . --target install

The cmake step can be further configured by using the curse-based GUI (ccmake .) or providing some command-line arguments. Here are the most important options:


Default value




Set the installation prefix to prefix



Set to debug for debug information



Build shared library instead of static one.



Build the documentation. This needs sphinx and doxygen to be installed



Build the test suite.



Use the system-provided lzma library.



Use the system-provided zlib

For instance, to install chemfiles to $HOME/local, you should use:


Using chemfiles in your project

There are multiple ways to use chemfiles in your own code:

  • adding the include path and library manually (in a Makefile, or a Visual Studio project);

  • using the CMake configuration file;

  • including chemfiles inside a CMake based-project.

Manually setting include and library path

After installing chemfiles on your computer, you can start using it with your own C or C++ program by passing the corresponding include path and library path to your compiler. For example, on *nix (GNU/Linux or OS X) you can compile any code depending on chemfiles with the following command

# change <PREFIX> to the location where you installed chemfiles
# (default is /usr/local)
g++ my-code.cpp -o my-code -I<PREFIX>/include -lchemfiles -L<PREFIX>/lib

Here, -I <PREFIX>/include tells the compiler where to look for chemfiles headers, -lchemfiles tells it to link the chemfiles library in the final executable, and -L <PREFIX>/lib tells the compiler where to look for the chemfiles library.

The same strategy should be possible to use with Visual Studio on Windows, or any other IDE. Refer to your IDE documentation about how to add external libraries.

Using cmake and find_package

If your project is already using CMake, and you installed chemfiles on your computer, you can use the standard find_package to find the code and automatically set the right include and library path.

add_executable(my-code my-code.cpp)

find_package(chemfiles 0.8)
# chemfiles_FOUND will be TRUE if the code was found

target_link_library(my-code chemfiles)

Including chemfiles as a CMake subproject

If your project is already using CMake, but you don’t want to require your users to install chemfiles separately, you can use cmake support for external projects or subdirectories to include chemfiles sources directly inside your own project. All CMake variables controlling chemfiles behavior are prefixed with CHFL_ to prevent variable pollution.