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Installing pyFormex


This document explains the different ways for obtaining a running pyFormex installation. You will learn how to obtain pyFormex, how to install it, and how to get it running.

Choose installation type

There are several ways to get a running installation of pyFormex, and you may choose the most appropriate method for you, depending on your needs, your current infrastructure and your computer knowledge. We will describe them in detail in this document, and advice you on which method might be the best in your case.


pyFormex on non-Linux systems

pyFormex is being developed on GNU/Linux systems, and most users run it on a GNU/Linux platform. The Running pyFormex on non-Linux systems section holds information on how pyFormex can be run on other platforms.

Let’s first give you an overview of the most important pros and cons of the different install methods.

Debian packages:

  • Stable
  • Well supported
  • Easy install procedure
  • Automatic installation of all dependencies
  • Easy update procecure
  • Easy removal procecure
  • Site-wide install
  • Debian GNU/Linux required [1]
  • Root access required
  • May be missing latest features
[1]Installing the Debian packages may also work on Debian derivatives like Ubuntu and Mint.

Official release:

  • Stable
  • Well supported
  • Easy install procedure
  • Site-wide install
  • GNU/Linux required
  • Root access required
  • Installation of dependencies required
  • May be missing latest features

Alpha release:

  • Easy install procedure
  • Site-wide install
  • GNU/Linux required
  • Root access required
  • Installation of dependencies required
  • Latests features

Development version:

  • Latest features
  • No root access required
  • No installation required
  • GNU/Linux required
  • Requires development tools
  • (Usually) single user install
  • Manual installation of dependencies (and root access) may be required
  • Less stable

BuMPix Live GNU/Linux system:

  • No GNU/Linux required
  • No root access required
  • No installation required
  • Stable version
  • Easily portable
  • Upgradeable by installing development version
  • Missing latest features
  • Somewhat slower loading

To sum it up:

  • Unless you want to help with the development, or you absolutely need some of the latest features or bugfixes, or you just can not meet the requirements, the latest Debian packages or Official release source tarballs are what you want to go for. They give you the highest degree of stability and support and come packed in an archive, with an easy install procedure provided by your distributions package manager or included in the source tarball.
  • If you need some recent feature of pyFormex that is not yet in an official release, you may be lucky to find it in some Alpha release.
  • If the install procedures do not work for you, or you need the absolutely latest development code, you can run pyFormex directly from the anonymously checked out Development version.
  • Finally, if you do not have enough permissions to install the dependencies, or if you do not have a GNU/Linux system in the first place, or if you just want to try out pyFormex without having to install anything, or if you want a portable system that can you take with you and run anywhere, choose for the BuMPix Live GNU/Linux system on USB stick.

Debian packages

If you are running Debian GNU/Linux, or have the opportunity to install it, then (by far) the most easy install method is to use the packages in the official Debian repositories. Currently pyFormex packages are available for Debian sid, jessie and wheezy releases. Be sure to also install the precompiled acceleration libraries:

apt-get install pyformex pyformex-lib

This single command will install pyFormex and all its dependencies. Some extra functionalities may be installable from a separate package:

apt-get install pyformex-extra

If you need a more recent version of pyFormex then the one available in the official repositories, you may try your luck with our local package repository. It contains debian format packages of intermediate releases and test packages for the official releases. To access our package repository from your normal package manager, add the following line to your /etc/apt/sources.list:

deb jessie main
or create a file /etc/apt/sources.list.d/pyformex.list with the above content.

Add the key used to sign the packages to the apt keyring with the following command:

wget -O - | apt-key add -

Then do apt-get update. Now you can use the above commands to install the latest alpha release.

Official release

pyFormex is software under development, and many users run it directly from the latest development sources. This holds a certain risk however, because the development version may at times become unstable or incompatible with previous versions and thus break your applications. At regular times we therefore create official releases, which provide a more stable and better documented and supported version, together with an easy install procedure.

If you can meet the requirements for using an officially packed release, and you can not use the Debian packages, this is the recommended way to install pyFormex. All the software packages needed to compile and run pyFormex can be obtained for free.

To install an official pyFormex release, you need a working GNU/Linux system, root (administrator) privileges to the system, and you need to make sure that the dependencies listed below are installed first on the system. Furthermore, you need the usual GNU development tools (gcc, make).

If you need to install a new GNU/Linux system from scratch, and have the choice to pick any distribution, we highly recommend Debian GNU/Linux or derivatives. This is because most of the pyFormex development is done on Debian systems, and we will give you precise install instructions for this system. Also, the Debian software repositories are amongst the most comprehensive to be found on the Internet. Furthermore, as of pyFormex version 0.8.6, we provide official Debian packages, making installation really a no-brainer.

Most popular GNU/Linux distributions provide appropriately packed recent versions of the dependencies, so that you can install them easily from the pacakge manager of your system. In case a package or version is not available for your system, you can always install it from source. We provide the websites where you can find the source packages.


In order to install an official release package of pyFormex, you need to have the following installed (and working) on your computer:

Python (
Version 2.5 or higher (2.6 or 2.7 is recommended). Nearly all GNU/Linux distributions come with Python installed, so this should be no major obstacle.
NumPy (
Version 1.0 or higher. NumPy is the package used for efficient numerical array operations in Python and is essential for pyFormex.
Qt4 (
The widget toolkit on which the pyFormex Graphical User Interface (GUI) was built.
PyQt4 (
The Python bindings for Qt4.
PyOpenGL (
Python bindings for OpenGL, used for drawing and manipulating the 3D-structures.

If you only want to use the Formex data model and transformation methods and do not need the GUI, then NumPy is all you need. This could e.g. suffice for a non-interactive machine that only does the numerical processing. The install procedure however does not provide this option yet, so you will have to do the install by hand. Currently we recommend to install the whole package including the GUI. Most probably you will want to visualize your structures and for that you need the GUI anyway.

Additionally, we recommend you to also install the Python and OpenGL header files. The install procedure needs these to compile the pyFormex acceleration library. While pyFormex can run without the library (Python versions will be substituted for all functions in the library), using the library will dramatically speed up some low level operations such as drawing, especially when working with large structures .

Installing dependencies on Debian GNU/Linux

Debian users should just have to install the packages python-numpy, python-opengl and python-qt4-gl. The latter will install python-qt4 as dependency. Also, for compiling the acceleration library, you should install python-dev and libglu1-mesa-dev. This command will do it all:

apt-get install python-numpy python-opengl python-qt4-gl python-dev libglu1-mesa-dev
Other optional packages that might be useful are admesh, python-scipy,

Download pyFormex

Official pyFormex releases can be downloaded from this website: Releases. As of the writing of this manual, the latest release is 0.8.6.

pyFormex is currently distributed in the form of a .tar.gz (tarball) archive. See Install pyFormex for how to proceed further with the downloaded file.

Install pyFormex

Once you have downloaded the tarball, unpack it with the command

tar xvzf pyformex-VERSION.tar.gz

where you replace VERSION with the correct version from the downloaded file. Then go to the created pyformex directory

cd pyformex-VERSION

and execute the following command with root privileges:

python install --prefix=/usr/local

This will install pyFormex under /usr/local/. You can change the prefix to install pyFormex in some other place.

The installation procedure installs everything into a single directory, and creates a symlink to the executable in /usr/local/bin. You can use the command

pyformex --whereami

to find out where pyFormex is installed.

Finally, a pyFormex tarball installation can usually be removed by giving the command

pyformex --remove

and answering ‘yes’ to the question. You may want to do this before installing a new version, especially if you install a new release of an already existing version.

Install additional software

pyFormex uses a large number of external software packages to enhance its functionality. Some of these packages are so essential, that they were listed as requirements. Others however are merely optional packages: interesting for those users who need them, but not essential for everybody. The user has the choice to install these extras or not.

Some external packages however do not come in an easy to install package, or the available packaged formats do not collaborate well with pyFormex. Therefore, we have created a set of dedicated install script to ease the installation of these external packages. Currently, there is an install procedure for the following packages:


We provide these installation procedures for your convenience, but take no responsibility for them working correctly.

This package allows to save the OpenGL rendering to a file in vector format. Currently supported are eps, pdf and svg. Our install procedure provides the necessary Python interface and installs the gl2ps library at the same time.
This package (Gnu Triangluted Surfaces) implements a library of powerful functions for operating on triangulated surface models. It also delivers some example programs built with the library. The pyFormex surface plugin uses these for many of its functions. Debian users should install the packages libgts-0.7.5, libgts-bin and libgts-dev as dependencies.
This package provides a high quality tetrahedral mesher. pyFormex has some import and export functions for the specific tetgen file formats. Since tetgen is only distributed in source form, we provide this install procedure to help with the compile/install.
Calpy is an experimental package that provides efficient Finite Element simulations through a Python interface. It does this by calling into a library of compiled Fortran routines. There is currently no distribution to the general public yet, but this install procedure grabs the source from our local FTP server, compiles the library and creates the Python interface. pyFormex comes with some examples that use Calpy as a simulatiopn tool.

To install any of these packages, proceed as follows. Go to the directory where you unpacked the pyFormex distribution: cd pyformex-version. Then go to the pyformex/external subdirectory, where you will find a subdirectory for each of the above packages. Go into the directory of the package you wish to install and execute the following commands (install may require root privileges):

make install

In some case there is no Makefile provided but an install script instead. Then you can just do:

./ all

All these procedures will install under /usr/local. If you wish to change this, you will have to change the Makefile or install procedure. The install procedures can also be used to perform only part of the installation process. Thus, ./ get unpack will only download and unpack that package. See the README files and the install procedures themselves for more info.

Alpha release

Official releases are only created a couple of times per year, because they require a lot of testing. pyFormex is however developing fast, and as soon as an official release has been made, new features are already being included in the source repository. Sometimes, you may be in need of such a feature, that will only become officially available within several months. Between successive official releases, we create interim alpha releases. They are less well tested (meaning they may contain more bugs) and supported than the official ones, but they may just work well for you.

These alpha releases can be downloaded from the developer FTP site or from our local FTP server. The latter may be slower, but you may find there some old releases or release candidates that are not available on the official server. They install just like the Official release.

Again, as a Debian user, you may be extra lucky: we usually create Debian Debian packages from these alpha releases and make them available on our local package repository.

Development version

If the install procedures for the packaged releases do not work for you, or if you want to have the absolutely latest features and bug fixes, then you can run pyFormex directly from the development sources. Obviously, the pyFormex developers use this method, but there are also several normal users who prefer this, because it allows for easy updating to the latest version.

To run pyFormex from the development sources you need to have the same dependencies installed as for the Official release. Furthermore, you need the git revision control system. You can check whether you have it by trying the command git. If you do not have the command, you should first install it. Debian and Ubuntu users can just do apt-get install git.

Now you can anonymously check out the latest pyFormex version from the Source code repository at the Project page, using the command:

git clone git://

This will create a directory pyformex with the full source.

Now you can directly run pyFormex from the created pyformex directory:

cd pyformex

The first time you run the command, it will start with compiling the pyFormex acceleration libraries. When that has finished, the pyFormex GUI will start, running directly from your checked out source. The next time you run the command, the library will not be recompiled, unless some updates have been made to the files, making the already compiled versions out of date.

You can make the pyformex/pyformex command executable from anywhere by creating a symlink under one of the directories in your PATH environment variable. Many GNU/Linux distributions add /home/USER/bin to the user’s path. Thus the following command is suitable in most cases:

ln -sfn BASEDIR/pyformex/pyformex /home/USER/bin

where BASEDIR is the full path to the directory where you checked out the source.

The pyFormex repository contains a lot of files that are only needed and interesting for the pyFormex developers. As a normal user you may want to remove this extra overhead in your copy. To do so, run the sparse_checkout script from the checkout directory:

sh sparse_checkout

You can update your pyFormex installation at any time to the latest version by issuing the command

git pull

in your BASEDIR directory. You can even roll back to any older revision of pyFormex. Just remember that after updating your sources, the compiled libraries could be out of sync with your new sources. Normally pyFormex will rebuild the libraries the next time you start it. If you ever want to rebuild the libraries without starting the pyformex program, you can use the command make lib from inside BASEDIR.

Using the older Subversion repository

To run pyFormex from the development sources you need to have the same dependencies installed as for the Official release. Furthermore, you need the Subversion revision control system. You can check whether you have it by trying the command svn help. If you do not have the command, you should install Subversion first. Debian and Ubuntu users can just do apt-get install subversion.

Now you can anonymously check out the latest pyFormex version from the SVN Source code repository at the Project page. If you are not a pyFormex developer, the suggested commands for this checkout are:

svn co svn:// --depth files MYDIR
svn update --depth infinity MYDIR/pyformex

In these commands you should replace MYDIR with the path name of a directory where you have write permission. Many users choose ~/pyformex as the checkout directory, but this is not required. You can even check out different versions under different path names. If you leave out the MYDIR from the above command, a new directory trunk will be created in the current path.

Instead of the above two commands, you could also use the following single command to check out the whole trunk, but that would download a lot of extra files which are only useful for pyFormex developers, not for normal users

svn co svn:// MYDIR

Now change into the created MYDIR directory, where you can execute the command pyformex/pyformex and proceed as explained above for a checkout of the git repository.

BuMPix Live GNU/Linux system

If you do not have access to a running GNU/Linux system, or if the above installation methods fail for some unknown reason (remember, you can ask for help on the pyFormex Support tracker), you can still run pyFormex by using a Bumpix Live GNU/Linux system. Bumpix Live is a full featured Debian GNU/Linux system including pyFormex that can be run from a single removable medium such as a CD or a USB key. Installation instructions can be found in BuMPix Live GNU/Linux system.


  • if you do not succeed in properly writing the image to a USB key, or
  • if you just want an easy solution without any install troubles, or
  • if you want to financially support the further development of pyFormex, or
  • if you need a large number of pyFormex USB installations,

you may be happy to know that we can provide ready-made BuMPix USB sticks with the logo at a cost hardly exceeding that of production and distribution. If you think this is the right choice for you, just email us for a quotation.

Further guidelines for using the BuMPix system can be found in BuMPix Live GNU/Linux system.

Running pyFormex on non-Linux systems

pyFormex is being developed on GNU/Linux platforms, and most of its users run pyFormex on a GNU/Linux system. Because of that, there is no installation procedure to run pyFormex natively on other systems.

Currently, the easiest way to run pyFormex on a non-Linux system is by using the BuMPix Live GNU/Linux system. We use this frequently with large groups of students in classes having only Windows PCs. We also have some professional users who could no install GNU/Linux due to corporate regulations, that are working this way.

Another possibility is to run a virtual GNU/Linux instance on the platform. There is currently quite good virtualization software available for nearly any platform.

However, as all the essential underlying packages on which pyFormex is built are available for many other platforms (including Windows, Mac), it is (in theory) possible to get pyFormex to run natively on non-Linux platforms. There has already been a successful attempt with a rather old version, but with recent versions nobody has (yet) taken the bother to try it.


pyFormex on Windows Lately there have been some successful attempts to get the basic functionality of pyFormex running on Windows. Thomas Praet has compiled this document on how to proceed. Submit a request on the Support tracker if you need any help.

There may be a few things that have to be changed to successfully run pyFormex on other platforms (especially on Windows), but it should all be rather obvious. If you have some programming experience on your platform, and you want to give it a try, please do so. We certainly are willing to help where we can. And we are certainly interested in feedback about your attempt, whether successful or not.