Source Organization | Installed Files | Compiling on UNIX | Compiling on Windows | Compiling on Macintosh
This page provides a "how to" guide for compiling Tcl from a
source distribution. Tcl has been ported to a wide variety of
platforms, and compilation has been made easier through GNU autoconf
Before You Start
Before trying to compile Tcl you should do the following things:
- Try ActiveTcl.
easy-to-install binaries of Tcl for many platforms.
- Make sure you have the most recent patch release (8.6.3). Look
in the FTP directory from which you retrieved this distribution to see if
it has been updated with patches. Patch releases fix bugs, so you should
normally use the latest patch release for the version of Tcl that you want.
Each Tcl component has its source organized into
the following structure, which is illustrated in the figure below:
- doc Contains manual pages in a variety of formats.
- generic Contains source code that is common for all
platforms (.c and .h files)
- library Contains a library of Tcl scripts used by the
- macosx Contains Macintosh-specific files and XCode
- tests Contains a test suite.
- tools Contains a collection of tools used when generating
Tcl distributions. (Tcl only.)
- unix Contains UNIX-specific source code and configure and
Makefiles used for building on UNIX (including Mac OS X). You can create
subdirectories of the unix directory if you want to build for multiple
versions of UNIX.
- win Contains Windows-specific source code and Makefiles
used for compiling with VC++ or mingw (gcc).
When you install Tcl, it ends up in a different organization that
supports an installation for multiple operating systems and machine
types. You can define architecture-specific subdirectories (e.g.,
solaris-sparc) that contain programs and binary object files for that
platform. The directory structure also supports installation of
various Tcl extensions so they can be automatically found by the Tcl
shell programs. For example, any subdirectory of the install/lib
directory is searched for Tcl script packages, and any shared
libraries in the architecture-specific lib directory can be
dynamically loaded into the Tcl shells.
After installation, Tcl files are kept in the following structure:
- doc Contains manual pages in a variety of formats.
- lib Contains subdirectories for each Tcl package
that contain their Tcl script files.
- lib/tcl8.5 The installed Tcl script library
- linux-ix86 Contains compiled shells and libraries for Linux.
- solaris-sparc Contains compiled shells and libraries for Solaris.
- solaris-sparc/lib Contains runtime libraries (.so files) for Solaris.
- solaris-sparc/bin Contains executable shells (tclsh8.5, wish8.5) for Solaris.
Compiling Tcl on UNIX has two steps: configure and make. In the
simplest case you type the following commands to your shell:
The configure script tests your system for different compilation and
linking options and generates a Makefile. The configure script is
created by GNU autoconf. There are two commonly-specified configure
- This flag specifies the installation directory. The default is
- This flag specifies the installation directory for
architecture-specific (i.e., binary) files.
The default is to install architecture-specific files into
the location specified by
This is typically set to a subdirectory of the main prefix,
for sites that want to maintain
binaries for multiple architectures. If you just have a single system
type, then you can ignore this option.
Note: be sure to use only absolute path names (those starting with "/")
To install into the directories /home/user/tcl/bin and
/home/user/tcl/lib, for example, you should configure with:
Tcl's configure supports several options in addition to the standard
configure --help will list them all, but common
- If this switch is set, Tcl will compile itself with multithreading
- If this switch is specified (the default), Tcl will compile itself as
a shared library if it can figure out how to do that on this platform. Add
=no will create a static build.
- If this switch is specified, Tcl will build with debugging symbols.
If you wish to specify a particular compiler, set the
environment variable before calling configure. You can also specify
CFLAGS prior to configure and they will be used during
Configuring for multiple architectures
Suppose you are building for two platforms, Linux and Solaris, and
your installation will be shared by both kinds of hosts. You'll want
to use the
--exec-prefix configure option to specify
different binary installation directories.
There are two ways you can build for multiple platforms. The
first way is to build both platforms in the
subdirectory. First configure and build for one platform. After you
make distclean and then configure and build
for the second platorm. Be sure that both the configure and build
steps are run on the platform for which you are building. For
example, don't configure under Solaris and then build under HP-UX.
You can also build the different platforms in different
subdirectories of the
unix directory. If you do this,
then you must name the configure script with a full pathname. For
When you configure Tk you may need to tell it where Tcl was built
--with-tcl flag. This is true, for example, if
you build Tcl in a subdirectory of unix as just described. To
Building with Make
What is Make?
After you configure your Makefile, type "make". This will create
a library archive called
libtcl.so and an interpreter application called
tclsh that allows you to type Tcl commands interactively
or execute script files. When you build Tk, you create
libtk.so and the
Type "make test" to run an exhaustive test suite. In most cases
there should not be test failures. The Tk test suite, however, does
have some tests that depend on font metrics and the window manger,
which can vary across platforms. The
README file in the
tests subdirectory has documentation about the test suite.
Type "make install" to install Tcl binaries and script files in
the directories you specified with
--exec-prefix during the configure step. You'll need
write permission on the installation directories to do this.
If you have trouble compiling Tcl, check out the
This is an on-line database of porting information. We make no
guarantees that this information is accurate, complete, or up-to-date,
but you may find it useful. If you get Tcl running on a new
configuration, we would be happy to receive new information to add to
the database. We're also interested in hearing how to change the
configuration setup so that Tcl compiles out of the box on more
In order to compile Tcl for Windows, you need the following items:
- Tcl 8.6.3 source distribution (or the latest patch release)
- MS Visual C++ 6.x or greater.
win subdirectory of the source release, you will
makefile.vc. This is the makefile for the Visual C++
compiler. You should update the paths at the top of the file to
reflect your system configuration. Now you can use
nmake for VC++) to build the tcl libraries and the
In order to use the binaries generated by these makefiles, use
to place the Tcl script library files someplace where Tcl can find
them. Tcl looks in the following places for the library files:
- The path specified in the environment variable
- Relative to the directory containing the current .exe.
Tcl will look for a directory
relative to the directory containing the currently running .exe.
Note that in order to run tclsh85.exe, you must ensure that tcl85.dll
is on your path in the system directory, or in the directory containing
Compiling Tk for windows follows a similar process. You must
compile Tcl before you compile Tk.
If you are compiling a Tcl extension for windows, please see the
Tcl 8.4 was the last version to support Mac Classic (OS <= 9).
See the READMEs in the sources for Mac Classic build support.
For Mac OS X, use the unix instructions above, with consideration for the
following extra options:
- Builds the shared libraries as Mac OS X Frameworks.
- Target the Aqua windowing system instead of X11 on Mac OS X.