For the impatient

The latest source code can be downloaded from github using:

git clone git://
git clone git://
cd bcftools
 # The following is optional:
 #   autoheader && autoconf && ./configure --enable-libgsl --enable-perl-filters
In order to use the BCFtools plugins, this environment variable must be set and point to the correct location:
export BCFTOOLS_PLUGINS=/path/to/bcftools/plugins

Note that if also the polysomy command or support for Perl filtering should be included, the compilation instructions differ, see Optional Compilation with GSL and Optional Compilation with Perl below.

System Requirements

BCFtools and HTSlib depend on the zlib library, the bzip2 library and liblzma Building them requires development files to be installed on the build machine; note that some Linux distributions package these separately from the library itself (see below).

The bzip2 and liblzma dependencies can be removed if full CRAM support is not needed - see HTSlib’s INSTALL file for details.

Packages for dpkg-based Linux distributions (Debian / Ubuntu) are:

libcurl4-gnutls-dev or libcurl4-openssl-dev

Packages for rpm or yum-based Linux distributions (RedHat / Fedora / CentOS) are:


Packages on MacOS, assuming Xcode is installed:

gsl (optional)

To build BCFtools, you will need:

GNU make
C compiler (e.g. gcc or clang)

In addition, building the configure script requires:


Running the configure script uses awk, along with a number of standard UNIX tools (cat, cp, grep, mv, rm, sed, among others). Almost all installations will have these already.

Running the test harness (make test) uses:


Building Configure

This step is only needed if has been changed, or if configure does not exist (for example, when building from a git clone). The configure script and can be built by running:


If you have a full GNU autotools install, you can alternatively run:


Warnings like AC_CONFIG_SUBDIRS: you should use literals can be ignored or supressed using autoconf -Wno-syntax.


cd to the bcftools directory containing the package’s source and type:


If installing from a tarballs (as opposed form github), BCFtools release contains a copy of HTSlib which will be used to build BCFtools. If you already have a system-installed HTSlib or another HTSlib that you would prefer to build against, you can arrange this by using the configure script’s --with-htslib option. Use --with-htslib=DIR to point to an HTSlib source tree or installation in DIR; or --with-htslib=system to use a system-installed HTSlib. When downloaded from github and --with-htslib option is not given, the directory ../htslib is used.

Optional Compilation with Perl

The -i and -e options can take external perl scripts for a more sophisticated filtering. This option can be enabled by supplying the --enable-perl-filters option to configure before running make:

./configure --enable-perl-filters

Note that enabling this option changes the license from MIT to GPL because bcftools need to be built with

perl -MExtUtils::Embed -e ccopts -e ldopts

Note that when compiling on MacOS, the default options for linking with Perl provided by the system sometimes do not work. It was reported that removing the occurance of -arch i386 from solved the problem.

Optional Compilation with GSL

The polysomy command depends on the GNU Scientific Library (GSL) and is not enabled by default. In order to compile it, supply the --enable-libgsl option to configure before running make:

./configure --enable-libgsl

The GNU Scientific Library depends on the cblas library. The configure script will look for both libcblas and libgslcblas, in that order. If you have more than one version of cblas installed and want to override its choice you can do this by using either --with-cblas=cblas or --with-cblas=gslcblas.

Note that GSL is distributed under the GNU General Public License (GPL). When --enable-libgsl is used to compile bcftools, the resulting program will also be GPL licensed. If you want to distribute the program, you MUST do so under terms compatible with that license. A copy of the GPL is included in the LICENSE file, or can be downloaded from

In the default compilation mode the program is dual licensed and you may choose to be licensed under the terms of the MIT/Expat license or the GNU General Public License (GPL).

Information on the GNU Scientific Library, including the rationale for its choice of license can be found at


Type make install to install the bcftools executable and associated scripts and a manual page to /usr/local. This can be changed by using the configure script’s --prefix option:

./configure --prefix=/path/to/install/dir

The install target also understands DESTDIR and the other usual installation directory variables.

The bgzip and tabix utilities are provided by HTSlib. If you have not also installed HTSlib separately, you may wish to install these utilities by hand by copying the programs to the same bin directory to which you have installed bcftools et al.


We welcome your feedback, please help us improve this page by either opening an issue on github or editing it directly and sending a pull request.