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Building RGBDS from source

RGBDS is open-source, which means you can always compile it yourself, for example if no pre-built solution is available to you, or if you want a specific version.

RGBDS aims to be relatively painless to compile, keeping its dependencies to a minimum:

  • A C11-compatible compiler
  • libpng (optional, only required for RGBGFX)

Some of the build steps vary between systems, so the instructions provided here are somewhat generic. Windows works largely differently from everything else, so some expertise is expected if attempting this on Windows.

1. Get the source code

You first need to get the source files to be compiled, using one of the methods below.

  1. Pick a release.
  2. Under the "GitHub links" heading, follow the release page link.
  3. Go to "Assets" at the bottom of that page.
  4. Download any of the last three listed files (rgbds-<version>.tar.gz, "Source code (zip)", or "Source code (tar.gz)").
  5. Extract ("unzip") the file.

2. Build

The following are required to build RGBDS; most of those should already be installed on your system.

  • make and/or cmake, depending on what method you choose below
  • The bash shell
  • A C compiler, typically gcc or clang
  • bison (or yacc/byacc prior to RGBDS 0.5.0)
  • pkg-config (unless using cmake)

If you are building RGBGFX, the following are also required:

  • A C++ compiler, typically g++ or clang
  • libpng's development headers. For Linux users: the package is typically called libpng-dev, libpng-devel, or sometimes plainly libpng. Additionally, a 16 or 1.6 may be present after libpng (example).

Two build systems are supported: plain old make, and CMake. Both can be used on most systems, but Windows users will almost certainly be unable to use make.


Make sure to run all of the following commands from the root directory of the sources! That directory should contain a file called Makefile, another called CMakeLists.txt, and a few more.

Using Make

Simply run the following two commands:

sudo make install

The second command is optional if you don't want to install RGBDS system-wide.

The following variables can be defined to control installation, like so: make Q=, make install PREFIX=~/.local

  • PREFIX: Location where RGBDS will be installed. Defaults to /usr/local.
  • bindir: Location where the binaries will be installed. Defaults to ${PREFIX}/bin.
  • mandir: Location where the manpages will be installed. Defaults to ${PREFIX}/share/man.
  • DESTDIR: This is prepended to all paths during the installation. It is mainly used for packaging.
  • Q: Whether to quiet the build or not. To make the build more verbose, clear this variable. Defaults to @.
  • STRIP: Whether to strip the installed binaries of debug symbols or not. Defaults to -s.
  • BINMODE: Permissions of the installed binaries. Defaults to 755.
  • MANMODE: Permissions of the installed man pages. Defaults to 644.

Using CMake

CMake minimum version

Building RGBDS with CMake requires CMake 3.9 or later.

  1. Run CMake on the project:

    cmake -S . -B build -DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE=Release
  2. Build RGBDS:

    cmake --build build
  3. You can install RGBDS. You are not required to, you can do whatever with the four binaries in build/src at this point.

    sudo cmake --install build