A library for working with phylogenetic and population genetic data.

This page contains information about how to set up and use genesis.


Genesis is a C++11 library, which can be used in other C++ projects. It is however also possible to use its stand-alone features, e.g. for running Demos and Apps.

  • For the first use case (library), you need to include the necessary headers and link against the binary (either shared or static). See section Library for details.
  • For the second use case (stand-alone), we first need a little motivation: A common utilization of Genesis are small programs for a certain limited purpose, e.g., project related analyses. Usually, scripts are used for such purposes. However, C++ is not a scripting language. In order to still provide a quick and easy way for multiple small script-like programs in C++, we provide the so-called Genesis apps. See section Apps for details.

Currently, we test and use Genesis on Linux and macOS systems. It is currently tested with Ubuntu 14.04, 16.04, and 18.04, as well as all macOS (OS X) versions starting from 10.10 (Yosemite) up to 10.14 (Mojave). If you are using a different operating system, you can either try yourself, or use a virtual machine. Please report any issues, questions or solutions to our Google Group.


Genesis is open source software under the GNU GPL v3 license.

To get the source, you can download the latest release.

Alternatively, in order to stay up to date, you can clone the repository. For this, you need to have Git installed. Then, call

git clone https://github.com/lczech/genesis.git

in some directory. This will create a sub-directory genesis, containing all files. In case new commits are pushed to the GitHub repository, you can call

git pull

from within the genesis directory to get them. Don't forget to build Genesis again after pulling (see next section for details). We recommend this method, as this is the easiest way to get new features, bug fixes etc.

Furthermore, if you want to contribute code of your own, you can also fork the project on GitHub.


In the stand-alone variant, to build all of Genesis, call


in the main directory. This builds all parts of Genesis for which the dependencies are fulfilled.


  • Make and CMake 2.8.7 or higher.
  • A fairly up-to-date C++11 compiler. We recommend using clang++ >= 3.9 or gcc >= 5.

For details, see the Build Process page.


  • If you also want to build the tests, you need Google Test. We internally run the tests before every release, so you don't need to. Have a look at the genesis/test directory for more information.

If you just pulled new commits from the repository, or added new files to be compiled (either an app, some lib function, or tests), you can call

make update

to include those files without need for recompiling everything (a so-called incremental build). See Build Process for more information on incremental builds.


The genesis/apps directory is provided for conveniently and quickly developing small C++ applications which use Genesis as their main library. This is a way of using C++ similar to a scripting language. Thus, it is useful if you want to try out the Tutorials and Demos or if you quickly want to test an idea or get some experience with Genesis. Using those apps is the main purpose of the stand-alone variant of Genesis.

To create a new application, create a *.cpp file in the genesis/apps directory and provide it with a main function:

int main( int argc, const char* argv[] )
// [Your code here.]

Include all needed headers (or, for simplicity, the genesis.hpp header like above, which includes all of Genesis) and write the desired functionality. Of course, you can use other local functions in addition to the main function in order to structure your code.

The app is automatically compiled by the main build process and linked against the shared library version of Genesis by calling

make update

in the main directory. The resulting executable is placed in genesis/bin/apps and named after the *.cpp file (without the ending).

Apart from that, there are no further requirements. Simply include the needed genesis headers (or any other headers you might need) and compile. Happy coding!

The only limitation of using Apps is that everything has to be in a single compilation unit. Thus, additional headers work, but linking against the build output of other .cpp files does not work. For this, you'd have to start a normal project that links against Genesis, instead of using the Apps.


The apps are only a convenience for users. Genesis can of course also be used like any other C++ library by including its headers and linking against its binaries.

If you include Genesis in bigger projects which are separately compiled, you need to make sure to use compatible options for compiling the Genesis binaries. For example, if you want to link against the shared library, the settings for threads (e.g., Pthreads, OpenMP) should to be the same for every compilation unit. See the main Cmake script for the available compiler options.

The easiest way to use Genesis as a library is via the CMake add_subdirectory command. In your main CMakeLists.txt, use:

# Add Genesis as dependency. You need to adapt the path to Genesis as needed.
include_directories( ${GENESIS_INCLUDE_DIR} )

Genesis internally uses some specialties that might lead to trouble if not taken care of, e.g. Pthreads and OpenMP (if they are available). Thus, it is best to also offer the needed flags to your binary, too. In case that Pthreads or OpenMP are not used/found, those variables are empty. In case they are used by Genesis, but not your program, nothing bad happens. So better make them available to the compiler:

# Use all flags, linker options etc that Genesis exports.
add_definitions( ${GENESIS_DEFINITIONS} )

After this setup, you can add your executables/libraries in CMake as usual (e.g, via add_executable and add_library). Then, for each target that uses Genesis:

target_link_libraries ( YourTarget ${GENESIS_LINK_LIBRARIES} )

This links against the static version of Genesis, which should be the most common use case when using Genesis as a dependency/library. See Shared vs Static Library for details.