A library for working with phylogenetic and population genetic data.
Build Process

This page contains more details about the build process of Genesis. It is intended for troubleshooting and for developers who want to contribute to the Genesis code base.


We use CMake as build system generator. The CMakeLists.txt in the main directory contains basic information about the whole project. It further calls the following sub-build-scripts:

  • lib/genesis/CMakeLists.txt: main build script for the library.
  • apps/CMakeLists.txt: compiles small applications using Genesis.
  • python/CMakeLists.txt: if Pybind11 is available, this script compiles the genesis python module.
  • test/CMakeLists.txt: if Google Test is available, this script compiles the Genesis tests. See below for details.

For ease of development, the source files that need to be compiled are included using CMake's glob file search. This however means that added or removed source files (such as a newly created class) are not found once CMake has run once. In order to still support incremental builds (that is, compile only new or changed files), there is also a Makefile. It has a target update, which prompts CMake to update its file list.

Thus, the recommended way of building Genesis is to use the Makefile:

# In genesis main directory.
# Initial build:
# Incremental build (after adding or removing files):
make update
# Clean all build files:
make clean

This combines both the CMake configure and build phase and is intended for quick development.

You can also run the CMake process manually like this:

# In genesis main directory.
# Create build scripts.
mkdir build
cd build/
cmake .. [options]
# Run the build process.

This is for example necessary when you want to customize the CMake options, such as deactivating features. We however do not recommend to do this (e.g., deactivate OpenMP or zlib), as this reduces the functionality and speed of genesis.

Build Output

The following binaries are created:

  • genesis/bin/libgenesis.[so|a]: Shared and static binaries of the library. Those are the files you need to link against when using Genesis as a library for your own C++ projects. See Shared vs Static Library for details.
  • genesis/bin/apps/*: App executables are stored here. See Apps for details.
  • genesis/bin/test/genesis_tests: Test executable. See genesis/test/README.md for more information.
  • genesis/build: Intermediate build files. No need to worry about them too much.

Shared vs Static Library

For the general setup of Genesis as a library, see Library. If Genesis is used stand-alone, only the shared lib (.so) is build by default. If it is used as a library (i.e., if it is used via CMake's add_subdirectory), we build the static lib (.a) by default.

The reasoning behind this is as follows: As stand-alone, Genesis is most likely to be used with its Apps setup, where the apps are probably staying in one place, so linking against a shared object makes sense to share resources. However, when used a dependency/library, Genesis is just one among many tools that the master program wants to use, and in order to make it possible to move the final binary around, it makes sense to link statically.

In order to explicitly change those defaults, use the CMake options GENESIS_BUILD_SHARED_LIB and GENESIS_BUILD_STATIC_LIB. For example, in your CMakeLists.txt, you can force these options via:

SET( GENESIS_BUILD_SHARED_LIB OFF CACHE BOOL "Build the shared library version of Genesis." )
SET( GENESIS_BUILD_STATIC_LIB ON CACHE BOOL "Build the static library version of Genesis." )

This is unfortunately a bit cumbersome, but it's CMake's way of changing options from a parent scope...

Linking against those libraries can still be done in CMake via:

target_link_libraries ( YourTarget ${GENESIS_LINK_LIBRARIES} )

which is set to either the shared or static library, depending on which is being build, and on whether Genesis is build stand-alone or as a dependency/library (see above).

Alternatively, if you build both library versions and need to explicitly decide which one to link against, you can use:

# Either use this...
target_link_libraries ( YourTarget ${GENESIS_LINK_SHARED_LIBRARIES} )
# ... or this.
target_link_libraries ( YourTarget ${GENESIS_LINK_STATIC_LIBRARIES} )

This should however rarely be necessary.

Release vs Debug Version

By default, Genesis is compiled in release mode. The main CMakeLists.txt however checks the value of the environment variable GENESIS_DEBUG and, if set, compiles in debug mode.

So, for development, adding the line


to the terminal startup script (e.g., .bash_rc in the users home directory) will compile Genesis in debug mode (with incremental builds, and with tests) automatically all the time. This is what we do for development. It is a hack, but it is convenient!

Unity Build

By default, in release mode, Genesis builds as a so called unity build. That means, all source files are combined into one big file that is then compiled in one go. See for example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_Compilation_Unit for more details.

The purpose of this is twofold: Faster total compilation time, and better program optimization. The downside is that this needs more memory when compiling. Thus, we also offer ways to disable this and instead build smaller units, using less memory.

There are three modes:

  1. FULL: Default, compile everything in one unit.
  2. MODULES: Divide the code into modules (corresponding to the main Genesis Namespaces). This is a somewhat in-between solution, if your computer does not have enough memory for the full build, but you still want to try to get best program optimization.
  3. OFF: Every cpp file is compiled on its own. This takes longest for a fresh build but needs the least memory. It is also used for the debug build, because when working on files, it is still faster to just compile them incrementally, instead of fully compiling everything.

You can change those modes via the CMake option GENESIS_UNITY_BUILD. See the Overview for how to explicitly build Genesis using Cmake, and replace the cmake .. line by


where, instead of MODULE, you can also use OFF.

Supported Compilers

Genesis uses C++11, thus we need a compiler that supports all its features. We recommend gcc >= 5 or clang >= 3.9.


The first gcc version with all necessary features is gcc 5. Before that, gcc 4.8 and gcc 4.9 were feature-complete for C++11, see here and here. Unfortunately, the STL was not feature-complete in these versions, in particular, std::regex, std::get_time, and std::put_time, which are used in some functions of genesis. Hence, we recommend at least gcc 5. Compiling with gcc 4.8 and 4.9 should still work, and most features of Genesis can be used, too. However, this throws an exception when trying to call any function that uses std::regex, std::get_time, and std::put_time (which are just a few).


Clang supports C++11 since version 3.3, see here. We currently only test it with later versions though. You are welcome to report any issues with other Clang versions to the GitHub Issues Page.

Clang and OpenMP. Many (older) versions of clang have issues with finding OpenMP. If this causes issues, you can either deactivate OpenMP via the CMake options (not recommended), or install libiomp-dev (and potentially libomp5) before compiling. See below for more on OpenMP, and also see the .travis.yml CI file in the main genesis directory for some more hints.


Genesis does not have any external library dependencies, with the exception of a few basics: OpenMP and zlib. We recommend to get both working, for full functionality of genesis. If you want/need to deactivate any of them nonetheless, use the above manual CMake setup as explained in supplement_build_process_overview, and provide the following flags:


to deactivate both. Adapt to your needs if only one needs to be deactivated.


To enable genesis to deal with large amounts of data, we need thread parallelization. To this end, we use OpenMP, and highly recommend to get this running if you compile genesis.

Mostly, this should work out of the box with gcc on Linux systems. With clang, as mentioned above, you might first need to install libiomp-dev (and potentially libomp5) before CMake can find the OpenMP libraries.

On maOS (osx), this is more complicated, as the built-in AppleClang compiler does not support OpenMP. Hence, we need custom Clang versions and the OpenMP libraries:

brew install llvm libomp

Furthermore, we then need to set the path to the compiler, so that it can be found by CMake when compiling genesis:

export PATH="$(brew --prefix llvm)/bin:$PATH"
export CC="/usr/local/opt/llvm/bin/clang"
export CXX="$(CC)++"
export CFLAGS="-I /usr/local/include -I/usr/local/opt/llvm/include -I/usr/local/opt/llvm/include/c++/v1/"
export LDFLAGS="-L /usr/local/lib -L/usr/local/opt/llvm/lib"

For further information, try these resources:

Good luck, and please let us know if you have any trouble with this!


Genesis uses zlib to support working with gz-compressed files. This should mainly work out of the box on both Linux and macOS systems. However, occasionally, you might need to install zlib1g-dev first.

Testing Genesis with GTest

When building Genesis in debug mode, testing is automatically activated. In release mode, the CMake option BUILD_TESTS has to be set to ON manually. See genesis/CMakeLists.txt for details.

We use GTest for testing its components. The test binary is located in genesis/bin/test/genesis_tests. It can be run directly.

We also offer an extended interface to GTest by using genesis/test/run.sh. This script encapsulates GTest and offers several extra options like speed testing and memory testing with Valgrind. See genesis/test/README.md for details.

Installing and finding GTest

When building Genesis tests, we try a couple of ways to find GTest:

  • First, we check whether it is locally installed in genesis/tools/googletest/. This enables us to use GTest on systems that do not allow to install it globally.
  • If it is not found there, we check for a global installation.
  • If this fails too, we try to download it and build it from scratch. This is particularly useful for running the tests in continuous integration. It has the additional advantage that it compiles GTest with the same flags used for Genesis.

See genesis/test/CMakeLists.txt for details of this process.

In order to install GTest locally for testing Genesis, follow these steps:

  • Get GTest from https://github.com/google/googletest
  • Extract it somewhere and cd to there
  • GTest < 1.8:
    mkdir build
    cd build
    cmake -DCMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX=path/to/genesis/tools/googletest ..
    make install
  • GTest >= 1.8:
    cp -a include/gtest/ path/to/genesis/tools/googletest/include
    cp -a libgtest_main.so libgtest.so path/to/genesis/tools/googletest/lib

After this, it should be found by CMake when building the tests.