Building Gvim from source

Posted: August 15, 2010 in Vim
Tags: , ,

I recently stumbled upon this very interesting vim plugin – OmniCppComplete. It promised to solve one of the problems that has been nagging me. While editing C/C++ code in vim, I have always wished if it could behave like Visual Studio and show structure/class members when we give object. or object->.

I wanted to try it out right away. But now comes the problem. It works only on vim 7 and above. It seems vim 7 onwards, OmniComplete feature is added which allows such stuff. At my workplace, the Debian server where I write code, has vim 6. Tough luck. Plus, I share the server with another 12 users, and do not have root powers. So next option is to build gvim from source. It wasn’t as easy, so this post explains the step I took to get it working.

Before we begin, a brief introduction about building stuff from source in Linux.

Step 0 – Brief introduction to building from source in Linux

Linux being open source, most software for Linux is open source too. That means you have full access to the source code. A bit of googling should get you what you are looking for. Traditionally, make is the utility used to build software for Unix like (and hence Linux) OSes. Linux has its own version of make called GNU make. It should be already installed on you Linux distro. Make depends upon a makefiles which describe what need to be done to build source code. To take care of the variations in Linux distros, GNU came up with  Autoconf and Automake which can generate makefiles based upon your particular Linux distro. Typically there will be an executable file “configure” which tells Autoconf/Automake how to generate make files.

So the typical steps to build something from source in Linux is

tar -xzvf source.tgz # untar source code
tar -zjvf source.tar.bz2 # same as above, different compression algo
cd source # move to source code directory
./configure # Autoconf/Automake will generate makefiles
make # make will build the binaries
make install # make install will copy binaries to /usr/bin \
             # or /usr/local/bin (may require root permissions)

Now if you have root permissions, you can follow the above steps. But there are times when you don’t have root permissions, or you do not want to install the binaries in the usual location, we can do this easily while invoking configure. Almost all configure scripts will take “–prefix” as an option. Here you can specify an alternate path where the binaries should be installed to when make install is given.

While compiling, I ran into some issues where configure picked my architecture to be 64 bit. But I wanted a 32 bit application. So I gave “–build” and “–host” options as i386-linux to specify a 32 bit compilation.

pkg-config is a neat utility that can help autoconf in finding the path of the required version of dependent packages. pkg-config will search the path in the same order specified by the environment variable PKG_CONFIG_PATH.

We are going to install gvim and the other stuff into /home/username/usr/bin since we do not have root permissions. So the typical commands that we are going to use are

export PREFIX=$HOME/usr
export PKG_CONFIG_PATH=$PREFIX/lib/pkgconfig
export HOST=1686-linux
export BUILD=i686-linux
./configure --prefix=$PREFIX --host=$HOST --build=$BUILD
make install

Also we will keep all source code in /home/username/usr/src. So

mkdir -p ~/usr/src
cd ~/usr/src

Now we are all set. Let’s begin.

Step 1 – Get the source code of course 🙂


The latest version of gvim is 7.3 when I am writing this blog. But I got gvim setup a couple of weeks back, so still have 7.2. There is no separate code for gvim. The code for vim has the code for gvim as well. Gvim depends upon some graphical toolkit like GTK+ (GTK 1.2 from Gnome), GTK2 (current latest GTK from Gnome), Motif (from IBM’s CDE), Athena (from MIT) etc.

Step 2 – Untar it and try compiling

tar -xjvf vim-7.2.tar.bz2
cd vim72
./configure --prefix $HOME/usr --host=i386-linux --build=i386-linux

Wait a minute. Configure could not find any graphical front ends, so skipping gvim. Bad :(. We want to get gvim 7.2 and vim 7.2 is not enough. Typical Linux distributions rarely contain the “devel” packages required for compiling dependent package. Vim could not find the header files of GTK+/GTK2/Motif/Athena (usually found in “devel” package) required to build gvim. Since we do not have root powers, we cannot just do apt-get install.

Step 3 – Get GTK+ and its dependencies’ source code

Well this is not as easy as it sounds. GTK has its own dependencies. I went through the compilation of each source package to list down all the dependencies. Here is the compiled list.


Since I also use gvim for some coding in Python, I also got Python source code so that gvim was compiled with Python support (+python).


Step 4 – Untar all the stuff including GTK+ and Python

tar -xjvf glib-2.24.0.tar.bz2
tar -xzvf libxml2-2.7.1.tar.gz
tar -xzvf libpng-1.4.3.tar.gz
tar -xjvf atk-1.30.0.tar.bz2
tar -xjvf freetype-2.4.2.tar.bz2
tar -xzvf fontconfig-2.8.0.tar.gz
tar -xzvf pixman-0.18.2.tar.gz
tar -xzvf cairo-1.8.10.tar.gz
tar -xzvf pango-1.28.0.tar.gz
tar -xzvf gtk+-1.2.10.tar.gz
tar -xjvf Python-2.7.tar.bz2

Notice that we used ‘j’ switch for tar.bz2 archives and ‘z’ switch for tar.gz archives.

Setp 5 – Build them

export PREFIX=$HOME/usr
export PKG_CONFIG_PATH=$PREFIX/lib/pkgconfig
export HOST=i686-linux
export BUILD=1686-linux
cd glib-2.24.0
./configure --prefix=$PREFIX --host=$HOST --build=$BUILD
make install
cd ../libxml2-2.7.1
./configure --prefix=$PREFIX --host=$HOST --build=$BUILD
make install
cd ../libpng-1.4.3/
./configure --prefix=$PREFIX --host=$HOST --build=$BUILD
make install
cd ../atk-1.30.0/
./configure --prefix=$PREFIX --host=$HOST --build=$BUILD
make install
cd ../freetype-2.4.2/
./configure --prefix=$PREFIX --host=$HOST --build=$BUILD
make install
cd ../fontconfig-2.8.0/
./configure --prefix=$PREFIX --host=$HOST --build=$BUILD
make install
cd ../pixman-0.18.2/
./configure --prefix=$PREFIX --host=$HOST --build=$BUILD
make install
cd ../cairo-1.8.10/
./configure --prefix=$PREFIX --host=$HOST --build=$BUILD
make install
cd ../pango-1.28.0/
./configure --prefix=$PREFIX --host=$HOST --build=$BUILD
make install
cd ../gtk+-1.2.10/
./configure --prefix=$PREFIX --host=$HOST --build=$BUILD
make install
cd ../Python-2.7
./configure --prefix=$PREFIX --host=$HOST --build=$BUILD
make install

All the dependencies are met. Now we are all set to build gvim. That leads us to

Step 6 – Build gvim

cd ../vim72
./configure --prefix=$PREFIX --host=$HOST --build=$BUILD \
  --enable-mzschemeinterp --enable-pythoninterp --enable-tclinterp \
  --enable-cscope --enable-fontset \
make install

Ta-da. Gvim is ready. Well almost. If you try to run gvim it will throw this error.

file $PREFIX/bin/gvim
/home/aufather/usr/bin/gvim: symbolic link to `vim'
/home/aufather/usr/bin/gvim --version
/home/aufather/usr/bin/gvim: error while loading shared libraries: \ cannot open shared object file: \
No such file or directory

Well this is because gvim could not find the shared libraries it requires to run. They are in $PREFIX/lib, but we have to tell that to bash. We do this by setting the LD_LIBRARY_PATH environment variable.

export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=$HOME/usr/lib
~/usr/bin/gvim --version
VIM - Vi IMproved 7.2 (2008 Aug 9, compiled Aug 16 2010 01:37:22)
Compiled by aufather
Normal version with GTK GUI.  Features included (+) or not (-):
-arabic +autocmd +balloon_eval +browse +builtin_terms +byte_offset
+cindent +clientserver +clipboard +cmdline_compl +cmdline_hist
+cmdline_info +comments +cryptv +cscope +cursorshape +dialog_con_gui
+diff +digraphs +dnd -ebcdic -emacs_tags +eval +ex_extra +extra_search
-farsi +file_in_path +find_in_path +float +folding -footer +fork()
-gettext -hangul_input -iconv +insert_expand +jumplist -keymap
-langmap +libcall +linebreak +lispindent +listcmds +localmap +menu
+mksession +modify_fname +mouse +mouseshape -mouse_dec -mouse_gpm
-mouse_jsbterm -mouse_netterm -mouse_sysmouse +mouse_xterm -multi_byte
+multi_lang -mzscheme +netbeans_intg -osfiletype +path_extra -perl
+postscript +printer -profile +python +quickfix +reltime -rightleft
-ruby +scrollbind +signs +smartindent -sniff +statusline -sun_workshop
+syntax +tag_binary +tag_old_static -tag_any_white +tcl +terminfo
+termresponse +textobjects +title +toolbar +user_commands +vertsplit
+virtualedit +visual +visualextra +viminfo +vreplace +wildignore
+wildmenu +windows +writebackup +X11 +xfontset +xim
+xsmp_interact +xterm_clipboard -xterm_save

You can put these lines in your ~/.bashrc

export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=/home/username/usr/lib
alias vim='/home/username/usr/bin/vim'
alias gvim='/home/username/usr/bin/gvim'

That’s it. vim and gvim 7.2 is ready on your machine. Take it out for a spin 🙂

  1. […] found an article about how to compile gvim, but I do not have the packages for install in my ubuntu 10.10 repositories, I hope to find some […]

  2. […] found an article about how to compile gvim, but I don’t have the packages for install in my ubuntu 10.10 repositories, I hope to find […]

  3. Peter Hedinger says:

    Very helpful, would have taken me ages to get it all built and running otherwise. However, there is a minor bug which causes Python to fail to build with

    error “This platform’s pyconfig.h needs to define PY_FORMAT_LONG_LONG”

    The issue is that you’ve defined:
    export HOST=i686-linux
    export BUILD=1686-linux

    which ends up making Python think it should cross-compile. The BUILD should be i686-linux.

    • Andrew says:

      This topic is exactly what I’m looking for – build gvim in GNU/Linux without root permission. I followed instruction carefully. However at step 5, I ran configure command at glib-2.24.0 directory. I got teh error is as below:

      Please advise.



      ==>./configure –prefix=$PREFIX –host=$HOST –build=$BUILD
      checking for a BSD-compatible install… /usr/bin/install -c
      checking whether build environment is sane… yes
      checking for a thread-safe mkdir -p… /bin/mkdir -p
      checking for gawk… gawk
      checking whether make sets $(MAKE)… yes
      checking whether to enable maintainer-specific portions of Makefiles… no
      checking build system type… i686-pc-linux-gnu
      checking host system type… i686-pc-linux-gnu
      checking for the BeOS… no
      checking for Win32… no
      checking for Mac OS X Carbon support… checking for style of include used by make… GNU
      checking for i686-linux-gcc… cc
      checking whether the C compiler works… no
      configure: error: in `/home/aho/vim/vim72/glib-2.24.0′:
      configure: error: C compiler cannot create executables
      See `config.log’ for more details.

  4. […] found an article about how to compile gvim, but I don’t have the packages for install in my ubuntu 10.10 repositories, I hope to find […]

  5. […] found an article about how to compile gvim, but I don’t have the packages for install in my ubuntu 10.10 repositories, I hope to find […]

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