Tips & How-To's

[How To] Compile and Install a Program From Sources

In this day modern day, most software installations can be done using repositories and package managers. However, you might face a situation of having only the source files availalble with you – you probably would want to try out bleeding edge software, which hasn’t been packaged yet, or isn’t available in the repos yet.

So if you really want to try it out, then the only way would be to download the source files and compile them.

Contrary to what most people think – Compiling from sources isn’t that complicated – the entire process takes 3 commands.

  • ./configure
  • make
  • make install

Let’s have a look at each of these steps now.


Before you start compiling, you need to extact the source files, as most of them come as either tar(.tar), gzipped tar(.tar.gz , .tgz) or as bzipped tar file(.tar.bz2). Any decent archiver should extract it.  You can do it via the command line by typing

tar xvfz package-name.tar.gz (for gzipped files) or

tar xvfj package-name.tar.bz2 (for bzipped files)

You should also have the required header files(kernel header files, tools such as gcc, make, bison etc). Don’t worry, if you’re missing any one file the configure step will tell you something is missing.


Let’s now get to the compiling stage.First cd to the directory where you extracted the files by typing

cd /path/to/directory/of/source

Then type


Yes, the “.” is there. This step just checks your system and assigns values for system-dependent variables. These values are used for generating a Makefile. The Makefile in turn is used for generating the actual binary.

When you run the configure script, you’ll see a bunch of weird messages scrolling on your screen. This is normal and you shouldn’t worry about it. If configure finds an error, it complains about it and exits.

For example, here’s a snippet of the messages that might be flowing

checking dynamic linker characteristics… GNU/Linux
checking whether to build static libraries… no
configure: creating libtool
checking for ppoll… yes
checking for pkg-config… /usr/bin/pkg-config
checking pkg-config is at least version 0.9.0… yes
checking for BLUEZ… yes
checking for GLIB… yes
checking for GMODULE… yes
checking for dlopen in -ldl… yes

If some file or library is missing, you’ll get a message like

checking for DBUS… no
configure: error: D-Bus library is required

If all is fine,the configure program will exit gracefully, like this

config.status: creating test/Makefile
config.status: creating scripts/Makefile
config.status: creating config.h
config.status: executing depfiles commands

Next, we issue the make command,

sathya@sathya:~/bluez-utils-3.36> make

This will do the actual build and compile of the sources. Again you’ll see a bunch of weird messages flowing by the screen(geek porn! :P ) and once done, you’ll fall back to the prompt. Again if some error has occurred you will be notified


The final step, is to install the binaries and the libraries that were built in the above step. This requires root privileges. So for that su to root and and issue the make install command

sathya@sathya:~/bluez-utils-3.36>su root

root@sathya:~/bluez-utils-3.36>make install

That’s it! You’ve successfully compiled the program from its source and installed it. Easy isn’t it?

Some notes:

  1. The package will contain a README or an INSTALL file. It’s recommended that you read it before you start compiling, so that you might be spared of some nasty surprises
  2. Uninstalling programs installed by the above step is tricky, you can’t use package managers to remove them. For that you’ll have to cd to directory where you installed it from and issue make uninstall. For this reason I recommend, that you keep a separate directory for storing all these “compile-from-source” type of files


  1. Finally the site loads!

    Oh and I got thunderbird from mozilla website as a tar.gz file, I tried to install it just like this, but the thing is that it doesn’t have a “./configure” thing.

    I realised that it has all the executables and everything in it itself.. so does that mean I should just place it somewhere and create a shortcut on my own and use it?

    i.e many people just compress things in tar.gz and distribute even though its not a source?

    Hmm. I think I answered my own question..but yeah. its like that also, right?

  2. Errr just because its a .tar.gz doesn’t mean it contains sources all the time :| What you’re assuming is equivalent of saying a Zip file must always contain source files :|

  3. :)) I can make the icons for programs that I extract to appear in the “applications” tab?
    Is there a folder for it like Windows has for Start Menu and Quick launch?

    Want to know their exact addresses.

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