Note: This page describes an obsolete version of GPSBabel that may substantially differ from the current or development version.

Building from source.

For operating systems where no binary is provided, or if you want the latest development version, you will have to build it from source. The code should be compilable on any system with ISO C++17. It's tested on Ubuntu, macOS, and Windows. Less frequently, someone will build on FreeBSD, OpenBSD, Solaris, etc. Clang/LLVM, GNU C++, and MSVC are regularly exercised via automation.

You can grab a release from the GPSBabel download page, but if you're going to be doing any development, you'll find that working from the GPSBabel Github repo is easier. Checkouts via Git, HTTPS, SSH, and Subversion are supported.

There are external requirements for bulding.


Qt version 5.12 or newer is required for all builds. MacOS and Windows users can download binaries from Qt Downloads Fedora or CentOS users may need to 'dnf install qt5-qtbase-devel'. When in doubt, 'dnf search qt' or 'dnf search qt5' may help you find the correct package name. Ubuntu users may need to 'apt-get install qt5-default'. Package names and versions in Linux frequently change, so you may need to ask your Linux vendor for help or look in tools/Docker* for inspiration for our automated builds that use Docker.

libusb 1.0

is needed to communicate with use with older USB Garmins. For macOS, we use an included copy. Fedora users may need to 'yum install libusb-devel'. Ubuntu users may need to 'apt install libusb-dev' or look in tools/Docker* for inspiration from our automated Docker builds.

Brief history of internals

Parts of GPSBabel have been public since 2002, with some of the original design and original code came from 2001. It was originally in C89, not C++ and while we strongly encourage modern C++ code where we can use it, we've not gone back to those older formats - some of which we don't have the hardware to test and have fallen out of touch with original authors - and rewritten them in Modern C++ style. There are this void*'s everywhere, C String use, gross buffer abuse, and other things that look more like a C program from the 80's than a C++ program of modern date. Code that's earned it's own wings can continue to fly with us as long as it passes the tests we have. We've additionally not enforced style rules as strongly across modules as we could have. Fixing both of these is a goal for us in 2020.

Building with Qt Creator

Qt provides a lovely IDE (Integrated Development Evironment) with an editor and debugger. Its use is strongly encouraged for those new to C++. Once you have Qt correctly installed, just opening either the or gui/ files from the OS file launcher (e.g. a double click in macOS while seeing it in Finder) or from a File->Open in an already-running instance of Qt Creator is the fastest and easiest way for most people to get to development because it handles things like build dependencies changing and class and method compilation.

A path of low resistance for some users is to use the Qt build files (*.pro) and compiler chain, but use the command line. If you type qmake in our working directory, it will build a "native" Build file (Makefile, XCode, Visual Studio) which you can use for development.

Building with configure

The GNU Build System (configure) is no longer supported and has been removed. For command line builds please use qmake.

Building with cmake

The use of cmake is experimental. The implementation is not complete. It is untested by continuous integration. It is not recommended for production use.

Building with qmake

Those familiar with the command line may be more comfortable using qmake from the command line. In most cases, the code is as simple to build as running:

qmake && make

Two build methods are supported with MSVC tools.

To create a visual studio project that can be built with msbuild: qmake -tp vc
To create a Makefile that can be built with nmake: qmake

There are additional flags that can be passed to qmake to customize your build of GPSBabel.


note that libusb is NOT used on windows.


build without libusb-1.0. functionality will be limited.


build with libusb-1.0 found by pkg-config.


build with libusb-1.0 found on system library path and under libusb-1.0 on system include path (default, linux, openbsd).


build with libusb-1.0 included with gpsbabel (default, macOS only).


build with user supplied libusb-1.0. LIBS and INCLUDEPATH may need to be set, e.g. LIBS+=... INCLUDEPATH+=...


build without shapelib. functionality will be limited.


build with shapelib found by pkg-config.


build with shapelib included with gpsbabel (default).


build with user supplied shapelib. LIBS and INCLUDEPATH may need to be set, e.g. LIBS+=... INCLUDEPATH+=...


build without zlib. functionality will be limited.


build with zlib found by pkg-config.


build with zlib included with gpsbabel (default).


build with user supplied zlib. LIBS and INCLUDEPATH may need to be set, e.g. LIBS+=... INCLUDEPATH+=...


This options disables the map preview feature. With the feature disabled QtWebEngine and QtWebEngineWdigets are not used. Note that QtWebKit and QtWebKitWidgets are not longer supported.


string appended to documentation location for The default value is the version string, e.g. "1.7.0". This is used by the target, you are unlikely to need it unless you are maintaining


Path where the documentation will be stored for This is used by the target, you are unlikely to need it unless you are maintaining The default location is "../babelweb"

Additional makefile targets are available for special purposes.


Run the basic test suite.


Run valgrind memcheck.


Build the command line tool.


Create the html documentation.

Create documentation for use on


Create the pdf documentation.


Build the graphical user interface.


Build the graphical user interface and collect the components for distribution. On Linux the gpsbabel generated components will be under gui/GPSBabelFE, any dynamically linked required libraries are not included. On macOS an app bundle will be created at gui/ and an apple disk image will be created at gui/GPSBabelFE.dmg.

Runtime Dependencies:

On non-macOS unix builds by default we now compile in the gpsbabel generated translation files, i.e. gpsbabelfe_*.qm, gpsbabel_*.qm, as well as gmapbase.html. When compiled in these files do not need to be distributed. These are used by the GUI. Additional translation files from Qt will also be used if they are found. They may be in a package such as qttranslations5-l10n or qt5-qttranslations.