Detailed compilation instructions

A full build of librsvg requires autotools. A full build will produce these (see Librsvg as a product for details):

  • rsvg-convert binary and its man page.

  • librsvg shared library with the GObject-based API.

  • Gdk-pixbuf loader for SVG files.

  • HTML documentation for the GObject-based API, with gi-docgen.

  • GObject-introspection information for language bindings.

  • Vala language bindings.

Librsvg uses a mostly normal autotools setup. The historical details of how librsvg integrates Cargo and Rust into its autotools setup are described in this blog post, although hopefully you will not need to refer to it.

It is perfectly fine to ask the maintainer if you have questions about the Autotools setup; it’s a tricky bit of machinery, and we are glad to help.

The rest of this document explains librsvg’s peculiarities apart from the usual way of compiling Autotools projects:

Basic compilation instructions

If you are compiling a tarball:

./configure --enable-gtk-doc --enable-vala
make install

See the INSTALL file for details on options you can pass to the configure script to select where to install the compiled library.

If you are compiling from a git checkout:

./ --enable-gtk-doc --enable-vala
make install

The --enable-gtk-doc and --enable-vala arguments are optional. They will check that you have gi-docgen and the Vala compiler installed, respectively.


By default the compilation process is quiet, and it just tells you which files it is compiling.

If you wish to see the full compilation command lines, use “make V=1” instead of plain “make”.

Debug or release builds

Librsvg’s artifacts have code both in C and Rust, and each language has a different way of specifying compilation options to select compiler optimizations, or whether debug information should be included.

  • Rust code: the librsvg shared library, and the rsvg-convert binary. See below.

  • C code: the gdk-pixbuf loader; you should set the CFLAGS environment variable with compiler flags that you want to pass to the C compiler.

Controlling debug or release mode for Rust

  • With a configure option: --enable-debug or --disable-debug

  • With an environment variable: LIBRSVG_DEBUG=yes or LIBRSVG_DEBUG=no

For the Rust part of librsvg, we have a flag that you can pass at configure time. When enabled, the Rust sub-library will have debugging information and no compiler optimizations. This flag is off by default: if the flag is not specified, the Rust sub-library will be built in release mode (no debug information, full compiler optimizations).

The rationale is that people who already had scripts in place to build binary packages for librsvg, generally from release tarballs, are already using conventional machinery to specify C compiler options, such as that in RPM specfiles or Debian source packages. However, they may not contemplate Rust libraries and they will certainly not want to modify their existing packaging scripts too much.

So, by default, the Rust library builds in release mode, to make life easier to binary distributions. Librsvg’s build scripts will add --release to the Cargo command line by default.

Developers can request a debug build of the Rust code by passing --enable-debug to the configure script, or by setting the LIBRSVG_DEBUG=yes environment variable before calling configure. This will omit the --release option from Cargo, so that it will build the Rust sub-library in debug mode.

In case both the environment variable and the command-line option are specified, the command-line option overrides the env var.

Selecting a Rust toolchain

By default, the configure/make steps will use the cargo binary that is found in your $PATH. If you have a system installation of Rust and one in your home directory, or for special build systems, you may need to override the locations of cargo and/or rustc. In this case, you can set any of these environment variables before running configure or

  • RUSTC - path to the rustc compiler

  • CARGO - path to cargo

Note that $RUSTC only gets used in the configure script to ensure that there is a Rust compiler installed with an appropriate version. The actual compilation process just uses $CARGO, and assumes that that cargo binary will use the same Rust compiler as the other variable.


If you need to cross-compile librsvg, specify the --host=TRIPLE to the configure script as usual with Autotools. This will cause librsvg’s build scripts to automatically pass --target=TRIPLE to cargo.

Note, however, that Rust may support different targets than the C compiler on your system. Rust’s supported targets can be found in the rustc manual

You can check Jorge Aparicio’s guide on cross-compilation for Rust for more details.

Overriding the Rust target name

If you need cargo --target=FOO to obtain a different value from the one you specified for --host=TRIPLE, you can use the RUST_TARGET variable, and this will be passed to cargo. For example,

RUST_TARGET=aarch64-unknown-linux-gnu ./configure --host=aarch64-buildroot-linux-gnu
# will run "cargo --target=aarch64-unknown-linux-gnu" for the Rust part

Cross-compiling to a target not supported by Rust out of the box

When building with a target that is not supported out of the box by Rust, you have to do this:

  1. Create a target JSON definition file.

  2. Set the environment variable RUST_TARGET_PATH to its directory for the make command.


cd /my/target/definition
echo "JSON goes here" > MYMACHINE-VENDOR-OS.json
cd /source/tree/for/librsvg
./configure --host=MYMACHINE-VENDOR-OS
make RUST_TARGET_PATH=/my/target/definition

Cross-compiling for win32 target

You can also cross-compile to win32 (Microsoft Windows) target by using MinGW-w64. You need to specify the appropriate target in the same way as usual:

  • Set an appropriate target via the --host configure option:

    • i686-w64-mingw32 for 32-bit target

    • x86_64-w64-mingw32 for 64-bit target

  • Set an appropriate RUST_TARGET:

    • i686-pc-windows-gnu for 32-bit target

    • x86_64-pc-windows-gnu for 64-bit target

In addition you may need to link with some win32 specific libraries like LIBS="-lws2_32 -luserenv".


./configure \
  --host=x86_64-w64-mingw32 \
  RUST_TARGET=x86_64-pc-windows-gnu \
  LIBS="-lws2_32 -luserenv"

The most painful aspect of this way of building is preparing a win32 build for each of librsvg’s dependencies. MXE may help you on this work.

Building with no network access

Automated build systems generally avoid network access so that they can compile from known-good sources, instead of pulling random updates from the net every time. However, normally Cargo likes to download dependencies when it first compiles a Rust project.

You can use cargo vendor to download librsvg’s Rust dependencies ahead of time, so that subsequent compilation don’t require network access.

Build systems can use Cargo’s source replacement mechanism to override the location of the source code for the Rust dependencies, for example, in order to patch one of the Rust crates that librsvg uses internally.

Running make distcheck

The make distcheck command will built a release tarball, extract it, compile it and test it. However, part of the make install process within that command will try to install the gdk-pixbuf loader in your system location, and it will fail.

Please run make distcheck like this:

$ make distcheck DESTDIR=/tmp/foo

That DESTDIR will keep the gdk-pixbuf loader installation from trying to modify your system locations.