Use the latest version of Circos and read Circos best practices—these list recent important changes and identify sources of common problems.

If you are having trouble, post your issue to the Circos Google Group and include all files and detailed error logs. Please do not email me directly unless it is urgent—you are much more likely to receive a timely reply from the group.

Don't know what question to ask? Read Points of View: Visualizing Biological Data by Bang Wong, myself and invited authors from the Points of View series.

1 — Configuration and Installation

2. Distribution and Installation

If you are having trouble with installation of Perl or modules, use online resources that explain the details of how to download Perl, get it working (Linux, Mac OS X, Windows [ wiki, ActiveState, Strawberry]), and how to install modules (UNIX, Windows). If you're still stuck, post your questions to the Circos group.

Try the Active State Perl build for Circos. It includes all the necessary modules.

Need to install modules? See A Guide to Installing Modules and its corresponding tutorial for Windows users.

Having trouble with libgd and GD? See the Perl Monks libgd/GD Tutorial, Shaun Jackman's Homebrew formula, Wang's install zlib/libpng/jpeg/freetype/libgd/GD on Mavericks as well as my own guide for installation of libpng, freetype, libgd and GD on Mac OS X Mavericks. There are some useful threads in the Google Group about this.

Need to run Bash shell batch files in Windows? You'll need to install a UNIX command line shell, like Cygwin.

Stumped by an error? A good strategy is to Google the error message (e.g. mkdir /usr/local/share/man: permission denied) to find the solution.

Want to learn more about Perl? Try or read through the Perl Journal archive.

To run Circos, you need Perl. Perl is an interpreted language, which means that you do not need to compile Circos to run it. The code is read in by the Perl executable, which takes care of interpreting, compiling and running it. To install Circos, nothing other than unpacking the archive is required.

For an overview of the installation process, and how it differs between UNIX and Windows, please also refer to the UNIX vs Windows section.

Installing Circos

First, download Circos. The contents of the distribution are described below.

You don't need to move or edit any files in the main distribution.

Installing Circos on UNIX

Assuming that you want to install in ROOT=~/software/circos,

> cd ~
> mkdir software
> mkdir software/circos
> cd software/circos
# download Circos and place the archive in the directory
> ls
-rw-r--r-- 1 martink users 26725778 Jun  6 11:04 circos-0.67-pre4.tgz
# unpack
> tar xvfz circos-0.67-pre4.tgz
# make a symlink to current
> ln -s circos-0.67-pre4 current
> ls
drwxr-xr-x 10 martink users     4096 Jun  6 11:06 circos-0.67-pre4/
-rw-r--r--  1 martink users 26725778 Jun  6 11:04 circos-0.67-pre4.tgz
lrwxrwxrwx  1 martink users       16 Jun  6 11:07 current -> circos-0.67-pre4/
# delete the tarball, if you want

To install GD and Perl modules on Ubuntu, use apt-get.

sudo apt-get -y install libgd2-xpm-dev

Installing Circos on Mac

If you're using Homebrew, you can use Shaun Jackman's formula

brew tap homebrew/science
brew remove gd
brew install gd --with-freetype
brew install cpanminus
sudo chown "$USER":admin /Library/Perl/5.16 # on Mac OS
cpanm Config::General Font::TTF::Font Math::Bezier Math::VecStat Readonly Set::IntSpan Text::Format
cpanm --force GD::Polyline
brew install circos
brew test circos

Installing Perl Modules on Mac

Thanks to Paul Nuin for this section. It references an older version of Circos, but the process is the same for newer versions.

This short tutorial gives a step-by-step overview on how to make Circos work on OS X, but it should be similar to other *nix flavours. I just installed on my Mountain Lion box, but, again, it should be identical to previous versions of OS X.

Assume Circos has been installed to /Applications/circos-0.55/. If you run it and get

$ perl /Applications/circos-0.55/bin/circos
Can't locate Config/ in @INC (@INC contains: /Applications/circos-0.55/bin/lib /Applications/circos-0.55/bin/../lib
 /Applications/circos-0.55/bin /Library/Perl/5.12/darwin-thread-multi-2level /Library/Perl/5.12
 /Network/Library/Perl/5.12/darwin-thread-multi-2level /Network/Library/Perl/5.12
 /Library/Perl/Updates/5.12.4/darwin-thread-multi-2level /Library/Perl/Updates/5.12.4
 /System/Library/Perl/5.12/darwin-thread-multi-2level /System/Library/Perl/5.12
 /System/Library/Perl/Extras/5.12/darwin-thread-multi-2level /System/Library/Perl/Extras/5.12 .) at
 /Applications/circos-0.55/bin/../lib/ line 53.
BEGIN failed--compilation aborted at /Applications/circos-0.55/bin/../lib/ line 53.
Compilation failed in require at /Applications/circos-0.55/bin/circos line 184.
BEGIN failed--compilation aborted at /Applications/circos-0.55/bin/circos line 184.
So, a lot of things going wrong, we need to check what is missing and install. Circos has a couple 
of commands bundled in its package that help us working through the errors. Best way to run them is 
to cd into Circos bin directory

then you are missing the Config::General module and possibly other modules.

$ cd /Applications/circos-0.55/bin/
/Applications/circos-0.55/bin$ ./list.modules
In my case, running this script gave me a list of the required modules for Circos

Circos requirements

Another script checks for the current status of each module (still from the same dir)

/Applications/circos-0.55/bin$ ./test.modules
Circos: requirements
ok   Carp
fail Config::General is not usable (it or a sub-module is missing)
ok   Data::Dumper
ok   Digest::MD5
ok   File::Basename
ok   File::Spec::Functions
ok   FindBin
fail GD is not usable (it or a sub-module is missing)
fail GD::Polyline is not usable (it or a sub-module is missing)
ok   Getopt::Long
fail Graphics::ColorObject is not usable (it or a sub-module is missing)
ok   IO::File
ok   List::MoreUtils
ok   List::Util
fail Math::Bezier is not usable (it or a sub-module is missing)
ok   Math::BigFloat
ok   Math::Round
fail Math::VecStat is not usable (it or a sub-module is missing)
ok   Memoize
ok   POSIX
ok   Params::Validate
ok   Pod::Usage
fail Readonly is not usable (it or a sub-module is missing)
ok   Regexp::Common
fail Set::IntSpan is not usable (it or a sub-module is missing)
ok   Storable
ok   Time::HiRes

We have to address everything that failed in the test. In this case, GD, Graphics::ColorObjects, Math::VecStat, Readonly and Set::IntSpan. We leave GD behind for a moment and focus on the other modules (this list might vary for each Perl installation, so you might need to install more or less modules, but the commands are similar).

The easiest way to install module in Perl is to use CPAN, the repository of Perl modules. It has an interactive shell that we can use, and we will see how to do that. In order to make sure our installation works we use sudo and call cpan (from any directory)

$ sudo cpan
If this is the first time you are running it, just answer yes to all config questions 
and you are good to go. Now we have to install the five modules required. 
By using the command install, that can be achieved

cpan$ install Config::General
-output omitted-

cpan$ install Graphics::ColorObject
-output omitted-

cpan$ install Math::Bezier
-output omitted-

cpan$ install Math::VecStat
-output omitted-

cpan$ install Readonly
-output omitted-

cpan$ install Set::IntSpan
-output omitted-

Now, we deal with the last module and usually the most labourious to install, GD. Ideally you should have all possible library support for GD and for this you have to install additional libraries. We are going to start with two of the most common and see if we need anything else. Usually libjpeg and libpng are required by GD. So, let’s download both of them

$ mkdir srctemp
$ cd srctemp
srctemp$ curl -O
srctemp$ tar -xzvf jpegsrc.v8d.tar.gz
srctemp$ cd jpeg-8d
srctemp/jpeg-8d$ ./configure
srctemp/jpeg-8d$ make
srctemp/jpeg-8d$ sudo make install

srctemp/jpeg-8d$ cd ..
srctemp$ curl -O
srctemp$ tar -xzvf libpng-1.5.10.tar.gz
srctemp$ cd libpng-1.5.10
srctemp/libpng-1.5.10$ ./configure
srctemp/libpng-1.5.10$ make
srctemp/libpng-1.5.10$ sudo make install

That should do it for now. We will download GD and check if the configuration we have so far is enough. GD’s website is still down, but we can get the source from Bitbucket and use identical commands to install is

srctemp$ curl -O
srctemp$ tar -xzvf GD_2_0_33.tar.gz
srctemp$ cd pierrejoye-gd-libgd-5551f61978e3/src
srctemp/pierrejoye-gd-libgd-5551f61978e3/src$ ./configure

At the end of the configuration run, you should see something like this

** Configuration summary for gd 2.0.33:

   Support for PNG library:          yes
   Support for JPEG library:         yes
   Support for Freetype 2.x library: yes
   Support for Fontconfig library:   yes
   Support for Xpm library:          no
   Support for pthreads:             yes

In my case, I’m good to go. But if in your case Freetype and Fontconfig are missing, you would have to download, configure, make and install them, just like libpng and libjpeg. So now

srctemp/pierrejoye-gd-libgd-5551f61978e3/src$ make
srctemp/pierrejoye-gd-libgd-5551f61978e3/src$ sudo make install

We are almost there. The last step is to install GD in Perl. Normally, if we use cpan to install it on OS X, it fails. So, we will have to do it by hand. We go to CPAN website and download the latest Perl’s GD implementation and with similar commands to above we install it.

srctemp$ curl -O (if curl fails copy and past on your browser)
srctemp$ tar -xzvf GD-2.46.tar.gz
srctemp$ cd GD-2.46
srctemp/GD-2.46$ perl Makefile.PL
srctemp/GD-2.46$ make
srctemp/GD-2.46$ sudo make install

you should see some output, maybe some warnings, but if you followed all the steps above the installation worked. You can run the test.modules script in order to check.

Installing Circos on Windows

Windows users should use Windows' built-in handling of .tgz files (in Windows Vista or newer). The .tgz extension is a short version of .tar.gz, which more explicitly indicates that the file is a tar archive which has been subsequently compressed with gzip.

You can unpack the archive with 3rd party utilities like the free 7-Zip, or the venerable (but not free) WinZip.

If you are unfamiliar with the Windows DOS command line, these tutorials should help.

Running Circos

Circos uses command-line flags, which are required. In the very least, you need to specify the image configuration file using -conf.

These flags in described in the Runtime Parameters tutorial.


It's a good idea to add the bin/ directory in the distribution to your PATH so that you can run bin/circos from anywhere.

Assuming you have Circos in ROOT=~/software/circos/current as described above, append this to your ~/.bashrc or ~/.bash_profile.

export PATH=~/software/circos/current/bin:$PATH

You'll need to explicitly execute either ~/.bashrc or ~/.bash_profile for this to take effect

> . ~/.bashrc
# or
> . ~/.bash_profile

Finally, test that your PATH has been modified,

> cd ~
> echo $PATH
~/software/circos/current/bin: ...
> which circos


To run Circos, you'll need to invoke perl and pass the Circos script as an argument, along with any command-line parameters

C:>perl C:\path\to\circos\bin\circos [any command-line parameters]

Documentation uses UNIX paths and commands. On Windows, if you see instruction to run a script, such as

> tools/bin/binlinks ...

interpret it as

C:>perl tools\bin\binlinks ...

Also note that on UNIX file paths use / as a separation (e.g. /bin/env) and on Windows \ is used (e.g. C:\perl\bin\perl).

References to command-line commands like pwd and cat are specific to UNIX. It should be clear what is being attempted, such as reporting the current working directory (echo %cd% on Windows) or listing a file (echo on Windows).

checking for missing perl modules

Check whether you have any missing modules

> pwd
> bin/circos -modules
ok       1.26 Carp
ok       0.37 Clone
ok       2.50 Config::General
ok       3.33 Cwd
ok      2.145 Data::Dumper

missing modules?

If any modules missing, refer to Perl Modules tutorial for details about installing them.

On Windows, both Strawberry Perl and ActiveState Perl have package managers that help you install, update and remove modules.

/bin/env: no such file or directory

On UNIX, if you see an error like this when you try to run Circos

-bash: /bin/env: No such file or directory

then the location of the env binary on your system is not /bin/env. For example, on Mac OS X env is in /bin/usr/env.

First check where your env binary is

> which env

Now either change the first line in bin/circos and tools/*/bin to

#!/usr/bin/env perl

or (better) make a symlink from /usr/bin/env to /bin/env

> sudo su
> cd /bin
> ln -s /usr/bin/env env

You should get a man page. On the other hand, if you get an error like

using the example data set

If you don't yet have any data to use, you can play with running Circos using the example data set, included in the distribution. The commands below are for UNIX systems—for Windows, see README.

> cd example

# run.out will contain debug report
# image files are circos.png and circos.svg
> ./run

# explicitly specify configuration file
> ../bin/circos -conf etc/circos.conf
# with more debugging
> ../bin/circos -conf etc/circos.conf -debug_group summary,io,timer
# with all debugging
> ../bin/circos -conf etc/circos.conf -debug_group _all
# silently
> ../bin/circos -conf etc/circos.conf -silent

Contents of Circos Distribution

When you download and unpack Circos, you'll have a directory structure as follows


Tutorials are available separately and provide the files in



The Circos script is located in this directory. Circos is written in Perl and is comprised of a single executable file bin/circos.


The distribution includes a large number of data files that are required by the tutorials. Most of these data files are parsed versions of output of the UCSC Genome Viewer Table Browser. A few of the data files contain randomly generated data.


Circos global configuration files live here, such as housekeeping.conf, colors.conf and fonts.conf. These files are imported into other configuration files (e.g. tutorial configuration files).

The contents of the color and font files are described in the Configuration File section.

Tutorial configuration files are located in tutorials/ (see below).


TrueType (TTF) fonts used by Circos. These fonts are defined in etc/fonts.conf. Circos supports only TTF fonts (not Postscript or OTF).


Code libraries. You don't need to look.


Tiles for pattern fills.


Various helper tools for Circos to manipulate (e.g. count links with tools/binlinks) and parse (e.g. tabular visualization using tools/tableviewer) data.


Tutorials are available separately and are the documentation for Circos. Each tutorial has an associated image and configuration s.

Tutorials are organized into groups and sections. Each group illustrates a feature set of Circos, and individual sections illustrate the configuration syntax for specific aspects of the feature set.


All of the tutorial configuration files will import global configuration files from etc/, such as housekeeping.conf and colors_fonts_patterns.conf.