Compiling VLC for linux people

ven. 01 octobre 2010 by Rémi Duraffort

Compiling VLC media player on Linux is now something really easy. This article is a small tutorial for every people wondering about it.

VLC versions

First, you have to choose which version of VLC you would like to compile as at least two versions can be useful to compile

  • unstable or trunk: development version. This version can be really broken or really stable depending on what we did the last days. Moreover a lot of new features are available in this version but not in the stable one. If you want to use VLC in a production environment this is not the version you are looking for unless you need a special feature. When this version is stable enough and add nice features to the stable version, it becomes the new stable version.
  • stable (currently vlc 1.1.5-git): this is the version officially released. This version is stable and can be used in a production environment.
  • older versions: we discourage the use of older version as bugs are no longer fixed for these versions.

Compiling VLC

Some important tools and libraries

To compile VLC some tools are required:

  • automake
  • autoconf
  • libtool
  • pkgconfig
  • A C and C++ compiler (gcc for example)

On a Debian or Ubuntu system, just install build-essential package:

$ apt-get install build-essential

Moreover VLC features depends on a long list of external libraries. Having all these libraries is not mandatory to run VLC but some of them are really important:

  • ffmpeg (libavcodec, libavformat, libavutil): most of the codecs
  • Qt4: Graphical User Interface
  • xcb: video output under X11
  • taglib: tags manipulation
  • Lua: programming language for VLC extensions
  • ...

Running this command will install most of VLC dependencies:

$ apt-get build-dep vlc

Getting the source code

The easiest way to get VLC source code (and to keep it up to date) is to use Git.

  • VLC trunk:

    :::shell $ git clone git:// vlc-source

  • VLC stable (currently 1.1.5-git)

    :::shell $ git clone git:// vlc-source


The bootstrap operation is the first thing to do after the download of the VLC source code. This operation will check your system for required softwares and create some missing files needed for the next steps.

$ cd vlc-source
$ ./bootstrap
  + dirname ./bootstrap
  + cd .
  + test -d extras/contrib/build/bin
  + uname -s
  + test .Linux = .Darwin
  + pkg-config --version
  + export AUTOPOINT
  + test
  + AUTOPOINT=autopoint
  + autopoint --dry-run --force
  + set +x
  generating modules/**/


The configure step checks the presence of required libraries and header files like ffmpeg, taglib and many other libraries. Depending on the presence of a given library, this step will configure the compilation of VLC to be done with or without some features.

For example if taglib can't be detected on your system, the configure script will disable the taglib meta reader module as it cannot compile.

You can disable or enable some features and modules by passing the right arguments to the configure script:

  • --enable-debug: enable debug symbols. This argument is really useful if you want to debug VLC. For a production environment that's better to avoid it.
  • --enable-*: there are plenty of --enable arguments, look at the file for the existing ones. You can either enable or disable each of them by using --enable-foo or --disable-bar.

The most common parameter is enable-debug:

$ ./configure --enable-debug
  checking build system type... x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu
  checking host system type... x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu
  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... no
  checking for mawk... mawk
  checking whether make sets $(MAKE)... yes
  checking how to create a ustar tar archive... gnutar
  checking for style of include used by make... GNU
  checking for gcc... gcc
  checking whether the C compiler works... yes
  checking for C compiler default output file name... a.out
  checking for suffix of executables...
  checking whether we are cross compiling... no
  checking for suffix of object files... o

If an error stops the configure script, the error message will give you more information and advice to solve the problem:

checking a52dec/a52.h presence... no
checking for a52dec/a52.h... no
configure: error: Could not find liba52 on your system: you may get it from
Alternatively you can use --disable-a52 to disable the a52 plugin.

In this case, installing liba52 or adding --disable-a52 to the configure arguments will fix the error. Rerun the configure script to take into account the changes.


The last but no the least: compiling VLC

$ ./compile
  /bin/bash ./config.status --file=vlc-config
  config.status: creating vlc-config
  chmod 0755 vlc-config
  touch vlc-config
  make  all-recursive
  make[1]: Entering directory `vlc-source'
  Making all in po
  make[2]: Entering directory `vlc-source/po'
  make[2]: Leaving directory `vlc-source/po'
  Making all in compat
  make[2]: Entering directory `vlc-source/compat'
  rm -f dummy.c
  echo '/* Automatically generated */' > dummy.c
  make  all-am
  make[3]: Entering directory 'vlc-source/compat'
  CC dummy.lo
  CC strlcpy.lo

You can add -jN if you want to parallelize the compilation, where N is usually the number of cores you have on your system plus one.

Compiling extra libraries

Instead of using the version from the distribution you might want to compile one library used by VLC like ffmpeg. For example I'm using the trunk version of ffmpeg instead of the one from my distribution.

First compile ffmpeg trunk version:

$ svn checkout svn:// ffmpeg
$ cd ffmpeg
$ ./configure --prefix=install_directory
$ make install

The configure option --prefix specify the directory in which installing a library. In this case choose a directory in which you can write, like a sub-directory of you home. Then run the configure script of VLC with the right variable:

$ PKG_CONFIG_PATH=install_directory/lib/pkgconfig ./configure same_options_as_before

VLC will use the libraries from the install_directory and then the one from the usual places. In this case, only ffmpeg is built from source: VLC will use ffmpeg from the install_directory and the other libraries from the usual places.

Coding for VLC

You are now ready to fix every bug you encounter with VLC and to implement the features you are dreaming about. Feel free to send us every modification you made, they are always very welcome.