How to build APBS from source

These instructions assume that you have downloaded the source code from GitHub releases.


We do not recommend cloning directly from the head of the main branch because it is typically under development and could be unstable. Unless you really know what you are doing, we advise you to skip the next step.

Get source directly from Github

Here are the commands to get the source directly from our GitHub repository,

git clone
cd apbs

Shortcut to build

There is a script that is used to build APBS in the Github Actions. You may want to use the file,, as a template for building APBS.

Import submodules

As of v3.4.0: Submodules are only used for Pybind11, so this step is only required if building the Python interface.

We are using Git submodules to manage various pieces of code. To build the master branch, after cloning it, you will need to do the following from within the top of the source directory:

git submodule init
git submodule update

Set up CMake

From the top of the source directory, the basic commands for configuring the APBS build for CMake are

mkdir build
cd build
# NOTE: This will be you $APBS_BUILD_DIR
export APBS_BUILD_DIR=`echo $(PWD)`
cmake ..

To see all the options you can run:

ccmake ..

Additional features can be built using the flags described below.

Geometric flow

If you want to use the geometric flow implementation, when invoking CMake, set ENABLE_GEOFLOW to ON; e.g.,


Using PB-AM

If you want to use the Poisson-Boltzmann Analytical Method developed by the Teresa Head-Gordon lab, set the CMake variable ENABLE_PBAM to ON.


PB-AM is not currently fully integrated with APBS and its use is not recommended.



If you want to use the Treecode-Accelerated Boundary Integral method (TABI-PB) developed by Robert Krasny and Weihua Geng, set the CMake variable ENABLE_BEM to ON.

TABI-PB requires the use of a molecular surface mesh generation software to create a surface representation of the molecule. By default, TABI-PB uses NanoShaper to generate an SES or Skin surface. See TABI-PB documentation for details on choosing NanoShaper. When TABI-PB runs, it will attempt to generate a surface mesh by looking in your path for the mesh generation executable. A user can obtain the appropriate executable using the steps described below. The user then must place these executables in their path.

cmake -DENABLE_BEM=ON ..

Getting NanoShaper executable

Surface meshing software executables are currently pre-built for OS X, Linux, and Windows and can be installed via CMake. The executables will be placed in the bin directory of your build.

NanoShaper is a molecular surface mesh generation software package developed by W. Rocchia and S. Decherchi.

cmake -DGET_NanoShaper=ON ..

Using finite element support

As of v3.4.0: The Finite Element Toolkit, FETK, is required for building APBS. You can set the version of FETK used with the CMake variable FETK_VERSION. That variable will be set to a working default if not manually set.

cmake -DFETK_VERSION=v1.9.2

For advanced users, you can use a version of FETK other than a released version by setting FETK_VERSION to the desired git commit hash instead of a version number:

cmake -DFETK_VERSION=[git hash]

Enabling APBS Python support

APBS Python support requires a local installation of SWIG.

Assuming SWIG is installed, APBS Python support can be enabled by setting the CMake variable ENABLE_PYTHON to ON. If you are on Linux you will also need to set the CMake variable BUILD_SHARED_LIBS to OFF.


Building the code - minimal

Assuming the Cmake command completed successfully, APBS can be built with

# Run cmake with the options you prefer:
make -j

Building the code - advanced

# NOTE: In case you need to debug the source code:
# export RELEASE_TYPE=Debug
export RELEASE_TYPE=Release
# NOTE: If cmake or make fail, save yourself and make sure your remove
#       everything including the build directory. This code base uses
#       many older autoconf based projects that do not know how to save
#       state or recover from partial builds. If cmake or make fail, you
#       should figure out how to fix it and then remove everything and
#       try again.
mkdir -p $APBS_BUILD_DIR
# NOTE: In case you need to debug cmake, use verbose debug/trace mode:
# cmake -S .. -B $BUILD_DIR --trace-source=../CMakeLists.txt --trace-expand \
cmake                                        \
   -DENABLE_GEOFLOW=ON                       \
   -DENABLE_BEM=ON                           \
   -DFETK_VERSION=[version]                  \
   -DENABLE_OPENMP=ON                        \
   -DENABLE_PBAM=OFF                         \
   -DENABLE_PBSAM=OFF                        \
   -DENABLE_PYTHON=ON                        \
   -DENABLE_TESTS=ON                         \
   -DBUILD_SHARED_LIBS=ON                    \
make -j

Testing APBS

# NOTE: Assuming you have already built APBS
# NOTE: So that the apbs and optional NanoShaper binaries are in the path:
ctest -C Release --output-on-failure

Installing APBS

export INSTALL_DIR="Some directory - default is /usr/local"
cmake                                  \
   # NOTE: Add cmake options that you used during the Build APBS section
make -j install