Building with configure (*nix including GNU/Linux)

If you are going to build Universal Ctags on a popular GNU/Linux distribution, you can install the tools and libraries that Universal Ctags requires (or may use) as packages. See GNU/Linux distributions about the packages.

Like most Autotools-based projects, you need to do:

$ git clone
$ cd ctags
$ ./
$ ./configure --prefix=/where/you/want # defaults to /usr/local
$ make
$ make install # may require extra privileges depending on where to install

After installation the ctags executable will be in $prefix/bin/. runs autoreconf internally. If you use a (binary oriented) GNU/Linux distribution, autoreconf may be part of the autoconf package. In addition you may have to install automake and/or pkg-config, too.

GNU/Linux distributions

Before running ./, install some packages.

On Debian-based systems (including Ubuntu), do:

$ sudo apt install \
    gcc make \
    pkg-config autoconf automake \
    python3-docutils \
    libseccomp-dev \
    libjansson-dev \
    libyaml-dev \

On Fedora systems, do:

$ sudo dnf install \
    gcc make \
    pkgconfig autoconf automake \
    python3-docutils \
    libseccomp-devel \
    jansson-devel \
    libyaml-devel \

Changing the executable’s name

On some systems, like certain BSDs, there is already a ‘ctags’ program in the base system, so it is somewhat inconvenient to have the same name for Universal Ctags. During the configure stage you can now change the name of the created executable.

To add a prefix ‘ex’ which will result in ‘ctags’ being renamed to ‘exctags’:

$ ./configure --program-prefix=ex

To completely change the program’s name run the following:

$ ./configure --program-transform-name='s/ctags/my_ctags/; s/etags/myemacs_tags/'

Please remember there is also an ‘etags’ installed alongside ‘ctags’ which you may also want to rename as shown above.


The way of cross-compilation is a bit complicated because the build-system of ctags uses packcc, a code generator written in C language. It means that two C compilers should be installed on you build machine; one for compiling packcc, another for compiling ctags.

We provide two sets of configure variables to affect these two C compilers: CC, CFLAGS, CPPFLAGS, LDFLAGS variables affect the compiler who compiles ctags. CC_FOR_BUILD, CPPFLAGS_FOR_BUILD, CPPFLAGS_FOR_BUILD, LDFLAGS_FOR_BUILD variables affect the compiler who compiles packcc.

When native-compiling, FOO_FOR_BUILD is the same as FOO.

Here is an example show you how to use these configure variables:

$ mkdir ./out
$ configure \
        --host=armv7a-linux-androideabi \
        --prefix=`pwd`/out \
        --enable-static \
        --disable-seccomp \
        CC=/usr/local/opt/android-sdk/ndk-bundle/toolchains/llvm/prebuilt/darwin-x86_64/bin/armv7a-linux-androideabi21-clang \
        CFLAGS='-v' \
        CPP='/usr/local/opt/android-sdk/ndk-bundle/toolchains/llvm/prebuilt/darwin-x86_64/bin/armv7a-linux-androideabi21-clang -E' \
        CPPFLAGS='-I/Users/leleliu008/.ndk-pkg/pkg/jansson/armeabi-v7a/include -I/Users/leleliu008/.ndk-pkg/pkg/libyaml/armeabi-v7a/include -I/Users/leleliu008/.ndk-pkg/pkg/libxml2/armeabi-v7a/include -I/Users/leleliu008/.ndk-pkg/pkg/libiconv/armeabi-v7a/include --sysroot /usr/local/opt/android-sdk/ndk-bundle/toolchains/llvm/prebuilt/darwin-x86_64/sysroot -Qunused-arguments -Dftello=ftell -Dfseeko=fseek' \
        LDFLAGS='-L/Users/leleliu008/.ndk-pkg/pkg/jansson/armeabi-v7a/lib -L/Users/leleliu008/.ndk-pkg/pkg/libyaml/armeabi-v7a/lib -L/Users/leleliu008/.ndk-pkg/pkg/libxml2/armeabi-v7a/lib -L/Users/leleliu008/.ndk-pkg/pkg/libiconv/armeabi-v7a/lib --sysroot /usr/local/opt/android-sdk/ndk-bundle/toolchains/llvm/prebuilt/darwin-x86_64/sysroot' \
        AR=/usr/local/opt/android-sdk/ndk-bundle/toolchains/llvm/prebuilt/darwin-x86_64/bin/arm-linux-androideabi-ar \
        RANLIB=/usr/local/opt/android-sdk/ndk-bundle/toolchains/llvm/prebuilt/darwin-x86_64/bin/arm-linux-androideabi-ranlib \
        CC_FOR_BUILD=/usr/bin/cc \
        CFLAGS_FOR_BUILD='-v' \
        PKG_CONFIG_PATH=/Users/leleliu008/.ndk-pkg/pkg/libiconv/armeabi-v7a/lib/pkgconfig:/Users/leleliu008/.ndk-pkg/pkg/libxml2/armeabi-v7a/lib/pkgconfig:/Users/leleliu008/.ndk-pkg/pkg/libyaml/armeabi-v7a/lib/pkgconfig:/Users/leleliu008/.ndk-pkg/pkg/jansson/armeabi-v7a/lib/pkgconfig \
$ make
$ make install
$ ls out/bin
ctags readtags

Simpler example for aarch64-linux-gnu can be found in circle.yml in the source tree.