Getting Netpbm

Netpbm Source Package

The most basic way to get Netpbm is to get the source package from the Netpbm Sourceforge project and build it for the particular system on which you want to run it.

Netpbm has a sophisticated, rather novel system of releasing source code (see Release System), but you probably don't need to know any more than the following to download Netpbm.

No matter how you get the Netpbm source code, you have to build it, following instructions and using tools in the package, before you can install and use it.

The source code packages do not contain documentation. The documentation is online, and if you want a local copy, you can get it from the userguide directory in Subversion:

    svn checkout userguide

(Before 2013, there was also a way to get a tarball, using a Sourceforge feature that generated it from the Subversion repository, but Sourceforge withdrew that service).

There are more details on installing local documentation in the source code pacakge in the doc/USERDOC file.

At any particular time, there are 3 Netpbm releases from which to choose:

Series name Bugs Features How to download
Super Stable Very few more than 3 years old Conventional source code tarball from Sourceforge
Stable Few 1/4 - 3 years old Subversion
Advanced Many up to 1/4 year old Subversion

Note that none of these releases we're talking about have any known bugs. The bugs are those that haven't been reported yet.

Downloading A Tarball

Get the tarball for the Super Stable release from Sourceforge.

This is a highly conventional Unix source code package. Use the conventional Unix program tar to unpack it. It is Gzipped.

The project does not distribute tarballs for the other release series.

You can get Sourceforge to make you a tarball of the current Development release. It is a rather quirky feature of browsing the code.

(Before 2013, there was a way to get a tarball of all the series, using a Sourceforge feature that generated it from the Subversion repository, but Sourceforge withdrew that service).

Downloading From Subversion

Downloading from Subversion is not a common way to get a release of software, but it is very easy. You need a Subversion client program to do it, but even that is not hard to get, and you may well find other uses for a Subversion client later.

If you don't even know what Subversion is: It's a replacement for CVS. If you don't know what CVS is: It's a system designed for tracking changes to code as people develop it. Subversion is primarily intended to be used by developers, but works well as a release tool as well.

If you need a tarball of a Netpbm release, it is not hard to write a program to extract it from Subversion (use a Subversion export command) and generate the tarball from that.

The reason Netpbm uses this nontraditional method of distributing code is that it saves work for the Netpbm maintainer. In some cases, it shifts work from the maintainer to the user. In others, it actually eliminates work.

If you don't have Subversion installed on your system (type svn at a shell prompt to find out), see Getting Subversion for information on getting it.

The URL of the Netpbm Subversion repository is So to download the current Stable release:

    svn checkout netpbm

That puts the source tree in a directory called netpbm in your current directory.

To download the current Advanced release, replace "stable" with "advanced" in the above command.


You can browse the source code one file at a time with Sourceforge's Subversion web access.

There is a misleading button in that facility labelled "Download Snapshot." at the right end of the title bar that is near the middle of the page. You might think that that downloads a snapshot of the part of the repository you are viewing, or maybe downloads a snapshot of the entire repository, but what it does is download a snapshot of the "trunk" directory regardless of what part of the repository you are viewing.

Pre-Built Distributions

There are a few distributions of Netpbm pre-built for particular kinds of systems. These are often called "binary" distributions. The "Netpbm maintainer" is the maintainer only of the source package, though. The pre-built packages are distributed independently from the Netpbm source package. They are typically based on a fairly downlevel Netpbm source package.

If you have built Netpbm for a common platform, consider making it available to others; Contact the Netpbm maintainer to get it listed here or to add it to the Netpbm Sourceforge project.

Here are pre-built distributions the Netpbm maintainer knows about:


Lots of "Linux distributions" include Netpbm at least optionally, so you can get it via the normal distribution system for the distribution.

But if you use Debian or Ubuntu, note that their Netpbm package is essentially Netpbm 9.25 from 2002, minus a bunch of unimportant programs. Also note that the Debian version numbering is not consistent with Sourceforge Netpbm, so a program may appear to be from e.g. Sourceforge Netpbm 10.0, but is actually 9.25. In 2002, Debian decided for various reasons not to distribute regular Netpbm and instead created its own variation of it. That variation was too hard to update with ongoing development on the main branch of Netpbm, so no one has done so. Ubuntu is based on Debian. There is a Debian bug report and a Ubuntu bug report about this. The Debian bug report was opened in 2006 and something updating the Debian package to current Sourceforge Netpbm was uploaded somewhere in June 2017; it will presumably be in Debian and Ubuntu releases soon. (The foregoing is so as of September 2017).

The Netpbm source tree contains a program (mkdeb) that creates a Debian install package (.deb file) after you've built Netpbm form source, so you can easily add modern Netpbm to your system. (This was new in Netpbm 10.66 - March 2014).

Furthermore, the Netpbm project distributes a complete Debian install package (.deb file) for the x86_64 architecture for the current Super Stable release, and it appears to be compatible with Debian 6 (Squeeze) and 7 (Wheezy). It remains to be seen how well this package works with actual Debian systems; the facts that the package is not maintained by the Debian project and the Debian project does maintain another version of the package are reasons to be skeptical. The Netpbm project has distributed this package since March 2014.

You can find the Debian install package in the Sourceforge File Release System




Mac OS X/Darwin





By Bryan Henderson, San Jose, CA; last checked 2013.01.12.

This page was generated on 24 May 2018.