WFDB quick start for Mac OS X (Darwin)

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To install and use the WFDB Software Package successfully, you must know how to use the Terminal application and the Unix shell. If you are unfamiliar with Unix commands, please find and study a good reference on the subject, such as David Pogue's Mac OS X: The Missing Manual, or Dave Taylor's Learning Unix for Mac OS X (both published by O'Reilly), or get the help of a local expert.

The WFDB Software Package has been successfully compiled and tested on Intel-based Macs under Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) and 10.5 (Leopard), and on PPC-based Macs under Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther) and 10.2 (Jaguar). We have not tested other versions of OS X. Note that the XView toolkit needed in order to use WAVE is available for PPC but not (yet) for Intel-based Macs.

Thanks to Isaac Henry for the original port of the WFDB Software Package to Mac OS X; to David T. Linker, MD, of the University of Washington, for providing instructions for compiling WAVE under Mac OS X 10.2 on PPC Macs; and to Prof. Logan Donaldson, of York University (Toronto), for the port of the XView toolkit to Mac OS X 10.0 (PPC) that made David's port of WAVE possible.

  1. Install XCode, including "UNIX Development Support". XCode is a set of software development tools including gcc, make, the libcurl and X11 SDKs, and much more. XCode is available via from

  2. Open a Terminal (or xterm) window. Type the commands shown in the remaining steps below into this window.

  3. Download and compile the current version of the WFDB Software Package.

    • If your web browser decompressed the archive (Safari does this), use this command to unpack it:

      tar xfv wfdb.tar

      Otherwise, decompress and unpack with this command:

      tar xfvz wfdb.tar.gz

      Unpacking the archive creates a directory with a name of the form wfdb-10.m.n. Enter this directory:

      cd wfdb-10.m.n
    • Configure and install the package:

      sudo make install

      The sudo command prompts for your password, needed in order to install the package in subdirectories of /usr/local. If you do not have administrative permissions, you may install the package in any writable directory by running make directly, adding an appropriate option:

      make install WFDBROOT=/path/to/another/directory

      Note that in this case you will need to add WFDBROOT/bin to your PATH environment variable.

    • (Optional) Check that the WFDB library and applications have been correctly compiled and installed:

      make check

      This step compiles a short program that exercises the WFDB library and prints a summary of test results. Afterwards, the WFDB applications are tested. The tests are very short (typically less than a second each), except that the last one (xform using NETFILES) may take up to a minute if you have a slow or inoperative Internet connection. If any application test fails, its output can be found in the checkpkg subdirectory of the WFDB source tree; compare this output with the files of the same names that can be found in the checkpkg/expected subdirectory.

  4. Read the manuals. Really! :-) If you want to write your own software to work with PhysioBank data, begin with the WFDB Programmer's Guide. To learn about the wide variety of existing software that can be used to study PhysioBank data, read the WFDB Applications Guide and the WAVE User's Guide.

Questions and Comments

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Updated Friday, 1 December 2017 at 16:33 EST

PhysioNet is supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) under NIH grant number 2R01GM104987-09.