Installing LessTif

by The LessTif Core Team
(last modification: $Date: 2009/05/27 13:45:20 $)


This document details configuring, compiling, and installing LessTif on various platforms.

The original version of this document is written in HTML; the LessTif build process uses one of the text mode web browsers lynx or links to convert it into plain text. Both the HTML (doc/ and the plain text (Install) formats should be in a distribution.

Readers that are going to install a binary version of LessTif can jump to the according section immediately.

Table of contents

Building LessTif

Prerequisites (What you need to compile LessTif)

To build LessTif from the sources you need a number of installed software packages and utilities. You can find pointers to most of these tools on our links page.
In addition when building from CVS instead of using our source tarballs you will need: Below we specify which versions of the auto* tools are required.

A large variety of systems fulfill these requirements as our (incomplete!) list of supported platforms shows. And installing the missing software shouldn't be too hard (except for the compiler and X11, perhaps ;-)

Configuring LessTif

Configuration of LessTif is now handled by automake, autoconf and libtool. They are GNU development tools which the LessTif developers use to generate the distribution's build scripts and makefiles. Normally this shouldn't bother you.

If you obtained a copy of LessTif from our CVS repository, then you need to perform some additional steps which will create the "configure" script and all the "" files (and some other files). configure is a shell script which is meant to be run by people who compile LessTif (you, probably). It looks at your system and tries to figure out how exactly to compile. It may need a little help through command-line options, though.

LessTif from CVS

If you obtained your LessTif sources directly from CVS, you'll have to perform some of the steps which the LessTif developers normally perform when creating a distribution. (So, if you did get a real distribution you don't need to do this and you can go on to the next section.)

The following table lists the current versions of the auto* tools which we use currently for development. Note that the latest official release may still be based on a different set!
Tool Version
automake 1.9.6
autoconf 2.63 (2.50 at least)
libtool 2.2.6

We have two places where you need to run the auto* commands. These are

The whole process of running the auto tools and make is now automated by the CVSMake script which is present in LessTif's top directory. Use of CVSMake is mandatory! Don't bother us if you run the auto* tools in your own way and run into problems afterwards ...
Note that due to a bug in current versions of those tools you may see an error or warning message while running CVSMake. (In some versions, it'll complain about installing some files in the LessTif directories, in other versions, it says AC_PROG_LEX is called multiple times.)
If things run well afterwards you may ignore this, of course. (so please try to continue first!)

CVSMake needs to be run in the top source directory of LessTif, it figures out which directories need its attention and then does its thing. After running CVSMake, the source tree should be ready for running the configure command.

The CVSMake scripts now feature some command line flags which may be useful:

Note that you may get a warning about the INSTALL file missing in some cases. Don't worry, it is now a generated file. If you have Lynx/links on your system, it'll convert doc/INSTALL.html into INSTALL. This only happens during the build process (and we're now in the configuration phase which is still before the build); that's why you can get this message. By the way: it's harmless.

The commands above are also the commands that you need to run if you have modified some of the Makefiles yourself.

Once you've done all the above, you can continue with the next section.

LessTif source distribution

To configure LessTif for your system, just type 'configure'. This should do a reasonable job of locating the stuff it needs, and gives rather verbose output should something fail.

The configure script has a lot of command line options which you might need or want to use for two main reasons :

You can type

      configure --help
to get the list of all options, with a short description of each. We'll cover most if not all of the options in the next sections of this document.

Getting configure to find everything

configure identifies a large number of aspects of your computer system, it checks for all those prerequisites listed above.
Two things that configure looks for on your machine are:

Now many people who have Motif® on their system don't use LessTif. Hmm. Wonder why that is. Anyway, it wouldn't make much sense if you needed Motif® in order to build LessTif. The good news is: you don't need it. The only reason why you can tell configure where to find Motif® is so it can configure the Makefiles under test/ to be capable of building LessTif as well as Motif® tests.

configure will tell you where it has found them if it found them. If it didn't find X, you'll have to specify the path on configure's command line. Use these two options:


And to specify the Motif® stuff, use these:

To specify the location of the various bits, you have to set these flags equal to something. An example on how to do this is:
configure --x-includes=/usr/local/X11R6/include
The other flags behave identically.

Using configure options to tune the build

As of LessTif 0.87.2 the build system is capable of building multiple LessTif libraries. The purpose of this is to have several libraries that are compatible with several releases of OSF/Motif®.
Starting in 2002 (with 0.93.3) we install our Motif 2.1 version by default. Starting mid 2004 (with 0.93.96) we removed support for 1.2 and 2.0.

build shared libraries [default=yes]
build static libraries [default=no]
use dbmalloc (a tool similar to dmalloc)
use dmalloc (see
enable make rules and dependencies not useful (and sometimes confusing) to the casual installer [default=no]
build LessTif with debugging options [default]
build LessTif with support for Editres protocol [default]
include nonstandard conversions [default=yes]
build a production version (doesn't include _LtDebug*() calls which print all kinds of debugging info depending on some environment variables)
configure LessTif ScrollBar to be verbose [default=no]
configure LessTif to be verbose [default=yes]
tell configure where LessTif should be installed by "make install"

Compiling LessTif

After configuring LessTif, just typing 'make' should build all the libraries, clients, and (optionally) tests for LessTif.

Some combinations of compilers and libraries may have code generation bugs. If you see weird problems when you debug library code, try a lower (or no) optimization. For the vast majority who compile with the default flags this is not an issue.

Platform specific issues

Here we collect various hints and workarounds which may help in building on the specific platforms. Many are a bit outdated, since we usually try to get fixes in our configuration system to avoid such workarounds. However they may still be useful to resolve similar problems!

OSF, Digital Unix, Tru64

Building on Digital Unix from scratch/CVS using the system's CC compiler is known to work after installing flex 2.5.4 and starting configure like
CC="cc -std1" LEX="/usr/local/bin/flex" ./configure
Building releases (i.e. source distributions) doesn't require an installation of flex, and versions from 0.92.32 should even work without specifying the "-std1" compiler flag.


On an HP/UX system that we have access to, the commands that we used to configure LessTif are :
    CC="cc -Ae"
    export CC
    ./configure --disable-static


If you want to build LessTif for XFree86 OS/2 you have to use specific Makefiles since a build based on the auto*-tools/libtool is not possible (based on recent auto* tools and their ports you may give them a try, of course. However it's not worthwhile and would require quite some work to get a satisfying result). They are available from
The LessTif DLLs export their interfaces via name and ordinal. Compatibility to older versions is ensured by using the mkdef_emx.cmd script (see scripts/OS2/).
Those Makefiles don't support building the supplied example programs in the test/ tree yet. If you want to easily build some of them check out the REXX script "ble.cmd" in scripts/OS2/.
Further OS/2-specific problems are addressed within the according section of our FAQ.


On some older SunOS systems without proper ANSI C support you need to
to get the code built. You might put it in by hand in the config.h.

On a Sun Solaris 2.6 SPARC with the SUNWspro compiler. In order to get past an undefined _Xconst in lesstif-0.88.1/lib/Xm/AtomMgr.c, I hacked in the following lines at the front of lesstif-0.88.1/include/LTconf.h:

#define FUNCPROTO 1
#include <X11/Xfuncproto.h>
(This might be obsolete meanwhile)


For a long time, LessTif had to be built as static libraries on the Windows platform. (Initially there were several versions of un*x support on Windows, now only Cygwin gets mentioned a lot.) Since October 2003, LessTif is available as shared library on Cygwin.

LessTif compiles almost out of the box under Cygwin. However you will need to install XFree86 4.x or higher from

For U/WIN you will need to install GCC, libtools, automake, and autoconf etc. Please check the URL

For Interix, you will need GCC from Microsoft Interix URL. After installing GCC, download automake, autoconf and libtools, compile and install them.

Installing LessTif Binaries

LessTif built from source

Installing LessTif is as easy as typing 'make install' - given you managed to build it as described above!
Check out the related options for configure which control where LessTif gets installed.

Binary distributions of LessTif

Binary versions of LessTif are built and made available as a service to people who want to use LessTif without having to compile it themselves. As we're concentrating on developing and improving LessTif itself, we consider binary releases to be a side product, which we only generate once in a while - generally at each minor release. Our release policy is detailed in release-policy.html.

Binary versions usually exist for Linux (various versions), FreeBSD and OS/2, others may be created occasionally as well, e.g. Windows binaries based on Cygwin.

Specifically for Linux, the binaries that we provide are RPM files. A LessTif release has more than one RPM file, each containing a part of LessTif. The Download page explains the difference between them. Important to know is that the "main" RPM is really only a runtime, whereas the stuff needed for development is in a separate RPM.

Platform specific issues


Starting with the 0.80a (0.80 pre-release), the FreeBSD binary distribution is provided as a pkg_add installable file.

Pkg_add(8) is FreeBSD's installation tool.

Installation of LessTif with pkg_add creates a directory /usr/lesstif, under which all of LessTif is placed. As the file /usr/lesstif/README explains, you should put /usr/lesstif/bin in your $path, add /usr/lesstif/lib to your LD_LIBRARY_PATH or to the options of ldconfig in /etc/rc, and point your compiler to include files and libraries by adding

    -I/usr/lesstif/include -L/usr/lesstif/lib
to its command line. See also below.


From Matthew Simpson (

LessTif Binary Installation

The following procedure worked for installing the binary version 0.82 LessTif onto my Redhat 4.2 Linux system. I did not have a previous installation of either the source or binary LessTif, so this works from scratch. I am documenting this days later, so please correct as needed. The binary installation is simple:

  1. After downloading the binary distribution, log in as root and place the file in /usr
  2. gunzip it: gunzip lesstif-0.82-linux.tar.gz
  3. untar it: tar -xvf lesstif-0.82-linux.tar The result will be this directory: /usr/lesstif
  4. Remove the tar file if desired: rm lesstif-0.82-linux.tar
  5. Edit /etc/ and add the following line for the untarred LessTif library:
  6. Run this: ldconfig

    LessTif Window Manager:

    To ignore your default window manager and instead load mwm, make or copy these files as yourself or root (whichever you use) to your home directory:

  7. Put a .xinitrc file in your home directory. Add this to the last line, replacing the call to any other window manager:
    eval "exec /usr/lesstif/bin/mwm" 
    Or for better tracking, use this line instead:
    eval "exec /usr/lesstif/bin/mwm" -debug >"$HOME"/.MWM-errors 2>&1
    (The redirections rules for > and 2>&1 syntax are specific to sh, which is what my startx script uses. The rules are slightly different for tcsh.) This will dump any errors to a file in your home directory called .MWM-errors. If no errors occur, this file will not get created. If this file already exists, new errors will be appended to it. To get a new file each time you log in or start X, add this to your .login or startx file:
    rm -f $HOME/.MWM-errors
    To automatically execute your window manager upon login, add this to the end of your .login file (this is using tcsh syntax):
    if ( ! -e /tmp/.X0-lock ) then
    echo "Starting X Windows..."
    rm -f $HOME/.MWM-errors
  8. Copy this:
    cp /usr/lesstif/lib/X11/app-defaults/Mwm .
    This is where you set your personal app-defaults. Uncomment the lines mentioned at the end of this file to get some pretty borders. Here are some other things I changed: Double clicking an icon was set too fast. To slow it down:
    Mwm*doubleClickTime: 1000
    To allow automatic window focus whenever the mouse pointer hits it:
    Mwm*keyboardFocusPolicy: pointer
  9. Copy this to your home directory:
    cp /usr/lesstif/lib/X11/mwm/system.mwmrc .mwmrc
    (Note that you should rename it from system.mwmrc to .mwmrc) This is where you set up your personal root menus. If you use XFree86, look in /usr/X11R6/bin for most of the already-installed applications you like to execute through the root window pull-down menus. More menus and sub-menus can be added as desired. Since /usr/X11R6/bin is in your path, you need not type the full path names into .mwmrc. Applications in other directories will need paths or soft links set up.

    When setting up these two files I did not have a LessTif mwm manual page available. However, if you have Unix and Motif® available at work (such as on SGI products), just do a man mwm and print it out for reference. Most will apply to LessTif mwm. (Even though SGI uses their own version called 4Dwm, they still provide the mwm manual pages with the IRIX 6.2 release.)

  10. run startx
Hope this helps someone. These directions may be over simplified, but I wanted to be specific. Thanks for LessTif. I am learning M*tif but have a long way to go.

Matt Simpson


The OS/2 binary distribution is provided as a Zip file. Put it into your X11ROOT directory and unzip the archive. This installs all libraries and executables (Xm.dll, Xm_20.dll, mwm.exe, ...). It puts everything in place to be used within a valid XFree86 OS/2 configuration, so you don't have to adjust anything manually.


(From: Suhaib Siddiqi)
First install Cygwin/Xfree86 in /usr/X11R6 from Then copy lesstif-0.92.98-cygwin.tar.bz2 to \cygwin directory and open Cygwin bash shell:
cd /
bunzip2 lesstif-0.92.98.tar.bz2
tar xvf lesstif-0.92.98.tar
You should be set to go.

After LessTif (Getting shared libraries to work)

Shared library configuration differs from system to system. Here is the lowdown on getting them to work on the systems that support them.

Upgrading LessTif

Default versions

Usually upgrading LessTif from one version to the other is a rather simple task. The challenge is to recognize that the default version of our libraries has changed in the past.

LessTif Version Motif Compatibility
<0.92 1.2 (1.2.x)
0.92.x, 0.93.1, 0.93.2 2.0
>=0.93.3 2.1
>=0.93.96 Only 2.1 is available

Installation Tree

Starting from 0.93.5 we changed the way that LessTif install its files. Earlier releases used to put most of their stuff libraries/headers in their own subdirectory $(prefix)/LessTif and afterwards create symbolic links for libraries and headers. Advantage was that people could more easily switch between different installed versions, i.e. from "Motif 1.2" to "Motif 2.0". Drawback was that this couldn't be done in a fully portable fashion, i.e. at least installation from sources failed on some systems though they were supported by libtool (which is the more crucial factor which limits portability: we can only build our libraries on systems which are supported by this powerful tool, see section Prerequisites).

To simplify this whole process for the maintainers (who have to deal with all the bug reports ;-) and to enhance portability we abandoned this approach. We now install directly in the proper directories below $(prefix) and only put documentation and non-Motif standard stuff in $(prefix)/LessTif.

Having said this we have to acknowledge that upgrading an older release to 0.93.5 (or better) may fail for some reasons: installation tools may fail or refuse to remove the old symbolic links to now obsolete locations. So before doing the upgrade remove your whole old $(prefix)/LessTif tree and in addition the following symbolic links (if they exist) below $(prefix). However ensure that you know und understand what you are doing, don't remove a non-LessTif installation this way! (e.g. if your system has libraries with a different extension than .so those links were not created by a LessTif installation from sources, but perhaps a very different installation!)

The asterisk is the usual wildcard which indicates different suffixes here.

Xlt and Xbae

The Xlt and Xbae widget sets are two widget sets that used to come with LessTif distributions, but that aren't part of the Motif® clone. Accordingly we finally removed them from the LessTif distribution and promoted them to stand-alone projects which have their own CVS repositories!
If you want to learn more about them check out the according pages for Xbae and Xlt.
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Last modified on $Date: 2009/05/27 13:45:20 $