Information Systems Department

xfig is an interactive drawing tool which runs under the X Window System on most Unix-compatible platforms, for example, Linux and Solaris. It is available on Cosmos and is freeware, that is, available for free download, installation and use on any machine.

Document History

  1. First draught: 2001 June 26, Simon Hood.


While ISD has taken great care in the preparation of this document, it assumes no responsibility for errors or omissions, or for problems resulting from the use of the information contained therein.


Copyright © 2001, Information Systems Department, UMIST, Manchester, England.

What is xfig?

Xfig is an interactive drawing tool which runs under X Window System Version 11 Release 4 (X11R4) or later, on most UNIX-compatible platforms [this includes both Linux and Solaris]. It is freeware, and available via anonymous FTP.

In xfig, figures may be drawn using objects such as circles, boxes, lines, spline-curves, text, etc. It is also possible to import images in formats such as GIF, JPEG, EPSF (encapsulated postscript), etc. Those objects can be created, deleted, moved or modified. Attributes such as colors or line styles can be selected from various options. For text, various fonts are available.

(The source code is available so in principle one could compile xfig on a Windows box and use, for example, eXceed for the X-server, but we offer no support for doing this.)

Full Documentation

The complete user manual can be found on-line at www.xfig.org.

Using xfig at UMIST

xfig is installed only on Cosmos --- the general unix server.

To start xfig on Cosmos just type
at the command line (or, perhaps better, xfig &). The full path is
which may be necessary if /usr/local/bin is not on your path (look at your PATH environment variable). Alternatively, you can load up an existing drawing:
  xfig my_drawing.fig
for example. The main xfig window will be displayed:

Known Problems (with the Current Version --- v3.2, patch 2, protocol 3.2)

There are problems with the GIF (graphics interchange format) export and import filters. Since Unisys stated their intention to enforce their patent on the LZW compression algorithm xfig can only read/write to this format by use of third-party utilities such as ppmtogif. These utilities are not available on Cosmos so input to or output from gifs fails.

Problems seen in Other Versions

Some versions of xfig are known to have problems exporting to (encapsulated) postscript. A typical error message is:

   I'm running xfig-3.2.3_beta1-2 and transfig-3.2.1-4 and
   xfig gives this error when I try and print:
     fig2dev: illegal option -- g
     Usage: fig2dev [-L language] [-f font] [-s size] [-m scale] [input 
A workaround exists --- calling the utilities that xfig uses manually. For example:
         fig2dev -L ps my_file.fig > my_file.ps 
         fig2dev -L eps my_file.fig > my_file.eps 

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