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gnuplot on Mac OSX

What is it?

gnuplot is a widely used scientific plotting program from the unix world that is free and open source. It can produce most of the types of plots that a scientist might require on a dazzling array of output devices.

gnuplot Books

gnuplot News

2016-07-29 PyGnuplot
A lightweight Python wrapper around gnuplot.
2016-06-11 Gnuplot vs Matplotlib
A speed comparison shows no contest: if you need to plot large datasets, gnuplot is the choice.
2015-05-11 Caca terminal
A dumb terminal that’s not so dumb.
2015-05-08 Gnuplot 5: the Book
Now available for pre-order. Save over 60% and get preview chapters!
2015-01-10 xkcd in gnuplot
How to make gnuplot create graphs in the style of xkcd.
2014-06-16 How to Make a Cube Plot with Gnuplot
Another example that shows how you can make gnuplot do anything.
2014-02-25 gnuplot 4.6.5 Released
A handful of significant bugfixes and several interesting new features, including a new terminal and new smoothing modes.
2014-02-23 Arrow with T-shaped head in gnuplot
“For the measurement of distances T-shaped arrows are often used to highlight the length. In gnuplot there is an easy way to achieve this.”
2013-04-09 F# Wrapper for gnuplot
Control gnuplot with the F# language.
2013-03-21 gnuplot 4.7.0 for Ubuntu
Matt Joyce has packaged a development version of gnuplot in a PPA for Ubuntu. I haven’t tried it myself, and know nothing further.
2013-03-18 gnuplot 4.6.2 Released
Many improvements and bug fixes to make gnuplot more convenient, including better 3D plots using pm3d.
2013-01-10 gnuplot in the Browser
gnuplot compiled to javascript — surprisingly fast.
2012-10-04 Autocomplete in Gnuplot on Ubuntu
If you’ve installed gnuplot from the Ubuntu repositories and filename autocompletion is not working, try this.
2012-08-13 Airy Function in gnuplot Not Critically Accurate
If your use of gnuplot involves dealing with its implementation of the Airy function, read this.
2012-07-30 Problem installing gnuplot with MacPorts
If, after upgrading to Mountain Lion, installing gnuplot through MacPorts fails when building AquaTerm, check this page for a possible (and unexpected) solution.
2012-07-18 The gnuplot Contest is a Rapidly Fading Memory
The gnuplot Cookbook contest has ended and the three winners will soon receive their free books. Thank you to everyone who entered and especially for your interesting comments. Stay tuned — there may be another contest later in the year.
2012-07-16 Recreating Gnuplot within Minecraft
Not much to do with gnuplot per se, but undeniably wild.
2012-07-13 gnuplot Cookbook: Contest Ends Today
Just leave a comment to enter the contest for a free copy of my guide to gnuplot.
2012-07-05 gnuplot Contest Deadline Extended
It’s been a crazy week in the Mid-Atlantic. I’m extending the deadline: you have one more week to get your comments in to win a free copy of the gnuplot Cookbook.

The Two Types


There are two main forms of gnuplot available for the Mac. There is a self-contained Carbon binary that may be your only choice if you are running a classic (pre-OS X) Macintosh system. This also runs on (at least some versions of) OS X, and may be convenient if you just need to see the output of a gnuplot command file, for instance, but don't need a permanent installation. This does not require X-Windows or any external viewer, and is easy to install, but it's not as good for external control (from gnuplot-py, etc.) as the standard gnuplot. However, this version has some unique features:

“gnuplot for Macintosh supports of number of Mac-specific technologies. In particular, gnuplot is AppleScriptable and recordable, supports PICT and QuickTime movie formats, incorporates a built-in gnuplot command file editor, and is drag-and-drop savvy. [....] it will run only on Mac OS 8.6 and above, must have Color Quickdraw, QuickTime, and CarbonLib 1.1 or above. The application has been tested under MacOS 9.0, MacOS 9.1, and MacOS X”

Download links for the carbon gnuplot have a history of appearing and disappearing; with the help of visitors to this page I'll try to keep a pointer here to a working link from a trustworthy source. If I list a link here that means that at least I have downloaded the program from that location and verified that it seems to work (on an OS X system). At the moment I know of no source for the Carbon gnuplot, and have not had any inquiries about it for over a year.


I recommend installing the traditional unix gnuplot for serious use on OSX. Since OSX is a unix system, any unix program that was written to be reasonably portable can be compiled to run on it. This includes programs such as gnuplot that, on traditional unix systems, produced graphical output with the X Window System, by installing a version of the X Window System on the Mac (or using the one that may be built-in). However, some graphical unix programs can be made to work with OSX's native display system (Aqua); gnuplot is one of these.

Recent Macintoshes

Compiling gnuplot to run on recent versions of OS X can be a problem, as Apple ships their system with various broken or outdated libraries. Your best bet may be either to use MacPorts, which is reported to work with OS X 10.7.x, or to install the binary Octave package, which includes a binary of gnuplot. To get this to work on OS X 10.7.3 or later, apply the fix described on that page. Octave is a very nice system that you might want to have anyway.

Another source for a slightly older binary of gnuplot is Maxima, the excellent open-source symbolic algebra system. Maxima has plotting built-in using gnuplot; binaries for OS X contain gnuplot binaries.

PPC Macintoshes and early OS X versions

The official gnuplot v. 4.0 sources compile without modification on OS X, and there is also a binary available here for PPC macintoshes. This binary works on Intel Macintoshes as well, but sometimes refuses to run on recent installations. To get it to work, try the fixes described in the comments. It works with X11 or AquaTerm, and in fact requires the latter to be installed. The readme document that comes with the binary download claims that it will not run unless X11 is also installed, but this is not true; fortunately you can run this gnuplot without needing to install X Windows.

I suggest you read up on the new features in v.4.0, a major upgrade. One significant enhancement is the incorporation of the pm3d splot mode, which has been an unofficial part of gnuplot for some time. This lets you plot color-mapped surfaces.

You can get Aquaterm sources and binaries (which can be used with more than just gnuplot), here. This has also undergone a major revision, so if you have a version < 1.0 you should upgrade.


This binary seems to work fine on OSX 10.3.4 (Panther) on a couple of different G3 and G4 systems. I am interested in other's experiences with this software on a variety of configurations, and in any other relevant information. Please email me with any notes you think might be useful to others, and I'll include your comments here (tell me if you prefer to be anonymous). Note that the both official binary and the one that you can build from source do not include all the terminals that may be available on other systems; I have no information about this, but would welcome comments from readers who either know why or know how to get support for other output devices, as I sometimes get email asking about this.

The new version of Aquaterm seems to be faster than previous ones, so I've been using this now for moderately large 3d plots, which I had been doing with x11. You do get some mouse control with the x11 terminal, however, that you do not get with Aquaterm: you can rotate and scale 3d plots, and annotate and zoom 2d plots. To get a summary of interactive controls on your console, type “h” when the plot window has focus.

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