Obtaining Firedrake

Firedrake is installed using its install script:

curl -O https://raw.githubusercontent.com/firedrakeproject/firedrake/master/scripts/firedrake-install

In the simplest cases, such as on a Mac with Homebrew installed or on an Ubuntu workstation on which the user has sudo acccess, the user can simply run:

python3 firedrake-install

Running firedrake-install with no arguments will install Firedrake in a python venv created in a firedrake subdirectory of the current directory. Run:

python3 firedrake-install --help

for a full list of install options. In particular, you may wish to customise PETSc by adding packages (for instance --download-fftw). To do so, set the environment variable PETSC_CONFIGURE_OPTIONS before running firedrake-install. However, some configuration options (for instance --LDFLAGS and --CFLAGS) should not be set in PETSC_CONFIGURE_OPTIONS as they are set by the install script. You can see the set of options passed to PETSc by providing the flag --show-petsc-configure-options.

You will need to activate the venv in each shell from which you use Firedrake:

source firedrake/bin/activate


Should you use csh, you will need:

source firedrake/bin/activate.csh

Installation and MPI

By default, firedrake-install will prompt the PETSc installer to download and install its own MPICH library and executables in the virtual environment. This has implications for the performance of the resulting library when run in parallel. Instructions on how best to configure MPI for the installation process are found here.

Testing the installation

We recommend that you run the test suite after installation to check that Firedrake is fully functional. Activate the venv as above and then run:

cd $VIRTUAL_ENV/src/firedrake
pytest tests/regression/ -k "poisson_strong or stokes_mini or dg_advection"

This command will run a few of the unit tests, which exercise a good chunk of the functionality of the library. These tests should take a minute or less. If they fail to run for any reason, please see the section below on how to diagnose and debug a failed installation. If you want to run the entire test suite you can do make alltest instead, but this takes several hours.


There is a known issue which causes parallel tests to hang without failing. This is particularly a problem on MacOS and is due to the version of MPICH installed with Firedrake failing to resolve the local host at ip address To resolve this issue modify the hosts database at /etc/hosts to include the entries:       LOCALHOSTNAME.local       LOCALHOSTNAME

where LOCALHOSTNAME is the name returned by running the hostname command. Should the local host name change, this may require updating.


The install script will install an upgrade script in firedrake/bin/firedrake-update. Running this script will update Firedrake and all its dependencies.


You should activate the venv before running firedrake-update.

Just like the firedrake-install script, running:

firedrake-update --help

gives a full list of update options. For instance additional Firedrake packages can be installed into an existing Firedrake installation using firedrake-update.

System requirements

Firedrake requires Python 3.8.x to 3.11.x. On MacOS Arm (M1 or M2) Python 3.9.x to 3.11.x is required. Many externally managed dependencies such as VTK have yet to create binary wheels for 3.11.x, but we have generated these for the major supported platforms. The installation script is tested on Ubuntu and MacOS X. On Ubuntu 22.04 or later, the system installed Python 3 is supported and tested. On MacOS, the homebrew installed Python 3 is supported:

brew install python3

Installation is likely to work well on other Linux platforms, although the script may stop to ask you to install some dependency packages. Installation on other Unix platforms may work but is untested. On Linux systems that do not use the Debian package management system, it will be necessary to pass the –no-package-manager option to the install script. In this case, it is the user’s responsibilty to ensure that they have the system dependencies:

  • A C and C++ compiler (for example gcc/g++ or clang), GNU make

  • A Fortran compiler (for PETSc)

  • Blas and Lapack

  • Git, Mercurial

  • Python version 3.8.x-3.11.x (3.9.x-3.11.x on MacOS Arm)

  • The Python headers

  • autoconf, automake, libtool

  • CMake

  • zlib

  • flex, bison

Firedrake has been successfully installed on Windows 10 using the Windows Subsystem for Linux. There are more detailed instructions for WSL on the Firedrake wiki. Installation on previous versions of Windows is unlikely to work.

System anti-requirements

We strive to make Firedrake work on as many platforms as we can. Some tools, however, make this challenging or impossible for end users.

Anaconda. The Anaconda Python distribution and package manager are often recommended in introductory data science courses because it does effectively handle many aggravating problems of dependency management. Unfortunately, Anaconda does a poor job of isolating itself from the rest of your system and assumes that it will be both the only Python installation and the only supplier of any dependent packages. Anaconda will install compilers and MPI compiler wrappers and put its compilers right at the top of your PATH. This is a problem because Firedrake needs to build and use its own MPI. (We keep our MPI isolated from the rest of your system through virtual environments.) When installed on a platform with Anaconda, Firedrake can accidentally try to link to the incompatible Anaconda installation of MPI.

There are three ways to work around this problem.

  1. Remove Anaconda entirely.

  2. Modify your PATH environment variable to remove any traces of Anaconda, then install Firedrake. If you need Anaconda later, you can re-enable it with a shell script that will add those directories back onto your path.

  3. Use a Docker image that we’ve built with Firedrake and its dependencies already installed.

MacOS system Python. The official MacOS installer on the Python website does not have a working SSL by default. A working SSL is necessary to securely fetch dependent packages from the internet. You can enable SSL with the system Python, but we strongly recommend using a Python version installed via Homebrew instead.

MacPorts. Mac OS has multiple competing package managers which sometimes cause issues for users attempting to install Firedrake. In particular, the assembler provided by MacPorts is incompatible with the Mac system compilers in a manner which causes Firedrake to fail to install. For this reason, if you are installing Firedrake on a Mac which also has MacPorts installed, you should ensure that /opt/local/bin and /opt/local/sbin are removed from your PATH when installing or using Firedrake. This should ensure that no MacPorts installed tools are found.

Debugging install problems

If firedrake-install fails, the following flowchart describes some common build problems and how to solve them. If you understand the prognosis and feel comfortable making these fixes yourself then great! If not, feel free to ask for more help in our Slack channel.

digraph triage {
    node [shape=rect];

    can_install [label="Install succeeded?"];
    install_succeeded [label="yes"];
    install_failed [label="no"];
    can_import [label="Can you import\nfiredrake in Python?"];
    venv_activated [label="venv activated?"];
    install_script_up_to_date [label="Install script\nup to date?"];
    using_anaconda [label="Using\nAnaconda?"];
    python_version [label="Python <3.8?"];
    using_macos [label="Using\nMacOS?"];
    using_homebrew [label="Using\nHomebrew?"];
    url_error [label="URL Error with SSL\ncertificate failure?"];
    which_python [label="<which python3> points\nat <$(brew --prefix)/bin/python3>?"];

    activate_venv [label="Activate the\nvenv first."];
    uninstall_anaconda [label="Deactivate\nAnaconda."];
    update_python [label="Get Python 3.8-3.11"];
    update_install_script [label="Fetch new\ninstall script"];
    get_homebrew [label="Use Homebrew."];
    brew_doctor [label="brew doctor"];
    explicit_path [label="Run <$(brew --prefix)/bin/python3\n firedrake-install>"];

    can_install -> install_succeeded;
    install_succeeded -> can_import;
    can_import -> venv_activated [label="no"];
    venv_activated -> activate_venv [label="no"];

    can_install -> install_failed;
    install_failed -> {install_script_up_to_date, using_anaconda, python_version, using_macos};
    install_script_up_to_date -> update_install_script [label="no"];
    python_version -> update_python [label="yes"];
    using_anaconda -> uninstall_anaconda [label="yes"];
    using_macos -> using_homebrew [label="yes"];
    using_homebrew -> get_homebrew [label="no"];
    using_homebrew -> brew_doctor [label="yes"];
    using_macos -> url_error [label="yes"];
    url_error -> which_python [label="yes"];
    which_python -> explicit_path [label="no"];

If you don’t see the issue you’re experiencing in this chart, please ask us on Slack or create a post on github discussions. To help us diagnose what’s going wrong, please include the following log files:

  • firedrake-install.log from Firedrake, which you can find in the directory where you invoked firedrake-install from

  • configure.log and make.log from PETSc, which you can find in src/petsc/ inside the directory where Firedrake virtual environment was created

Likewise, if it’s firedrake-update that fails, please include the file firedrake-update.log. You can find this in the Firedrake virtual environment.

Recovering from a broken installation script

If you find yourself in the unfortunate position that firedrake-update won’t run because of a bug, and the bug has been fixed in Firedrake master, then the following procedure will rebuild firedrake-update using the latest version.

From the top directory of your Firedrake install, type:

cd src/firedrake
git pull
./scripts/firedrake-install --rebuild-script

You should now be able to run firedrake-update.

Visualisation software

Firedrake can output data in VTK format, suitable for viewing in Paraview. On Ubuntu and similar systems, you can obtain Paraview by installing the paraview package. On Mac OS, the easiest approach is to download a binary from the paraview website.

Building the documentation

If you want to be able to view and edit the documentation locally, run:

python3 firedrake-install --documentation-dependencies

when installing Firedrake, or in an existing instalation (after running source firedrake/bin/activate to activate the virtual env) run:

firedrake-update --documentation-dependencies

The documentation can be found in firedrake/firedrake/src/firedrake/docs and can be built by executing:

make html

This will generate the HTML documentation (this website) on your local machine.

Removing Firedrake

Firedrake and its dependencies can be removed by deleting the Firedrake install directory. This is usually the firedrake subdirectory created after having run firedrake-install. Note that this will not undo the installation of any system packages which are Firedrake dependencies: removing these might affect subsequently installed packages for which these are also dependencies.