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Jan. 23, 2019
Jul. 31, 2009

Copyright (c) by respective owners including Yahoo!, Microsoft, and
individual contributors. All rights reserved.  Released under a BSD (revised)
license as described in the file LICENSE.

Vowpal Wabbit

Build Status Windows Build status

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This is the vowpal wabbit fast online learning code. For Windows, look at

Prerequisite software

These prerequisites are usually pre-installed on many platforms. However, you may need to consult your favorite package manager (yum, apt, MacPorts, brew, ...) to install missing software.

  • Boost library, (for Boost::Program_Options and a few others).
  • The zlib compression library + headers. In linux distros: package zlib-devel (Red Hat/CentOS), or zlib1g-dev (Ubuntu/Debian)
  • lsb-release (RedHat/CentOS: redhat-lsb-core, Debian: lsb-release, Ubuntu: you're all set, OSX: not required)
  • GNU autotools: autoconf, automake, libtool, autoheader, et. al. This is not a strict prereq. On many systems (notably Ubuntu with libboost-program-options-dev installed), the provided Makefile works fine.
  • (optional) git if you want to check out the latest version of vowpal wabbit, work on the code, or even contribute code to the main project.
  • Python module six needs to be installed in order to run the tests.


Vcpkg can also be used to install the dependencies. When running cmake the toolchain needs to be supplied, this is decribed in the compiling section.

# Linux
# vcpkg cannot currently be used on Linux because boost-python fails to build on linux. [See this issue](
vcpkg install rapidjson:x64-linux
vcpkg install zlib:x64-linux
vcpkg install boost-system:x64-linux
vcpkg install boost-program-options:x64-linux
vcpkg install boost-test:x64-linux
vcpkg install boost-align:x64-linux
vcpkg install boost-foreach:x64-linux
vcpkg install boost-python:x64-linux

# Windows
vcpkg install rapidjson:x64-windows
vcpkg install zlib:x64-windows
vcpkg install boost-system:x64-windows
vcpkg install boost-program-options:x64-windows
vcpkg install boost-test:x64-windows
vcpkg install boost-align:x64-windows
vcpkg install boost-foreach:x64-windows
vcpkg install boost-python:x64-windows

Getting the code

You can download the latest version from here. The very latest version is always available via 'github' by invoking one of the following:

## For the traditional ssh-based Git interaction:
$ git clone git://

## You can also try the following SSH URL:
$ git clone

## For HTTP-based Git interaction
$ git clone


You should be able to build the vowpal wabbit on most systems with:

mkdir build
cd build
cmake ..
make -j
make test    # (optional)

If using vcpkg for dependencies the toolchain file needs to be supplied to cmake:

cmake .. -DCMAKE_TOOLCHAIN_FILE=<vcpkg root>/scripts/buildsystems/vcpkg.cmake

The CMake definition supports the following options that can be set when invoking cmake:

CMAKE_BUILD_TYPE - Controls base flags for building. Release includes optimization, Debug is unoptimized ([Debug|Release], default: Debug)
PROFILE - Turn on flags required for profiling ([ON|OFF], default: OFF)
VALGRIND_PROFILE - Turn on flags required for profiling with valgrind in gcc ([ON|OFF], default: OFF)
GCOV - Turn on flags required for code coverage in gcc ([ON|OFF], default: OFF)
WARNINGS - Turn on warning flags ([ON|OFF], default: ON)
STATIC_LINK_VW - Link VW executable statically ([ON|OFF], default: OFF)
VW_INSTALL - Add install targets ([ON|OFF], default: ON)
BUILD_TESTS - Build and enable tests ([ON|OFF], default: ON)
BUILD_JAVA - Add Java targets ([ON|OFF], default: Off)
BUILD_PYTHON - Add Python targets ([ON|OFF], default: Off)
BUILD_DOCS - Add documentation targets ([ON|OFF], default: Off)

Options can be specified at configuration time on the command line:


Be sure to read the wiki: for the tutorial, command line options, etc.

The 'cluster' directory has it's own documentation for cluster parallel use, and the examples at the end of test/Runtests give some example flags.

C++ Optimization

The default C++ compiler optimization flags are very aggressive. If you should run into a problem, consider running cmake with the Debug build type:

cmake .. -DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE=Debug

Ubuntu/Debian specific info

On Ubuntu/Debian/Mint and similar the following sequence should work for building the latest from github:

# -- Get libboost and zlib:
apt-get install libboost-dev zlib1g-dev

# -- Get the python libboost bindings (python subdir) - optional:
apt-get install libboost-python-dev

# -- Get the vw source:
git clone git://

# -- Build:
cd vowpal_wabbit
mkdir build
cd build
make -j
make test       # (optional)
make install

Ubuntu advanced build options (clang and static)

If you prefer building with clang instead of gcc (much faster build and slighly faster executable), install clang and specify the compiler to be clang:

apt-get install clang

export CC=clang
export CXX=clang++

cmake ..

A statically linked vw executable that is not sensitive to boost version upgrades and can be safely copied between different Linux versions (e.g. even from Ubuntu to Red-Hat) can be built and tested with:

mkdir build
cd build
make vw-bin -j

Debian Python 3 Binding

Ensure boost-library and c-compiler are installed:

apt-get install libboost-dev zlib1g-dev libboost-python-dev clang make automake

Set Python 3.x and its boost-library as default:

update-alternatives --install /usr/bin/python python /usr/bin/python2.7 1
update-alternatives --install /usr/bin/python python /usr/bin/python3.x 2

ln -sf /usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libboost_python-py3x.a /usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libboost_python.a
ln -sf /usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/ /usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/

Install Vowpal Wabbit via pip:

pip3 install vowpalwabbit

Mac OS X-specific info

OSX requires glibtools, which is available via the brew or MacPorts package managers.

Complete brew install of 8.4

brew install vowpal-wabbit

The homebrew formula for VW is located on github.

Manual install of Vowpal Wabbit

OSX Dependencies (if using Brew):

brew install boost
brew install boost-python

OSX Dependencies (if using MacPorts):

## Build Boost for Mac OS X 10.8 and below
$ port install boost +no_single -no_static +openmpi +python27 configure.cxx_stdlib=libc++ configure.cxx=clang++

## Build Boost for Mac OS X 10.9 and above
$ port install boost +no_single -no_static +openmpi +python27

OSX Python Binding installation with Anaconda

When using Anaconda as the source for Python the default Boost libraries used in the Makefile need to be adjusted. Below are the steps needed to install the Python bindings for VW. This should work for Python 2 and 3. Adjust the directories to match where anaconda is installed.

# create anaconda environment with boost
conda create --name vw boost
source activate vw
git clone
cd vowpal_wabbit
# edit Makefile
# change BOOST_INCLUDE to use anaconda env dir: /anaconda/envs/vw/include
# change BOOST_LIBRARY to use anaconda lib dir: /andaconda/envs/vw/lib
cd python
python install

Code Documentation

To browse the code more easily, do

mkdir build
cd build
cmake .. -DBUILD_DOCS=On
make doc

and then point your browser to doc/html/index.html.

Note that documentation generates class diagrams using Graphviz. For best results, ensure that it is installed beforehand.

Experimental: CMake build system on Windows

Note: The CSharp projects are not yet converted to CMake for Windows. So the CMake generated solution is only for C++ projects for the time being. For this reason the existing solution can not yet be deprecated.


vcpkg install rapidjson:x64-windows
vcpkg install cpprestsdk:x64-windows
vcpkg install zlib:x64-windows
vcpkg install boost-system:x64-windows
vcpkg install boost-program-options:x64-windows
vcpkg install boost-test:x64-windows
vcpkg install boost-align:x64-windows
vcpkg install boost-foreach:x64-windows
vcpkg install boost-python:x64-windows



  1. Open CMake GUI
  2. Add two entries
    1. CMAKE_TOOLCHAIN_FILE=<vcpkg root>/scripts/buildsystems/vcpkg.cmake
    2. VCPKG_TARGET_TRIPLET=x64-windows
  3. Configure
    1. Choose Visual Studio 15 2017 Win64
  4. Generate
  5. Open Project

Or command line:

mkdir build
cd build
cmake .. -G "Visual Studio 15 2017 Win64" -DCMAKE_TOOLCHAIN_FILE=<vcpkg root>\scripts\buildsystems\vcpkg.cmake -DVCPKG_TARGET_TRIPLET=x64-windows
make -j


When using WSL (Windows Subsytem for Linux)

  • If the repo is cloned in Windows and used in the Linux environment, shell scripts will have CRLF line endings and will need to be converted to work.
  • A strange bug was seen that caused the vw_jni target to fail to build. A full fix isn't known but the following were factors:
    • CMake version 3.5.1
    • WSL Ubuntu 16.04
    • Java was installed in Windows and added to the Windows path when compiling vw_jni
    • Setting JAVA_HOME caused CMake to display the right dependency at configure time but the Windows files were actually used

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