LilyPond — Contributor’s Guide

This manual documents contributing to LilyPond version 2.22.2. It discusses technical issues and policies that contributors should follow.

This manual is not intended to be read sequentially; new contributors should only read the sections which are relevant to them. For more information about different jobs, see Help us.

For more information about how this manual fits with the other documentation, or to read this manual in other formats, see Manuals.

If you are missing any manuals, the complete documentation can be found at

1. Introduction to contributing

This chapter presents a quick overview of ways that people can help LilyPond.

1.1 Help us

We need you!

Thank you for your interest in helping us — we would love to see you get involved! Your contribution will help a large group of users make beautifully typeset music.

Even working on small tasks can have a big impact: taking care of them allows experienced developers work on advanced tasks, instead of spending time on those simple tasks.

For a multi-faceted project like LilyPond, sometimes it’s tough to know where to begin. In addition to the avenues proposed below, you can send an e-mail to the mailing list, and we’ll help you to get started.

Simple tasks

No programming skills required!

Advanced tasks

These jobs generally require that you have the source code and can compile LilyPond.

Note: We suggest that contributors using Windows or MacOS X do not attempt to set up their own development environment; instead, use Lilydev as discussed in Quick start.

Contributors using Linux or FreeBSD may also use Lilydev, but if they prefer their own development environment, they should read Working with source code, and Compiling.

Begin by reading Summary for experienced developers.

1.2 Overview of work flow

Advanced note: Experienced developers should skip to Summary for experienced developers.

Git is a version control system that tracks the history of a program’s source code. The LilyPond source code is maintained as a Git repository, which contains:

The ‘official’ LilyPond Git repository is hosted by the GNU Savannah software forge at The server provides two separate interfaces for viewing the LilyPond Git repository online: cgit and gitweb.

However, the main development takes place at, which also hosts the project’s issues. Automatic mirroring ensures that ‘important’ branches (such as master and stable/*) are up-to-date on the ‘official’ repository at GNU Savannah, so you can also base your development on a clone from there.

Compiling (‘building’) LilyPond allows developers to see how changes to the source code affect the program itself. Compiling is also needed to package the program for specific operating systems or distributions. LilyPond can be compiled from a local Git repository (for developers), or from a downloaded tarball (for packagers). Compiling LilyPond is a rather involved process, and most contributor tasks do not require it.

Contributors can contact the developers through the ‘lilypond-devel’ mailing list. The mailing list archive is located at If you have a question for the developers, search the archives first to see if the issue has already been discussed. Otherwise, send an email to You can subscribe to the developers’ mailing list here:

Note: Contributors on Windows or MacOS X wishing to compile code or documentation are strongly advised to use our Debian LilyPond Developer Remix, as discussed in Quick start.

1.3 Summary for experienced developers

If you are already familiar with typical open-source tools, here’s what you need to know:

1.4 Mentors

We have a semi-formal system of mentorship, similar to the medieval “journeyman/master” training system. New contributors will have a dedicated mentor to help them “learn the ropes”.

Note: This is subject to the availability of mentors; certain jobs have more potential mentors than others.

Contributor responsibilities

  1. Ask your mentor which sections of the CG you should read.
  2. If you get stuck for longer than 10 minutes, ask your mentor. They might not be able to help you with all problems, but we find that new contributors often get stuck with something that could be solved/explained with 2 or 3 sentences from a mentor.
  3. If you have been working on a task much longer than was originally estimated, stop and ask your mentor. There may have been a miscommunication, or there may be some time-saving tips that could vastly simply your task.
  4. Send patches to your mentor for initial comments.
  5. Inform your mentor if you’re going to be away for a month, or if you leave entirely. Contributing to lilypond isn’t for everybody; just let your mentor know so that we can reassign that work to somebody else.
  6. Inform your mentor if you’re willing to do more work – we always have way more work than we have helpers available. We try to avoid overwhelming new contributors, so you’ll be given less work than we think you can handle.

Mentor responsibilities

  1. Respond to questions from your contributor(s) promptly, even if the response is just “sorry, I don’t know” or “sorry, I’m very busy for the next 3 days; I’ll get back to you then”. Make sure they feel valued.
  2. Inform your contributor(s) about the expected turnaround for your emails – do you work on lilypond every day, or every weekend, or what? Also, if you’ll be unavailable for longer than usual (say, if you normally reply within 24 hours, but you’ll be at a conference for a week), let your contributors know. Again, make sure they feel valued, and that your silence (if they ask a question during that period) isn’t their fault.
  3. Inform your contributor(s) if they need to do anything unusual for the builds, such as doing a “make clean / doc-clean” or switching git branches (not expected, but just in case...)
  4. You don’t need to be able to completely approve patches. Make sure the patch meets whatever you know of the guidelines (for doc style, code indentation, whatever), and then send it on to -devel for more comments. If you feel confident about the patch, you can push it directly (this is mainly intended for docs and translations; code patches should almost always go to -devel before being pushed).
  5. Keep track of patches from your contributor. Either open merge requests yourself, or help and encourage them to upload the patches themselves.
  6. Encourage your contributor to review patches, particularly your own! It doesn’t matter if they’re not familiar with C++ / scheme / build system / doc stuff – simply going through the process is valuable. Besides, anybody can find a typo!
  7. Contact your contributor at least once a week. The goal is just to get a conversation started – there’s nothing wrong with simply copy&pasting this into an email:
    Hey there,
    How are things going?  If you sent a patch and got a review, do
    you know what you need to fix?  If you sent a patch but have no
    reviews yet, do you know when you will get reviews?  If you are
    working on a patch, what step(s) are you working on?

2. Quick start

Want to submit a patch for LilyPond? Great! Never created a patch before? Never compiled software before? No problem! This chapter is for you and will help you do this as quickly and easily as possible.

2.1 LilyDev

Note: The following sections are based on LilyDev v2 and are not necessarily correct for different releases.

“LilyDev” is a custom GNU/Linux operating system which includes all the necessary software and tools to compile LilyPond, the documentation and the website (also see Website work). It is also prepared for building the Grand Unified Builder (GUB), though this is an involved process and may require further tweaking.

While compiling LilyPond on Mac OS and Windows is possible, both environments are complex to set up. LilyDev can be easily run inside a ‘virtual machine’ on either of these operating systems relatively easily using readily available virtualization software. We recommend using VirtualBox as it is available for all major operating systems and is very easy to install & configure.

LilyDev comes in two ‘flavours’: containers and a standard disk image. Windows or Mac OS users should choose the Debian disk image (to be run in a virtual machine), that is the file named ‘’. GNU/Linux users are recommended to choose one of the containers (currently Debian or Fedora), which are smaller in size, lightweight and easier to manage. The Fedora disk image has currently not been released, you can create it from the sources located in the ‘/mkosi’ subdirectory of the LilyDev repository, however.

Download the appropriate file from here:

Note: Apart from installing and configuring LilyDev in VirtualBox, the rest of the chapter assumes that you are comfortable using the command-line and is intended for users who may have never created a patch or compiled software before. More experienced developers (who prefer to use their own development environment) may still find it instructive to skim over the following information.

If you are not familiar with GNU/Linux, it may be beneficial to read a few “introduction to Linux” type web pages.

Installing LilyDev in VirtualBox

This section discusses how to install and use LilyDev with VirtualBox.

Note: If you already know how to install a virtual machine using a disc image inside VirtualBox (or your own virtualization software) then you can skip this section.

  1. Download VirtualBox from here:

    Note: In virtualization terminology, the operating system where VirtualBox is installed is known as the host. LilyDev will be installed ‘inside’ VirtualBox as a guest.

  2. The zip archive you downloaded contains the raw disk image and its SHA256 checksum. You can verify the integrity of the downloaded archive with any hashing tool your OS does support. On Linux, run the following command in the directory where you have extracted the files (this may take some time):
    sha256sum -c SHA256SUMS

    For Windows, look for the tools FCIV or certutil to compute the archive’s hash.

  3. As VirtualBox does not support the raw format, you have to extract it and then convert it to VDI format. Make sure that ‘VBoxManage’ is in your PATH or call it from your VirtualBox installation directory:
    VBoxManage convertfromraw LilyDev-VERSION-debian-vm.img \

    Note: You need a fair amount of disk space (around 30GB) to extract the raw image. After converting to a dynamic VirtualBox image it will take up much less space (only the amount of space that is actually allocated by the guest filesystem)

  4. Start the VirtualBox software and click ‘New’ to create a new “virtual machine”.

    The ‘New Virtual Machine Wizard’ walks you through setting up your guest virtual machine. Choose an appropriate name for your LilyDev installation and select the ‘Linux’ operating system. When selecting the ‘version’ choose ‘Debian (64-bit)’. If you do not have that specific option choose ‘Linux 2.6/3.x/4.x (64-bit)’.

  5. Select the amount of RAM you allow the LilyDev guest to use from your host operating system when it is running. If possible, use at least 1GB of RAM; the more RAM you can spare from your host the better
  6. In the ‘Hard Disk’ step, you use the VDI file you have previously created. You may move it within the virtual machine’s folder already created by the wizard (in GNU/Linux the default should be ‘~/VirtualBox VMs/NAME’). Click on ‘Use an existing virtual hard disk file’ and browse to the VDI file.
  7. Verify the summary details and click ‘Create’ as soon as you are satisfied. Your new guest shall be displayed in the VirtualBox window now.
  8. Enable EFI within the virtual machine’s settings – click on System → Motherboard and select ‘Extended features: Enable EFI’. Otherwise, you won’t be able to boot the image.
  9. VirtualBox ‘guest additions’, which are installed by default in the debian image, provide some additional features such as being able to dynamically resize the LilyDev window, allow seamless interaction with your mouse pointer on both the host and guest, and let you copy/paste between your host and guest if needed. It seems that dynamic window resizing works only with the ‘VBoxVGA’ graphics controller, which you can choose in Display → Graphics Controller. To enable clipboard sharing between guest and host, choose General → Advanced → Shared Clipboard → Bidirectional.
  10. Click the ‘Start’ button and wait until the login screen appears. Log in as dev user then; type the password lilypond. Before starting any work, be sure to complete the next steps.

    Note: Since the default keyboard layout is US (American), you may have to type the password differently if you are using another layout, like ‘lilzpond’ on a German keyboard, for example.

  11. Open a terminal by clicking Applications → Terminal at the upper left of the screen. You may want to change the password of user ‘dev’ before doing further work with the command passwd.
  12. You might need to change the keyboard layout from default US (American) to your national layout. Therefore open a terminal and run
    sudo dpkg-reconfigure keyboard-configuration

    Note: You need superuser rights to change certain aspects of the system configuration. The sudo tool allows to gain superuser rights temporarily. It does show you a warning message on its first use that reminds you to use your extended rights carefully.

    At first, you are prompted for the model of your keyboard. Press Enter to show further models. In most cases, it is sufficient to choose ‘Generic, 105 keys’. After that, choose your keyboard layout. Now, you can customize the function of your <AltGr> key. Normally, the default layout settings fit well, so take number 1. The same holds for the question of whether you want to configure a ‘compose’ key. At last, you are asked if you want to configure <Ctrl+Alt+Backspace> as a shortcut to terminate the X server. Presumably, you do not need this, so you can safely type ‘no’.

  13. To set up your system language (charset, localized messages etc.), continue with
    sudo dpkg-reconfigure locales

    Note: Restarting is required in order to take the changes into effect.

  14. Finally, you should run a setup script. If you are on the command line already, simply type ./ to run the interactive script that does set up git and downloads all the repositories needed to build LilyPond.

Configuring LilyDev in VirtualBox

Known issues and warnings

Not all hardware is supported in all virtualization tools. In particular, some contributors have reported problems with USB network adapters. If you have problems with network connection (for example Internet connection in the host system is lost when you launch virtual system), try installing and running LilyDev with your computer’s built-in network adapter used to connect to the network. Refer to the help documentation that comes with your virtualization software.

2.2 Compiling with LilyDev

LilyDev is our custom GNU/Linux which contains all the necessary dependencies to do LilyPond development; for more information, see LilyDev.

Preparing the build

To prepare the build directory, enter (or copy&paste) the below text. This should take less than a minute.

sh --noconfigure
mkdir -p build/
cd build/

Building lilypond

Compiling LilyPond will take anywhere between 1 and 15 minutes on most ‘modern’ computers – depending on CPU and available RAM. We also recommend that you minimize the terminal window while it is building; this can help speed up on compilation times.

cd $LILYPOND_GIT/build/

It is possible to run make with the -j option to help speed up compilation times even more. See Compiling LilyPond

You may run the compiled lilypond with:

cd $LILYPOND_GIT/build/

Building the documentation

Compiling the documentation is a much more involved process, and will likely take 2 to 10 hours.

cd $LILYPOND_GIT/build/
make doc

The documentation is put in ‘out-www/offline-root/’. You may view the html files by entering the below text; we recommend that you bookmark the resulting page:

firefox $LILYPOND_GIT/build/out-www/offline-root/index.html


Don’t. There is no reason to install LilyPond within LilyDev. All development work can (and should) stay within the ‘$LILYPOND_GIT’ directory, and any personal composition or typesetting work should be done with an official GUB release.

Problems and other options

To select different build options, or isolate certain parts of the build, or to use multiple CPUs while building, read Compiling.

In particular, contributors working on the documentation should be aware of some bugs in the build system, and should read the workarounds in Generating documentation.

2.3 Now start work!

LilyDev users may now skip to the chapter which is aimed at their intended contributions:

These chapters are mainly intended for people not using LilyDev, but they contain extra information about the “behind-the-scenes” activities. We recommend that you read these at your leisure, a few weeks after beginning work with LilyDev.

3. Working with source code

The LilyPond project uses Git as a version control system. This section is intended at getting new contributors started with Git, and helping senior developers with less frequently used procedures.

3.1 Setting up

3.1.1 Installing Git

On UNIX systems (such as GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, FreeBSD), the easiest way to download and install Git is through a package manager. Alternatively, you can visit the Git website for downloadable installers.

For convenience, you may also install a graphical front-end to Git. Packaged in the installers come gitk (for browsing the history) and git-gui (for committing). Git’s official website provides a list of GUI clients, including free software for various platforms.

3.1.2 Cloning and forking the repository

Clone the LilyPond repository to get the source code and its history:

git clone

New contributors need to fork it in order to push branches. Using a fork is no longer necessary (but may be convenient) when you are given developer access. You need to create an account on GitLab. Visit and press “Fork” on the top right. After the fork is created, set up a new remote:

cd lilypond
git remote add fork

To list remote repositories that are configured, along with their URLs:

git remote -v

You should have origin pointing to the official LilyPond repository, and fork pointing to your your private fork.

3.1.3 Configuring Git

Settings apply to any repository on your computer, unless you leave out the --global option.

You first need configure some basic settings required for keeping track of commit authors:

git config --global "John Smith"
git config --global

It is also recommended to enable colored output:

git config --global color.ui auto

If none of your editor-related environment variables are set, the default text editor used for writing commit messages, etc., is usually vim. If your are not familiar with it, change it to an editor that you are comfortable with; for example, Gedit:

git config --global core.editor gedit

Finally, and in some ways most importantly, let’s make sure that we can easily see the state of our working copy. If you are not using LilyDev or Windows, add the following lines to your ‘~/.bashrc’:

export PS1="\u@\h \w\$(__git_ps1)$ "

After starting a new terminal, your prompt will show the current branch (this term and others are explained below). Additionally, some symbols next to the branch name indicate certain states. A star “*” means that there are unstaged changes. With a plus “+”, the changes are staged. If there are untracked files, a percent “%” will appear. Finally, we can also see the state of the local repository compared to upstream: “=” means up to date, “<” is behind, “>” is ahead, “<>” means they have diverged.

You may need to install the additional bash-completion package.

3.2 Git cheat sheet

The intent of this section is to get you working on LilyPond quickly. If you want to learn about Git, go read Further Git documentation resources.

Also, these instructions are designed to eliminate the most common problems we have found in using Git. If you already know Git and have a different way of working, great! Feel free to ignore these advice.

Pulling recent changes

As LilyPond’s source code is continously improved, it is wise to integrate recent changes into your local copy whenever you start a working session. On the master branch (this term is explained below), run:

git pull

Viewing the history

Each change is contained in a commit with an explanatory message. To list commits starting from the latest:

git log

Press <Enter> to see more or <Q> to exit.

Start work: make a new branch

The Git workflow is based on branches, which can be viewed as different copies of the source code with concurrent changes that are eventually merged. You start a contribution by creating a branch, freezing the initial state of the source code you will base your work onto. Ultimately, your branch will be merged in master. This latter special branch centralizes all features developed simultaneously and is the source for unstable releases.

Note: Remember, never directly commit to master.

Let’s pretend you want to add a section to the Contributor’s Guide about using branches. To create a new branch for this:

git branch cg-add-branches

Switching branches

Switching branches is somehow like “loading a file”, although in this case it is really “loading a directory and subdirectories full of files”. The command to use is git checkout.

git checkout master
git checkout cg-add-branches
git checkout origin/release/unstable

Branches that begin with origin/ are part of the remote repository, rather than your local repository, so when you check them out you get a temporary local branch. Therefore, do not commit to these either. Always work in a local branch.

Listing branches

To list local branches:

git branch

If you want remote branches too:

git branch -a

In the output, the current branch is prefixed with a star.

Staging and committing files

Now edit files. To show a summary of your edits:

git status

For every file that you modified or added, first preview your changes:

git diff file

If everything looks right:

git add file

Then commit your changes:

git commit

A text editor window appears for you to write a commit message. See Writing good commit messages.

Amending and reverting changes

To add some more changes to the latest commit, stage them using git add, then run:

git commit --amend

This also works for rephrasing the commit message.

To revert changes to a file that has not been committed yet:

git checkout filename

To get back to the last commit, discarding all changes:

git reset --hard HEAD

Uploading your branch for review

To upload the current branch on the remote repository:

git push -u fork cg-add-branches

This sets the remote branch so subsequent pushes are simpler:

git push

The next section covers how to create a merge request from your branch.

Deleting branches

After the merge request has passed testing and was merged to master, or after a failed experiment, you can delete your local branch.

git checkout master
git branch -d cg-add-branches

As a safety measure, this will fail if the commits of cg-add-branches are not present in master. This can be because you used GitLab to rebase your branch, which modifies the commit data and changes the hash. If you are sure that the branch is not needed anymore, replace the -d on the final line with a -D instead.

3.3 Lifecycle of a merge request

3.3.1 Uploading a patch for review

Any non-trivial change should be reviewed as a merge request:

Ensure your branch differs from latest master by just the changes to be uploaded.

Make sure that make, make test and make doc succeed. Even if the individual commits contain incomplete features, they must all pass these tests.

Branches pushed on the main repository should start with dev/.

After pushing, create a merge request to start the review cycle. There are multiple options for this as outlined in GitLab’s documentation. This will also ask you for a message that will accompany your patch.

If you are not a member of the team and create the merge request from a fork, consider enabling the box to “Allow commits from members who can merge to the target branch”. This makes it possible for somebody with permissions to rebase your changes and merge them for you. Please refer to Merging to master for more details.

3.3.2 Automated and manual testing

When a merge request is opened, a bot automatically adds the Patch::new label to it, and it enters the countdown cycle. GitLab triggers automated testing which ensures that the patch completes make, make test, and make doc. Afterwards, the Patch Meister manually runs make check to verify regression tests. If both steps pass, the merge request is labelled Patch::review. On failure, the status is updated to Patch::needs_work.

3.3.3 Patch countdown

The Patch Meister reviews the tracker periodically, to list patches which have been on review for at least 24 hours. For each patch, the Handler reviews any discussion on the merge request, to determine whether the patch can go forward. If there is any indication that a developer thinks the patch is not ready, the Handler marks it Patch::needs_work and makes a comment regarding the reason, referring to the comment if needed.

Patches with explicit approval, or at least no negative comment, are updated to Patch::countdown. The countdown is a 48-hour waiting period in which any final reviews or complaints should be made.

The Patch Meister sends an email to the developer list. The subject line has a fixed formatting, to enable filtering by email clients, like so:

PATCHES: Countdown for February 30th

The text of the email sets the deadline for this countdown batch. At present, batches are done on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings.

At the next countdown, if no problems were found, the patch will be set to Patch::push. New contributors should ask for it to be merged. Developers merge their patches themselves, see Merging to master and Commit access.

Alternately, your patch may be set to Patch::needs_work, indicating that you should fix something (or at least discuss why the patch needs no modification). It also happens that patches waiting for minor fixes are put on countdown a second time.

Successive revisions are made in response to comments are uploaded by pushing to the same branch. GitLab automatically keeps track of all pushed commits and allows to compare revisions with each other.

As in most organisations of unpaid volunteers, fixed procedures are useful in as much as they get the job done. In our community, there is room for senior developers to bypass normal patch handling flows, particularly now that the testing of patches is largely automated. Similarly, the minimum age of 24 hours can reasonably be waived if the patch is minor and from an experienced developer.

3.3.4 Merging to master

Before allowing a merge request to be merged, GitLab ensures the following:

  1. The merge must be fast-forward. In most cases, this can be achieved by ‘rebasing’ the branch with the most recent commits from master. This can be handled via GitLab, if no conflicts arise. Otherwise, or if preferred, the operation can be performed locally.
  2. The (possibly rebased) changes must have passed automatic testing. This ensures that the master branch is always clean and ready for development and translation.

After rebasing, GitLab will immediately start the automatic testing pipeline. At the moment, all steps may take up to one hour to complete. If you are confident about the rebased result of your changes, you may click “Merge when pipeline succeeds” to avoid waiting for the tests. On failure, the merge will be aborted and no harm is done to the master branch.

Because GitLab enforces fast-forward merges, this means only one set of changes can be rebased and merged at once. A second merge request would be rejected later on because it does not contain the commit(s) merged first. To avoid wasting testing resources, please avoid this situation and check first if a pipeline with a scheduled merge is already running. View the list of merge requests and verify that no merge request with Patch::push status has a blue “timer” icon.

How to merge a branch without rebasing

It is generally recommended to rebase commits before merging to get a linear history. However, this is not always possible or wanted. This particularly holds for the translation branch and release/unstable which cannot be force-pushed. For these cases, use the following procedure:

  1. Merge the branch manually using the command line. The example assumes no pending changes in the local master branch and merges the translation branch:
    git checkout master
    git pull
    git merge translation
    git push origin HEAD:translation
  2. Open a merge request at GitLab. This will immediately trigger automatic testing as described above.
  3. Accept the merge request once the testing finishes, or use the button to “Merge when pipeline succeeds”.

3.3.5 Abandoned patches

Roughly at six month intervals, the Patch Meister can list the patches which have been set to Patch::needs_work and send the results to the developer list for review. In most cases, these patches should be marked Patch::abandoned but this should come from the developer if possible.

3.4 Writing good commit messages

Your commit message should begin with a one-line summary describing the change (no more than 50 characters long), and if necessary a blank line followed by more explanatory text (wrapped at 72 characters). Here is how a good commit message looks like:

Doc: add Baerenreiter and Henle solo cello suites

Added comparison of solo cello suite engravings to new essay with
high-resolution images.  Fixed cropping on Finale example.

Closes #1234.

The “Closes” part is specially recognized by GitLab. See the documentation for closing issues automatically.

Commit messages often start with a short prefix describing the general location of the changes. Commit affecting the documentation in English (or in several languages simultaneously) should be prefixed with “Doc:”. When the commit affects only one of the translations, use “Doc-**:”, where ** is the two-letter language code. For the website, this is “Web:” or “Web-**”. Commits that change CSS files should use “Web: CSS” or “Doc: CSS:”. Finally, changes to a single file are often prefixed with the name of the file involved.

The imperative form, e.g. “Include this in that”, is strongly preferred over the descriptive form “That is now included in this”.

See also this blog post for details on how to write good commit messages.

3.5 Commit access

New contributors are not able to push branches directly to the main repository – only members of the LilyPond development team have commit access. If you are a contributor and are interested in joining the development team, contact the Project Manager through the mailing list ( Generally, only contributors who have already provided a number of patches which have been merged to the main repository will be considered for membership.

If you have been approved by the Project Manager, use the following procedure to obtain commit access.

3.6 Further Git documentation resources

Finally, please remember to read the man page of every Git command you will find in this manual in case you want to discover alternate methods or just understand how it works. The man pages can also be read online.

3.7 Repository directory structure

Prebuilt Documentation and packages are available from:

LilyPond development is hosted at:

Here is a simple explanation of the directory layout for
LilyPond's source files.

.                        Toplevel READMEs, ChangeLog,
|                          build bootstrapping, patches
|                          for third party programs
|-- Documentation/       Top sources for most of the manuals
|   |
|   |
|   |     Note: "Snippets" and "Internals Reference" are
|   |     auto-generated during the Documentation Build process.
|   |
|   |
|   |-- contributor/     Contributor's Guide
|   |-- essay/           Essay on automated music engraving
|   |-- extending/       Extending the functionality of LilyPond
|   |-- learning/        Learning Manual
|   |-- notation/        Notation Reference
|   |-- usage/           Runnning the programs that come with LilyPond
|   |-- web/             The website
|   |
|   |
|   |     Each language's directory can contain...
|   |       1) translated versions of:
|   |          * top sources for manuals
|   |          * individual chapters for each manual
|   |       2) a texidocs/ directory for snippet translations
|   |
|   |-- ca/              Catalan
|   |-- cs/              Czech
|   |-- de/              German
|   |-- es/              Spanish
|   |-- fr/              French
|   |-- hu/              Hungarian
|   |-- it/              Italian
|   |-- ja/              Japanese
|   |-- nl/              Dutch
|   |-- pt/              Portuguese
|   |-- zh/              Chinese
|   |
|   |
|   |
|   |-- css/             CSS files for HTML docs
|   |-- included/        .ly files used in the manuals
|   |-- logo/            Web logo and "note" icon
|   |-- ly-examples/     .ly files for the "Examples" webpage
|   |-- misc/            Old announcements, ChangeLogs and NEWS
|   |-- pictures/        Images used (eps/jpg/png/svg)
|   |   `-- pdf/         (pdf)
|   |-- po/              Translated build/maintenance scripts
|   |-- snippets/        Auto-generated from the LSR and from ./new/
|   |   `-- new/         Snippets too new for the LSR
|   `-- topdocs/         AUTHORS, INSTALL, README
|   C++ SOURCES:
|-- flower/              A simple C++ library
|-- lily/                C++ sources for the LilyPond binary
|-- ly/                  .ly \include files
|-- mf/                  MetaFont sources for Emmentaler fonts
|-- ps/                  PostScript library files
|-- scm/                 Scheme sources for LilyPond and subroutine files
|-- tex/                 TeX and texinfo library files
|-- config/              Autoconf helpers for configure script
|-- python/              Python modules, MIDI module
|   `-- auxiliar/        Python modules for build/maintenance
|-- scripts/             End-user scripts (--> lilypond/usr/bin/)
|   |-- auxiliar/        Maintenance and non-essential build scripts
|   `-- build/           Essential build scripts
|   (also see SCRIPTS section above)
|-- make/                Specific make subroutine files
|-- stepmake/            Generic make subroutine files
|-- input/
|   `-- regression/      .ly regression tests
|       |-- abc2ly/      .abc regression tests
|       |-- lilypond-book/  lilypond-book regression tests
|       |-- midi/        midi2ly regression tests
|       `-- musicxml/    .xml and .itexi regression tests
|-- elisp/               Emacs LilyPond mode and syntax coloring
|-- vim/                 Vi(M) LilyPond mode and syntax coloring
`-- po/                  Translations for binaries and end-user scripts

3.8 Other repositories

TODO: to be updated (infrastructure, static-files, lilypond-extra is no more).

We have a few other code repositories.


There is a separate repository for general administrative scripts, as well as pictures and media files for the website. People interested in working on the website should download this repository, and set their $LILYPOND_WEB_MEDIA_GIT environment variable to point to that repository.

To configure an environment variable in Bash (the default for most GNU/Linux distributions),

export LILYPOND_WEB_MEDIA_GIT=$HOME/dir/of/lilypond-extra/

Be aware that lilypond-extra is the definitive source for some binary files – in particular PDF versions of papers concerning LilyPond. To add further PDFs of this sort, all that is necessary is to add the PDF to lilypond-extra and then add a reference to it in the documentation. The file will then be copied to the website when make website is run.

However, pictures that are also used in the documentation build are mastered in the main Git repository. If any of these is changed, it should be updated in Git, and then the updates copied to lilypond-extra.

Grand Unified Builder (GUB)

Another item of interest might be the Grand Unified Builder, our cross-platform building tool. Since it is used by other projects as well, it is not stored in our main repository. For more info, see GUB’s home page.

The location for the repository is:


Our binary releases on MacOS X and Windows contain a lightweight text editor.

To make any modifications the Windows editor, you will need to do the following:

  1. Clone the git repository from
  2. Make changes to the source, and check it compiles. In a Windows environment MinGW provides both a Git installation and a gcc compiler. This can be obtained from
  3. Update the version which is contained in the ‘rsrc.rc’. Check this compiles, too.
  4. Commit the changes with an informative commit message.
  5. Push the changes to github. You will need to use syntax similiar to this:
    git push

    You will need to have push access to the git repository for this to be successful.

  6. Make a tarball of the source code to be used by GUB by pulling the updated repository from GitHub. Ensure that the tarball has the correct Version number.
  7. Copy the tarball to You will need to have SSH access to If you do not, contact the Release Manager via the lilypond-devel mailing list.
  8. Update GUB to make it use the new tarball by editing ‘gub/specs/’ and changing the source = line to point to the new source.
  9. Push this updated ‘’ version to the GUB repository on GitHub.
  10. Test the changes with a new GUB compile.

4. Compiling

This chapter describes the process of compiling the LilyPond program from source files.

4.1 Overview of compiling

Compiling LilyPond from source is an involved process, and is only recommended for developers and packagers. Typical program users are instead encouraged to obtain the program from a package manager (on Unix) or by downloading a precompiled binary configured for a specific operating system. Pre-compiled binaries are available on the Download page.

Compiling LilyPond from source is necessary if you want to build, install, or test your own version of the program.

A successful compile can also be used to generate and install the documentation, incorporating any changes you may have made. However, a successful compile is not a requirement for generating the documentation. The documentation can be built using a Git repository in conjunction with a locally installed copy of the program. For more information, see Building documentation without compiling.

Attempts to compile LilyPond natively on Windows have been unsuccessful, though a workaround is available (see LilyDev).

4.2 Requirements

4.2.1 Requirements for running LilyPond

This section contains the list of separate software packages that are required to run LilyPond.

4.2.2 Requirements for compiling LilyPond

This section contains instructions on how to quickly and easily get all the software packages required to build LilyPond.

Most of the more popular Linux distributions only require a few simple commands to download all the software needed. For others, there is an explicit list of all the individual packages (as well as where to get them from) for those that are not already included in your distributions’ own repositories.


The following instructions were tested on ‘Fedora’ versions 22 & 23 and will download all the software required to both compile LilyPond and build the documentation.

Note: By default, when building LilyPond’s documentation, pdfTeX is be used. However ligatures (fi, fl, ff etc.) may not be printed in the PDF output. In this case XeTeX can be used instead. Download and install the texlive-xetex package.

sudo dnf install texlive-xetex

The scripts used to build the LilyPond documentation will use XeTeX instead of pdfTeX to generate the PDF documents if it is available. No additional configuration is required.

Linux Mint

The following instructions were tested on ‘Linux Mint 17.1’ and ‘LMDE - Betsy’ and will download all the software required to both compile LilyPond and build the documentation..

Note: By default, when building LilyPond’s documentation, pdfTeX is be used. However ligatures (fi, fl, ff etc.) may not be printed in the PDF output. In this case XeTeX can be used instead. Download and install the texlive-xetex package.

sudo apt-get install texlive-xetex

The scripts used to build the LilyPond documentation will use XeTex instead of pdfTex to generate the PDF documents if it is available. No additional configuration is required.


The following instructions were tested on ‘OpenSUSE 13.2’ and will download all the software required to both compile LilyPond and build the documentation.

Note: By default, when building LilyPond’s documentation, pdfTeX is be used. However ligatures (fi, fl, ff etc.) may not be printed in the PDF output. In this case XeTeX can be used instead. Download and install the texlive-xetex package.

sudo zypper install texlive-xetex

The scripts used to build the LilyPond documentation will use XeTex instead of pdfTex to generate the PDF documents if it is available. No additional configuration is required.


The following commands were tested on Ubuntu versions 14.04 LTS, 14.10 and 15.04 and will download all the software required to both compile LilyPond and build the documentation.

Note: By default, when building LilyPond’s documentation, pdfTeX is be used. However ligatures (fi, fl, ff etc.) may not be printed in the PDF output. In this case XeTeX can be used instead. Download and install the texlive-xetex package.

sudo apt-get install texlive-xetex

The scripts used to build the LilyPond documentation will use XeTex instead of pdfTex to generate the PDF documents if it is available. No additional configuration is required.


The following individual software packages are required just to compile LilyPond.

4.2.3 Requirements for building documentation

The entire set of documentation for the most current build of LilyPond is available online at, but you can also build them locally from the source code. This process requires some additional tools and packages.

Note: If the instructions for one of the previously listed Linux in the previous section ( Requirements for compiling LilyPond) have been used, then the following can be ignored as the software should already be installed.

Note: By default, when building LilyPond’s documentation, pdfTeX is be used. However ligatures (fi, fl, ff etc.) may not be printed in the PDF output. In this case XeTeX can be used instead. Download and install the texlive-xetex package. The scripts used to build the LilyPond documentation will use XeTex instead of pdfTex to generate the PDF documents if it is available. No additional configuration is required.

4.3 Getting the source code

Downloading the Git repository

In general, developers compile LilyPond from within a local Git repository. Setting up a local Git repository is explained in Starting with Git.

Downloading a source tarball

Packagers are encouraged to use source tarballs for compiling.

The tarball for the latest stable release is available on the Source page.

The latest source code snapshot is also available as a tarball from the GNU Savannah Git server.

All tagged releases (including legacy stable versions and the most recent development release) are available here:

Download the tarball to your ‘~/src/’ directory, or some other appropriate place.

Note: Be careful where you unpack the tarball! Any subdirectories of the current folder named ‘lilypond/’ or ‘lilypond-x.y.z/’ (where x.y.z is the release number) will be overwritten if there is a name clash with the tarball.

Unpack the tarball with this command:

tar -xzf lilypond-x.y.z.tar.gz

This creates a subdirectory within the current directory called ‘lilypond-x.y.z/’. Once unpacked, the source files occupy about 40 MB of disk space.

Windows users wanting to look at the source code may have to download and install the free-software 7zip archiver to extract the tarball.

4.4 Configuring make

4.4.1 Running ./

After you unpack the tarball (or download the Git repository), the contents of your top source directory should be similar to the current source tree listed at;a=tree.

Next, you need to create the generated files; enter the following command from your top source directory:

./ --noconfigure

This will generate a number of files and directories to aid configuration, such as ‘configure’, ‘README.txt’, etc.

Next, create the build directory with:

mkdir build/
cd build/

We heavily recommend building lilypond inside a separate directory with this method.

4.4.2 Running ../configure

Configuration options

Note: make sure that you are in the ‘build/’ subdirectory of your source tree.

The ../configure command (generated by ./ provides many options for configuring make. To see them all, run:

../configure --help

Checking build dependencies

Note: make sure that you are in the ‘build/’ subdirectory of your source tree.

When ../configure is run without any arguments, it will check to make sure your system has everything required for compilation:


If any build dependency is missing, ../configure will return with:

ERROR: Please install required programs:  foo

The following message is issued if you are missing programs that are only needed for building the documentation:

WARNING: Please consider installing optional programs:  bar

If you intend to build the documentation locally, you will need to install or update these programs accordingly.

Note: ../configure may fail to issue warnings for certain documentation build requirements that are not met. If you experience problems when building the documentation, you may need to do a manual check of Requirements for building documentation.

Configuring target directories

Note: make sure that you are in the ‘build/’ subdirectory of your source tree.

If you intend to use your local build to install a local copy of the program, you will probably want to configure the installation directory. Here are the relevant lines taken from the output of ../configure --help:

By default, ‘make install’ will install all the files in ‘/usr/local/bin’, ‘/usr/local/lib’ etc. You can specify an installation prefix other than ‘/usr/local’ using ‘‘--prefix’’, for instance ‘‘--prefix=$HOME’’.

A typical installation prefix is ‘$HOME/usr’:

../configure --prefix=$HOME/usr

Note that if you plan to install a local build on a system where you do not have root privileges, you will need to do something like this anyway—make install will only succeed if the installation prefix points to a directory where you have write permission (such as your home directory). The installation directory will be automatically created if necessary.

The location of the lilypond command installed by this process will be ‘prefix/bin/lilypond’; you may want to add ‘prefix/bin/’ to your $PATH if it is not already included.

It is also possible to specify separate installation directories for different types of program files. See the full output of ../configure --help for more information.

If you encounter any problems, please see Problems.

4.5 Compiling LilyPond

4.5.1 Using make

Note: make sure that you are in the ‘build/’ subdirectory of your source tree.

LilyPond is compiled with the make command. Assuming make is configured properly, you can simply run:


make’ is short for ‘make all’. To view a list of make targets, run:

make help

TODO: Describe what make actually does.

See also

Generating documentation provides more info on the make targets used to build the LilyPond documentation.

4.5.2 Saving time with the ‘-j’ option

If your system has multiple CPUs, you can speed up compilation by adding ‘-jX’ to the make command, where ‘X’ is one more than the number of cores you have. For example, a typical Core2Duo machine would use:

make -j3

If you get errors using the ‘-j’ option, and ‘make’ succeeds without it, try lowering the X value.

Because multiple jobs run in parallel when ‘-j’ is used, it can be difficult to determine the source of an error when one occurs. In that case, running ‘make’ without the ‘-j’ is advised.

4.5.3 Useful make variables

make normally echoes each command, but LilyPond makefiles suppress this behavior by default. The goal is to show progress without hiding warnings and errors in the noise of long commands.

To enable echoing commands, and to increase the verbosity of some of the commands, set VERBOSE=1 on the command line or in ‘local.make’ at the top of the build tree.

Similarly, to reduce the verbosity, set SILENT=1. Because of the way these options are implemented, make -s does not serve this purpose.

4.6 Post-compilation options

4.6.1 Installing LilyPond from a local build

If you configured make to install your local build in a directory where you normally have write permission (such as your home directory), and you have compiled LilyPond by running make, you can install the program in your target directory by running:

make install

If instead, your installation directory is not one that you can normally write to (such as the default ‘/usr/local/’, which typically is only writeable by the superuser), you will need to temporarily become the superuser when running make install:

sudo make install


su -c 'make install'

If you don’t have superuser privileges, then you need to configure the installation directory to one that you can write to, and then re-install. See Configuring target directories.

4.6.2 Generating documentation

Documentation editor’s edit/compile cycle

To work on a manual, do the following

Building documentation

After a successful compile (using make), the documentation can be built by issuing:

make doc

or, to build only the PDF documentation and not the HTML,

make -C Documentation out=www pdf

Note: The first time you run make doc, the process can easily take an hour or more with not much output on the command line.

After this initial build, make doc only makes changes to the documentation where needed, so it may only take a minute or two to test changes if the documentation is already built.

If make doc succeeds, the HTML documentation tree is available in ‘out-www/offline-root/’, and can be browsed locally. The documentation can also be inspected in the ‘Documentation/out-www’ subdirectory.

make doc sends the output from most of the compilation to logfiles. If the build fails for any reason, it should print the name of a logfile, explaining what failed.

make doc compiles the documents for all languages. To save some compile time, the English language documents can be compiled on their own with:

make LANGS='en' doc

Similarly, it is possible to compile a subset of the translated documentation by specifying their language codes on the command line. For example, the French and German translations are compiled with:

make LANGS='de fr' doc

Compilation of documentation in Info format with images can be done separately by issuing:

make info

An issue when switching branches between master and translation is the appearance/disappearance of translated versions of some manuals. If you see such a warning from make:

No rule to make target `X', needed by `Y'

Your best bet is to delete the file Y.dep and to try again.

Building a single document

It’s possible to build a single document. For example, to rebuild only ‘contributor.pdf’, do the following:

cd build/
cd Documentation/
touch ../../Documentation/en/contributor.texi
make out=www out-www/en/contributor.pdf

If you are only working on a single document, test-building it in this way can give substantial time savings - recreating ‘contributor.pdf’, for example, takes a matter of seconds.

Saving time with CPU_COUNT

The most time consuming task for building the documentation is running LilyPond to build images of music, and there cannot be several simultaneously running lilypond-book instances, so the ‘-jmake option does not significantly speed up the build process. To help speed it up, the makefile variable ‘CPU_COUNT’ may be set in ‘local.make’ or on the command line to the number of .ly files that LilyPond should process simultaneously, e.g. on a dual core machine:

make -j2 CPU_COUNT=2 doc

The recommended value of ‘CPU_COUNT’ is the number of cores. If the build runs into out-of-memory problems, use a lower number.

Installing documentation

The HTML, PDF and if available Info files can be installed into the standard documentation path by issuing

make install-doc

This also installs Info documentation with images. The final installation of Info documentation (integrating it into the documentation directory) is printed on standard output.

To install the Info documentation separately, run:

make install-info

Note that to get the images in Info documentation, install-doc target creates symbolic links to HTML and PDF installed documentation tree in ‘prefix/share/info’, in order to save disk space, whereas install-info copies images in ‘prefix/share/info’ subdirectories.

It is possible to build a documentation tree in ‘out-www/online-root/’, with special processing, so it can be used on a website with content negotiation for automatic language selection; this can be achieved by issuing

make WEB_TARGETS=online doc

and both ‘offline’ and ‘online’ targets can be generated by issuing

make WEB_TARGETS="offline online" doc

Several targets are available to clean the documentation build and help with maintaining documentation; an overview of these targets is available with

make help

from every directory in the build tree. Most targets for documentation maintenance are available from ‘Documentation/’; for more information, see Documentation work.

The makefile variable QUIET_BUILD may be set to 1 for a less verbose build output, just like for building the programs.

Building documentation without compiling

The documentation can be built locally without compiling LilyPond binary, if LilyPond is already installed on your system.

From a fresh Git checkout, do

./   # ignore any warning messages
cp GNUmakefile
make -C scripts && make -C python
nice make LILYPOND_EXTERNAL_BINARY=/path/to/bin/lilypond doc

This may break: if a new feature is added with a test file in input/regression, even the latest development release of LilyPond will fail to build the docs.

You may build the manual without building all the ‘input/*’ stuff (i.e. mostly regression tests): change directory, for example to ‘Documentation/’, issue make doc, which will build documentation in a subdirectory ‘out-www’ from the source files in current directory. In this case, if you also want to browse the documentation in its post-processed form, change back to top directory and issue

make out=www WWW-post

4.6.3 Testing LilyPond binary

LilyPond comes with an extensive suite that exercises the entire program. This suite can be used to test that the binary has been built correctly.

The test suite can be executed with:

make test

If the test suite completes successfully, the LilyPond binary has been verified.

More information on the regression test suite is found at Regression tests.

4.7 Problems

For help and questions use Send bug reports to

Bugs that are not fault of LilyPond are documented here.

Compiling on MacOS X

Here are special instructions for compiling under MacOS X. These instructions assume that dependencies are installed using MacPorts. The instructions have been tested using OS X 10.5 (Leopard).

First, install the relevant dependencies using MacPorts.

Next, add the following to your relevant shell initialization files. This is ~/.profile by default. You should create this file if it does not exist.

export PATH=/opt/local/bin:/opt/local/sbin:$PATH

At this point, you should verify that you have the appropriate fonts installed with your ghostscript installation. Check ls /opt/local/share/ghostscript/fonts for: ’c0590*’ files (.pfb, .pfb and .afm). If you don’t have them, run the following commands to grab them from the ghostscript SVN server and install them in the appropriate location:

svn export
sudo mv urw-fonts-1.0.7pre44/* /opt/local/share/ghostscript/fonts/
rm -rf urw-fonts-1.07pre44

Now run the ./configure script. To avoid complications with automatic font detection, add



To use system fonts, dejaview must be installed. With the default port, the fonts are installed in ‘usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/dejavu’.

Open the file ‘$LILYPONDBASE/usr/etc/fonts/local.conf’ and add the following line just after the <fontconfig> line. (Adjust as necessary for your hierarchy.)


International fonts

On Mac OS X, all fonts are installed by default. However, finding all system fonts requires a bit of configuration; see this post on the lilypond-user mailing list.

On Linux, international fonts are installed by different means on every distribution. We cannot list the exact commands or packages that are necessary, as each distribution is different, and the exact package names within each distribution changes. Here are some hints, though:

Red Hat Fedora

    taipeifonts fonts-xorg-truetype ttfonts-ja fonts-arabic \
         ttfonts-zh_CN fonts-ja fonts-hebrew

Debian GNU/Linux

   apt-get install emacs-intl-fonts xfonts-intl-.* \
        fonts-ipafont-gothic  fonts-ipafont-mincho \
        xfonts-bolkhov-75dpi xfonts-cronyx-100dpi xfonts-cronyx-75dpi

Using lilypond python libraries

If you want to use lilypond’s python libraries (either running certain build scripts manually, or using them in other programs), set PYTHONPATH to ‘python/out’ in your build directory, or ‘…/usr/lib/lilypond/current/python’ in the installation directory structure.

4.8 Concurrent stable and development versions

It can be useful to have both the stable and the development versions of LilyPond available at once. One way to do this on GNU/Linux is to install the stable version using the precompiled binary, and run the development version from the source tree. After running make all from the top directory of the LilyPond source files, there will be a binary called lilypond in the out directory:

<path to>/lilypond/out/bin/lilypond

This binary can be run without actually doing the make install command. The advantage to this is that you can have all of the latest changes available after pulling from git and running make all, without having to uninstall the old version and reinstall the new.

So, to use the stable version, install it as usual and use the normal commands:


To use the development version, create a link to the binary in the source tree by saving the following line in a file somewhere in your $PATH:

exec <path to>/lilypond/out/bin/lilypond "$@"

Save it as Lilypond (with a capital L to distinguish it from the stable lilypond), and make it executable:

chmod +x Lilypond

Then you can invoke the development version this way:



- other compilation tricks for developers

4.9 Build system

We currently use make and stepmake, which is complicated and only used by us. Hopefully this will change in the future.

Version-specific texinfo macros

5. Documentation work

There are currently 11 manuals for LilyPond, not including the translations. Each book is available in HTML, PDF, and info. The documentation is written in a language called texinfo – this allows us to generate different output formats from a single set of source files.

To organize multiple authors working on the documentation, we use a Version Control System (VCS) called Git, previously discussed in Working with source code.

5.1 Introduction to documentation work

Our documentation tries to adhere to our Documentation policy. This policy contains a few items which may seem odd. One policy in particular is often questioned by potential contributors: we do not repeat material in the Notation Reference, and instead provide links to the “definitive” presentation of that information. Some people point out, with good reason, that this makes the documentation harder to read. If we repeated certain information in relevant places, readers would be less likely to miss that information.

That reasoning is sound, but we have two counter-arguments. First, the Notation Reference – one of five manuals for users to read – is already over 500 pages long. If we repeated material, we could easily exceed 1000 pages! Second, and much more importantly, LilyPond is an evolving project. New features are added, bugs are fixed, and bugs are discovered and documented. If features are discussed in multiple places, the documentation team must find every instance. Since the manual is so large, it is impossible for one person to have the location of every piece of information memorized, so any attempt to update the documentation will invariably omit a few places. This second concern is not at all theoretical; the documentation used to be plagued with inconsistent information.

If the documentation were targeted for a specific version – say, LilyPond 2.10.5 – and we had unlimited resources to spend on documentation, then we could avoid this second problem. But since LilyPond evolves (and that is a very good thing!), and since we have quite limited resources, this policy remains in place.

A few other policies (such as not permitting the use of tweaks in the main portion of NR 1+2) may also seem counter-intuitive, but they also stem from attempting to find the most effective use of limited documentation help.

Before undertaking any large documentation work, contributors are encouraged to contact the Documentation Meister.

5.2 \version in documentation files

Every documentation file which includes LilyPond code must begin with a \version statement, since the build procedure explicitly tests for its presence and will not continue otherwise. The \version statement should reference a version of LilyPond consistent with the syntax of the contained code.

Since the \version statement is not valid Texinfo input it must be commented out like this:

@c \version "2.19.1"

So, if you are adding LilyPond code which is not consistent with the current version header, you should

  1. run convert-ly on the file using the latest version of LilyPond (which should, if everybody has done proper maintenance, not change anything);
  2. add the new code;
  3. modify the version number to match the new code.

5.3 Documentation suggestions

Small additions

For additions to the documentation,

  1. Tell us where the addition should be placed. Please include both the section number and title (i.e. "LM 2.13 Printing lyrics").
  2. Please write exact changes to the text.
  3. A formal patch to the source code is not required; we can take care of the technical details.
  4. Send the suggestions to the bug-lilypond mailing list as discussed in Contact.
  5. Here is an example of a perfect documentation report:
    Subject: doc addition
    In LM 2.13 (printing lyrics), above the last line ("More options,
    like..."), please add:
    To add lyrics to a divided part, use blah blah blah.  For example,
    \score {
      \notes {blah <<blah>> }
      \lyrics {blah <<blah>> }
      blah blah blah
    In addition, the second sentence of the first paragraph is
    confusing.  Please delete that sentence (it begins "Users
    often...") and replace it with this:
    To align lyrics with something, do this thing.
    Have a nice day,
    Helpful User

Larger contributions

To replace large sections of the documentation, the guidelines are stricter. We cannot remove parts of the current documentation unless we are certain that the new version is an improvement.

  1. Ask on the lilypond-devel mailing list if such a rewrite is necessary; somebody else might already be working on this issue!
  2. Split your work into small sections; this makes it much easier to compare the new and old documentation.
  3. Please prepare a formal git patch.

Contributions that contain examples using overrides

Examples that use overrides, tweaks, customer Scheme functions etc. are (with very few exceptions) not included in the main text of the manuals; as there would be far too many, equally useful, candidates.

The correct way is to submit your example, with appropriate explanatory text and tags, to the LilyPond Snippet Repository (LSR). Snippets that have the “docs” tag can then be easily added as a selected snippet in the documentation. It will also appear automatically in the Snippets lists. See Introduction to LSR.

Snippets that don’t have the “docs” tag will still be searchable and viewable within the LSR, but will be not be included in the Snippets list or be able to be included as part of the main documentation.

Generally, any new snippets that have the “docs” tag are more carefully checked for syntax and formatting.

Announcing your snippet

Once you have followed these guidelines, please send a message to lilypond-devel with your documentation submissions. Unfortunately there is a strict ‘no top-posting’ check on the mailing list; to avoid this, add:

> I'm not top posting

(you must include the > ) to the top of your documentation addition.

We may edit your suggestion for spelling, grammar, or style, and we may not place the material exactly where you suggested, but if you give us some material to work with, we can improve the manual much faster.

Thanks for your interest!

5.4 Texinfo introduction and usage policy

5.4.1 Texinfo introduction

The language is called Texinfo; you can see its manual here:

However, you don’t need to read those docs. The most important thing to notice is that text is text. If you see a mistake in the text, you can fix it. If you want to change the order of something, you can cut-and-paste that stuff into a new location.

Note: Rule of thumb: follow the examples in the existing docs. You can learn most of what you need to know from this; if you want to do anything fancy, discuss it on lilypond-devel first.

5.4.2 Documentation files

All manuals live in ‘Documentation/’.

In particular, there are four user manuals, their respective master source files are ‘learning.tely’ (LM, Learning Manual), ‘notation.tely’ (NR, Notation Reference), ‘music-glossary.tely’ (MG, Music Glossary), and ‘lilypond-program’ (AU). Each chapter is written in a separate file, ending in ‘.itely’ for files containing lilypond code, and ‘.itexi’ for files without lilypond code, located in a subdirectory associated to the manual (‘learning/’ for ‘learning.tely’, and so on); list the subdirectory of each manual to determine the filename of the specific chapter you wish to modify.

Developer manuals live in ‘Documentation/’ too. Currently there is only one: the Contributor’s Guide ‘contrib-guide.texi’ you are reading.

Snippet files are part of documentation, and the Snippet List (SL) lives in ‘Documentation/’ just like the manuals. For information about how to modify the snippet files and SL, see LSR work.

5.4.3 Sectioning commands

The Notation Reference uses section headings at four, occasionally five, levels.

The first three levels are numbered in HTML, the last two are not. Numbered sections correspond to a single HTML page in the split HTML documents.

The first four levels always have accompanying nodes so they can be referenced and are also included in the ToC in HTML.

Most of the manual is written at level 4 under headings created with

@node Foo
@unnumberedsubsubsec Foo

Level 3 subsections are created with

@node Foo
@subsection Foo

Level 4 headings and menus must be preceded by level 3 headings and menus, and so on for level 3 and level 2. If this is not what is wanted, please use:

@subsubsubheading Foo

Please leave two blank lines above a @node; this makes it easier to find sections in texinfo.

Do not use any @ commands for a @node. They may be used for any @sub... sections or headings however.

@node @code{Foo} Bar
@subsection @code{Foo} Bar

but instead:
@node Foo Bar
@subsection @code{Foo} Bar

No punctuation may be used in the node names. If the heading text uses punctuation (in particular, colons and commas) simply leave this out of the node name and menu.

* Foo Bar::
@end menu

@node Foo Bar
@subsection Foo: Bar

Backslashes must not be used in node names or section headings. If the heading text should include a backslash simply leave this out of the node name and menu and replace it with @bs{} in the heading text.

* The set command
@end menu

@node The set command
@subsection The @code{@bs{}set} command

References to such a node may use the third argument of the @ref command to display the texually correct heading.

@ref{The set command,,The @code{@bs{}set command}

With the exception of @ commands, \ commands and punctuation, the section name should match the node name exactly.

Sectioning commands (@node and @section) must not appear inside an @ignore. Separate those commands with a space, ie @n ode.

Nodes must be included inside a

* foo::
* bar::
@end menu

construct. These can be constructed with scripts: see Stripping whitespace and generating menus.

5.4.4 LilyPond formatting

5.4.5 Text formatting

5.4.6 Syntax survey


Cross references

Enter the exact @node name of the target reference between the brackets (eg. ‘@ref{Syntax survey}’). Do not split a cross-reference across two lines – this causes the cross-reference to be rendered incorrectly in HTML documents.

External links

Fixed-width font



Special characters

Note: In Texinfo, the backslash is an ordinary character, and is entered without escaping (e.g. ‘The @code{\foo} command’). However, within double-quoted Scheme and/or LilyPond strings, backslashes (including those ending up in Texinfo markup) need to be escaped by doubling them:

(define (foo x)
  "The @code{\\foo} command..."


5.4.7 Other text concerns

5.5 Documentation policy

5.5.1 Books

There are four parts to the documentation: the Learning Manual, the Notation Reference, the Program Reference, and the Music Glossary.

5.5.2 Section organization

5.5.3 Checking cross-references

Cross-references between different manuals are heavily used in the documentation, but they are not checked during compilation. However, if you compile the documentation, a script called check_texi_refs can help you with checking and fixing these cross-references; for information on usage, cd into a source tree where documentation has been built, cd into Documentation and run:

make check-xrefs
make fix-xrefs

Note that you have to find yourself the source files to fix cross-references in the generated documentation such as the Internals Reference; e.g. you can grep scm/ and lily/.

5.5.4 General writing

5.5.5 Technical writing style

These refer to the NR. The LM uses a more gentle, colloquial style.

5.6 Tips for writing docs

In the NR, I highly recommend focusing on one subsection at a time. For each subsection,

In general, I favor short text explanations with good examples – “an example is worth a thousand words”. When I worked on the docs, I spent about half my time just working on those tiny lilypond examples. Making easily-understandable examples is much harder than it looks.


In general, any \set or \override commands should go in the “select snippets” section, which means that they should go in LSR and not the ‘.itely’ file. For some cases, the command obviously belongs in the “main text” (i.e. not inside @predefined or @morerefs or whatever) – instrument names are a good example of this.

\set Staff.instrumentName = "foo"

On the other side of this,

\override Score.Hairpin.after-line-breaking = ##t

clearly belongs in LSR.

I’m quite willing to discuss specific cases if you think that a tweaks needs to be in the main text. But items that can go into LSR are easier to maintain, so I’d like to move as much as possible into there.

It would be “nice” if you spent a lot of time crafting nice tweaks for users… but my recommendation is not to do this. There’s a lot of doc work to do without adding examples of tweaks. Tweak examples can easily be added by normal users by adding them to the LSR.

One place where a documentation writer can profitably spend time writing or upgrading tweaks is creating tweaks to deal with known issues. It would be ideal if every significant known issue had a workaround to avoid the difficulty.

See also

Adding and editing snippets.

5.7 Scripts to ease doc work

5.7.1 Scripts to test the documentation

Building only one section of the documentation

In order to save build time, a script is available to build only one section of the documentation in English with a default HTML appearance.

If you do not yet have a ‘build/’ subdirectory within the LilyPond Git tree, you should create this first. You can then build a section of the documentation with the following command:

scripts/auxiliar/ MANUAL SECTION

where SECTION is the name of the file containing the section to be built, and MANUAL is replaced by the name of the directory containing the section. So, for example, to build section 1.1 of the Notation Reference, use the command:

scripts/auxiliar/ notation pitches

You can then see the generated document for the section at


According to LilyPond issue 1236, the location of the LilyPond Git tree is taken from $LILYPOND_GIT if specified, otherwise it is auto-detected.

It is assumed that compilation takes place in the ‘build/’ subdirectory, but this can be overridden by setting the environment variable LILYPOND_BUILD_DIR.

Similarly, output defaults to ‘build/tempdocs/’ but this can be overridden by setting the environment variable LILYPOND_TEMPDOCS.

This script will not work for building sections of the Contributors’ Guide. For building sections of the Contributors’ Guide, use:

scripts/auxiliar/ SECTION

where SECTION is the name of the file containing the sections to be built. For example, to build section 4 of the Contributors’ Guide, use:

scripts/auxiliar/ doc-work uses the same environment variables and corresponding default values as

5.7.2 Scripts to create documentation

Stripping whitespace and generating menus

Note: This script assumes that the file conforms to our doc policy, in particular with regard to Sectioning commands; a few files still need work in this regard.

To automatically regenerate @menu portions and strip whitespace, use:

scripts/auxiliar/ FILENAME

If you are adding documentation that requires new menus, you will need to add a blank @menu section:

@end menu

Updating doc with convert-ly

Don’t. This should be done by programmers when they add new features. If you notice that it hasn’t been done, complain to lilypond-devel.

5.8 Docstrings in scheme

Material in the Internals reference is generated automatically from our source code. Any doc work on Internals therefore requires modifying files in ‘scm/*.scm’. Texinfo is allowed in these docstrings.

Most documentation writers never touch these, though. If you want to work on them, please ask for help.

5.9 Translating the documentation

The mailing list is dedicated to LilyPond web site and documentation translation; on this list, you will get support from the Translations Meister and experienced translators, and we regularly discuss translation issues common to all languages. All people interested in LilyPond translations are invited to subscribe to this list regardless of the amount of their contribution, by sending an email to with subject subscribe and an empty message body. Unless mentioned explicitly, or except if a translations coordinator contacts you privately, you should send questions, remarks and patches to the list Please note that traffic is high on the English-speaking list, so it may take some time before your request or contribution is handled.

5.9.1 Getting started with documentation translation

First, get the sources of branch translation from the Git repository, see Working with source code.

Translation requirements

Working on LilyPond documentation translations requires the following pieces of software, in order to make use of dedicated helper tools:

It is not required to build LilyPond and the documentation to translate the documentation. However, if you have enough time and motivation and a suitable system, it can be very useful to build at least the documentation so that you can check the output yourself and more quickly; if you are interested, see Compiling.

Before undertaking any large translation work, contributors are encouraged to contact the Translation Meister.

Which documentation can be translated

The makefiles and scripts infrastructure currently supports translation of the following documentation:

Support for translating the following pieces of documentation should be added soon, by decreasing order of priority:

Starting translation in a new language

At top of the source directory, do


or (if you want to install your self-compiled LilyPond locally)

./ --prefix=$HOME

If you want to compile LilyPond – which is almost required to build the documentation, but is not required to do translation only – fix all dependencies and rerun ./configure (with the same options as for

Then cd into ‘Documentation/’ and run


where MY-LANGUAGE is the ISO 639 language code.

Finally, add a language definition for your language in ‘python/’, ‘Documentation/lilypond-texi2html-lang.init’ and ‘Documentation/web/server/’. Add this language definition and the corresponding section in ‘Documentation/lilypond-texi2html.init’ and ‘scripts/build/’.

5.9.2 Documentation translation details

Please follow all the instructions with care to ensure quality work.

All files should be encoded in UTF-8.

Files to be translated

Translation of ‘Documentation/foo/bar’ should be ‘Documentation/LANG/foo/bar’. Unmentioned files should not be translated.


Files of priority 1 should be submitted along all files generated by starting a new language in the same commit and thus a unique patch, and the translation of files marked with priority 2 should be committed to Git at the same time and thus sent in a single patch. Files marked with priority 3 or more may be submitted individually. Word counts (excluding LilyPond snippets) are given for each file. For knowing how to commit your work to Git, then make patches of your new translations as well as corrections and updates, see Working with source code.

-1- Web site
752   web.texi
6073  web/introduction.itexi
1174  web/download.itexi
1139  macros.itexi
9     po/lilypond-doc.pot (translate to po/MY_LANGUAGE.po)
0     search-box.ihtml
---   lilypond-texi2html.init (section TRANSLATIONS)
9147  total

-2- Tutorial
1279  web/manuals.itexi
124   learning.tely
2536  learning/tutorial.itely
4517  learning/common-notation.itely
8456  total

-3- Fundamental Concepts, starting of Usage and Community
11576 learning/fundamental.itely -- Fundamental concepts
135   usage.tely
6877  usage/running.itely
2097  usage/updating.itely
2359  web/community.itexi
23044 total

-4- Rest of Learning manual and Suggestions on writing LilyPond files
16582 learning/tweaks.itely -- Tweaking output
1236  learning/templates.itely -- Templates
2793  usage/suggestions.itely -- Suggestions on writing LilyPond files
20611 total

-5- Notation reference
361   notation.tely
91    notation/notation.itely -- Musical notation
5513  notation/pitches.itely
7098  notation/rhythms.itely
1907  notation/expressive.itely
1310  notation/repeats.itely
3001  notation/simultaneous.itely
3017  notation/staff.itely
1700  notation/editorial.itely
3572  notation/text.itely
81    notation/specialist.itely -- Specialist notation
5174  notation/vocal.itely
2177  notation/chords.itely
702   notation/piano.itely
1000  notation/percussion.itely
826   notation/guitar.itely
66    notation/strings.itely
242   notation/bagpipes.itely
5468  notation/ancient.itely
13941 notation/input.itely -- Input syntax
2164  notation/non-music.itely -- Non-musical notation
11050 notation/spacing.itely -- Spacing issues
17137 notation/changing-defaults.itely -- Changing defaults
5187  notation/programming-interface.itely -- Interfaces for programmers
3450  notation/notation-appendices.itely -- Notation manual tables
252   notation/cheatsheet.itely -- Cheat sheet
96487 total

-6- Rest of Application Usage
4212  usage/lilypond-book.itely -- LilyPond-book
1122  usage/converters.itely -- Converting from other formats
5334  total

-7- Appendices whose translation is optional
382   essay/literature.itely
1222  learning/scheme-tutorial.itely (should be revised first)
1604  total

In addition, not listed above, Snippets’ titles and descriptions should be translated; they are a part of the Notation Reference and therefore their priority is 5.

Translating the Web site and other Texinfo documentation

Every piece of text should be translated in the source file, except Texinfo comments, text in @lilypond blocks and a few cases mentioned below.

Node names are translated, but the original node name in English should be kept as the argument of @translationof put after the section title; that is, every piece in the original file like

@node Foo bar
@section_command Bar baz

should be translated as

@node translation of Foo bar
@section_command translation of Bar baz
@translationof Foo bar

The argument of @rglos commands and the first argument of @rglosnamed commands must not be translated, as it is the node name of an entry in Music Glossary.

Every time you translate a node name in a cross-reference, i.e. the argument of commands @ref, @rprogram, @rlearning, @rlsr, @ruser or the first argument of their *named variants, you should make sure the target node is defined in the correct source file; if you do not intend to translate the target node right now, you should at least write the node definition (that is, the @node @section_commmand @translationof trio mentioned above) in the expected source file and define all its parent nodes; for each node you have defined this way but have not translated, insert a line that contains @untranslated. That is, you should end up for each untranslated node with something like

@node translation of Foo bar
@section_command translation of Bar baz
@translationof Foo bar


Note: you do not have to translate the node name of a cross-reference to a node that you do not have translated. If you do, you must define an “empty” node like explained just above; this will produce a cross-reference with the translated node name in output, although the target node will still be in English. On the opposite, if all cross-references that refer to an untranslated node use the node name in English, then you do not have to define such an “empty” node, and the cross-reference text will appear in English in the output. The choice between these two strategies implies its particular maintenance requirements and is left to the translators, although the opinion of the Translation meister leans towards not translating these cross-references.

Please think of the fact that it may not make sense translating everything in some Texinfo files, and you may take distance from the original text; for instance, in the translation of the web site section Community, you may take this into account depending on what you know the community in your language is willing to support, which is possible only if you personally assume this support, or there exists a public forum or mailing list listed in Community for LilyPond in your language:

In any case, please mark in your work the sections which do not result from the direct translation of a piece of English translation, using comments i.e. lines starting with ‘@c’.

Finally, press in Emacs <C-c C-u C-a> to update or generate menus. This process should be made easier in the future, when the helper script and the makefile target are updated.

Some pieces of text manipulated by build scripts that appear in the output are translated in a ‘.po’ file – just like LilyPond output messages – in ‘Documentation/po’. The Gettext domain is named lilypond-doc, and unlike lilypond domain it is not managed through the Free Translation Project.

Take care of using typographic rules for your language, especially in ‘macros.itexi’.

If you wonder whether a word, phrase or larger piece of text should be translated, whether it is an argument of a Texinfo command or a small piece sandwiched between two Texinfo commands, try to track whether and where it appears in PDF and/or HTML output as visible text. This piece of advice is especially useful for translating ‘macros.itexi’.

Please keep verbatim copies of music snippets (in @lilypond blocs). However, some music snippets containing text that shows in the rendered music, and sometimes translating this text really helps the user to understand the documentation; in this case, and only in this case, you may as an exception translate text in the music snippet, and then you must add a line immediately before the @lilypond block, starting with


Otherwise the music snippet would be reset to the same content as the English version at next make snippet-update run – see Updating documentation translation.

When you encounter

@lilypondfile[<number of fragment options>,texidoc]{}

in the source, open ‘Documentation/snippets/’, translate the texidoc header field it contains, enclose it with texidocMY-LANGUAGE = " and ", and write it into ‘Documentation/MY-LANGUAGE/texidocs/filename.texidoc’. Additionally, you may translate the snippet’s title in doctitle header field, in case doctitle is a fragment option used in @lilypondfile; you can do this exactly the same way as texidoc. For instance, ‘Documentation/MY-LANGUAGE/texidocs/filename.texidoc’ may contain

doctitlees = "Spanish title baz"
texidoces = "
Spanish translation blah

@example blocks need not be verbatim copies, e.g. variable names, file names and comments should be translated.

Finally, please carefully apply every rule exposed in Texinfo introduction and usage policy, and Documentation policy. If one of these rules conflicts with a rule specific to your language, please ask the Translation meister on list and/or the Documentation Editors on list.

Adding a Texinfo manual

In order to start translating a new manual, simply copy the English files within your language directory and translate them.

For example, if you want to translate the first chapter of the Learning Manual:

cp Documentation/learning.tely Documentation/LANG/learning.tely
cp Documentation/learning/tutorial.itely Documentation/LANG/tutorial.itely

5.9.3 Documentation translation maintenance

Several tools have been developed to make translations maintenance easier. These helper scripts make use of the power of Git, the version control system used for LilyPond development.

You should use them whenever you would like to update the translation in your language, which you may do at the frequency that fits your and your cotranslators’ respective available times. In the case your translation is up-do-date (which you can discover in the first subsection below), it is enough to check its state every one or two weeks. If you feel overwhelmed by the quantity of documentation to be updated, see Maintaining without updating translations.

Check state of translation

First pull from Git – see Git cheat sheet, but DO NOT rebase unless you are sure to master the translation state checking and updating system – then cd into ‘Documentation/’ (or at top of the source tree, replace make with make -C Documentation) and run

make ISOLANG=MY_LANGUAGE check-translation

This presents a diff of the original files since the most recent revision of the translation. To check a single file, cd into ‘Documentation/’ and run

make TRANSLATION_FILES=MY_LANGUAGE/manual/foo.itely check-translation

In case this file has been renamed since you last updated the translation, you should specify both old and new file names, e.g. TRANSLATION_FILES=MY_LANGUAGE/{manual,user}/foo.itely.

To see only which files need to be updated, do

make ISOLANG=MY_LANGUAGE check-translation | grep 'diff --git'

To avoid printing terminal colors control characters, which is often desirable when you redirect output to a file, run

make ISOLANG=MY_LANGUAGE NO_COLOR=1 check-translation

You can see the diffs generated by the commands above as changes that you should make in your language to the existing translation, in order to make your translation up to date.

Note: do not forget to update the committish in each file you have completely updated, see Updating translation committishes.

Global state of the translation is recorded in ‘Documentation/translations.itexi’, which is used to generate Translations status page. To update that page, do from ‘Documentation/

make translation-status

This will also leave ‘out/translations-status.txt’, which contains up-to-dateness percentages for each translated file, and update word counts of documentation files in this Guide.

See also

Maintaining without updating translations.

Updating documentation translation

Instead of running check-translation, you may want to run update-translation, which will run your favorite text editor to update files. First, make sure environment variable EDITOR is set to a text editor command, then run from ‘Documentation/

make ISOLANG=MY_LANGUAGE update-translation

or to update a single file

make TRANSLATION_FILES=MY_LANGUAGE/manual/foo.itely update-translation

For each file to be updated, update-translation will open your text editor with this file and a diff of the file in English; if the diff cannot be generated or is bigger than the file in English itself, the full file in English will be opened instead.

Note: do not forget to update the committish in each file you have completely updated, see Updating translation committishes.

.po’ message catalogs in ‘Documentation/po/’ may be updated by issuing from ‘Documentation/’ or ‘Documentation/po/

make po-update

Note: if you run po-update and somebody else does the same and pushes before you push or send a patch to be applied, there will be a conflict when you pull. Therefore, it is better that only the Translation meister runs this command. Furthermore, it has been borken since the GDP: variable names and comments do no longer appear as translated.

Updating music snippets can quickly become cumbersome, as most snippets should be identical in all languages. Fortunately, there is a script that can do this odd job for you (run from ‘Documentation/’):

make ISOLANG=MY_LANGUAGE snippet-update

This script overwrites music snippets in ‘MY_LANGUAGE/foo/every.itely’ with music snippets from ‘foo/every.itely’. It ignores skeleton files, and keeps intact music snippets preceded with a line starting with @c KEEP LY; it reports an error for each ‘.itely’ that has not the same music snippet count in both languages. Always use this script with a lot of care, i.e. run it on a clean Git working tree, and check the changes it made with git diff before committing; if you don’t do so, some @lilypond snippets might be broken or make no sense in their context.

See also

Maintaining without updating translations, Adding and editing snippets.

Updating translation committishes

At the beginning of each translated file except PO files, there is a committish which represents the revision of the sources which you have used to translate this file from the file in English.

When you have pulled and updated a translation, it is very important to update this committish in the files you have completely updated (and only these); to do this, first commit possible changes to any documentation in English which you are sure to have done in your translation as well, then replace in the up-to-date translated files the old committish by the committish of latest commit, which can be obtained by doing

git rev-list HEAD |head -1

Most of the changes in the LSR snippets included in the documentation concern the syntax, not the description inside texidoc="". This implies that quite often you will have to update only the committish of the matching .texidoc file. This can be a tedious work if there are many snippets to be marked as up do date. You can use the following command to update the committishes at once:

cd Documentation/LANG/texidocs
sed -i -r 's/[0-9a-z]{40}/NEW-COMMITTISH/' *.texidoc

See also

LSR work.

5.9.4 Translations management policies

These policies show the general intent of how the translations should be managed, they aim at helping translators, developers and coordinators work efficiently.

Maintaining without updating translations

Keeping translations up to date under heavy changes in the documentation in English may be almost impossible, especially as during the former Grand Documentation Project (GDP) or the Grand Organization Project (GOP) when a lot of contributors brings changes. In addition, translators may be — and that is a very good thing — involved in these projects too.

it is possible — and even recommended — to perform some maintenance that keeps translated documentation usable and eases future translation updating. The rationale below the tasks list motivates this plan.

The following tasks are listed in decreasing priority order.

  1. Update macros.itexi. For each obsolete macro definition, if it is possible to update macro usage in documentation with an automatic text or regexp substitution, do it and delete the macro definition from ‘macros.itexi’; otherwise, mark this macro definition as obsolete with a comment, and keep it in ‘macros.itexi’ until the documentation translation has been updated and no longer uses this macro.
  2. Update ‘*.tely’ files completely with make check-translation – you may want to redirect output to a file because of overwhelming output, or call on individual files, see Check state of translation.
  3. In ‘.itelys’, match sections and .itely file names with those from English docs, which possibly involves moving nodes contents in block between files, without updating contents itself. In other words, the game is catching where has gone each section. In Learning manual, and in Notation Reference sections which have been revised in GDP, there may be completely new sections: in this case, copy @node and @section-command from English docs, and add the marker for untranslated status @untranslated on a single line. Note that it is not possible to exactly match subsections or subsubsections of documentation in English, when contents has been deeply revised; in this case, keep obsolete (sub)subsections in the translation, marking them with a line @c obsolete just before the node.

    Emacs with Texinfo mode makes this step easier:

    • without Emacs AucTeX installed, <C-c C-s> shows structure of current Texinfo file in a new buffer *Occur*; to show structure of two files simultaneously, first split Emacs window in 4 tiles (with <C-x 1> and <C-x 2>), press <C-c C-s> to show structure of one file (e.g. the translated file), copy *Occur* contents into *Scratch*, then press <C-c C-s> for the other file.

      If you happen to have installed AucTeX, you can either call the macro by doing <M-x texinfo-show-structure> or create a key binding in your ‘~/.emacs’, by adding the four following lines:

      (add-hook 'Texinfo-mode-hook
                '(lambda ()
                   (define-key Texinfo-mode-map "\C-cs"

      and then obtain the structure in the *Occur* buffer with <C-c s>.

    • Do not bother updating @menus when all menu entries are in the same file, just do <C-c C-u C-a> (“update all menus”) when you have updated all the rest of the file.
    • Moving to next or previous node using incremental search: press <C-s> and type node (or <C-s @node> if the text contains the word ‘node’) then press <C-s> to move to next node or <C-r> to move to previous node. Similar operation can be used to move to the next/previous section. Note that every cursor move exits incremental search, and hitting <C-s> twice starts incremental search with the text entered in previous incremental search.
    • Moving a whole node (or even a sequence of nodes): jump to beginning of the node (quit incremental search by pressing an arrow), press <C-SPACE>, press <C-s node> and repeat <C-s> until you have selected enough text, cut it with <C-w> or <C-x>, jump to the right place (moving between nodes with the previous hint is often useful) and paste with <C-y> or <C-v>.
  4. Update sections finished in the English documentation; check sections status at

  5. Update documentation PO. It is recommended not to update strings which come from documentation that is currently deeply revised in English, to avoid doing the work more than once.
  6. Fix broken cross-references by running (from ‘Documentation/’)
    make ISOLANG=YOUR-LANGUAGE fix-xrefs

    This step requires a successful documentation build (with make doc). Some cross-references are broken because they point to a node that exists in the documentation in English, which has not been added to the translation; in this case, do not fix the cross-reference but keep it "broken", so that the resulting HTML link will point to an existing page of documentation in English.


You may wonder if it would not be better to leave translations as-is until you can really start updating translations. There are several reasons to do these maintenance tasks right now.

Managing documentation translation with Git

This policy explains how to manage Git branches and commit translations to Git.

5.9.5 Technical background

A number of Python scripts handle a part of the documentation translation process. All scripts used to maintain the translations are located in ‘scripts/auxiliar/’.

Other scripts are used in the build process, in ‘scripts/build/’:

Python modules used by scripts in ‘scripts/auxiliar/’ or ‘scripts/build/’ (but not by installed Python scripts) are located in ‘python/auxiliar/’:

And finally

6. Website work

6.1 Introduction to website work

The website is not written directly in HTML; instead it is autogenerated along with the documentation using Texinfo source files. Texinfo is the standard for documentation of GNU software and allows generating output in HTML, PDF, and Info formats, which drastically reduces maintenance effort and ensures that the website content is consistent with the rest of the documentation. This makes the environment for improving the website rather different from common web development.

If you have not contributed to LilyPond before, a good starting point might be incremental changes to the CSS file, to be found at or in the LilyPond source code at ‘./Documentation/css/lilypond-website.css’.

Large scale structural changes tend to require familiarity with the project in general, a track record in working on LilyPond documentation as well as a prospect of long-term commitment.

The Texinfo source file for generating HTML are to be found in


Unless otherwise specified, follow the instructions and policies given in Documentation work. That chapter also contains a quick introduction to Texinfo; consulting an external Texinfo manual should be not necessary.

Exceptions to the documentation policies

6.2 Uploading website

Overall idea

The website is generated by converting the ‘Documentation/*/web.texi’ files to HTML, and reorganizing the resulting files into ‘out/website-root/’. This is controlled from toplevel ‘GNUmakefile’ and ‘Documentation/GNUmakefile’.

To build the website, run make website. This leaves the website in ‘out/website-root/’.

The website is deployed onto in the following steps:

6.3 Debugging website and docs locally

6.4 Translating the website

As it has much more audience, the website should be translated before the documentation; see Translating the documentation.

In addition to the normal documentation translation practices, there are a few additional things to note:

7. LSR work

7.1 Introduction to LSR

The LilyPond Snippet Repository (LSR) is a collection of lilypond examples. A subset of these examples are automatically imported into the documentation, making it easy for users to contribute to the docs without learning Git and Texinfo.

7.2 Adding and editing snippets

General guidelines

When you create (or find!) a nice snippet, if it is supported by the LilyPond version running on the LSR, please add it to the LSR. Go to LSR and log in – if you haven’t already, create an account. Follow the instructions on the website. These instructions also explain how to modify existing snippets.

If you think the snippet is particularly informative and you think it should be included in the documentation, tag it with “docs” and one or more other categories, or ask on the development list for somebody who has editing permissions to do it .

Please make sure that the lilypond code follows the guidelines in LilyPond formatting.

If a new snippet created for documentation purposes compiles with LilyPond version currently on LSR, it should be added to LSR, and a reference to the snippet should be added to the documentation. Please ask a documentation editor to add a reference to it in an appropriate place in the docs. (Note – it should appear in the snippets document automatically, once it has been imported into git and built. See LSR to Git.

If the new snippet uses new features that are not available in the current LSR version, the snippet should be added to ‘Documentation/snippets/new’ and a reference should be added to the manual.

Snippets created or updated in ‘Documentation/snippets/new’ should be copied to ‘Documentation/snippets’ by invoking at top of the source tree


Be sure that make doc runs successfully before submitting a patch, to prevent breaking compilation.

Formatting snippets in ‘Documentation/snippets/new

When adding a file to this directory, please start the file with

\version "2.x.y"
\header {
% Use existing LSR tags other than 'docs'; see for
% the list of tags used to sort snippets.  E.g.:
  lsrtags = "rhythms,expressive-marks"
% This texidoc string will be formatted by Texinfo
  texidoc = "
This code demonstrates ...
% Please put doctitle last so that the '% begin verbatim'
% mark will be added correctly by
  doctitle = "Snippet title"

and name the file ‘’.

Please ensure that the version number you use at the top of the example is the minimum version that the file will compile with: for example, if the LSR is currently at 2.14.2 and your example requires 2.15.30, but the current development version of lilypond is 2.17.5, put \version "2.15.30" in the example.

Please also pay particular attention to the lines beginning lsrtags = and doctitle =. The tags must match tags used in the documentation, and the doctitle must match the filename.

7.3 Approving snippets

The main task of LSR editors is approving snippets. To find a list of unapproved snippets, log into LSR and select “No” from the dropdown menu to the right of the word “Approved” at the bottom of the interface, then click “Enable filter”.

Check each snippet:

  1. Does the snippet make sense and does what the author claims that it does? If you think the snippet is particularly helpful, add the “docs” tag and at least one other tag.
  2. If the snippet is tagged with “docs”, check to see if it matches our guidelines for LilyPond formatting.

    Also, snippets tagged with “docs” should not be explaining (replicating) existing material in the docs. They should not refer to the docs; the docs should refer to them.

  3. If the snippet uses scheme, check that everything looks good and there are no security risks.

    Note: Somebody could sneak a #'(system "rm -rf /") command into our source tree if you do not do this! Take this step VERY SERIOUSLY.

  4. If all is well, check the box labelled “approved” and save the snippet.

7.4 LSR to Git


Snippets used in the documentation are in ‘$LILYPOND_GIT/Documentation/snippets’. This directory contains a complete set of the snippets in the LSR which are tagged with ’docs’. The exact method for getting them there is described below, but in essence they come from downloading a tarball from the LSR and importing into the directory using the makelsr script.

Any snippets which are too bleeding edge to run on the LSR (which uses a stable development version) are put into ‘$LILYPOND_GIT/Documentation/snippets/new’. Once the LSR has been upgraded so that these will run, then they are transferred to the LSR and deleted from ‘/snippets/new’.

’Git’ is the shorthand name for the Git repository that contains all the development code. For further information on setting this up see, Working with source code. An alternative to setting up a Git repository for people wanting to do LSR work is to get the source code from

Importing the LSR to Git

  1. Make sure that convert-ly script and the lilypond binary are a bleeding edge version – the latest release or even better, a fresh snapshot from Git master, with the environment variable LILYPOND_BUILD_DIR correctly set up, see Environment variables.
  2. Start by creating a list of updated snippets from your local repository. From the top source directory, run:

    Commit the changes and make a patch. Check the patch has nothing other than minor changes. If all is good and you’re confident in what you’ve done, this can be merged directly to master.

  3. Next, download the updated snippets and run against them. From the top source directory, run:
    wget`date +%F`.tar.gz
    tar -xzf lsr-snippets-docs-`date +%F`.tar.gz
    scripts/auxiliar/ lsr-snippets-docs-`date +%F`

    where date +%F gives the current date in format YYYY-MM-DD (the snippets archive is usually generated around 03:50 CET, you may want to use date -d yesterday +%F instead, depending on your time zone and the time you run this commands sequence). make is included in this sequence so that makelsr can run lilypond and convert-ly versions that match current source tree; you can select different binaries if desired or needed, to see options for this do

    scripts/auxiliar/ --help
  4. Follow the instructions printed on the console to manually check for unsafe files. These are:
    Unsafe files printed in lsr-unsafe.txt: CHECK MANUALLY!
      git add Documentation/snippets/*.ly
      xargs git diff HEAD < lsr-unsafe.txt

    First, it’s important to check for any added files and add them to the files git is tracking. Run git status and look carefully to see if files have been added. If so, add them with git add.

    As the console says, makelsr creates a list of possibly unsafe files in ‘lsr-unsafe.txt’ by running lilypond against each snippet using the -dsafe switch. This list can be quite long. However, by using the command xargs git diff HEAD < lsr-unsafe.txt git will take that list and check whether any of the snippets are different from the snippet already in master. If any is different it must be checked manually VERY CAREFULLY.

    Note: Somebody could sneak a #'(system "rm -rf /") command into our source tree if you do not do this! Take this step VERY SERIOUSLY.

    If there is any doubt about any of the files, you are strongly advised to submit a merge request to get review.

  5. If a review is not needed, merge to master after the changes passed automatic testing.

Note that whenever there is a snippet in ‘Documentation/snippets/new’ and another from the LSR with the same file name, will overwrite the LSR version with the one from ‘Documentation/snippets/new’.

7.5 Fixing snippets in LilyPond sources

If some snippet from ‘Documentation/snippets’ causes the documentation compilation to fail, the following steps should be followed to fix it reliably.

  1. Look up the snippet filename ‘’ in the error output or log, then fix the file ‘Documentation/snippets/’ to make the documentation build successfully.
  2. Determine where it comes from by looking at its first two lines, e.g. run
    head -2 Documentation/snippets/
  3. If the snippet comes from the LSR, also apply the fix to the snippet in the LSR and send a notification email to an LSR editor with CC to the development list – see Adding and editing snippets. The failure may sometimes not be caused by the snippet in LSR but by the syntax conversion made by convert-ly; in this case, try to fix convert-ly or report the problem on the development list, then run again, see LSR to Git. In some cases, when some features has been introduced or vastly changed so it requires (or takes significant advantage of) important changes in the snippet, it is simpler and recommended to write a new version of the snippet in ‘Documentation/snippets/new’, then run
  4. If the snippet comes fromDocumentation/snippets/new’, apply the fix in ‘Documentation/snippets/new/’, then run without argument from top of the source tree:

    Then, inspect ‘Documentation/snippets/’ to check that the fix has been well propagated.

    If the build failure was caused by a translation string, you may have to fix some ‘Documentation/lang/texidocs/foo.texidoc’ instead; in case the build failure comes only from translation strings, it is not needed to run

  5. When you’ve done, commit your changes to Git and ensure they’re pushed to the correct branch.

7.6 Renaming a snippet

Due to the potential duality of snippets (i.e. they may exist both in the LSR database, and in Documentation/snippets/new/), this process is a bit more involved than we might like.

  1. Send an email LSR editor, requesting the renaming.
  2. The LSR editor does the renaming (or debates the topic with you), then warns the LSR-to-git person (wanted: better title) about the renaming.
  3. LSR-to-git person does his normal job, but then also renames any copies of the snippets in Documentation/snippets/new/, and any instances of the snippet name in the documentation.

    git grep is highly recommended for this task.

7.7 Updating the LSR to a new version

To update the LSR, perform the following steps:

  1. Start by emailing the LSR maintainer, Sebastiano, and liaising with him to ensure that updating the snippets is synchronised with updating the binary running the LSR.
  2. Download the latest snippet tarball from and extract it. The relevant files can be found in the ‘all’ subdirectory. Make sure your shell is using an English language version, for example LANG=en_US, then run convert-ly on all the files. Use the command-line option --to=version to ensure the snippets are updated to the correct stable version.
  3. Make sure that you are using convert-ly from the latest available release to gain best advantage from the latest converting-rules-updates.

    For example:

    • LSR-version: 2.12.2
    • intended LSR-update to 2.14.2
    • latest release 2.15.30

    Use convert-ly from 2.15.30 and the following terminal command for all files:

    convert-ly -e -t2.14.2 *.ly
  4. There might be no conversion rule for some old commands. To make an initial check for possible problems you can run the script at the end of this list on a copy of the ‘all’ subdirectory.
  5. Copy relevant snippets (i.e. snippets whose version is equal to or less than the new version of LilyPond running on the LSR) from ‘Documentation/snippets/new/’ into the set of files to be used to make the tarball. Make sure you only choose snippets which are already present in the LSR, since the LSR software isn’t able to create new snippets this way. If you don’t have a Git repository for LilyPond, you’ll find these snippets in the source-tarball on Don’t rename any files at this stage.
  6. Verify that all files compile with the new version of LilyPond, ideally without any warnings or errors. To ease the process, you may use the shell script that appears after this list.

    Due to the workload involved, we do not require that you verify that all snippets produce the expected output. If you happen to notice any such snippets and can fix them, great; but as long as all snippets compile, don’t delay this step due to some weird output. If a snippet is not compiling, update it manually. If it’s not possible, delete it for now.

  7. Remove all headers and version-statements from the files. Phil Holmes has a python script that will do this and which needs testing. Please ask him for a copy if you wish to do this.
  8. Create a tarball and send it back to Sebastiano. Don’t forget to tell him about any deletions.
  9. Use the LSR web interface to change any descriptions you want to. Changing the titles of snippets is a bit fraught, since this also changes the filenames. Only do this as a last resort.
  10. Use the LSR web interface to add the other snippets from ‘Documentation/snippets/new/’ which compile with the new LilyPond version of the LSR. Ensure that they are correctly tagged, including the tag docs and that they are approved.
  11. When LSR has been updated, wait a day for the tarball to update, then download another snippet tarball. Verify that the relevant snippets from ‘Documentation/snippets/new/’ are now included, then delete those snippets from ‘Documentation/snippets/new/’.
  12. Commit all the changes. Don’t forget to add new files to the git repository with git add. Run make, make doc and make test to ensure the changes don’t break the build. Any snippets that have had their file name changed or have been deleted could break the build, and these will need correcting step by step.

Below is a shell script to run LilyPond on all ‘.ly’ files in a directory. If the script is run with a -s parameter, it runs silently except for reporting failed files. If run with -c it also runs convert-ly prior to running LilyPond.


while getopts sc opt; do
    case $opt in
param=$ if [ $silent ]; then
if [ $convert ]; then

for LILYFILE in $filter
    STEM=$(basename "$LILYFILE" .ly)
    if [ $convert ]; then
        if [ $silent ]; then
            $LILYPOND_BUILD_DIR/out/bin/convert-ly -e "$LILYFILE" >& "$STEM".con.txt
            $LILYPOND_BUILD_DIR/out/bin/convert-ly -e "$LILYFILE"
    if [ ! $silent ]; then
        echo "running $LILYFILE..."
    $LILYPOND_BUILD_DIR/out/bin/lilypond --format=png "$LILYFILE" >& "$STEM".txt
    if [ $RetVal -gt 0 ]; then
       echo "$LILYFILE failed"

Output from LilyPond is in ‘filename.txt’ and convert-ly in ‘filename.con.txt’.

8. Issues

This chapter deals with defects, feature requests, and miscellaneous development tasks.

8.1 Introduction to issues

Note: All the tasks in this chapter require no programming skills and can be done by anyone with a web browser, an email client and the ability to run LilyPond.

The term ‘issues’ refers not just to software bugs but also includes feature requests, documentation additions and corrections as well as any other general code ‘TODOs’ that need to be kept track of.

8.2 The Bug Squad

TODO: This section needs updating since we no longer have a formal bug squad at the moment.

To help keep track and organize all issues are a group of tireless volunteers collectively known as the Bug Squad. Composed mainly of non-programmers, the Bug Squad’s responsibilities include:

The Bug Meister also helps check the current Regression tests and highlights any significant changes (or problems) since the previous LilyPond release.

If you would like to be part of the Bug Squad, please contact the Bug Meister.

8.2.1 Bug Squad setup

We highly recommend that you configure your email client to use some kind of sorting and filtering as this will significantly reduce and simplify your workload. Suggested email folder names are mentioned below to work when sorted alphabetically.

  1. Read every section of the Issues chapter in this guide.
  2. Subscribe your email account to bug-lilypond. See
  3. Send your email address to the Bug Meister.
  4. Create your own GitLab login (required to manage issues):
    • Go to
    • Click on the ‘Register’ tab to create a new account.
    • Fill in your details as required and click the Register button to complete the registration.
  5. Go to and ‘Request access’ to the group. Additionally send your GitLab username (not your email address) to, asking to be given appropriate permissions to manage issues.
  6. Configure your email client: Any email sent To: or CC: to

    should be configured to go into a bug-current folder.

8.2.2 Bug Squad checklists

When you do Bug Squad work, start at the top of this page and work your way down. Stop when you’ve done 20 minutes.

Please use the email sorting described in Bug Squad setup. This means that (as Bug Squad members) you will only ever respond to emails sent or CC’d to the bug-lilypond mailing list.

Emails to you personally

You are not expected to work on Bug Squad matters outside of your 20 minutes, but sometimes a confused user will send a bug report (or an update to a report) to you personally. If that happens, please forward such emails to the bug-lilypond list so that the currently-active Bug Squad member(s) can handle the message.

Daily schedule as of July 2015

Monday: Federico Bruni
Tuesday: Graham Percival
Wednesday: Simon Albrecht
Thursday: Colin Campbell
Friday: Ralph Palmer
Saturday: Colin Campbell
Sunday: Graham Percival

Emails to bug-answers

Some of these emails will be comments on issues that you added to the tracker.

Some of these emails will be discussions about Bug Squad work; read those.

Emails to bug-current

Dealing with these emails is your main task. Your job is to get rid of these emails in the first method which is applicable:

  1. If the email has already been handled by a Bug Squad member (i.e. check to see who else has replied to it), delete it.
  2. If the email is a question about how to use LilyPond, reply with this response:
    For questions about how to use LilyPond, please read our
    documentation available from:
    or ask the lilypond-user mailing list.
  3. If the email mentions “the latest git”, or any version number that has not yet been officially released, forward it to lilypond-devel.
  4. If a bug report is not in the form of a Tiny example, direct the user to resubmit the report with this response:
    I'm sorry, but due to our limited resources for handling bugs, we
    can only accept reports in the form of Tiny examples.  Please see
    step 2 in our bug reporting guidelines:
  5. If anything is unclear, ask the user for more information.

    How does the graphical output differ from what the user expected? What version of lilypond was used (if not given) and operating system (if this is a suspected cause of the problem)? In short, if you cannot understand what the problem is, ask the user to explain more. It is the user’s responsibility to explain the problem, not your responsibility to understand it.

  6. If the behavior is expected, the user should be told to read the documentation:
    I believe that this is the expected behaviour -- please read our
    documentation about this topic.  If you think that it really is a
    mistake, please explain in more detail.  If you think that the
    docs are unclear, please suggest an improvement as described by
    “Simple tasks -- Documentation” on:
  7. If the issue already exists in the tracker, send an email to that effect:
    This issue has already been reported; you can follow the
    discussion and be notified about fixes here:

    (copy+paste the google code issue URL)

  8. Accept the report as described in Adding issues to the tracker.

All emails should be CC’d to the bug-lilypond list so that other Bug Squad members know that you have processed the email.

Note: There is no option for “ignore the bug report” – if you cannot find a reason to reject the report, you must accept it.

Regular maintenance

After every release (both stable and unstable):

8.3 Issue classification

We have several labels:

In addition, the following labels may be used when closing an issue:

Assign an issue to yourself to indicate that you are currently working on it.

8.4 Adding issues to the tracker

Note: This should only be done by the Bug Squad or experienced developers. Normal users should not do this; instead, they should follow the guidelines for Bug reports.

  1. Check if the issue falls into any previous category given on the relevant checklists in Bug Squad checklists. If in doubt, add a new issue for a report. We would prefer to have some incorrectly-added issues rather than lose information that should have been added.
  2. Add the issue and classify it according to the guidelines in Issue classification. In particular, the item should have Status and type labels.

    Include output with the first applicable method:

    • If the issue has a notation example which fits in one system, generate a small ‘bug.preview.png’ file with:
      lilypond -dpreview
    • If the issue has an example which requires more than one system (i.e. a spacing bug), generate a ‘bug.png’ file with:
      lilypond --png
    • If the issue requires one or two pages of output, then generate a ‘bug.png’ file with the normal:
      lilypond --png
    • Images created as ‘bug.png’ may be trimmed to a minimum size by using the script, which can be found at
    • If the issue cannot be shown with less than three pages, then generate a ‘bug.pdf’ file with:
      lilypond --pdf

      Note that this is likely to be extremely rare; most bugs should fit into the first two categories above.

  3. After adding the issue, please send a response email to the same group(s) that the initial patch was sent to. If the initial email was sent to multiple mailing lists (such as both user and bugs), then reply to all those mailing lists as well. The email should contain a link to the issue you just added.

8.5 Patch handling

Note: This is not a Bug Squad responsibility; we have a separate person handling this task.

For contributors/developers: follow the steps in Lifecycle of a merge request.

8.6 Summary of project status

Project overview

All issues

Hindering development

These issues stop or slow development work:[]=Type%3A%3AMaintainability

Easy tasks

Issues tagged with Frog indicates a task suitable for a relatively new contributor. The time given is a quick (and probably inaccurate) estimate of the time required for somebody who is familiar with material in this manual, but does not know anything else about LilyPond development.[]=Frog

Patches currently in the Patch Review cycle


New patches[]=Patch%3A%3Anew

Patches under Review

Patches on final Countdown

Patches that can be pushed

9. Regression tests

9.1 Introduction to regression tests

LilyPond has a complete suite of regression tests that are used to ensure that changes to the code do not break existing behavior. These regression tests comprise small LilyPond snippets that test the functionality of each part of LilyPond.

Regression tests are added when new functionality is added to LilyPond or when bugs are fixed.

The regression tests are compiled using special make targets. There are three primary uses for the regression tests. First, successful completion of the regression tests means that LilyPond has been properly built. Second, the output of the regression tests can be manually checked to ensure that the graphical output matches the description of the intended output. Third, the regression test output from two different versions of LilyPond can be automatically compared to identify any differences. These differences should then be manually checked to ensure that the differences are intended.

Regression tests (“regtests”) are available in precompiled form as part of the documentation. Regtests can also be compiled on any machine that has a properly configured LilyPond build system.

9.2 Precompiled regression tests

Regression test output

As part of the release process, the regression tests are run for every LilyPond release. Full regression test output is available for every stable version and the most recent development version.

Regression test output is available in HTML and PDF format. Links to the regression test output are available at the developer’s resources page for the version of interest.

The latest stable version of the regtests is found at:

The latest development version of the regtests is found at:

Regression test comparison

Each time a new version is released, the regtests are compiled and the output is automatically compared with the output of the previous release. The result of these comparisons is archived online:

Checking these pages is a very important task for the LilyPond project. You are invited to report anything that looks broken, or any case where the output quality is not on par with the previous release, as described in Bug reports.

What to look for

The test comparison shows all of the changes that occurred between the current release and the prior release. Each test that has a significant (noticeable) difference in output is displayed, with the old version on the left and the new version on the right.

Some of the small changes can be ignored (slightly different slur shapes, small variations in note spacing), but this is not always the case: sometimes even the smallest change means that something is wrong. To help in distinguishing these cases, we use bigger staff size when small differences matter.

Staff size 30 generally means "pay extra attention to details". Staff size 40 (two times bigger than default size) or more means that the regtest is about the details.

Staff size smaller than default doesn’t mean anything.

Regression tests whose output is the same for both versions are not shown in the test comparison.

Note: The automatic comparison of the regtests checks the LilyPond bounding boxes. This means that Ghostscript changes and changes in lyrics or text are not found.

9.3 Compiling regression tests

Developers may wish to see the output of the complete regression test suite for the current version of the source repository between releases. Current source code is available; see Working with source code.

For regression testing ../configure should be run with the --disable-optimising option. Then you will need to build the LilyPond binary; see Compiling LilyPond.

Uninstalling the previous LilyPond version is not necessary, nor is running make install, since the tests will automatically be compiled with the LilyPond binary you have just built in your source directory.

From this point, the regtests are compiled with:

make test

If you have a multi-core machine you may want to use the ‘-j’ option and CPU_COUNT variable, as described in Saving time with CPU_COUNT. For a quad-core processor the complete command would be:

make -j5 CPU_COUNT=5 test

The regtest output will then be available in ‘input/regression/out-test’. ‘input/regression/out-test/collated-examples.html’ contains a listing of all the regression tests that were run, but none of the images are included. Individual images are also available in this directory.

The primary use of ‘make test’ is to verify that the regression tests all run without error. The regression test page that is part of the documentation is created only when the documentation is built, as described in Generating documentation. Note that building the documentation requires more installed components than building the source code, as described in Requirements for building documentation.

9.4 Regtest comparison

Before modified code is committed to master, a regression test comparison must be completed to ensure that the changes have not caused problems with previously working code. The comparison is made automatically upon compiling the regression test suite twice.

  1. Before making changes to the code, establish a baseline for the comparison by checking out the current git master, going to the ‘$LILYPOND_GIT/build/’ directory and running:
    make clean # whenever any files in mf/ are modified
    make test-baseline
  2. Make your changes, or apply the patch(es) to consider.
  3. Check for unintentional changes to the regtests:
    make check

    After this has finished, a regression test comparison will be available (relative to the current ‘build/’ directory) at:


    For each regression test that differs between the baseline and the changed code, a regression test entry will be displayed. Ideally, the only changes would be the changes that you were working on. If regressions are introduced, they must be fixed before committing the code.

  4. If you are happy with the results, then skip to the final step.

    If you want to continue programming, then make any additional code changes, and continue.

  5. Finally, you should verify that make doc completes successfully.

Advanced note: Once a test baseline has been established, there is no need to run it again unless git master changed. In other words, if you work with several branches and want to do regtests comparison for all of them, you can make test-baseline with git master, checkout some branch, make check it, then switch to another branch, make test-clean and make check it without doing make test-baseline again.

9.5 Pixel-based regtest comparison

As an alternative to the make test method for regtest checking (which relies upon .signature files created by a LilyPond run and which describe the placing of grobs) there is a script which compares the output of two LilyPond versions pixel-by-pixel. To use this, start by checking out the version of LilyPond you want to use as a baseline, and run make. Then, do the following:

cd $LILYPOND_GIT/scripts/auxiliar/
./ -j9 -o

The -j9 option tells the script to use 9 CPUs to create the images - change this to your own CPU count+1. -o means this is the "old" version. This will create images of all the regtests in


Now checkout the version you want to compare with the baseline. Run make again to recreate the LilyPond binary. Then, do the following:

cd $LILYPOND_GIT/scripts/auxiliar/
./ -j9 -n

The -n option tells the script to make a "new" version of the images. They are created in


Once the new images have been created, the script compares the old images with the new ones pixel-by-pixel and prints a list of the different images to the terminal, together with a count of how many differences were found. The results of the checks are in


To check for differences, browse that directory with an image viewer. Differences are shown in red. Be aware that some images with complex fonts or spacing annotations always display a few minor differences. These can safely be ignored.

9.6 Finding the cause of a regression

Git has special functionality to help tracking down the exact commit which causes a problem. See the git manual page for git bisect. This is a job that non-programmers can do, although it requires familiarity with git, ability to compile LilyPond, and generally a fair amount of technical knowledge. A brief summary is given below, but you may need to consult other documentation for in-depth explanations.

Even if you are not familiar with git or are not able to compile LilyPond you can still help to narrow down the cause of a regression simply by downloading the binary releases of different LilyPond versions and testing them for the regression. Knowing which version of LilyPond first exhibited the regression is helpful to a developer as it shortens the git bisect procedure.

Once a problematic commit is identified, the programmers’ job is much easier. In fact, for most regression bugs, the majority of the time is spent simply finding the problematic commit.

More information is in Regression tests.

git bisect setup

We need to set up the bisect for each problem we want to investigate.

Suppose we have an input file which compiled in version 2.13.32, but fails in version 2.13.38 and above.

  1. Begin the process:
    git bisect start
  2. Give it the earliest known bad tag:
    git bisect bad release/2.13.38-1

    (you can see tags with: git tag )

  3. Give it the latest known good tag:
    git bisect good release/2.13.32-1

    You should now see something like:

    Bisecting: 195 revisions left to test after this (roughly 8 steps)
    [b17e2f3d7a5853a30f7d5a3cdc6b5079e77a3d2a] Web: Announcement
    update for the new “LilyPond Report”.

git bisect actual

  1. Compile the source:
  2. Test your input file:
  3. Test results?
    • Does it crash, or is the output bad? If so:
      git bisect bad
    • Does your input file produce good output? If so:
      git bisect good
  4. Once the exact problem commit has been identified, git will inform you with a message like:
    6d28aebbaaab1be9961a00bf15a1ef93acb91e30 is the first bad commit
    %%% ... blah blah blah ...

    If there is still a range of commits, then git will automatically select a new version for you to test. Go to step #1.

Recommendation: use two terminal windows

9.7 MusicXML tests

LilyPond comes with a complete set of regtests for the MusicXML language. Originally developed to test ‘musicxml2ly’, these regression tests can be used to test any MusicXML implementation.

The MusicXML regression tests are found at ‘input/regression/musicxml/’.

The output resulting from running these tests through ‘musicxml2ly’ followed by ‘lilypond’ is available in the LilyPond documentation:

10. Programming work

10.1 Overview of LilyPond architecture

LilyPond processes the input file into graphical and musical output in a number of stages. This process, along with the types of routines that accomplish the various stages of the process, is described in this section. A more complete description of the LilyPond architecture and internal program execution is found in Erik Sandberg’s master’s thesis.

The first stage of LilyPond processing is parsing. In the parsing process, music expressions in LilyPond input format are converted to music expressions in Scheme format. In Scheme format, a music expression is a list in tree form, with nodes that indicate the relationships between various music events. The LilyPond parser is written in Bison.

The second stage of LilyPond processing is iterating. Iterating assigns each music event to a context, which is the environment in which the music will be finally engraved. The context is responsible for all further processing of the music. It is during the iteration stage that contexts are created as necessary to ensure that every note has a Voice type context (e.g. Voice, TabVoice, DrumVoice, CueVoice, MensuralVoice, VaticanaVoice, GregorianTranscriptionVoice), that the Voice type contexts exist in appropriate Staff type contexts, and that parallel Staff type contexts exist in StaffGroup type contexts. In addition, during the iteration stage each music event is assigned a moment, or a time in the music when the event begins.

Each type of music event has an associated iterator. Iterators are defined in ‘*’. During iteration, an event’s iterator is called to deliver that music event to the appropriate context(s).

The final stage of LilyPond processing is translation. During translation, music events are prepared for graphical or midi output. The translation step is accomplished by the polymorphic base class Translator through its two derived classes: Engraver (for graphical output) and Performer (for midi output).

Translators are defined in C++ files named ‘*’ and ‘*’. Much of the work of translating is handled by Scheme functions, which is one of the keys to LilyPond’s exceptional flexibility.


10.2 LilyPond programming languages

Programming in LilyPond is done in a variety of programming languages. Each language is used for a specific purpose or purposes. This section describes the languages used and provides links to reference manuals and tutorials for the relevant language.

10.2.1 C++

The core functionality of LilyPond is implemented in C++.

C++ is so ubiquitous that it is difficult to identify either a reference manual or a tutorial. Programmers unfamiliar with C++ will need to spend some time to learn the language before attempting to modify the C++ code.

The C++ code calls Scheme/GUILE through the GUILE interface, which is documented in the GUILE Reference Manual.

10.2.2 Flex

The LilyPond lexer is implemented in Flex, an implementation of the Unix lex lexical analyser generator. Resources for Flex can be found here.

10.2.3 GNU Bison

The LilyPond parser is implemented in Bison, a GNU parser generator. The Bison homepage is found at The manual (which includes both a reference and tutorial) is available in a variety of formats.

10.2.4 GNU Make

GNU Make is used to control the compiling process and to build the documentation and the website. GNU Make documentation is available at the GNU website.

10.2.5 GUILE or Scheme

GUILE is the dialect of Scheme that is used as LilyPond’s extension language. Many extensions to LilyPond are written entirely in GUILE. The GUILE Reference Manual is available online.

Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, a popular textbook used to teach programming in Scheme is available in its entirety online.

An introduction to Guile/Scheme as used in LilyPond can be found in the Scheme tutorial.

10.2.6 MetaFont

MetaFont is used to create the music fonts used by LilyPond. A MetaFont tutorial is available at the METAFONT tutorial page.

10.2.7 PostScript

PostScript is used to generate graphical output. A brief PostScript tutorial is available online. The PostScript Language Reference is available online in PDF format.

10.2.8 Python

Python is used for XML2ly and is used for building the documentation and the website.

Python documentation is available at

10.2.9 Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG)

Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) is an XML-based markup language used to generate graphical output. A brief SVG tutorial is available online through W3 Schools. The World Wide Web Consortium’s SVG 1.2 Recommendation is available online in PDF format.

10.3 Programming without compiling

Much of the development work in LilyPond takes place by changing ‘*.ly’ or ‘*.scm’ files. These changes can be made without compiling LilyPond. Such changes are described in this section.

10.3.1 Modifying distribution files

Much of LilyPond is written in Scheme or LilyPond input files. These files are interpreted when the program is run, rather than being compiled when the program is built, and are present in all LilyPond distributions. You will find ‘.ly’ files in the ‘ly/’ directory and the Scheme files in the ‘scm/’ directory. Both Scheme files and ‘.ly’ files can be modified and saved with any text editor. It’s probably wise to make a backup copy of your files before you modify them, although you can reinstall if the files become corrupted.

Once you’ve modified the files, you can test the changes just by running LilyPond on some input file. It’s a good idea to create a file that demonstrates the feature you’re trying to add. This file will eventually become a regression test and will be part of the LilyPond distribution.

10.3.2 Desired file formatting

Files that are part of the LilyPond distribution have Unix-style line endings (LF), rather than DOS (CR+LF) or MacOS 9 and earlier (CR). Make sure you use the necessary tools to ensure that Unix-style line endings are preserved in the patches you create.

Tab characters should not be included in files for distribution. All indentation should be done with spaces. Most editors have settings to allow the setting of tab stops and ensuring that no tab characters are included in the file.

Scheme files and LilyPond files should be written according to standard style guidelines. Scheme file guidelines can be found at Following these guidelines will make your code easier to read. Both you and others that work on your code will be glad you followed these guidelines.

For LilyPond files, you should follow the guidelines for LilyPond snippets in the documentation. You can find these guidelines at Texinfo introduction and usage policy.

10.4 Finding functions

When making changes or fixing bugs in LilyPond, one of the initial challenges is finding out where in the code tree the functions to be modified live. With nearly 3000 files in the source tree, trial-and-error searching is generally ineffective. This section describes a process for finding interesting code.

10.4.1 Using the ROADMAP

The file ROADMAP is located in the main directory of the lilypond source. ROADMAP lists all of the directories in the LilyPond source tree, along with a brief description of the kind of files found in each directory. This can be a very helpful tool for deciding which directories to search when looking for a function.

10.4.2 Using grep to search

Having identified a likely subdirectory to search, the grep utility can be used to search for a function name. The format of the grep command is

grep -i functionName subdirectory/*

This command will search all the contents of the directory subdirectory/ and display every line in any of the files that contains functionName. The ‘-i’ option makes grep ignore case – this can be very useful if you are not yet familiar with our capitalization conventions.

The most likely directories to grep for function names are ‘scm/’ for scheme files, ly/ for lilypond input (‘*.ly’) files, and ‘lily/’ for C++ files.

10.4.3 Using git grep to search

If you have used git to obtain the source, you have access to a powerful tool to search for functions. The command:

git grep functionName

will search through all of the files that are present in the git repository looking for functionName. It also presents the results of the search using less, so the results are displayed one page at a time.

10.4.4 Searching on the git repository at GitLab and Savannah

GitLab’s web interface provides a built-in search.

Alternatively you can also use the equivalent of git grep on the Savannah server.

This will initiate a search of the remote git repository.

10.5 Code style

This section describes style guidelines for LilyPond source code.

10.5.1 Languages

C++ and Python are preferred. Python code should use PEP 8.

10.5.2 Filenames

Definitions of classes that are only accessed via pointers (*) or references (&) shall not be included as include files.


        ".hh"   Include files
             ".cc"      Implementation files
             ".icc"     Inline definition files
             ".tcc"     non inline Template defs

   in emacs:

             (setq auto-mode-alist
                   (append '(("\\.make$" . makefile-mode)
                        ("\\.cc$" . c++-mode)
                        ("\\.icc$" . c++-mode)
                        ("\\.tcc$" . c++-mode)
                        ("\\.hh$" . c++-mode)
                        ("\\.pod$" . text-mode)

The class Class_name is coded in ‘class-name.*’

10.5.3 Indentation

Standard GNU coding style is used.

Indenting files with (recommended)

LilyPond provides a python script that will adjust the indentation and spacing on a .cc or .hh file to very near the GNU standard:

scripts/auxiliar/ FILENAME

This can be run on all files at once, but this is not recommended for normal contributors or developers.

scripts/auxiliar/ \
  $(find flower lily -name '*cc' -o -name '*hh' | grep -v /out)

Indenting with emacs

The following hooks will produce indentation which is similar to our official indentation as produced with

(add-hook 'c++-mode-hook
     '(lambda ()
        (c-set-style "gnu")
        (setq indent-tabs-mode nil))

If you like using font-lock, you can also add this to your ‘.emacs’:

(setq font-lock-maximum-decoration t)
(setq c++-font-lock-keywords-3
       '(("\\b\\(a-zA-Z_?+_\\)\\b" 1 font-lock-variable-name-face) ("\\b\\(A-Z?+a-z_?+\\)\\b" 1 font-lock-type-face))

Indenting with vim

Although emacs indentation is the GNU standard, correct indentation for C++ files can be achieved by using the settings recommended in the GNU GCC Wiki. Save the following in ‘~/.vim/after/ftplugin/cpp.vim’:

setlocal cindent
setlocal cinoptions=>4,n-2,{2,^-2,:2,=2,g0,h2,p5,t0,+2,(0,u0,w1,m1
setlocal shiftwidth=2
setlocal softtabstop=2
setlocal textwidth=79
setlocal fo-=ro fo+=cql
" use spaces instead of tabs
setlocal expandtab
" remove trailing whitespace on write
autocmd BufWritePre * :%s/\s\+$//e

With these settings, files can be reindented automatically by highlighting the lines to be indented in visual mode (use V to enter visual mode) and pressing =, or a single line correctly indented in normal mode by pressing ==.

A ‘scheme.vim’ file will help improve the indentation of Scheme code. This one was suggested by Patrick McCarty. It should be saved in ‘~/.vim/after/syntax/scheme.vim’.

" Additional Guile-specific 'forms'
syn keyword schemeSyntax define-public define*-public
syn keyword schemeSyntax define* lambda* let-keywords*
syn keyword schemeSyntax defmacro defmacro* define-macro
syn keyword schemeSyntax defmacro-public defmacro*-public
syn keyword schemeSyntax use-modules define-module
syn keyword schemeSyntax define-method define-class

" Additional LilyPond-specific 'forms'
syn keyword schemeSyntax define-markup-command define-markup-list-command
syn keyword schemeSyntax define-safe-public define-music-function
syn keyword schemeSyntax def-grace-function

" All of the above should influence indenting too
setlocal lw+=define-public,define*-public
setlocal lw+=define*,lambda*,let-keywords*
setlocal lw+=defmacro,defmacro*,define-macro
setlocal lw+=defmacro-public,defmacro*-public
setlocal lw+=use-modules,define-module
setlocal lw+=define-method,define-class
setlocal lw+=define-markup-command,define-markup-list-command
setlocal lw+=define-safe-public,define-music-function
setlocal lw+=def-grace-function

" These forms should not influence indenting
setlocal lw-=if
setlocal lw-=set!

" Try to highlight all ly: procedures
syn match schemeFunc "ly:[^) ]\+"

For documentation work on texinfo files, identify the file extensions used as texinfo files in your ‘.vim/filetype.vim’:

if exists("did_load_filetypes")
augroup filetypedetect
  au! BufRead,BufNewFile *.itely setfiletype texinfo
  au! BufRead,BufNewFile *.itexi setfiletype texinfo
  au! BufRead,BufNewFile *.tely  setfiletype texinfo
augroup END

and add these settings in ‘.vim/after/ftplugin/texinfo.vim’:

setlocal expandtab
setlocal shiftwidth=2
setlocal textwidth=66

Indenting Python files

Use the following settings:

autopep8 -ia --ignore=E402

10.5.4 Naming Conventions

Naming conventions have been established for LilyPond source code.

Classes and Types

Classes begin with an uppercase letter, and words in class names are separated with _:



Member variable names end with an underscore:

Type Class::member_


Macro names should be written in uppercase completely, with words separated by _:



Variable names should be complete words, rather than abbreviations. For example, it is preferred to use thickness rather than th or t.

Multi-word variable names in C++ should have the words separated by the underscore character (‘_’):


Multi-word variable names in Scheme should have the words separated by a hyphen (‘-’):


10.5.5 Broken code

Do not write broken code. This includes hardwired dependencies, hardwired constants, slow algorithms and obvious limitations. If you can not avoid it, mark the place clearly, and add a comment explaining shortcomings of the code.

Ideally, the comment marking the shortcoming would include TODO, so that it is marked for future fixing.

We reject broken-in-advance on principle.

10.5.6 Code comments

Comments may not be needed if descriptive variable names are used in the code and the logic is straightforward. However, if the logic is difficult to follow, and particularly if non-obvious code has been included to resolve a bug, a comment describing the logic and/or the need for the non-obvious code should be included.

There are instances where the current code could be commented better. If significant time is required to understand the code as part of preparing a patch, it would be wise to add comments reflecting your understanding to make future work easier.

10.5.7 Handling errors

As a general rule, you should always try to continue computations, even if there is some kind of error. When the program stops, it is often very hard for a user to pinpoint what part of the input causes an error. Finding the culprit is much easier if there is some viewable output.

So functions and methods do not return errorcodes, they never crash, but report a programming_error and try to carry on.

Error and warning messages need to be localized.

10.5.8 Localization

This document provides some guidelines to help programmers write proper user messages. To help translations, user messages must follow uniform conventions. Follow these rules when coding for LilyPond. Hopefully, this can be replaced by general GNU guidelines in the future. Even better would be to have an English (en_GB, en_US) guide helping programmers writing consistent messages for all GNU programs.

Non-preferred messages are marked with ‘+’. By convention, ungrammatical examples are marked with ‘*’. However, such ungrammatical examples may still be preferred.

10.6 Warnings, Errors, Progress and Debug Output

Available log levels

LilyPond has several loglevels, which specify how verbose the output on the console should be:

The loglevel can either be set with the environment variable LILYPOND_LOGLEVEL or on the command line with the ‘--loglevel=...’ option.

Functions for debug and log output

LilyPond has two different types of error and log functions:

There are also Scheme functions to access all of these logging functions from scheme. In addition, the Grob class contains some convenience wrappers for even easier access to these functions.

The message and debug functions in warn.hh also have an optional argument newline, which specifies whether the message should always start on a new line or continue a previous message. By default, progress_indication does NOT start on a new line, but rather continue the previous output. They also do not have a particular input position associated, so there are no progress functions in the Input class. All other functions by default start their output on a new line.

The error functions come in three different flavors: fatal error messages, programming error messages and normal error messages. Errors written by the error () function will cause LilyPond to exit immediately, errors by Input::error () will continue the compilation, but return a non-zero return value of the LilyPond call (i.e. indicate an unsuccessful program execution). All other errors will be printed on the console, but not exit LilyPond or indicate an unsuccessful return code. Their only differences to a warnings are the displayed text and that they will be shown with loglevel ERROR.

If the Scheme option warning-as-error is set, any warning will be treated as if Input::error was called.

All logging functions at a glance

C++, no locationC++ from input location
ERRORerror (), programming_error (msg), non_fatal_error (msg)Input::error (msg), Input::programming_error (msg)
WARNwarning (msg)Input::warning (msg)
BASICbasic_progress (msg)-
PROGRESSprogress_indication (msg)-
INFOmessage (msg)Input::message (msg)
DEBUGdebug_output (msg)Input::debug_output (msg)
C++ from a GrobScheme, music expression
ERRORGrob::programming_error (msg)-
WARNGrob::warning (msg)(ly:music-warning music msg)
INFO-(ly:music-message music msg)
Scheme, no locationScheme, input location
ERROR-(ly:error msg args), (ly:programming-error msg args)
WARN(ly:warning msg args)(ly:input-warning input msg args)
BASIC(ly:basic-progress msg args)-
PROGRESS(ly:progress msg args)-
INFO(ly:message msg args)(ly:input-message input msg args)
DEBUG(ly:debug msg args)-

10.7 Debugging LilyPond

The most commonly used tool for debugging LilyPond is the GNU debugger gdb. The gdb tool is used for investigating and debugging core LilyPond code written in C++. Another tool is available for debugging Scheme code using the Guile debugger. This section describes how to use both gdb and the Guile Debugger.

10.7.1 Debugging overview

Using a debugger simplifies troubleshooting in at least two ways.

First, breakpoints can be set to pause execution at any desired point. Then, when execution has paused, debugger commands can be issued to explore the values of various variables or to execute functions.

Second, the debugger can display a stack trace, which shows the sequence in which functions have been called and the arguments passed to the called functions.

10.7.2 Debugging C++ code

The GNU debugger, gdb, is the principal tool for debugging C++ code.

Compiling LilyPond for use with gdb

In order to use gdb with LilyPond, it is necessary to compile LilyPond with debugging information. This is the current default mode of compilation. Often debugging becomes more complicated when the compiler has optimised variables and function calls away. In that case it may be helpful to run the following command in the main LilyPond source directory:

./configure --disable-optimising

This will create a version of LilyPond with minimal optimization which will allow the debugger to access all variables and step through the source code in-order. It may not accurately reproduce bugs encountered with the optimized version, however.

You should not do make install if you want to use a debugger with LilyPond. The make install command will strip debugging information from the LilyPond binary.

Typical gdb usage

Once you have compiled the LilyPond image with the necessary debugging information it will have been written to a location in a subfolder of your current working directory:


This is important as you will need to let gdb know where to find the image containing the symbol tables. You can invoke gdb from the command line using the following:

gdb out/bin/lilypond

This loads the LilyPond symbol tables into gdb. Then, to run LilyPond on ‘’ under the debugger, enter the following:


at the gdb prompt.

As an alternative to running gdb at the command line you may try a graphical interface to gdb such as ddd:

ddd out/bin/lilypond

You can also use sets of standard gdb commands stored in a .gdbinit file (see next section).

Typical .gdbinit files

The behavior of gdb can be readily customized through the use of a .gdbinit file. A .gdbinit file is a file named .gdbinit (notice the “.” at the beginning of the file name) that is placed in a user’s home directory.

The .gdbinit file below is from Han-Wen. It sets breakpoints for all errors and defines functions for displaying scheme objects (ps), grobs (pgrob), and parsed music expressions (pmusic).

file $LILYPOND_GIT/build/out/bin/lilypond
b programming_error
b Grob::programming_error

define ps
   print ly_display_scm($arg0)
define pgrob
  print ly_display_scm($arg0->self_scm_)
  print ly_display_scm($arg0->mutable_property_alist_)
  print ly_display_scm($arg0->immutable_property_alist_)
  print ly_display_scm($arg0->object_alist_)
define pmusic
  print ly_display_scm($arg0->self_scm_)
  print ly_display_scm($arg0->mutable_property_alist_)
  print ly_display_scm($arg0->immutable_property_alist_)

10.7.3 Debugging Scheme code

Scheme code can be developed using the Guile command line interpreter top-repl. You can either investigate interactively using just Guile or you can use the debugging tools available within Guile.

Using Guile interactively with LilyPond

In order to experiment with Scheme programming in the LilyPond environment, it is necessary to have a Guile interpreter that has all the LilyPond modules loaded. This requires the following steps.

First, define a Scheme symbol for the active module in the ‘.ly’ file:

#(module-define! (resolve-module '(guile-user))
                 'lilypond-module (current-module))

Now place a Scheme function in the ‘.ly’ file that gives an interactive Guile prompt:


When the ‘.ly’ file is compiled, this causes the compilation to be interrupted and an interactive guile prompt to appear. Once the guile prompt appears, the LilyPond active module must be set as the current guile module:

guile> (set-current-module lilypond-module)

You can demonstrate these commands are operating properly by typing the name of a LilyPond public scheme function to check it has been defined:

guile> fret-diagram-verbose-markup
#<procedure fret-diagram-verbose-markup (layout props marking-list)>

If the LilyPond module has not been correctly loaded, an error message will be generated:

guile> fret-diagram-verbose-markup
ERROR: Unbound variable: fret-diagram-verbose-markup
ABORT: (unbound-variable)

Once the module is properly loaded, any valid LilyPond Scheme expression can be entered at the interactive prompt.

After the investigation is complete, the interactive guile interpreter can be exited:

guile> (quit)

The compilation of the ‘.ly’ file will then continue.

Using the Guile debugger

To set breakpoints and/or enable tracing in Scheme functions, put

\include ""

in your input file after any scheme procedures you have defined in that file. This will invoke the Guile command-line after having set up the environment for the debug command-line. When your input file is processed, a guile prompt will be displayed. You may now enter commands to set up breakpoints and enable tracing by the Guile debugger.

Using breakpoints

At the guile prompt, you can set breakpoints with the set-break! procedure:

guile> (set-break! my-scheme-procedure)

Once you have set the desired breakpoints, you exit the guile repl frame by typing:

guile> (quit)

Then, when one of the scheme routines for which you have set breakpoints is entered, guile will interrupt execution in a debug frame. At this point you will have access to Guile debugging commands. For a listing of these commands, type:

debug> help

Alternatively you may code the breakpoints in your LilyPond source file using a command such as:

#(set-break! my-scheme-procedure)

immediately after the \include statement. In this case the breakpoint will be set straight after you enter the (quit) command at the guile prompt.

Embedding breakpoint commands like this is particularly useful if you want to look at how the Scheme procedures in the ‘.scm’ files supplied with LilyPond work. To do this, edit the file in the relevant directory to add this line near the top:

(use-modules (scm guile-debugger))

Now you can set a breakpoint after the procedure you are interested in has been declared. For example, if you are working on routines called by print-book-with in ‘lily-library.scm’:

(define (print-book-with book process-procedure)
  (let* ((paper (ly:parser-lookup '$defaultpaper))
         (layout (ly:parser-lookup '$defaultlayout))
         (outfile-name (get-outfile-name book)))
    (process-procedure book paper layout outfile-name)))

(define-public (print-book-with-defaults book)
  (print-book-with book ly:book-process))

(define-public (print-book-with-defaults-as-systems book)
  (print-book-with book ly:book-process-to-systems))

At this point in the code you could add this to set a breakpoint at print-book-with:

(set-break! print-book-with)

Tracing procedure calls and evaluator steps

Two forms of trace are available:

(set-trace-call! my-scheme-procedure)


(set-trace-subtree! my-scheme-procedure)

set-trace-call! causes Scheme to log a line to the standard output to show when the procedure is called and when it exits.

set-trace-subtree! traces every step the Scheme evaluator performs in evaluating the procedure.

10.8 Tracing object relationships

Understanding the LilyPond source often boils down to figuring out what is happening to the Grobs. Where (and why) are they being created, modified and destroyed? Tracing Lily through a debugger in order to identify these relationships can be time-consuming and tedious.

In order to simplify this process, a facility has been added to display the grobs that are created and the properties that are set and modified. Although it can be complex to get set up, once set up it easily provides detailed information about the life of grobs in the form of a network graph.

Each of the steps necessary to use the graphviz utility is described below.

  1. Installing graphviz

    In order to create the graph of the object relationships, it is first necessary to install Graphviz. Graphviz is available for a number of different platforms:
  2. Modifying config.make

    In order for the Graphviz tool to work, config.make must be modified. It is probably a good idea to first save a copy of config.make under a different name.

    In order to have the required functionality available, LilyPond needs to be compiled with the option ‘-DDEBUG’. You can achieve this by configuring with

    ./configure --enable-checking
  3. Rebuilding LilyPond

    The executable code of LilyPond must be rebuilt from scratch:

    make clean && make
  4. Create a graphviz-compatible ‘.ly’ file

    In order to use the graphviz utility, the ‘.ly’ file must include ‘ly/’, and should then specify the grobs and symbols that should be tracked. An example of this is found in ‘input/regression/’.

  5. Run LilyPond with output sent to a log file

    The Graphviz data is sent to stderr by LilyPond, so it is necessary to redirect stderr to a logfile:

    lilypond 2> graphviz.log
  6. Edit the logfile

    The logfile has standard LilyPond output, as well as the Graphviz output data. Delete everything from the beginning of the file up to but not including the first occurrence of digraph.

    Also, delete the final LilyPond message about success from the end of the file.

  7. Process the logfile with dot

    The directed graph is created from the log file with the program dot:

    dot -Tpdf graphviz.log > graphviz.pdf

The pdf file can then be viewed with any pdf viewer.

When compiled with ‘-DDEBUG’, LilyPond may run slower than normal. The original configuration can be restored by rerunning ./configure with ‘--disable-checking’. Then rebuild LilyPond with

make clean && make

10.9 Adding or modifying features

When a new feature is to be added to LilyPond, it is necessary to ensure that the feature is properly integrated to maintain its long-term support. This section describes the steps necessary for feature addition and modification.

10.9.1 Write the code

You should probably create a new git branch for writing the code, as that will separate it from the master branch and allow you to continue to work on small projects related to master.

Please be sure to follow the rules for programming style discussed earlier in this chapter.

10.9.2 Write regression tests

In order to demonstrate that the code works properly, you will need to write one or more regression tests. These tests are typically ‘.ly’ files that are found in ‘input/regression’.

Regression tests should be as brief as possible to demonstrate the functionality of the code.

Regression tests should generally cover one issue per test. Several short, single-issue regression tests are preferred to a single, long, multiple-issue regression test.

If the change in the output is small or easy to overlook, use bigger staff size – 40 or more (up to 100 in extreme cases). Size 30 means "pay extra attention to details in general".

Use existing regression tests as templates to demonstrate the type of header information that should be included in a regression test.

10.9.3 Write convert-ly rule

If the modification changes the input syntax, a convert-ly rule should be written to automatically update input files from older versions.

convert-ly rules are found in python/

If possible, the convert-ly rule should allow automatic updating of the file. In some cases, this will not be possible, so the rule will simply point out to the user that the feature needs manual correction.

Updating version numbers

If a development release occurs between you writing your patch and having it approved+pushed, you will need to update the version numbers in your tree. This can be done with:

scripts/auxiliar/update-patch-version old.version.number new.version.number

It will change all files in git, so use with caution and examine the resulting diff.

10.9.4 Automatically update documentation

convert-ly should be used to update the documentation, the snippets, and the regression tests. This not only makes the necessary syntax changes, it also tests the convert-ly rules.

The automatic updating is performed by moving to the top-level source directory, then running:


If you did an out-of-tree build, pass in the relative path:

LILYPOND_BUILD_DIR=../build-lilypond/ scripts/auxiliar/

10.9.5 Manually update documentation

Where the convert-ly rule is not able to automatically update the inline LilyPond code in the documentation (i.e. if a NOT_SMART rule is used), the documentation must be manually updated. The inline snippets that require changing must be changed in the English version of the docs and all translated versions. If the inline code is not changed in the translated documentation, the old snippets will show up in the English version of the documentation.

Where the convert-ly rule is not able to automatically update snippets in Documentation/snippets/, those snippets must be manually updated. Those snippets should be copied to Documentation/snippets/new. The comments at the top of the snippet describing its automatic generation should be removed. All translated texidoc strings should be removed. The comment “% begin verbatim” should be removed. The syntax of the snippet should then be manually edited.

Where snippets in Documentation/snippets are made obsolete, the snippet should be copied to Documentation/snippets/new. The comments and texidoc strings should be removed as described above. Then the body of the snippet should be changed to:

\markup {
  This snippet is deprecated as of version X.Y.Z and
  will be removed from the documentation.

where X.Y.Z is the version number for which the convert-ly rule was written.

Update the snippet files by running:


Where the convert-ly rule is not able to automatically update regression tests, the regression tests in input/regression should be manually edited.

Although it is not required, it is helpful if the developer can write relevant material for inclusion in the Notation Reference. If the developer does not feel qualified to write the documentation, a documentation editor will be able to write it from the regression tests. In this case the developer should raise a new issue with the Type=Documentation tag containing a reference to the original issue number and/or the committish of the pushed patch so that the need for new documention is not overlooked.

Any text that is added to or removed from the documentation should be changed only in the English version.

10.9.6 Edit changes.tely

An entry should be added to Documentation/changes.tely to describe the feature changes to be implemented. This is especially important for changes that change input file syntax.

Hints for changes.tely entries are given at the top of the file.

New entries in changes.tely go at the top of the file.

The changes.tely entry should be written to show how the new change improves LilyPond, if possible.

10.9.7 Verify successful build

When the changes have been made, successful completion must be verified by doing

make all
make doc

When these commands complete without error, the patch is considered to function successfully.

Developers on Windows who are unable to build LilyPond should get help from a GNU/Linux or OSX developer to do the make tests.

10.9.8 Verify regression tests

In order to avoid breaking LilyPond, it is important to verify that the regression tests succeed, and that no unwanted changes are introduced into the output. This process is described in Regtest comparison.

Typical developer’s edit/compile/test cycle

If you have modified LilyPond source files that have to be compiled (such as ‘.cc’ or ‘.hh’ files in ‘flower/’ or ‘lily/’), the regression-test targets automatically rebuild LilyPond before running the tests.

If you have modified any font definitions in the ‘mf/’ directory, then you must run make clean before running regression tests. This works around incomplete makefile dependencies. The subsequent regression-test target rebuilds all of LilyPond and the fonts before running the tests.

Regression-test targets do not necessarily rebuild everything that a simple make builds. You may omit make from the debugging cycle to save time, but it is still important to run make before committing.

Running make check leaves an HTML page ‘out/test-results/index.html’. This page shows all the important differences that your change introduced, whether in the layout, MIDI, performance or error reporting.

You only need to use make test-clean to retest all cases. To retest mismatching cases only, all that is needed is to repeat make check.

10.9.9 Post patch for comments

See Uploading a patch for review.

10.9.10 Push patch

Once all the comments have been addressed, the patch can be pushed.

If the author has push privileges, the author will push the patch. Otherwise, a developer with push privileges will push the patch.

10.9.11 Closing the issues

Once the patch has been pushed, all the relevant issues should be closed.

If the changes were in response to a feature request on the issue tracker for LilyPond, the author should change the label to ‘Status::Fixed’ and set the milestone to the version where the issue was fixed.

10.10 Iterator tutorial

TODO – this is a placeholder for a tutorial on iterators

Iterators are routines written in C++ that process music expressions and sent the music events to the appropriate engravers and/or performers.

See a short example discussing iterators and their duties in Articulations on EventChord.

10.11 Engraver tutorial

Engravers are C++ classes that catch music events and create the appropriate grobs for display on the page. Though the majority of engravers are responsible for the creation of a single grob, in some cases (e.g. New_fingering_engraver), several different grobs may be created.

Engravers listen for events and acknowledge grobs. Events are passed to the engraver in time-step order during the iteration phase. Grobs are made available to the engraver when they are created by other engravers during the iteration phase.

10.11.1 Useful methods for information processing

An engraver inherits the following public methods from the Translator base class, which can be used to process listened events and acknowledged grobs:

These methods are listed in order of translation time, with initialize () and finalize () bookending the whole process. initialize () can be used for one-time initialization of context properties before translation starts, whereas finalize () is often used to tie up loose ends at the end of translation: for example, an unterminated spanner might be completed automatically or reported with a warning message.

10.11.2 Translation process

At each timestep in the music, translation proceeds by calling the following methods in turn:

start_translation_timestep () is called before any user information enters the translators, i.e., no property operations (\set, \override, etc.) or events have been processed yet.

process_music () and process_acknowledged () are called after all events in the current time step have been heard, or all grobs in the current time step have been acknowledged. The latter tends to be used exclusively with engravers which only acknowledge grobs, whereas the former is the default method for main processing within engravers.

stop_translation_timestep () is called after all user information has been processed prior to beginning the translation for the next timestep.

10.11.3 Preventing garbage collection for SCM member variables

In certain cases, an engraver might need to ensure private Scheme variables (with type SCM) do not get swept away by Guile’s garbage collector: for example, a cache of the previous key signature which must persist between timesteps. The method virtual derived_mark () const can be used in such cases:

Engraver_name::derived_mark ()
  scm_gc_mark (private_scm_member_)

10.11.4 Listening to music events

External interfaces to the engraver are implemented by protected macros including one or more of the following:

where event_name is the type of event required to provide the input the engraver needs and Engraver_name is the name of the engraver.

Following declaration of a listener, the method is implemented as follows:

IMPLEMENT_TRANSLATOR_LISTENER (Engraver_name, event_name)
Engraver_name::listen_event_name (Stream event *event)
  ...body of listener method...

10.11.5 Acknowledging grobs

Some engravers also need information from grobs as they are created and as they terminate. The mechanism and methods to obtain this information are set up by the macros:

where grob_interface is an interface supported by the grob(s) which should be acknowledged. For example, the following code would declare acknowledgers for a NoteHead grob (via the note-head-interface) and any grobs which support the side-position-interface:


The DECLARE_END_ACKNOWLEDGER () macro sets up a spanner-specific acknowledger which will be called whenever a spanner ends.

Following declaration of an acknowledger, the method is coded as follows:

Engraver_name::acknowledge_interface_name (Grob_info info)
  ...body of acknowledger method...

Acknowledge functions are called in the order engravers are \consist-ed (the only exception is if you set must-be-last to #t).

There will always be a call to process-acknowledged () whenever grobs have been created, and reading stuff from grobs should be delayed until then since other acknowledgers might write stuff into a grob even after your acknowledger has been called. So the basic workflow is to use the various acknowledgers to record the grobs you are interested in and write stuff into them (or do read/write stuff that more or less is accumulative and/or really unrelated to other engravers), and then use the process-acknowledged () hook for processing (including reading) the grobs you had recorded.

You can create new grobs in process-acknowledged (). That will lead to a new cycle of acknowledger () calls followed by a new cycle of process-acknowledged () calls.

Only when all those cycles are over is stop-translator-timestep () called, and then creating grobs is no longer an option. You can still ‘process’ parts of the grob there (if that means just reading out properties and possibly setting context properties based on them) but stop-translation-timestep () is a cleanup hook, and other engravers might have already cleaned up stuff you might have wanted to use. Creating grobs in there is not possible since engravers and other code may no longer be in a state where they could process them, possibly causing a crash.

10.11.6 Engraver declaration/documentation

An engraver must have a public macro

where Engraver_name is the name of the engraver. This defines the common variables and methods used by every engraver.

At the end of the engraver file, one or both of the following macros are generally called to document the engraver in the Internals Reference:

where Engraver_name is the name of the engraver, grob_interface is the name of the interface that will be acknowledged, Engraver_doc is a docstring for the engraver, Engraver_creates is the set of grobs created by the engraver, Engraver_reads is the set of properties read by the engraver, and Engraver_writes is the set of properties written by the engraver.

The ADD_ACKNOWLEDGER and ADD_TRANSLATOR macros use a non-standard indentation system. Each interface, grob, read property, and write property is on its own line, and the closing parenthesis and semicolon for the macro all occupy a separate line beneath the final interface or write property. See existing engraver files for more information.

10.12 Callback tutorial

TODO – This is a placeholder for a tutorial on callback functions.

10.13 Understanding pure properties

Pure properties are some of the most difficult properties to understand in LilyPond but, once understood, it is much easier to work with horizontal spacing. This document provides an overview of what it means for something to be ‘pure’ in LilyPond, what this purity guarantees, and where pure properties are stored and used. It finishes by discussing a few case studies for the pure programmer to save you some time and to prevent you some major headaches.

10.13.1 Purity in LilyPond

Pure properties in LilyPond are properties that do not have any ‘side effects’. That is, looking up a pure property should never result in calls to the following functions:

This means that, if the property is calculated via a callback, this callback must not only avoid the functions above but make sure that any functions it calls also avoid the functions above. Also, to date in LilyPond, a pure function will always return the same value before line breaking (or, more precisely, before any version of break_into_pieces is called). This convention makes it possible to cache pure functions and be more flexible about the order in which functions are called. For example; Stem.length has a pure property that will never trigger one of the functions listed above and will always return the same value before line breaking, independent of where it is called. Sometimes, this will be the actual length of the Stem. But sometimes it will not. For example; stem that links up with a beam will need its end set to the Y position of the beam at the stem’s X position. However, the beam’s Y positions can only be known after the score is broken up in to several systems (a beam that has a shallow slope on a compressed line of music, for example, may have a steeper one on an uncompressed line). Thus, we only call the impure version of the properties once we are absolutely certain that all of the parameters needed to calculate their final value have been calculated. The pure version provides a useful estimate of what this Stem length (or any property) will be, and the art of creating good pure properties is trying to get the estimation as close to the actual value as possible.

Of course, like Gregory Peck and Tintin, some Grobs will have properties that will always be pure. For example, the height of a note-head in not-crazy music will never depend on line breaking or other parameters decided late in the typesetting process. Inversely, in rare cases, certain properties are difficult to estimate with pure values. For example, the height of a Hairpin at a certain cross-section of its horizontal span is difficult to know without knowing the horizontal distance that the hairpin spans, and LilyPond provides an over-estimation by reporting the pure height as the entire height of the Hairpin.

Purity, like for those living in a convent, is more like a contract than an a priori. If you write a pure-function, you are promising the user (and the developer who may have to clean up after you) that your function will not be dependent on factors that change at different stages of the compilation process (compilation of a score, not of LilyPond).

One last oddity is that purity, in LilyPond, is currently limited exclusively to things that have to do with Y-extent and positioning. There is no concept of ‘pure X’ as, by design, X is always the independent variable (i.e. from column X1 to column X2, what will be the Y height of a given grob). Furthermore, there is no purity for properties like color, text, and other things for which a meaningful notion of estimation is either not necessary or has not yet been found. For example, even if a color were susceptible to change at different points of the compilation process, it is not clear what a pure estimate of this color would be or how this pure color could be used. Thus, in this document and in the source, you will see purity discussed almost interchangeably with Y-axis positioning issues.

10.13.2 Writing a pure function

Pure functions take, at a minimum, three arguments: the grob, the starting column at which the function is being evaluated (hereafter referred to as start), and the end column at which the grob is being evaluated (hereafter referred to as end). For items, start and end must be provided (meaning they are not optional) but will not have a meaningful impact on the result, as items only occupy one column and will thus yield a value or not (if they are not in the range from start to end). For spanners however, start and end are important, as we may can get a better pure estimation of a slice of the spanner than considering it on the whole. This is useful during line breaking, for example, when we want to estimate the Y-extent of a spanner broken at given starting and ending columns.

10.13.3 How purity is defined and stored

Purity is defined in LilyPond with the creation of an unpure-pure container (unpure is not a word, but hey, neither was LilyPond until the 90s). For example:

#(define (foo grob)
  '(-1 . 1))

#(define (bar grob start end)
  '(-2 . 2))

\override Stem.length = #(ly:make-unpure-pure-container foo bar)

Note that items can only ever have two pure heights: their actual pure height if they are between ‘start’ and ‘end’, or an empty interval if they are not. Thus, their pure property is cached to speed LilyPond up. Pure heights for spanners are generally not cached as they change depending on the start and end values. They are only cached in certain particular cases. Before writing a lot of caching code, make sure that it is a value that will be reused a lot.

10.13.4 Where purity is used

Pure Y values must be used in any functions that are called before line breaking. Examples of this can be seen in Separation_items::boxes to construct horizontal skylines and in Note_spacing::stem_dir_correction to correct for optical illusions in spacing. Pure properties are also used in the calculation of other pure properties. For example, the Axis_group_interface has pure functions that look up other pure functions.

Purity is also implicitly used in any functions that should only ever return pure values. For example, extra-spacing-height is only ever used before line-breaking and thus should never use values that would only be available after line breaking. In this case, there is no need to create callbacks with pure equivalents because these functions, by design, need to be pure.

To know if a property will be called before and/or after line-breaking is sometimes tricky and can, like all things in coding, be found by using a debugger and/or adding printf statements to see where they are called in various circumstances.

10.13.5 Case studies

In each of these case studies, we expose a problem in pure properties, a solution, and the pros and cons of this solution.

Time signatures

A time signature needs to prevent accidentals from passing over or under it, but its extent does not necessarily extend to the Y-position of accidentals. LilyPond’s horizontal spacing sometimes makes a line of music compact and, when doing so, allows certain columns to pass over each other if they will not collide. This type of passing over is not desirable with time signatures in traditional engraving. But how do we know if this passing over will happen before line breaking, as we are not sure what the X positions will be? We need a pure estimation of how much extra spacing height the time signatures would need to prevent this form of passing over without making this height so large as to overly-distort the Y-extent of an system, which could result in a very ‘loose’ looking score with lots of horizontal space between columns. So, to approximate this extra spacing height, we use the Y-extent of a time signature’s next-door-neighbor grobs via the pure-from-neighbor interface.


As described above, Stems need pure height approximations when they are beamed, as we do not know the beam positions before line breaking. To estimate this pure height, we take all the stems in a beam and find their pure heights as if they were not beamed. Then, we find the union of all these pure heights and take the intersection between this interval (which is large) and an interval going from the note-head of a stem to infinity in the direction of the stem so that the interval stops at the note head.

10.13.6 Debugging tips

A few questions to ask yourself when working with pure properties:

10.14 LilyPond scoping

The LilyPond language has a concept of scoping, i.e. you can do:

foo = 1

   (display (+ foo 2)))

with \paper, \midi and \header being nested scope inside the ‘.ly’ file-level scope. foo = 1 is translated in to a scheme variable definition.

This implemented using modules, with each scope being an anonymous module that imports its enclosing scope’s module.

LilyPond’s core, loaded from ‘.scm’ files, is usually placed in the lily module, outside the ‘.ly’ level. In the case of


we want to reuse the built-in definitions, without changes effected in user-level ‘’ leaking into the processing of ‘’.

The user-accessible definition commands have to take care to avoid memory leaks that could occur when running multiple files. All information belonging to user-defined commands and markups is stored in a manner that allows it to be garbage-collected when the module is dispersed, either by being stored module-locally, or in weak hash tables.

10.15 Scheme->C interface

Most of the C functions interfacing with Guile/Scheme used in LilyPond are described in the API Reference of the GUILE Reference Manual.

The remaining functions are defined in ‘lily/’, ‘lily/include/lily-guile.hh’ and ‘lily/include/lily-guile-macros.hh’. Although their names are meaningful there’s a few things you should know about them.

10.15.1 Comparison

This is the trickiest part of the interface.

Mixing Scheme values with C comparison operators won’t produce any crash or warning when compiling but must be avoided:

scm_string_p (scm_value) == SCM_BOOL_T

As we can read in the reference, scm_string_p returns a Scheme value: either #t or #f which are written SCM_BOOL_T and SCM_BOOL_F in C. This will work, but it is not following to the API guidelines. For further information, read this discussion:

There are functions in the Guile reference that returns C values instead of Scheme values. In our example, a function called scm_is_string (described after string? and scm_string_p) returns the C value 0 or 1.

So the best solution was simply:

scm_is_string (scm_value)

There a simple solution for almost every common comparison. Another example: we want to know if a Scheme value is a non-empty list. Instead of:

(scm_is_true (scm_list_p (scm_value)) && scm_value != SCM_EOL)

one can usually use:

scm_is_pair (scm_value)

since a list of at least one member is a pair. This test is cheap; scm_list_p is actually quite more complex since it makes sure that its argument is neither a ‘dotted list’ where the last pair has a non-null cdr, nor a circular list. There are few situations where the complexity of those tests make sense.

Unfortunately, there is not a scm_is_[something] function for everything. That’s one of the reasons why LilyPond has its own Scheme interface. As a rule of thumb, tests that are cheap enough to be worth inlining tend to have such a C interface. So there is scm_is_pair but not scm_is_list, and scm_is_eq but not scm_is_equal.

General definitions

bool to_boolean (SCM b)

Return true if b is SCM_BOOL_T, else return false.

This should be used instead of scm_is_true and scm_is_false for properties since in LilyPond, unset properties are read as an empty list, and by convention unset Boolean properties default to false. Since both scm_is_true and scm_is_false only compare with ##f in line with what Scheme’s conditionals do, they are not really useful for checking the state of a Boolean property.

bool ly_is_[something] (args)

Behave the same as scm_is_[something] would do if it existed.

bool is_[type] (SCM s)

Test whether the type of s is [type]. [type] is a LilyPond-only set of values (direction, axis...). More often than not, the code checks LilyPond specific C++-implemented types using

[Type *] unsmob<Type> (SCM s)

This tries converting a Scheme object to a pointer of the desired kind. If the Scheme object is of the wrong type, a pointer value of 0 is returned, making this suitable for a Boolean test.

10.15.2 Conversion

General definitions

bool to_boolean (SCM b)

Return true if b is SCM_BOOL_T, else return false.

This should be used instead of scm_is_true and scm_is_false for properties since empty lists are sometimes used to unset them.

[C type] ly_scm2[C type] (SCM s)

Behave the same as scm_to_[C type] would do if it existed.

[C type] robust_scm2[C type] (SCM s, [C type] d)

Behave the same as scm_to_[C type] would do if it existed. Return d if type verification fails.

10.16 LilyPond miscellany

This is a place to dump information that may be of use to developers but doesn’t yet have a proper home. Ideally, the length of this section would become zero as items are moved to other homes.

10.16.1 Spacing algorithms

Here is information from an email exchange about spacing algorithms.

On Thu, 2010-02-04 at 15:33 -0500, Boris Shingarov wrote: I am experimenting with some modifications to the line breaking code, and I am stuck trying to understand how some of it works. So far my understanding is that Simple_spacer operates on a vector of Grobs, and it is a well-known Constrained-QP problem (rods = constraints, springs = quadratic function to minimize). What I don’t understand is, if the spacer operates at the level of Grobs, which are built at an earlier stage in the pipeline, how are the changes necessitated by differences in line breaking, taken into account? in other words, if I take the last measure of a line and place it on the next line, it is not just a matter of literally moving that graphic to where the start of the next line is, but I also need to draw a clef, key signature, and possibly other fundamental things – but at that stage in the rendering pipeline, is it not too late??

Joe Neeman answered:

We create lots of extra grobs (eg. a BarNumber at every bar line) but most of them are not drawn. See the break-visibility property in item-interface.

Here is another e-mail exchange. Janek Warchoł asked for a starting point to fixing 1301 (change clef colliding with notes). Neil Puttock replied:

The clef is on a loose column (it floats before the head), so the first place I’d look would be lily/ (and possibly lily/ I’d guess the problem is the way loose columns are spaced between other columns: in this snippet, the columns for the quaver and tuplet minim are so close together that the clef’s column gets dumped on top of the quaver (since it’s loose, it doesn’t influence the spacing).

10.16.2 Info from Han-Wen email

In 2004, Douglas Linhardt decided to try starting a document that would explain LilyPond architecture and design principles. The material below is extracted from that email, which can be found at The headings reflect questions from Doug or comments from Han-Wen; the body text are Han-Wen’s answers.

Figuring out how things work.

I must admit that when I want to know how a program works, I use grep and emacs and dive into the source code. The comments and the code itself are usually more revealing than technical documents.

What’s a grob, and how is one used?

Graphical object - they are created from within engravers, either as Spanners (derived class) -slurs, beams- or Items (also a derived class) -notes, clefs, etc.

There are two other derived classes System (derived from Spanner, containing a "line of music") and Paper_column (derived from Item, it contains all items that happen at the same moment). They are separate classes because they play a special role in the linebreaking process.

What’s a smob, and how is one used?

A C(++) object that is encapsulated so it can be used as a Scheme object. See GUILE info, "19.3 Defining New Types (Smobs)"

When is each C++ class constructed and used?

Can you get to Context properties from a Music object?

You can create music object with a Scheme function that reads context properties (the \applycontext syntax). However, that function is executed during Interpreting, so you can not really get Context properties from Music objects, since music objects are not directly connected to Contexts. That connection is made by the Music_iterators

Can you get to Music properties from a Context object?

Yes, if you are given the music object within a Context object. Normally, the music objects enter Contexts in synchronized fashion, and the synchronization is done by Music_iterators.

What is the relationship between C++ classes and Scheme objects?

Smobs are C++ objects in Scheme. Scheme objects (lists, functions) are manipulated from C++ as well using the GUILE C function interface (prefix: scm_)

How do Scheme procedures get called from C++ functions?

scm_call_*, where * is an integer from 0 to 4. Also scm_c_eval_string (), scm_eval ()

How do C++ functions get called from Scheme procedures?

Export a C++ function to Scheme with LY_DEFINE.

What is the flow of control in the program?

Good question. Things used to be clear-cut, but we have Scheme and SMOBs now, which means that interactions do not follow a very rigid format anymore. See below for an overview, though.

Does the parser make Scheme procedure calls or C++ function calls?

Both. And the Scheme calls can call C++ and vice versa. It’s nested, with the SCM datatype as lubrication between the interactions

(I think the word "lubrication" describes the process better than the traditional word "glue")

How do the front-end and back-end get started?

Front-end: a file is parsed, the rest follows from that. Specifically,

Parsing leads to a Music + Music_output_def object (see parser.yy, definition of toplevel_expression )

A Music + Music_output_def object leads to a Global_context object (see ly_run_translator ())

During interpreting, Global_context + Music leads to a bunch of Contexts (see Global_translator::run_iterator_on_me ()).

After interpreting, Global_context contains a Score_context (which contains staves, lyrics etc.) as a child. Score_context::get_output () spews a Music_output object (either a Paper_score object for notation or Performance object for MIDI).

The Music_output object is the entry point for the backend (see ly_render_output ()).

The main steps of the backend itself are in

Interactions between grobs and putting things into .tex and .ps files have gotten a little more complex lately. Jan has implemented page-breaking, so now the backend also involves Paper_book, Paper_lines and other things. This area is still heavily in flux, and perhaps not something you should want to look at.

How do the front-end and back-end communicate?

There is no communication from backend to front-end. From front-end to backend is simply the program flow: music + definitions gives contexts, contexts yield output, after processing, output is written to disk.

Where is the functionality associated with KEYWORDs?

See ‘’ (keywords, there aren’t that many) and ‘ly/*.ly’ (most of the other backslashed /\words are identifiers)

What Contexts/Properties/Music/etc. are available when they are processed?

What do you mean exactly with this question?

See ‘ly/’ for contexts, see ‘scm/define-*.scm’ for other objects.

How do you decide if something is a Music, Context, or Grob property?

Why is part-combine-status a Music property when it seems (IMO) to be related to the Staff context?

The Music_iterators and Context communicate through two channels

Music_iterators can set and read context properties, idem for Engravers and Contexts

Music_iterators can send "synthetic" music events (which aren’t in the input) to a context. These are caught by Engravers. This is mostly a one way communication channel.

part-combine-status is part of such a synthetic event, used by Part_combine_iterator to communicate with Part_combine_engraver.

Deciding between context and music properties

I’m adding a property to affect how \autoChange works. It seems to me that it should be a context property, but the Scheme autoChange procedure has a Music argument. Does this mean I should use a Music property?

\autoChange is one of these extra strange beasts: it requires look-ahead to decide when to change staves. This is achieved by running the interpreting step twice (see ‘scm/part-combiner.scm’ , at the bottom), and storing the result of the first step (where to switch staves) in a Music property. Since you want to influence that where-to-switch list, your must affect the code in make-autochange-music (‘scm/part-combiner.scm’). That code is called directly from the parser and there are no official "parsing properties" yet, so there is no generic way to tune \autoChange. We would have to invent something new for this, or add a separate argument,

    \autoChange #around-central-C

where around-central-C is some function that is called from make-autochange-music.

More on context and music properties

From Neil Puttock, in response to a question about transposition:

Context properties (using \set & \unset) are tied to engravers: they provide information relevant to the generation of graphical objects.

Since transposition occurs at the music interpretation stage, it has no direct connection with engravers: the pitch of a note is fixed before a notehead is created. Consider the following minimal snippet:

{ c' }

This generates (simplified) a NoteEvent, with its pitch and duration as event properties,

  (ly:make-duration 2 0 1 1)
  (ly:make-pitch 0 0 0)

which the Note_heads_engraver hears. It passes this information on to the NoteHead grob it creates from the event, so the head’s correct position and duration-log can be determined once it’s ready for printing.

If we transpose the snippet,

\transpose c d { c' }

the pitch is changed before it reaches the engraver (in fact, it happens just after the parsing stage with the creation of a TransposedMusic music object):

 (ly:make-duration 2 0 1 1)
 (ly:make-pitch 0 1 0)

You can see an example of a music property relevant to transposition: untransposable.

\transpose c d { c'2 \withMusicProperty #'untransposable ##t c' }

-> the second c’ remains untransposed.

Take a look at ‘lily/’ to see where the transposition takes place.

How do I tell about the execution environment?

I get lost figuring out what environment the code I’m looking at is in when it executes. I found both the C++ and Scheme autoChange code. Then I was trying to figure out where the code got called from. I finally figured out that the Scheme procedure was called before the C++ iterator code, but it took me a while to figure that out, and I still didn’t know who did the calling in the first place. I only know a little bit about Flex and Bison, so reading those files helped only a little bit.

Han-Wen: GDB can be of help here. Set a breakpoint in C++, and run. When you hit the breakpoint, do a backtrace. You can inspect Scheme objects along the way by doing

p ly_display_scm(obj)

this will display OBJ through GUILE.

10.16.3 Music functions and GUILE debugging

Ian Hulin was trying to do some debugging in music functions, and came up with the following question (edited and adapted to current versions):

HI all, I’m working on the Guile Debugger Stuff, and would like to try debugging a music function definition such as:

conditionalMark =
#(define-music-function () ()
  #{ \tag instrumental-part {\mark \default} #} )

It appears conditionalMark does not get set up as an equivalent of a Scheme

(define conditionalMark = define-music-function () () ...

although something gets defined because Scheme apparently recognizes

#(set-break! conditionalMark)

later on in the file without signalling any Guile errors.

However the breakpoint trap is never encountered as define-music-function passed things on to ly:make-music-function, which is really C++ code ly_make_music_function, so Guile never finds out about the breakpoint.

The answer in the mailing list archive at that time was less than helpful. The question already misidentifies the purpose of ly:make-music-function which is only called once at the time of defining conditionalMark but is not involved in its later execution.

Here is the real deal:

A music function is not the same as a GUILE function. It boxes both a proper Scheme function (with argument list and body from the define-music-function definition) along with a call signature representing the types of both function and arguments.

Those components can be reextracted using ly:music-function-extract and ly:music-function-signature, respectively.

When LilyPond’s parser encounters a music function call in its input, it reads, interprets, and verifies the arguments individually according to the call signature and then calls the proper Scheme function.

While it is actually possible these days to call a music function as if it were a Scheme function itself, this pseudo-call uses its own wrapping code matching the argument list as a whole to the call signature, substituting omitted optional arguments with defaults and verifying the result type.

So putting a breakpoint on the music function itself will still not help with debugging uses of the function using LilyPond syntax.

However, either calling mechanism ultimately calls the proper Scheme function stored as part of the music function, and that is where the breakpoint belongs:

#(set-break! (ly:music-function-extract conditionalMark))

will work for either calling mechanism.

10.16.4 Articulations on EventChord

From David Kastrup’s email

LilyPond’s typesetting does not act on music expressions and music events. It acts exclusively on stream events. It is the act of iterators to convert a music expression into a sequence of stream events played in time order.

The EventChord iterator is pretty simple: it just takes its "elements" field when its time comes up, turns every member into a StreamEvent and plays that through the typesetting process. The parser currently appends all postevents belonging to a chord at the end of "elements", and thus they get played at the same point of time as the elements of the chord. Due to this design, you can add per-chord articulations or postevents or even assemble chords with a common stem by using parallel music providing additional notes/events: the typesetter does not see a chord structure or postevents belonging to a chord, it just sees a number of events occuring at the same point of time in a Voice context.

So all one needs to do is let the EventChord iterator play articulations after elements, and then adding to articulations in EventChord is equivalent to adding them to elements (except in cases where the order of events matters).

11. Release work

11.1 Development phases

There are 2 states of development on master:

  1. Normal development: Any commits are fine.
  2. Build-frozen: Do not require any additional or updated libraries or make non-trivial changes to the build process. Any such patch (or branch) may not be merged with master during this period.

    This should occur approximately 1 month before any alpha version of the next stable release, and ends when the next unstable branch begins.

After announcing a beta release, branch stable/2.x. There are 2 states of development for this branch:

  1. Normal maintenance: The following patches MAY NOT be merged with this branch:
    • Any change to the input syntax. If a file compiled with a previous 2.x (beta) version, then it must compile in the new version.

      Exception: any bugfix to a Critical issue.

    • New features with new syntax may be committed, although once committed that syntax cannot change during the remainder of the stable phase.
    • Any change to the build dependencies (including programming libraries, documentation process programs, or python modules used in the buildscripts). If a contributor could compile a previous lilypond 2.x, then he must be able to compile the new version.
  2. Release prep: Only translation updates and important bugfixes are allowed.

11.2 Minor release checklist

A “minor release” means an update of y in 2.x.y.


  1. Don’t forget to prepare the GUB build machine by deleting and moving unneeded files: see “Subsequent builds” in Notes on builds with GUB.
  2. Using any system with git pull access (not necessarily the GUB build machine), use the commands below to do the following:
    • switch to the release branch
    • update the release branch from origin/master
    • update the translation files
    • create the release announcement
    • update the build versions.
      • VERSION_DEVEL = the current development version (previous VERSION_DEVEL + 0.01)
      • VERSION_STABLE = the current stable version (probably no change here)
    • update the “Welcome to LilyPond” version numbers to the version about to be released

    This requires a system which has the release/unstable branch. If you get a warning saying you are in detached HEAD state, then you should create a release/unstable branch with git checkout release/unstable.

    Check the environment variables are set as in Environment variables.

    You need to ensure you have a clean index and work tree. If the checkout displays modified files, you might want to run git reset --hard before continuing.

    git fetch
    git checkout release/unstable
    git merge origin/master
    make -C $LILYPOND_BUILD_DIR po-replace
    mv $LILYPOND_BUILD_DIR/po/lilypond.pot po/
    gedit Documentation/en/web/news-new.itexi Documentation/en/web/news-old.itexi
    gedit Documentation/en/web/news-headlines.itexi
    gedit VERSION
    gedit ly/Wel*.ly

    Editing the ‘news-headlines.itexi’ file is a bit tricky, since it contains URLs with escaped characters. An example of what is needed is that releasing 2.19.50 after the release of 2.19.49 needed the line:

      LilyPond 2.19.49 released - @emph{October 16, 2016}}

    to be changed to:

      LilyPond 2.19.50 released - @emph{November 6, 2016}}

    Don’t forget to update the entry above that line to show the latest release version.

  3. Commit, push, switch back to master (or wherever else):
    git commit -m "Release: bump VERSION_DEVEL." VERSION
    git commit -m "PO: update template." po/lilypond.pot
    git commit -m "Release: update news." Documentation/en/web/
    git commit -m "Release: bump Welcome versions." ly/Wel*.ly
    git push origin HEAD:release/unstable
    git checkout master
  4. If you do not have the previous release test-output tarball, download it and put it in regtests/
  5. Prepare GUB environment by running:
    # special terminal, and default PATH environment.
    # import these special environment vars:
    env -i \
      HOME=$HOME \
      bash --rcfile my-bashrc
    ### my-bashrc
    export PS1="\[\e[1;33mGUB-ENV \w\]$ \[\e[0m\]"
    export PATH=$PATH
    export TERM=xterm
  6. Build release on GUB by running:
    make LILYPOND_BRANCH=release/unstable lilypond

    or something like:

    make LILYPOND_BRANCH=stable/2.16 lilypond
  7. Check the regtest comparison in ‘uploads/webtest/’ for any unintentional breakage. More info in Precompiled regression tests.
  8. If any work was done on GUB since the last release, upload binaries to a temporary location, ask for feedback, and wait a day or two in case there’s any major problems.

    Note: Always do this for a stable release.

Actual release

  1. If you’re not the right user on the webserver, remove the t from the rsync command in:
  2. Upload GUB by running:
    make lilypond-upload \
      LILYPOND_REPO_URL=git:// \

    or something like:

    make lilypond-upload \
      LILYPOND_REPO_URL=git:// \

Post release

  1. Update the current master branch with the current news:
    git fetch
    git checkout origin/master
    git merge origin/release/unstable
  2. Update ‘VERSION’ in lilypond git and upload changes:
    gedit VERSION
    • VERSION = what you just did +0.0.1
    git commit -m "Release: bump VERSION." VERSION
    git push origin HEAD:release/unstable
  3. Create a merge request from release/unstable to merge the changes into master.
  4. Wait a few hours for the website to update.
  5. Email release notice to info-lilypond

11.3 Major release checklist

A “major release” means an update of x in 2.x.0.

Main requirements

These are the current official guidelines.

Potential requirements

These might become official guidelines in the future.

Housekeeping requirements

Before the release:


11.4 Release extra notes

Regenerating regression tests

Regenerating regtests (if the lilypond-book naming has changed):


If releasing stable/2.12, then:

Updating a release (changing a in x.y.z-a)

Really tentative instructions, almost certainly can be done better.

  1. change the VERSION back to release you want. push change. (hopefully you’ll have forgotten to update it when you made your last release)
  2. make sure that there aren’t any lilypond files floating around in target/ (like usr/bin/lilypond).
  3. build the specific package(s) you want, i.e.
    bin/gub mingw::lilypond-installer
    make LILYPOND_BRANCH=stable/2.12 -f lilypond.make doc
    bin/gub --platform=darwin-x86 \


    build everything with the normal "make lilypond", then (maybe) manually delete stuff you don’t want to upload.

  4. manually upload them. good luck figuring out the rsync command(s). Hints are in test-lily/


    run the normal lilypond-upload command, and (maybe) manually delete stuff you didn’t want to upload from the server.

11.5 Notes on builds with GUB

Building GUB

GUB - the Grand Unified Builder - is used to build the release versions of LilyPond. For background information, see Grand Unified Builder (GUB). The simplest way to set up a GUB build environment is to use a virtual machine with LilyDev (LilyDev). Follow the instructions on that page to set this up. Make sure that your virtual machine has enough disk space - a GUB installation takes over 30 GBytes of disk space, and if you allocate too little, it will fail during the setting up stage and you will have to start again. 64 GBytes should be sufficient.

While GUB is being built, any interruptions are likely to make it almost impossible to restart. If at all possible, leave the build to continue uninterrupted.

Download GUB and start the set up:

git clone git://
cd gub
make bootstrap

This will take a very long time, even on a very fast computer. You will need to be patient. It’s also liable to fail - it downloads a number of tools, and some will have moved and others won’t respond to the network. For example, the perl archive. If this happens, download it from, saving the archive to ‘gub/downloads/perl/’. Continue the set up with:

make bootstrap

Once this has completed successfully, you can build the LilyPond release package. However, this uses an archived version of the regression tests, so it is better to download this first. Download the test output from (you will need to replace 2.15.33-1 with the latest build):

Copy the tarball into ‘regtests/’, and tell the build system that you have done this:

touch regtests/ignore

Now start the GUB build:

make lilypond

That’s it. This will build LilyPond from current master. To build the current unstable release, run:

make LILYPOND_BRANCH=release/unstable lilypond

The first time you do this, it will take a very long time.

Assuming the build has gone well, it can be uploaded using:

make lilypond-upload

Output files

GUB builds the files it needs into the directory gub/target/. As a general rule, these don’t need to be touched unless there is a problem building GUB (see below). The files to be uploaded are in gub/uploads/. Once the build has completed successfully, there should be 8 installation files and 3 archives, totalling about 600MB. There are also 4 directories:


signatures contains files that are used to track whether some of the archives have already been built. Don’t touch these.

localdoc probably contains local copies of the documentation.

webdoc contains the documentation to be uploaded.

webtest contains the regtest comparison, which should be checked before upload, and is also uploaded for subsequent checking.

The total upload is about 700 MB in total, and on an ADSL connection will take about 4 hours to upload.

Subsequent builds

In principle, building the next release of LilyPond requires no action other then following the instructions in Minor release checklist. Because much of the infrastructure has already been built, it will take much less time - about an hour on a fast computer.

Continuing to build LilyPond without any other archiving/deletion of previous builds is likely to be successful, but will take up a fair amount of disk space (around 2GB per build) which may be a problem with a Virtual Machine. It’s therefore recommended to move (not copy) gub/uploads to another machine/disk after each build, if space is at a premium.

However, if a significant change has been made to the LilyPond source (e.g. added source files) the build may fail if tried on top of a previous build. If this happens, be sure to move/delete gub/uploads and all mentions of LilyPond in gub/target. The latter can be achieved with this command:

rm -rf target/*/*/*lilypond*

Be very careful with this command. Typing it wrongly could wipe your disk completely.

Updating the web site

The make lilypond-upload command updates the documentation on the LilyPond web site.

The website (which is served on is updated by executing a manual pipeline on Gitlab. See Uploading website for more details.

So - to update the front page of the website, it’s necessary to update VERSION and news-headlines.itexi in master, run the manual pipeline, and then wait for the cron jobs to run.

12. Modifying the Emmentaler font

12.1 Overview of the Emmentaler font

Emmentaler was created specifically for use in LilyPond. The font consists of two sub-sets of glyphs. “Feta”, used for clasical notation and “Parmesan”, used for Ancient notation. The sources of which are all found in mf/*.mf.

The font is merged from a number of subfonts. Each subfont can contain at most 224 glyphs. This is because each subfont is limited to a one-byte address space (256 glyphs maximum) and we avoid the first 32 points in that address space, since they are non-printing control characters in ASCII.

In LilyPond, glyphs are accessed by a ‘glyph name’, rather than by code point. Therefore, the name of a glyph is significant.

Information about correctly creating glyphs is found in ‘mf/README’. Please make sure you read and understand this file.

TODO – we should get mf/README automatically generated from texinfo source and include it here.

12.2 Font creation tools

The sources for Emmentaler are written in metafont. The definitive reference for metafont is "The METAFONT book" – the source of which is available at CTAN.

mf2pt1 is used to create type 1 fonts from the metafont sources.

FontForge is used to postprocess the output of mf2pt1 and clean up details of the font. It can also be used by a developer to display the resulting glyph shapes.

12.3 Adding a new font section

The font is divided into sections, each of which contains less than 224 glyphs. If more than 224 glyphs are included in a section, an error will be generated.

Each of the sections is contained in a separate .mf file. The files are named according to the type of glyphs in that section.

When adding a new section, it will be necessary to add the following:

See the examples in mf/ for more information.

12.4 Adding a new glyph

Adding a new glyph is done by modifying the .mf file to which the glyph will be added.

Necessary functions to draw the glyph can be added anywhere in the file, but it is standard to put them immediately before the glyph definition.

The glyph definition begins with:

fet_beginchar ("glyph description", "glyphname");

with glyph description replaced with a short description of the glyph, and glyphname replaced with the glyphname, which is chosen to comply with the naming rules in ‘mf/README’.

The metafont code used to draw the glyph follows the fet_beginchar entry. The glyph is finished with:


12.5 Building the changed font

In order to rebuild the font after making the changes, the existing font files must be deleted. The simplest and quickest way to do this is to do:

rm mf/out/*

12.6 METAFONT formatting rules

There are special formatting rules for METAFONT files.

Please do not use tabs for the indentation of commands.

When a path contains more than two points, put each point on a separate line, with the operator at the beginning of the line. The operators are indented to the same depth as the initial point on the path using spaces. The indentation mechanism is illustrated below.

def draw_something (expr test) =
  set_char_box (staff_space#, 1.6 linethickness# / 2,
                0.5 staff_space#, 0.5 staff_space#);
  if test:
    fill z1
         -- z2
         -- z3
         .. cycle;

13. Administrative policies

This chapter discusses miscellaneous administrative issues which don’t fit anywhere else.

13.1 Meta-policy for this document

The Contributor’s Guide as a whole is still a work in progress, but some chapters are much more complete than others. Chapters which are “almost finished” should not have major changes without a discussion on -devel; in other chapters, a disorganized “wiki-style dump” of information is encouraged.

Do not change (other than spelling mistakes) without discussion:

Please dump info in an appropriate @section within these manuals, but discuss any large-scale reorganization:

Totally disorganized; do whatever the mao you want:

13.2 Environment variables

Some maintenance scripts and instructions in this guide rely on the following environment variables. They should be predefined in LilyDev distribution (see LilyDev); if you set up your own development environment, you can set them by appending these settings to your ‘~/.bashrc’ (or whatever defines your default environment variables for the user account for LilyPond development), then logging out and in (adapt directories to your setup):


The standard build and install procedure (with, configure, make, make install, make doc …) does not rely on them.

In addition, for working on the website, LILYPOND_WEB_MEDIA_GIT should be set to the repository lilypond-extra, see lilypond-extra.

13.3 Meisters

We have four primary jobs to help organize all our contributors:

The Bug Meister

The Bug Meister’s responsibilities are:

Current Bug Meister: Colin Hall

The Doc Meister

The Doc Meister’s responsibilities are:

Current Doc Meister: None

The Patch Meister

The Patch Meister’s responsibilities are:

Note: The Patch Meister’s role is a purely administrative one and no programming skill or judgement is assumed or required.

Currently: James Lowe

The Translation Meister

The Translation Meister’s responsibilities are:

Currently: Francisco Vila

13.4 Administrative mailing list

A mailing list for administrative issues is maintained at

This list is intended to be used for discussions that should be kept private. Therefore, the archives are closed to the public.

Subscription to this list is limited to certain senior developers.

At the present time, the list is dormant.

13.5 Grand Organization Project (GOP)

GOP has two goals:

13.5.1 Motivation

Most readers are probably familiar with the LilyPond Grand Documentation Project, which ran from Aug 2007 to Aug 2008. This project involved over 20 people and resulted in an almost complete rewrite of the documentation. Most of those contributors were normal users who decided to volunteer their time and effort to improve lilypond for everybody. By any measure, it was a great success.

The Grand Organization Project aims to do the same thing with a larger scope – instead of focusing purely on documentation, the project aims to improve all parts of LilyPond and its community. Just as with GDP, the main goal is to encourage and train users to become more involved.

If you have never contributed to an open-source project before – especially if you use Windows or OSX and do not know how to program or compile programs – you may be wondering if there’s anything you can do. Rest assured that you can help.

"Trickle-up" development

One of the reasons I’m organizing GOP is "trickle-up" development. The idea is this: doing easy tasks frees up advanced developers to do harder tasks. Don’t ask "am I the best person for this job"; instead, ask "am I capable of doing this job, so that the current person can do stuff I can’t do?".

For example, consider lilypond’s poor handling of grace notes in conjunction with clef and tempo changes. Fixing this will require a fair amount of code rewriting, and would take an advanced developer a few weeks to do. It’s clearly beyond the scope of a normal user, so we might as well sit back and do nothing, right?

No; we can help, indirectly. Suppose that our normal user starts answering more emails on lilypond-user. This in turn means that documentation writers don’t need to answer those emails, so they can spend more time improving the docs. I’ve noticed that all doc writers tackle harder and harder subjects, and when they start writing docs on scheme programming and advanced tweaks, they start contributing bug fixes to lilypond. Having people performing these easy-to-moderate bug fixes frees up the advanced developers to work on the really hard stuff... like rewriting the grace note code.

Having 1 more normal user answering emails on lilypond-user won’t have a dramatic ‘trickle-up’ effect all by itself, of course. But if we had 8 users volunteering to answer emails, 6 users starting to write documentation, and 2 users editing LSR... well, that would free up a lot of current bug-fixing-capable contributors to focus on that, and we could start to make a real dent in the number of bugs in lilypond. Quite apart from the eased workload, having that many new helpers will provide a great moral boost!

13.5.2 Ongoing jobs

Although GOP is a short-term project, the main goal is to train more people to handle ongoing jobs. The more people doing these jobs, the lighter the work will be, and the more we can get done with lilypond!

Also, it would be nice if we had at least one "replacement" / "understudy" for each role – too many tasks are only being done by one person, so if that person goes on vacation or gets very busy with other matters, work in that area grinds to a halt.

Jobs for normal users

Jobs for advanced users for developers

13.5.3 Policy decisions

There are a number of policy decisions – some of them fairly important – which we have been postponing for a few years. We are now discussing them slowly and thoroughly; agenda and exact proposals are online:

Below is a list of policies which are not “on the agenda” yet.

Note that the presence of an item on this list does not mean that everybody thinks that something needs to be done. Inclusion in this simply means that one developer thinks that we should discuss it. We are not going to filter this list; if any developer thinks we should discuss something, just add it to the bottom of the list. (the list is unsorted)

As GOP progresses, items from this list will be put on the agenda and removed from this list. I generally try to have one month’s discussion planned in advance, but I may shuffle things around to respond to any immediate problems in the developer community.

There are some item(s) not displayed here; these are questions that were posed to me privately, and I do not feel justified in discussing them publicly without the consent of the person(s) that brought them up. They will initially be discussed privately on the lilypond-hackers mailing list – but the first question will be "do we absolutely need to do this privately", and if not, the discussion will take place on lilypond-devel like the other items.

In most policy discussions in lilypond over the past few years, the first half (or more) is wasted arguing on the basis of incorrect or incomplete data; once all the relevant facts are brought to light, the argument is generally resolved fairly quickly. In order to keep the GOP discussions focused, each topic will be introduced with a collection of relevant facts and/or proposals. It is, of course, impossible to predict exactly which facts will be relevant to the discussion – but spending an hour or two collecting information could still save hours of discussion.

Note: The estimated time required for "prep work", and the following discussion, has been added to each item. At the moment, there is an estimated 30 hours of prep work and 140 hours of discussion.

13.5.4 Policy decisions (finished)

Here is a record the final decisions, along with links to the discussions. GOP-PROP 1 - python formatting

We will follow the indentation described in PEP-8.

There should be absolutely no tab characters for indentation in any .py file in lilypond git. All such files should be converted to use spaces only.

Discussions GOP-PROP 2 - mentors and frogs

Nothing much was decided. The list of responsibilities was slightly altered; see the new one in Mentors. We should encourage more use of the Frogs mailing list. There’s a list of contributor-mentor pairs in:

That’s pretty much it.

Discussions GOP-PROP 3 - C++ formatting

Speaking academically, C++ code style is a "solved problem". Let’s pick one of the existing solutions, and let a computer deal with this. Humans should not waste their time, energy, and creativity manually adding tabs or spaces to source code.

We have modified to use astyle, along with extra regex tweaks.

GNU code

LilyPond is a GNU project, so it makes sense to follow the GNU coding standards. These standards state:

We don’t think of these recommendations as requirements, because it causes no problems for users if two different programs have different formatting styles.

But whatever style you use, please use it consistently, since a mixture of styles within one program tends to look ugly. If you are contributing changes to an existing program, please follow the style of that program.


With that in mind, we do not think that we must blindly follow the formatting given by the currrent version of Emacs.

Implementation notes

We can avoid some of the style change pollution in git history by ignoring whitespaces changes:

git diff -w

Discussions GOP-PROP 4 - lessons from 2.14


A brief history of releases:

date (YYYY-MM-DD)versioncomment
2008-10-282.11.63nobody checking regtests
2009-01-01somewhere around here, Graham becomes officially release manager, but Han-Wen still builds the actual releases
2009-06-012.13.1note jump in time!
2009-06-272.13.2first Graham release?
2009-09-09Graham arrives in Glasgow, gets a powerful desktop computer, and begins serious work on GUB (sending bug reports to Jan). It takes approximately 100 hours until GUB is stable enough to make regular releases.
2010-03-192.13.16Bug squad starts doing a few regtest comparisons, but IIRC the effort dies out after a few weeks (BLUE)
2010-08-042.13.29Phil starts checking regtests (BLUE)
2011-01-122.13.46release candidate 1 (GREEN)
2011-05-302.13.63release candidate 7 (GREEN)

Carl’s analysis of the bugs

A ‘csv’ spreadsheet is available.

There 148 issues marked with Priority=Critical in the tracker.

I’ve done an analysis, and it looks to me like there was initially a backlog of critical issues that weren’t fixed, and little work was being done to eliminate critical issues.

Somewhere about 2010-08-01, critical issues started to disappear, but occasional new ones appeared.

There were a couple of major changes that introduced unanticipated regressions (new spacing code, beam collision avoidance). These produced more than the expected number of regressions.

It appears to me that we didn’t really get serious about eliminating critical bugs until about 2010-06-15 or so. After that point, the number of critical bugs more-or-less steadily decreased until we got to a release candidate.

Of particular interest, the first release candidate of 2.14 was released on 2011-01-12. Over the next 10 days, about a dozen bugs were reported and fixed. Release candidate 2 came out on 2011-02-09. No surge of bugs occurred with this release. Candidate 3 came out on 2011-03-13; we got 2 bugs per week. Candidate 4 came out on 2011-03-29; 2 new bugs. Candidate 6 came out on 2011-04-07. We got a couple of bugs per week.

Notes, commentary, and opinions

Han-Wen: Overall, I think this cycle took too long
Mike: I agree
Graham: +1

Discussions GOP-PROP 5 - build system output (not accepted)

This proposal was too broad; after a month of discussion, Graham withdrew the proposal. Portions of it will be introduced in later proposals.

Discussions GOP-PROP 6 - private mailing list

Potentially sensitive or private matters will be referred to Graham. He will then decide who should discuss the matter on an ad-hoc basis, and forward or CC them on future emails.

For emphasis, the project administrators are Han-Wen, Jan, and Graham; those three will always be CC’d on any important discussions.

The lilypond-hackers mailing list will be removed.


There is some unhappy history about this idea in our development community:

Other projects

The idea of private mailing lists is hardly uncommon in open-source software. For example,   about debian-private  private@   board members pledge
to keep certain matters confidential

every security team of every GNU/Linux distribution and OS

In fact, Karl Fogel’s “Producing Open Source Software” explicitly suggests a private mailing list for some circumstances:

[on granting commit/push access to a contributor]

But here is one of the rare instances where secrecy is
appropriate. You can't have votes about potential committers
posted to a public mailing list, because the candidate's feelings
(and reputation) could be hurt.

Board of governers, voting, etc?

Many projects have an official board of directors, or a list of “core developers”, with set term limits and elections and stuff.

I don’t think that we’re that big. I think we’re still small enough, and there’s enough trust and consensus decisions, that we can avoid that. I would rather that we kept on going with trust+consensus for at least the next 2-3 years, and spent more time+energy on bug fixes and new features instead of administrative stuff.

Project administrators are Han-Wen, Jan, and Graham.

Discussions GOP-PROP 7 - developers as resources

We shall treat developers (and contributors) as Independent volunteers: each person does whatever they want, whenever they want. We have busy careers and lives; we make no expectations of action from anybody (with the exception of the 6 people in “Meister” positions).

Discussions GOP-PROP 8 - issue priorities

We will delete the “priority” field of the issue tracker altogether. The “type” system will be tweaked.


More new/changed types and labels

Unless otherwise specified, the current types and labels will continue to be used. The new types introduced by this proposal are:

A new label will be added:

Reminding users about stars

We can remind users that they can “star” an issue to indicate that they care about it. Since we resolved to treat developers as independent volunteers, there is no expectation that anybody will look at those stars, but if any developer want to organize their work schedule according to the stars, they are welcome to do so.

Discussions GOP-PROP 9 - behavior of make doc

If there are build problems, then it should be easier to find out why it’s failing. This will be achieved with log files, as well as possibly including scripts which automatically display portions of those log files for a failing build.

We will also add targets for building a specific manual (for quick+easy checking of doc work), as well as for building all documentation in a specific language (either English or a translated language).

When you run make doc,

If this proposal is accepted, none of these policies will be assumed to apply to any other aspect of the build system. Policies for any other aspect of the build system will be discussed in separate proposals.

Don’t cause more build problems

However, there is a danger in this approach, that vital error messages can also be lost, thus preventing the cause of the failure of a make being found. We therefore need to be exceptionally careful to move cautiously, include plenty of tests, and give time for people to experiment/find problems in each stage before proceeding to the next stage.

This will be done by starting from individual lilypond calls within lilypond-book, and slowly moving to “larger” targets of the build system – after the individual lilypond calls are are producing the appropriate amount of output and this is saved in the right place and we can automatically isolate parts of a failing build, we will work on lilypond-book in general, and only then will we look at the build system itself.

Implementation notes

There is an existing make variable QUIET_BUILD, which alter the amount of output being displayed ( ). We are not planning on keeping this make variable.

The standard way for GNU packages to give more output is with a V=x option. Presumably this is done by increasing x? If we support this option, we should still write log files; we would simply print more of the info in those log files to screen.

The command tee may be useful to write to a file and display to stdout (in the case of VERBOSE).

13.6 Unsorted policies

Language-specific mailing lists

A translator can ask for an official lilypond-xy mailing list once they’ve finished all “priority 1” translation items.

Performing yearly copyright update (“grand-replace”)

At the start of each year, copyright notices for all source files should be refreshed by running the following command from the top of the source tree:

make grand-replace

Internally, this invokes the script ‘scripts/build/’, which performs a regular expression substitution for old-year -> new-year wherever it finds a valid copyright notice.

Note that snapshots of third party files such as ‘texinfo.tex’ should not be included in the automatic update; ‘’ ignores these files if they are listed in the variable copied_files.

Push git access

Git access is given out when a contributor has a significant record of patches being accepted without problems. If existing developers are tired of pushing patches for a contributor, we’ll discuss giving them push access. Unsolicited requests from contributors for access will almost always be turned down.

A. GNU Free Documentation License

Version 1.3, 3 November 2008

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ADDENDUM: How to use this License for your documents

To use this License in a document you have written, include a copy of the License in the document and put the following copyright and license notices just after the title page:

  Copyright (C)  year  your name.
  Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document
  under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.3
  or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation;
  with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover
  Texts.  A copy of the license is included in the section entitled ``GNU
  Free Documentation License''.

If you have Invariant Sections, Front-Cover Texts and Back-Cover Texts, replace the “with…Texts.” line with this:

    with the Invariant Sections being list their titles, with
    the Front-Cover Texts being list, and with the Back-Cover Texts
    being list.

If you have Invariant Sections without Cover Texts, or some other combination of the three, merge those two alternatives to suit the situation.

If your document contains nontrivial examples of program code, we recommend releasing these examples in parallel under your choice of free software license, such as the GNU General Public License, to permit their use in free software.

Table of Contents

LilyPond — Contributor’s Guide v2.22.2 (stable-branch).