opam FAQ

This FAQ is for general questions about opam and its usage. You may also be interested in the more advanced Tricks for specific use-cases or advanced users.

🐫 What is opam for?

Easily installing, upgrading and managing your OCaml compiler(s), tools and libraries. It's made of a tool, the opam package manager, and a community-maintained package repository.

Note that the tool itself is not specific to OCaml at its core, and could be used for different systems using specific repositories (e.g. for the Coq theorem prover)

🐫 How to get, install and upgrade opam?

See the install guide.

If upgrading, you can bootstrap using opam install opam-devel, and follow the instructions.

🐫 Where is the manual?

opam has git-like, hierarchical manpages. Try opam --help for a starting point.

Or get started from the Usage guide.

If you want to know more about opam packages, see the Packaging Howto.

The full reference on the internals and file formats is in the Manual.

You may also want to browse the library APIs.

🐫 What changes does opam do to my filesystem?

opam is designed to be run strictly as user (non-root), and except for the explicit options provided during opam init, opam only writes within ~/.opam (and /tmp). This directory — the default "opam root" — contains configuration, various internal data, a cache of downloaded archives, and your OCaml installations.

If you choose to create "local switches", the installation prefix will be put in the specified directory with /_opam/ appended. Nothing else will be changed.

Please note, however, that programs you install using opam won't themselves be bound by any restrictions.

On Linux, and since opam 2.0.0~rc2, package instructions (build, install, remove) are also run in a sandbox and guaranteed not to affect your system.

🐫 Why does opam require bwrap?

Since opam 2.0.0~rc2, opam uses bwrap on Linux to run package instructions in a sandbox. This restricts their access to parts of the system (e.g., forbid access to operating system, user data, or network). See the bubblewrap page for details. A similar mechanism is used on macOS, using the sandbox-exec command.

We use bwrap to prevent packages from writing outside their allotted filesystem space or use the network. For example, build commands have restricted write access, restrained to their dedicated build directory and /tmp. These sandboxing instructions are specified in the built-in configuration, that you can display with opam init --show-default-opamrc:

init-scripts: ["sandbox.sh" """ [...] """] {os = "linux"}

wrap-build-commands: ["%{hooks}%/sandbox.sh" "build"] {os = "linux"}
wrap-install-commands: ["%{hooks}%/sandbox.sh" "install"] {os = "linux"}
wrap-remove-commands: ["%{hooks}%/sandbox.sh" "remove"] {os = "linux"}

Sandboxing provides an important level of security, and should always be kept enabled. Note, however, that:

  • Only the package build/install/remove commands are protected: if you install a program using opam and execute it, it will run with your standard user rights.
  • If your installation uses unusual paths (opam root outside HOME, system folder, etc.), since 2.0.1 you can use the environment variable OPAM_USER_PATH_RO to have them handled by then sandbox script, e.g. This variable format is the same as PATH, you can add it in your shell configuration file, e.g export OPAM_USER_PATH_RO=/rw/usrlocal:/media. Contained paths are added as read-only. Note: As of opam 2.2.0, the sandbox will always mount every directories readonly and OPAM_USER_PATH_RO thus does nothing.
  • If needed, for special cases like unprivileged containers, sandboxing can be disabled on opam init with the --disable-sandboxing flag (only for non-initialised opam). Or by using a custom opamrc. Use wisely, broken Makefiles that run rm -rf / do happen.

🐫 Why does opam init need to add stuff to my init scripts / why is eval $(opam env) needed?

This is not strictly needed, but by updating your PATH and a few specific environment variables, one can:

  1. Automatically find executables installed in opam (current switch)
  2. Ensure the OCaml tools are going to look at the right places for installed libraries (e.g. when running make)

If you don't want to update your startup scripts or change your environment, you can also:

  • Remember to use opam exec -- COMMAND whenever you want to run COMMAND while being aware of the opam installation, or
  • Run eval $(opam env) in the shell specifically when you are going to work on a project that uses your opam installation.

Just be careful, in this case, that running e.g. make while forgetting to do this may lead to use a system-wide installation of OCaml, that may be in conflict (and typically trigger "Inconsistent assumptions" errors in OCaml).

🐫 What is a "switch"?

An OCaml installation and a set of installed packages within an opam installation. This can be used to keep different OCaml versions side-by-side, or different sets of packages. See the related section in the usage manual and opam switch --help. The "prefix" for a given installation is simply ~/.opam/<switch-name>.

A switch is either based on a system-wide OCaml installation, or on a local installation. In the former case, opam will need to recompile all packages when your system compiler changes. In the latter case, OCaml will be downloaded and compiled on creation of the switch.

Standard switches are held within ~/.opam, but by using a directory as switch handle (instead of a plain name), you may create switches that have their contents in any local repository. They are put in a _opam/ subdirectory in this case, and it is safe to just remove that subdirectory to clear the switch.

🐫 Can I work on different switches at the same time in different shells?

Yes. Use one of:

eval $(opam env --switch <switch> --set-switch)  # for the current shell
opam exec --switch <switch> -- <command>         # for one command

This only affects the environment.

🐫 Can I get a new switch with the same packages installed?

Yes. Use:

opam switch export <file.export> --switch <old switch>
opam switch import <file.export> --switch <new switch>

The file format is human-readable, so you are free to edit the file before doing the import if you need to customise the installation.

🐫 How to share my working switch setup for a specific package ?

When working on a project, it is sometimes needed to share a set of dependencies that you know (locally) the project is working with. You can share this set by generating a locked opam file. Ths is easily done using the lock command: it creates an opam file with a depends: field populated with all dependencies, at their exact version in the current (working) switch. You can then share this opam.locked file, or check it in your version-control system.

$ opam lock <pkg> # generate a <pkg>.opam.lock file
$ opam install --locked <pkg> # use <pkg> locked file, if present

🐫 I installed a package by hand / used ocamlfind remove / fiddled with the installed packages and opam is out of sync. Help!

Don't panic. opam assumes it's controlling what's below ~/.opam/<switch>, but there are several ways you can recover:

  • opam remove --force will run the uninstall instructions even if the package is not registered as installed. Then retry opam install.
  • opam reinstall will try to remove an installed package, but go on to re-installing even if that fails.
  • If all else fails, you can re-install your current set of packages from scratch using opam switch reinstall.
  • You can force opam to register an installation or removal without actually performing anything using opam install|remove --fake. This is not recommended though, as your manual install may not be exactly equivalent to the one expected by other opam packages, and opam may later on trigger reinstallations or upgrades of the package. Don't complain if you mess up your installation using this! If you want to control how a package is installed or modify it, the right way is opam pin.
  • You shouldn't have to, but if you want to restart from scratch, just delete ~/.opam and get back to opam init

🐫 What are the minimum requirements?

1GB of memory should be all you need. It was reported that you may run into problems with 512MB of RAM and no swap. Of course, compiling the packages may need more.

🐫 Some packages fail during compilation, complaining about missing dependencies ("m4", "libgtk", etc.)

NOTE: since opam 2.1.0, the following is directly handled by opam, without relying on a plugin.

They probably depend on system, non-OCaml libraries: they need to be installed using your system package manager (apt-get, yum, pacman, homebrew, etc.) since they are outside the scope of opam.

opam metadata includes documentation about these external dependencies, on a variety of systems/distributions, in the form of a depexts: field. Opam should print the required system dependencies, as documented for your OS, upon failure, and the depext opam plugin can take care of installing them for you:

opam depext <opam-packages>

This should install opam-depext if needed and prompt to install the system packages required by your opam packages or their dependencies, through your OS's packaging system.

If that doesn't work...

  • Check for hints printed by the failing package
  • Lookup the development packages corresponding to the error in your system's package repositories.
  • Dependencies for your specific system may not be known, but check the output of opam list --rec --resolve <package>,<package>... --columns name,depexts:: it will list dependencies on all known systems and may get you in the right direction.

In any of these cases, that's useful information that was missing from the opam repository: we would really appreciate that you take a minute to save others the trouble of looking by filling an issue in the opam-repository tracker, with your system details, the output of opam config report, and the solution, if you found it. Thanks!

🐫 I have weird checksum errors: where do they come from?

First of all, you should make sure your repositories are up-to-date:

opam update

If this isn't enough, or if you get the checksum errors while running opam init, this could be caused by a badly configured proxy cache that is serving stale files. To clear your proxy cache, you can use wget --no-cache <remote-file> and retry.

As a last resort, you can bypass the checksum checks using --no-checksums.

🐫 opam is prompting me to install or upgrade packages that I am not interested in, or doesn't install the latest version by default. Why? What can I do?

  • You can be more explicit in your request (opam upgrade PACKAGES, opam install 'PACKAGE>=VERSION' PACKAGE..., etc.). The latest version may not be available on your system, in this case this will tell you why.
  • See how to set solver preferences that could match your intentions better than the defaults
  • Check for pending reinstallations opam reinstall --list-pending

🐫 When trying to install a new package, opam wants to remove or downgrade packages that I have installed. How to know why?

There is likely a conflict between them or their dependencies and what you are requesting, here is how to find out. We'll suppose you were trying to install foo and bar got removed:

  • opam install foo bar, if not possible, will tell you why.
  • The above may find a solution by using older version of the packages, in that case try and force the latest versions thusly: opam install foo.2.0 bar.1.1 (you can also use constraints like 'foo>=2.0').

🐫 Where do I report Bugs, Issues and Feature Requests?

  • Bug reports and feature requests for the opam tool should be reported on opam's issue-tracker. Please include the output of opam config report whenever applicable.

  • Packaging issues or requests for a new package can be reported on the official repository's issue-tracker.

  • General queries for both the tool and the packages can be addressed on the OCaml-platform mailing-list and insights and evolution of opam internals can discussed on the opam-devel mailing-list.

  • https://discuss.ocaml.org is a good place for community assistance.

  • You may also try IRC channel #ocaml on Libera.Chat.

The standard way of doing this is to use ocamlfind, which is orthogonal to opam: ocamlfind query <lib>. If you use dune, this should be completely transparent.

Your libraries are installed to the directory returned by opam var lib, which is by default ~/.opam/<switch>/lib. Note that using ocamlc's option -I +dir will make dir relative to lib/ocaml, and will only work for the libraries that ship with the compiler. Also, remember to add the dependency when you package your project!

🐫 How does opam tell which version of a package is newer?

We use the basics of the version ordering from Debian:

  • version strings are sliced into alternate, possibly empty non-digit / digit sequences, always starting with a non-digit sequence.
  • those are sorted lexicographically, using resp. ASCII (with symbol > letter) and number order. For example a gives ["a"], and 1 gives ["";1], so a is latest ("" < "a").
  • the ~ character is special as it sorts even before the end of sequence. It's most convenient for pre-releases, allowing 1.0~beta to be before 1.0.

Here is an example of an ordered sequence: ~~, ~, ~beta2, ~beta10, 0.1, 1.0~beta, 1.0, 1.0-test, 1.0.1, 1.0.10, dev, trunk

🐫 What does the --jobs option do? It doesn't seem to enable parallel builds.

It does, but at the package granularity: it will only be noticeable if you build independent packages in the same command. Each package has its own build commands, and it's up to them to enable parallelism.

If you are a packager, you may use the jobs opam variable, e.g. make "-j%{jobs}%".

🐫 opam wants to do reinstallations after update. Can I skip them?

When opam detects meaningful changes in upstream packages, it marks them for reinstallation, to be sure you get the latest fixes — repository managers generally don't abuse modifying existing packages. You can check this with:

opam reinstall --list-pending

And, in case you want to skip them:

opam reinstall --forget-pending

You should only do this if you know the changes you are skipping, though.

🐫 Some package installation fails with "ocamlfind: already installed"

Probably the package was either installed from outside of opam, or uncleanly removed. You should try:

opam remove <package> --force
opam install <package>

This will process the uninstall instructions, even if opam has no knowledge of the package being installed. You may also try to uninstall directly with ocamlfind, or just remove the problematic files.

🐫 opam is slow on top of NFS. How can I make it faster?

opam root is usually located in the home directory, which, on top of NFS, slows down opam operations. Locating opam root in /tmp is not a solution: you could lose your opam configuration at each reboot.

You can use the nfsopam script to have the best of both worlds: persistence of NFS directories and fast operations of local directories.

🐫 What does the --cli option do? Should I be using it everywhere?

--cli was introduced in opam 2.1 to deal with changes in the command line interface between releases. It tells opam to interpret the command line as a specific version, in particular it means that new options or options which have had their meaning altered will not be available, or will be behave as they did in that version. It only affects the command-line - it does not, for example, stop a root from being upgraded from an older version to the current version.

We recommend using it in scripts (and programs which call opam) since they can then expect to work seamlessly with future versions of the opam client. It's also a good idea to use it in blog posts, or other documentation you may share, since it allows copy-and-paste to work reliably (a user with a newer version of opam should have no issues and a user with an older opam gets a clearer error message).

We don't recommend using it in day-to-day use of opam in the shell, because you'll be typing more and you won't get to notice exciting new features! If the behaviour of a command or option is altered, and you write something which in no longer valid, opam will try to tell you what the new command should look like.