How to set up MinGW for the first time

I was quite surprised that no one on the internet has written a simple list of what to do to get a code compiled with MinGW before.  Seems like you have to have 3 PhDs in computer science to read the directions (or maybe I’m just having a bad day).  Nonetheless, we’re here to help.

By the way, you may be asking “What is MinGW?” It is a port of the GNU compilers on Windows (the GNU compilers being the ones that are used on things like Linux and the computing clusters).  Its website is here.  “Wait a sec, why would we want to use MinGW if we already have Cygwin?  Doesn’t it do the same thing?”  Yes.  But, sometimes things won’t work on Cygwin.   Also, I think MinGW is a lot smaller and lighter weight than Cygwin so if you are limited in resources that’s another reason.

Anyway, here goes:

  1. Go to the MinGW website: http://www.mingw.org/.

  2. Click Downloads, and select ‘mingw-get-setup.exe.’

  3. This is an installer that will grab all the proper packages for you.  Make sure to keep the installation directory the same as default: ‘C:\MinGW\’.  Once you click through the set of initial prompts, you will see an install manager.  That install manager has a set of checkboxes, that ask you if you want gfortran, g++, etc.  Right click on the check boxes and select ‘Mark for Installation.’

  4. In the program, under the Installation menu, select ‘Apply Changes’

  5. Wait for everything to download and install, and follow the instructions.  After you are done, it won’t tell you anything, you should just trust that it has completed.

  6. Note that there is a utility called MINSYS that is installed with MinGW.  What that is, is kind of like ‘Cygwin Lite’.  It is a small set of linux commands and a shell, that you can use to compile programs.  We aren’t going to cover MINSYS here but, this is a set of instructions for how to use it.  But what we want to do, is compile programs in the native DOS command window of Windows.  So we need to do a few more things.

  7. Next we need to set the PATH of windows to know where MinGW is.  Why?  Well you want to open a command window in any directory in Windows, and type ‘g++’ and have the computer know what it is you’re talking about. For Windows XP – Windows 7 users, check out instructions here.  We are using Windows 8, so we can use the search functionality.  If you type ‘environment’ in the Windows search box, you’ll see a link for ‘Set System Environment Variables’. Click it.

  8. It brings you to a window that is titled ‘System Properties’.  Click the button that says ‘Environment variables…’  In that window, in the second box, you can scroll down and see a variable called Path.  It should start with ‘C:\windows\system32;C:\windows;’  Highlight Path and click Edit…

  9. At the very end of the list, type a ; (without a space) and ‘C:\MinGW\bin’  So your path should look like: ‘C:\windows\system32;C:\windows;[otherstuff];C:\MinGW\bin

  10. Click OK three times, to get out of all of the windows.

  11. This step is very important!  Restart your computer, otherwise the Path settings won’t take.

  12. Now, after you are restarted, get to the command line by typing ‘cmd’ in a search box.  A black, old-timey window will pop up.  If you type the command: ‘g++’ , it should tell you “g++: fatal error: no input files”  This means g++ is installed, and it is on the path correctly, and it (ostensibly) works.

  13. You will likely need an additional command instead of just the vanilla ‘g++’ and ‘gfortran’  If you are using a Makefile, you need an additional utility.  On Linux this is called ‘make’, but here it’s called something different: mingw32-make.  Thanks to this forum post for this (and other helpful) hint(s)!

You should be good to go.  Now, you have a minimalistic way to compile stuff that is supposed to work using GNU compilers (on Unix and the clusters) on Windows!  As usual, comments questions and concerns should be posted below.

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One thought on “How to set up MinGW for the first time

  1. Pingback: Programming Language Overview | Water Programming: A Collaborative Research Blog

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