2. Software Prerequisites

In this course, we will be using OCaml as the main programming language. We will be working with multi-file projects, which will make use of various external libraries, and involve automated building and testing. The default OCaml version for this class is 4.10.0, but 4.09.x should work fine. If you don’t have a working OCaml framework (or your OCaml version is different from the one used below), please allocate at least 2 hours for going through this setup document, as some of the software packages listed required for our class will take quite a while to install.

Even if you have taken YSC2229 and have OCaml installed, please, make sure check the intructions below on installing LLVM and Clang in your operating system.

2.1. Updating your OCaml

First, we need to install all the software necessary for fully fledged OCaml development. If you have taken YSC2229: Introductory Data Structures and Algorithms in 2019/20 AY or later, you should already have this set up, so you are almost good to go (you will still need LLVM and Clang).

Assuming you already have some version of opam installed in your system, but your OCaml version is older than 4.09.0 (you can check it by executing ocamlc --version), please, update your set up and install the necessary packages as follows:

opam update; opam upgrade
opam switch create 4.10.0
eval $(opam env)
opam install -y dune core batteries utop num menhir user-setup merlin
opam user-setup install

Alternatively, if you don’t have a working opam and OCaml, please, follow the instructions below.

2.2. Installing OCaml from Scratch on MS Windows 10

Unfortunately, the OCaml infrastructure is not supported well on Windows (natively), therefore developing large multi-file projects in it is problematic. To circumvent this issue, we will be running OCaml and the related software using Windows Subsystem for Linux, a utility that allows to run a distribution of Linux within your Windows 10 system. This setup takes a large number of steps, but once you’re done with it, you’ll have a premium support for OCaml, and also a fully functional Linux distribution installed on your machine.

  1. First, let us enable WSL and install a Linux distribution. The detailed steps are given in this online tutorial. Don’t forget the password for the Linux account you’ve just created: you will need it to install some software. At the end of this step, you should be able to run a “bare-bone” Ubuntu Linux terminal as an application within your Windows system. In my case, it looks as follows.
  1. You can access your Windows home folder from WSL Linux via tha path /mnt/c/Users/YOURNAME/ where YOURNAME is your Windows user name. It is convenient to make a symbolic link for it, so you could access it quickly, for instance, calling it home. This is how you create such a link:

    cd ~
    ln -s /mnt/c/Users/YOURNAME/ home

    Now you can navigate to you Windows home folder via cd ~/home and to your Linux home folder via cd ~.

    Steps 3-4 are optional and are only required if you’re planning to use Emacs.

  2. You might want to install a graphical shell for the Linux distribution running in WSL. This article provides detailed instructions on how to do so. Here are some comments:

    • You don’t have to install Firefox in WSL Linux, as you can use your Windows browser instead.
    • The required graphical XServer shell (run separately from Windows) can be downloaded from this resource.
    • To run Linux with the graphical mode, you will always have to first run the XServer, and then the Ubuntu shell, in which you will have to type xfce4-session. The Ubuntu window will have to stay running as long as you use Linux.

    If the Linux image appears to be somewhat “blurred”, here’s how to fix it:

    • First, add the following lines at the end of the file ~/.bashrc in your Linux home folder:

      export GDK_SCALE=0.5
      export GDK_DPI_SCALE=2

      This can be done using the nano editor, similarly to how it is done in this tutorial.

    • Next, close any running instance of that X server (VcxSrv). Open the folder where you have installed it (e.g., C:\Program Files\VcXsrv), right click on vcxsrv.exe. Choose Properties > Compatibility tab > Change high DPI settings > Enable Override high DPI scaling and change it to Application option. Here is the screenshot looks like after changing the settings:

  1. Once you have done all of this, you can run Linux terminal within the graphical XFCE shell and execute all commands from it, rather than from a Windows-started Ubuntu terminal. In my case, it looks as follows:
  1. So far so good, now we have a running Linux, so it’s time to install OCaml libraries. First, we need to install a number of Linux packages that OCaml needs. Run the following lines from Linux terminal (it can be done both from within graphical shell, or from within a separate Ubuntu terminal run as a Windows applications):

    sudo apt install make m4 gcc pkg-config libx11-dev

    Don’t forget to enter the password you’ve created for your Linux account, it might be different from your Windows one. Be patient: installing those packages will take quite some time.

  2. Next, we will install the opam package manager for working with different OCaml libraries. Execute the following lines from Linux terminal:

    sudo add-apt-repository ppa:avsm/ppa
    sudo apt install opam
    opam init -y --compiler=4.10.0 --disable-sandboxing
    eval $(opam env)
    opam install -y dune core batteries utop num menhir user-setup merlin
    opam user-setup install

    Once done, add the following line to the ~/.bashrc file in your WSL/Linux (sub)system:

    eval $(opam env)

    After that, close your terminal window and start a new one.

    To check that your OCaml is correctly installed, run ocamlc --version from the terminal. You should get the output 4.10.0, which is the version of the OCaml compiler we have just installed.

  3. We recommend you to use VSCode for your OCaml your development, assuming you’ve done steps 1-6.

    Start by installing the Remote-WSL plugin. It is the one suggested the first time you run VSCode. Alternatively, you can install it by pressing Ctrl-Shift-P, typing install extensions, and choosing Install Extensions item from the dropdown menu, and then finding and installing the Remote-WSL extension.

    After installing that extension, press Ctrl-Shift-P and choose Remote-WSL: New Window. This will take a few seconds and will start a new window of VSCode that runs inside your WSL Linux (you can even start a Linux terminal there).

    Next, in this remote window, install the extension “OCaml and Reason IDE” in the same way as described above.

    Now, you can open an OCaml file (Ctrl-Shift-P, followed by “File: Open File”) and enjoy the advanced features: highlighting, code completion, and type information, as well as many others. An example of the UI is shown below. Notice the indicators at the bottom of the screen, showing that VSCode runs in WSL (Ubuntu), with OCaml/merlin support enabled:


2.3. Installing OCaml from Scratch on Linux

If you’re using Linux, the setup is similar to the one for Windows 10 WSL described previously. Just follow the points above starting from the step 5. If you’re using a distribution different from Ubuntu, make sure to use the corresponding package manager (instead of apt) to get the system packages in the step 5.

2.4. Installing OCaml from Scratch on macOS

OCaml is well-supported in macOS, so the installation process is fairly straightforward.

  1. Install the Homebrew package manager for macOS.

  2. Install the following system packages using Homebrew:

    brew install make m4 gcc pkg-config
  3. Next, we will install the opam package manager for installing and maintaining different OCaml libraries. Execute the following lines from the terminal:

    brew install opam
    opam init -y --compiler=4.10.0
    eval $(opam env)
    opam install -y dune core batteries utop num menhir user-setup merlin
    opam user-setup install

    Once done, add the following line to your ~/.bashrc or ~/.profile files (if they exist, otherwise create ~/.bashrc):

    eval $(opam env)

    After that, close your terminal window and start a new one.

    To check that your OCaml is correctly installed, run ocamlc --version from the terminal. You should get the output 4.10.0, which is the version of the OCaml compiler we have just installed.

  4. We suggest you use VSCode for OCaml development. To do so, after downloading and installing the VSCode IDE, you you will need to install the OCaml and Reason IDE extension, which enables OCaml support in VSCode (assuming you have installed all libraries above via opam in the step 3). You can install the extension by pressing Command-Shift-P, typing Install Extensions, and choosing that item from the dropdown menu.

    Now, if you open an OCaml file, it will look like that:


2.5. Installing LLVM and Clang

For some projectsin this class, we will be using the LLVM framework, which you can install as follows:

  • Ubuntu or MS Windows 10 with WSL: run sudo apt-get update && apt-get install clang
  • macOS: Install XCode (via the AppStore), run it, go to Preferences, and install the command line tools.
  • macOS (alternative): If you use Homebrew, run brew install llvm.

2.6. Checking your Setup

In order to check your set up, please, make sure to email your GitHub name to the instructor—this is necessary to grant you GitHub access for course-related repositories.

Once you are done installing/updating OCaml and LLVM, please clone this project from GitHub—it is private, but you should have access to it if you have provided your GitHub name.

Once cloned, run make from the project root. You should see the output, meaning that your configuration is complete for the class:

clang -fno-stack-protector -fno-asynchronous-unwind-tables  -O0 -emit-llvm -S -o factorial-O0.ll factorial.c
clang -fno-stack-protector -fno-asynchronous-unwind-tables  -O0 -S -o factorial-O0.s factorial-O0.ll
clang -c -o factorial-O0.o factorial-O0.s
clang -o factorial-O0 factorial-O0.o
clang -fno-stack-protector -fno-asynchronous-unwind-tables  -O1 -emit-llvm -S -o factorial-O1.ll factorial.c
clang -fno-stack-protector -fno-asynchronous-unwind-tables  -O1 -S -o factorial-O1.s factorial-O1.ll
clang -c -o factorial-O1.o factorial-O1.s
clang -o factorial-O1 factorial-O1.o
clang -fno-stack-protector -fno-asynchronous-unwind-tables  -O2 -emit-llvm -S -o factorial-O2.ll factorial.c
clang -fno-stack-protector -fno-asynchronous-unwind-tables  -O2 -S -o factorial-O2.s factorial-O2.ll
clang -c -o factorial-O2.o factorial-O2.s
clang -o factorial-O2 factorial-O2.o
clang -fno-stack-protector -fno-asynchronous-unwind-tables  -O3 -emit-llvm -S -o factorial-O3.ll factorial.c
clang -fno-stack-protector -fno-asynchronous-unwind-tables  -O3 -S -o factorial-O3.s factorial-O3.ll
clang -c -o factorial-O3.o factorial-O3.s
clang -o factorial-O3 factorial-O3.o
dune build --profile release @install
factorial(10) = 3628800

2.7. FAQ and Troubleshooting

  1. Question: May I use Emacs for programming in OCaml?

    Answer: Of course, you can! This tutorial used to have notes on how to configure Emacs/Aquamacs for OCaml, but the experience of the last few years has confincingly demonstrated that VSCode is a much simpler and more convenient to use alternative, so why don’t you give it a try?

  2. Problem: Merlin is not detected by VSCode, which gives an error “ocamlmerlin is not found”.

    Solution: This is the case if you didn’t add eval $(opam env) to the configuration files (e.g., ~/.bashrc and/or ~/.profile). Adding it and restarting VSCode should fix it.

    Alternatively (not recommended), you can add the following lines to the settings.json file (with your account name instead of YOURNAME). To find that file, press Command-Shift-P and choose “Preferences: Open Settings (JSON)” (to find it just type “settings” and choose the correct option):

    "reason.path.ocamlmerlin": "/Users/YOURNAME/.opam/4.10.0/bin/ocamlmerlin"

    For example, in my case the contents of this file look as follows:

        "window.zoomLevel": 2,
        "search.searchOnType": false,
        "reason.path.ocamlmerlin": "/Users/ilya/.opam/4.10.0/bin/ocamlmerlin"

    Don’t forget to save the file.

  3. Problem: In VSCode, a Git icon in the vertical panel on the left keeps blinking with the “watch” symbol when being updated.

    Solution: Add the following line to your settings.json file:

    "git.showProgress": false