Installing NLOpt with Python support on Mac OS X (10.10)

NLOpt is a popular open-source library for nonlinear optimization. It can be somewhat tricky to install it with Python support on Mac OS X, especially isolated under a virtual environment. This article outlines the different ways of making NLopt play nicely with your Python development environment, whatever that may be.


As usual, the easiest way of installing any package on a Mac is using the popular third-party package manager, Homebrew. This option is perfectly fine if you only need to bind NLopt to your default Python installation, i.e. not an alternative version of Python that in a virtual environment.

$ brew install nlopt --with-python

If the version of Python you are currently running was installed with Homebrew (i.e. according to, you should find the Python bindings for NLopt created in the site-packages directory (looks something like /usr/local/lib/python2.7/site-packages/

At this point, you should be able to just import NLopt with no problems.

$ python -c 'import nlopt'

Inside a virtual environment

If you've gotten up to this section of this post, I probably don't need to explain the benefits of installing NLOpt inside a virtual environment.

First, I assume you have created a virtual environment, say my_env with Python 3.4 as the Python interpreter [1]. I am using the excellent virtualenvwrapper extension here by Doug Hellmann, though this is not strictly required (but highly recommended!)

$ mkvirtualenv --python=`which python3` my_env

Before moving on, we need to first install numpy

(my_env)$ pip install numpy

Next, download NLOpt and extract it. At the time of writing, the latest stable version is 2.4.2. Now we can configure and install it to our virtual environment:

$ ./configure PYTHON=$WORKON_HOME/my_env/bin/python --prefix=$WORKON_HOME/my_env --enable-shared
$ make
$ make install

Note that WORKON_HOME is an environment variable required to be set by virtualenvwrapper, usually to something like $HOME/.virtualenvs. If you're not using virtualenvwrapper, simply replace $WORKON_HOME above with the path to the directory containing your virtual environment directory.

For further information on what these additional flags are, and why they are required, please see NLOpt installation.

Now you should be able to import NLOpt within the my_env virtual environment, which was installed locally to $WORKON_HOME/my_env, rather than to /usr/local.

(my_env)$ python -c 'import nlopt'
[1] The steps outlined below doesn't seem to work for virtual environments with Python 2.7 as the Python interpreter. If you have managed to get to to work for Python 2.7, I'd love to learn how you did it!


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