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Starting fontforge

Starting FontForge

Before starting fontforge on cygwin

Before you can start fontforge on cygwin you must start the X11 server.

On recent versions of cygwin this may be done by invoking


On older systems:

Open a cygwin window and type
$ xinit

This should create a task window that covers your entire screen, inside of which there should be an xterm (sort of like the cygwin window earlier). Be prepared to type commands in this window.

You should then type

$ twm &

Notes on the PATH variable

On most systems fontforge will install itself into /usr/local/bin (that's the standard place for optional software), and this is not always in the default search path for commands (grrrr). Which means you might have everything properly installed, but nothing actually works. If you see messages like "fontforge: command not found." this has (probably) happened to you.

So what do you do?

You need to set the PATH environment variable so that it includes /usr/local/bin. The value of the PATH variable is a set of directories separated by colons.

$ echo $PATH

Unfortunately there are four ways of doing this because there are two different conventions used by unix shells and then the mac doesn't behave normally requiring another two conventions. Type:

$ echo $SHELL

If the name of your shell is bash (as above), ksh or sh then you want to type

$ PATH=/usr/local/bin:$PATH ; export PATH

If the name of your shell is tcsh or csh then you say

$ setenv PATH /usr/local/bin:$PATH

But you'd have to do that every time you logged in. Instead you want this included in the shell's initialization. Again there are two cases, for the bash family of shells you want to edit the file ~/.bashrc (or ~/.profile) while for the csh family you want to edit the file ~/.cshrc (or ~/.login). On a bash system the following command is generally sufficient:

$ cat >>~/.bashrc
PATH=/usr/local/bin:$PATH ; export PATH

(where ^D represents control-D, obtained by holding down the control key while depressing d.
And for the csh family you would type:

$ cat >>~/.cshrc
setenv PATH /usr/local/bin:$PATH

On non-mac systems it is better to use ~/.profile and ~/.login rather than the files given above.

Starting fontforge from the command line

$ fontforge font.pfa font2.sfd font3.ttf font4.otf 

will start fontforge looking at the fonts you specify on the command line. It can read either pfb or pfa fonts, and some ps fonts (type 0 fonts based on a type 1 dictionary) as well as truetype fonts, open type fonts and many other formats.

(If you get a message from your computer saying: "fontforge: Command not found" you should read the previous section)

$ fontforge -new

will cause fontforge to create a new font (in iso-8859-1 encoding)

$ fontforge

will open up a file picker dialog and allow you to browse till you've found a font file (or have created a new one).

$ fontforge -script script.pe fonts...

This will invoke fontforge in a non-interactive mode, and have it run the named script. Any further arguments on the command line will be passed as arguments to the script and processed (or not) by it.

For a complete description of possible arguments see the section on the command line.

Troubleshooting on cygwin

One very common problem on cygwin is that you will type in the command line to start fontforge -- and absolutely nothing will happen. The cygwin shell simply prints another prompt. There is no error message. No window appears. Nothing.

This generally means that you are missing a required library. Make sure that the following are installed

(I have no idea why you don't get an error message. That's a bug in cygwin or windows or something. FontForge never gets control and has no chance to generate a message itself).

On the mac

FontForge now installs itself as a mac application in the Applications folder. You can start FontForge the way you start any other application, double clicking on it, dragging files to it, etc.

Caveat: FontForge and Font Book may fight over which will open standard fonts if you double click on the font file. Both claim they can open these files, neither claims to be the prefered application for them. If an .otf file shows a fontforge icon () it will be opened by fontforge, if a font book icon it will be opened by font book. Dragging a font file to the desired application will always work. Or you can select the font, and invoke File->Get Info (in the Finder's menu) and use the "Open with" control to select an application.

On the mac the Option key is used to invoke the functionality that fontforge's docs call "Alt" or "Meta". (See the section on X11 configuration for notes on three button mice and the command key).

You can also start fontforge using traditional unix methods

Before you start fontforge on the mac you must start the X11 server. You can do this by opening the Applications folder, and then opening the Utilities folder, and then double-clicking on "X11". (If you don't have X11 there then refer back to the instructions for installing it)

Having done that there should be a menubar with a menu labeled "Applications". Click on this. There should be a "FontForge" entry in it. Selecting FontForge will start fontforge and bring up a dialog allowing you to open a font or create a new one.

Caveat: FontForge does not normally show mac resource fonts in this dialog -- however it can still open one even it it isn't displayed. Simply type in the name of the file containing it. (or change the Filter field to "All Files").

If the Applications menu does not contain a "FontForge" entry, you can add one yourself:

(You may also start fontforge from the command line here. Go to the Applications menu and select Terminal (or xterm), and then type one of the commands listed above)

Caveat: Normally FontForge will never see the command key shortcuts. X11 intercepts these and uses them itself. If you would like to be able to use Command-Q to quit FontForge then

Caveat: FontForge was written assuming the availability of a three button mouse. Under 10.4 X11 simulates this by creating a virtual three button mouse where the middle button is invoked by Option-Mouse click and the right button by Command-Mouse click. (You can also control this from X11->Preferences).