Installing Sparky

last revised February 18, 2004

Sparky is a graphical program for doing NMR assignment and integration. It runs under Microsoft Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, and SGI, Sun, and HP/Tru64 flavors of Unix. The latest version is available at and is free for both academic and commercial users. To help us obtain grant money for further Sparky development we request that you register on the Sparky web site if you have used the program more than ten times. This helps show that Sparky is valuable to the NMR community.

Installing for Windows

The standard installation directory is c:\Program Files\sparky, but it can be installed in any directory you like. Unzip the in "c:\Program Files". Get the shareware program WinZip 6.2 from the Sparky web site if you do not have an unzip utility.

You can start Sparky by clicking on the "sparky" icon in folder c:\Program Files\sparky\bin. You can create a shortcut to sparky by selecting the icon and then choosing "Create Shortcut" under the folder File menu. Then you can move this shortcut icon to the desktop or some other more convenient place.

Notes for Windows

The Windows version is compiled using Windows XP. I do not know which earlier versions of Windows (95/98/NT/2000/ME) it will run on.

On some Windows 95 and Windows 98 systems starting Sparky fails with the error message "Out of environment space" and complaints about not being able to find the Tcl/Tk libraries. This happens because Windows limits the total number of environment variables. The Sparky start up script needs to set a few variables to specify where Sparky is installed and where the Tcl/Tk libraries are. Because the limit has been reached Windows does not allow the variables to be set and startup fails. The solution is to right click on the sparky.bat icon in the c:\Program Files\sparky\bin directory, select "Properties" and under the "Memory" tab adjust the parameter called "initial environment". It is by default set to "auto" and you should choose some number instead. I don't know how big the number has to be -- just experiment or choose the biggest value in the pull down menu of choices. Then Sparky will start without problems. This solution was reported to me by a Sparky user. I have not been able to test it because I have only Windows NT available and it does not exhibit this problem.

Installing for Linux or Unix

You may wish to examine platform specific installation notes for Linux or SGI.

The standard installation directory is /usr/local/sparky, but you can install it in any directory you like. Unpack the sparky-xxx.tar.gz file as follows.

	% cd /usr/local
	% tar zxf /tmp/sparky-xxx.tar.gz

Some versions of tar do not recognize the "z" option to uncompress. In that case use:

	% gunzip -c /tmp/sparky-xxx.tar.gz | tar xf -

You can start Sparky by running /usr/local/sparky/bin/sparky. You may want to add /usr/local/sparky/bin to your executable search path in your shell startup file (for example in .cshrc).

Notes for Linux

The Linux version requires C version 6 runtime library. You can see whether you have this by looking for /lib/ on your system. Linux distributions from about 1998 until 2004 (time of this writing) are based on libc6. I don't distribute a version that runs with older libc5 libraries because I don't have a Linux machine with older libraries to compile on.

Notes for SGI

The IRIX 6.5 version contains n32 binaries. It will not run on earlier versions of SGIs IRIX operating system (eg 5.3).

Installing for Mac OS X

Unpack the sparky-mac10.2.dmg file by double clicking on it. You can move the Sparky application to any folder you like. You need to start an X server before running Sparky.

Notes for Mac OS X

The Mac version of Sparky requires that you run an X server. Apple includes an X server with Mac OS 10.3 but it is an optional installation. It is also available on Apple's web site. It is installed in /Applications/Utilities/X11. On Mac OS 10.2 you can use the XFree86 X server. An installer for the Mac is available from the XonX project.

If you wish to start Sparky from the command-line instead of clicking on the icon use the executable

The manual is found in

Bouncing Dock icon. The Sparky icon will continue to bounce in the Dock for about a minute after Sparky has been started. One way to avoid this visual annoyance is to turn off bouncing icons by switching off "Animate opening applications" in Dock preferences (under the Apple menu). This behaviour results from Sparky being an X windows application instead of a native Aqua application.

Delete key on Mac. The delete key on some Macs produces a backspace character when using an X windows program. But if you hold the Fn key when pressing Delete you will get a real delete character. So Fn-Delete should delete selected Sparky peaks.

Clicking to activate windows. Two X windows preference settings help avoid extra mouse clicks when using Sparky dialogs. When you move the mouse from one Sparky window to another you can automatically have the new window activated without requiring a mouse click. Set this "focus follows mouse" preference by typing the following command in a Mac Terminal window.

	  % defaults write wm_ffm -bool true

The default behaviour of the Quartz window manager from the Apple X server 1.0 release is to require you to click on each window before you can type to it or press buttons. The wm_ffm setting only effects X applications, not Aqua applications, so it only has an effect when an X window currently is active and you move the mouse to another X window.

When you are using a native Mac application (not X windows) and then click on a menu within the Sparky window the mouse click does not bring up the menu. It just activates the Sparky window and another mouse click is needed to show the menu. To make this work with a single mouse click use the Mac X server wm_click_through preference by typing the following command in a Mac Terminal window.

	  % defaults write wm_click_through -bool true

Normally Mac OS swallows window activating mouse events. This preference causes a window activating mouse click on an X window to also be processed by the application.

You have to restart the X server after changing the wm_ffm or wm_click_through preference. These preferences are saved in your ~/Library/Preferences directory so they will apply in all future sessions. Change "true" to "false" in the above commands to return to the default preference settings.

Using Sparky with Python

Many advanced Sparky features are written in the Python programming language. They are described in the Extensions section of the manual, and appear under the Sparky Extensions menu. Python is included with Sparky 3.110 (Feb 2004) and later.

Description of Files

The Windows, Linux, and unix distributions include the following files in a directory called sparky. On Mac OS X these same files appear in

  README		- reminder of where web site and manual are
  LICENSE		- contains copyright, license and disclaimer

    index.html		- start of HTML manual
    intro.html		- introduction to basic commands
    install.html	- this file
    changelog.html	- list of changes version by version
    *.html		- other sections of manual
    manual.html		- manual in a single file
    manual-postscript	- Postscript version of manual

  example		- sample data

    sparky		- a script that starts Sparky
    sparky-no-python	- the executable for running without Python
    pipe2ucsf		- conversion from NMRPipe format to Sparky format
    ucsfdata		- prints UCSF NMR data header, extracts data matrix
    vnmr2ucsf		- conversion from Varian VNMR format to Sparky format
    bruk2ucsf		- conversion from Bruker format to Sparky format
    peaks2ucsf		- creates simulated specta from list of Gaussians
    matrix2ucsf		- make a UCSF format spectrum from a data array

    Sparky		- the Tk resource file, fonts sizes, ...	- Postscript used for printing spectrum windows	- Tcl shared library		- Tk shareed library
    tcl8.3		- Tcl library scripts
    tk8.3		- Tk library scripts

    README		- description of Python interface to Sparky
    sparky/*.py		- code for Sparky extensions
    sparky/	- the C++ Sparky library
    lib-tk		- Tkinter Python code

  python2.3		- Python 2.3 distribution

Compiling Sparky if no binary distribution is available

If a binary distribution is not available for your hardware and operating system you can compile Sparky from source code. If you are an experienced programmer this might work. Otherwise you've gotta be brave, foolish and lucky to get it to work. You will need a Tcl/Tk 8.4.5 (free from, a C++ compiler, and a make program. Sparky can be extended by users with the Python language (version 2.3). If you want to use this you must have Python (free from

Unpack the Sparky source distribution and look at the readme-code.html file. It describes the script bin/make-sparky that invokes "make" with the proper arguments for the different platforms I compile on. The script chooses different sets of compiler options based on the host name. You can add an entry for the machine you will compile on.

An alternative, harder method is to edit Makefile and c++/Makefile directly. Set the paths to the source directory and the installation directory. If you have Python set the lib and include paths. Shared object libraries for Tcl/Tk are required. If you don't want to use the GNU C++ compiler g++ change the definition of CC. Add any flags needed by your compiler to the CFLAGS variable. If you want to install in a directory other than /usr/local/sparky edit the path in the sparky startup script "sparky". Now run "make" (or without Python "make nopython") and if everything compiles "make install" (or without Python "make install-nopython").


Sparky was developed by Donald Kneller 1989-95 working with Tack Kuntz at the University of California, San Francisco. Development is continuing at UCSF in the Computer Graphics Laboratory, headed by Tom Ferrin, and with the assistance of Tom James' NMR group. My name is Tom Goddard. I've done the programming 1996-2001.

We have not written a paper describing Sparky. If you publish work that made use of Sparky you can cite it as:

	T. D. Goddard and D. G. Kneller, SPARKY 3,
	University of California, San Francisco

Copyright, License, and Disclaimer

The following copyright, license and disclaimer applies to the distributed Sparky source code, documentation and binaries.

Copyright (c) 1989-2004, University of California Regents

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to use and copy the Sparky code, documentation and binaries. All copies must include this copyright, license and disclaimer.