Building and running GnuCash in Docker


I have written about GnuCash a few times before. I have been using GnuCash version 2.6 for nearly 2 years now. A lot of the features that were added after this version weren’t really useful for my use-case, so I never upgraded. Also, the binary that is distributed through the Ubuntu App store / apt-get repositories is v2.6. Versions after that were not published to the aptitude repositories, for some reason. (A lot of software packages do this)

Recently, I ran into a very strange bug. I wanted to report this bug to the GnuCash team and get their feedback on if this was something that they had seen before. To avoid reporting a bug on an old version which was no longer being supported actively, I got the latest version of the GnuCash code and started a long, uphill battle to build it locally! This post is a summary of that experience.

For those who are looking to run the latest version of GnuCash inside Docker, you can get this Dockerfile and build the Docker image. The command to run it on an Ubuntu 18.04 LTS host is given at the top of the Dockerfile.


GnuCash has some documentation about building on Linux. It starts with this page called Building On Linux. Going from this page, I kept jumping to several subsequent pages which felt strange and I was soon confused about what I was looking for in the first place.

This is the short summary of what I learnt:

  1. GnuCash is written in C
  2. Building the software has two distinct steps:
  3. Configuring the build: For this, we use Cmake
  4. Build (for real): For this, we use Make
  5. The build directory must be completely separate from the source directory

     $ tree -n -A -L 1
     ├── gnucash-4.1
     ├── gnucash-build

    This is the structure that I used. We will be running all of the commands inside the build directory. In this example, gnucash-build/

Required packages

It took me quite some time to figure out exactly where all the files should go and what came first, etc. Once I had figured out the purposes of Cmake and Make, things got a little bit easier.

I started with this command:

(gnucash-build) $ cmake ../gnucash-4.1

This command will most probably fail, unless you have all the dependencies installed. If this command does not fail, then you can switch to the next step: Build.

For me, this command failed several times. Each time it failed, it output either an error with the name of a package that was missing or a warning with a particular part of GnuCash that it couldn’t configure properly because of missing dependencies.


I had to remove two parts of GnuCash to get past the warnings: AQBanking and SQL support. After seeing the warnings, I wasn’t quite sure how to disable them. A quick look at the CMakeLists.txt file helped me figure that out. I don’t know how to read CMake files, so I just winged this part. I found a few mentions to the actual option and found these lines:

option (WITH_SQL "Build this project with SQL (libdbi) support" ON)
option (WITH_AQBANKING "Build this project with aqbanking (online banking) support" ON)

After finding this option, I discovered that cmake takes configuration options using -D

-D <var>[:<type>]=<value>    = Create a cmake cache entry.

-D’s description is confusing, but it’s the option we want to use.

With this, I reached the command:

(gnucash-build) $ cmake -DWITH_AQBANKING=false -DWITH_SQL=false ../gnucash-4.1

Running this on my Ubuntu 18.04 installation gave me an error mentioning the name of a missing library. I went ahead and installed the library and ran cmake again. I repeated this step several times.


Cmake configures the build by ensuring that each library that is required is available on the host and is in a location that can be found by Make (or it will tell Make to find it wherever Cmake found the library). As I saw each warning, the name of the library I needed to install was either clear to me from the error or I had to run a search on

I had 22 required packages missing. The complete list of packages can be found in the final Dockerfile’s apt-get install command here. This step took the most time at about 90 minutes. After 4-5 steps, the process was pretty clear to me. A couple of things that I learnt during this process:

  1. For building software, almost always the -dev versions of packages are required. For example, I had the package libxslt1.1 installed. This wasn’t enough though. Cmake kept telling me that the xsltproc could not be found. This was because I didn’t have libxslt1-dev package. After installing the -dev version of this package, I was able to go to the next missing package.
  2. You can check what packages are already installed using dpkg -l. Using a tool like grep allows you to quickly check whether a package is missing or if there’s some sort of version conflict: dpkg -l | grep xslt
  3. For most packages, I was able to install them fairly easily. For 2 packages (libglib2.0-dev and libxslt), I was not able to install the required package for a few minutes. After moving around searches, installing and removing packages, checking dpkg -l output, and reading the error message several times, I was able to install the required package.


The actual build part of this process is extremely easy. Cmake ensures that everything that was required has been installed and can be found in their usual locations. If not, Cmake will tell make where to find them using the Makefiles that cmake generates when the configuration process is complete.

(gnucash-build) $ make

This command will run for a considerable amount of time. On my laptop with an i7 8th gen processor and 16 GB of RAM, make ran for about 20-30 minutes (I didn’t track this closely; I was relieved to have reached this stage and I didn’t really care even if this command took a few hours as I was probably not going to run this command again EVER)

When make is done, your gnucash binary should be inside gnucash-build/bin. There will be some more binary files.

(gnucash-build) $ ls bin
gnc-fq-check  gnc-fq-helper  gnucash      gnucash-valgrind
gnc-fq-dump   gnc-fq-update  gnucash-cli  jenny

(gnucash-build) $ ./bin/gnucash --version
GnuCash 4.1
Build ID: 4.1+(2020-07-25)


I have built most of the small utilities that I use on a daily basis (like my recent favorite, git-fzf). GnuCash was one of the major parts of my computer usage and I am glad that I can actually build the software which is able to parse the huge .xml.gz file which contains all my accounting information!