Headless rendering#

This tutorial explains how to render and save images from a terminal without any display device.


This feature is experimental; it was only tested with an Ubuntu 18.04 environment.


Although Ubuntu 16.04 is no longer supported for Open3D, additional instructions are under Headless Ubuntu 16.04.

Install OSMesa#

To generate a headless context, it is necessary to install OSMesa.

$ sudo apt-get install libosmesa6-dev

Install virtualenv#

Create a virtual environment for Python.

$ sudo apt-get install virtualenv python-pip
$ virtualenv -p /usr/bin/python3 py3env
$ source py3env/bin/activate
(py3env) $ pip install numpy matplotlib

This script installs and activates py3env. The necessary modules, numpy and matplotlib, are installed in py3env.


Anaconda users are recommended to use this configuration as conda install matplotlib installs additional modules that are not based on OSMesa. This will result in segmentation fault error at runtime.

Build Open3D with OSMesa#

Let’s move to build a folder.

(py3env) $ cd ~/Open3D/
(py3env) $ mkdir build && cd build

In the next step, there are two cmake flags that need to be specified.

  • -DENABLE_HEADLESS_RENDERING=ON: this flag informs glew and glfw should use OSMesa.

  • -DUSE_SYSTEM_GLEW=OFF -DUSE_SYSTEM_GLFW=OFF: note that headless rendering only works with the glew 2.1 and glfw 3.3-dev version. In most cases, these versions are not installed in vanilla Ubuntu systems. Use these CMake options to force to build glew 2.1 and glfw 3.3-dev from source included with Open3D.

  • The Filament-based GUI implementation is not compatible with headless rendering, please set -DBUILD_GUI=OFF.

  • With -DBUILD_GUI=OFF webRTC support must also be disabled -DBUILD_WEBRTC=OFF.

As a result, the cmake command is the following

                 -DBUILD_GUI=OFF \
                 -DBUILD_WEBRTC=OFF \
                 -DUSE_SYSTEM_GLEW=OFF \
                 -DUSE_SYSTEM_GLFW=OFF \

If cmake successfully generates makefiles, build Open3D.

(py3env) $ make -j$(nproc)
(py3env) $ make install-pip-package

Test headless rendering#

As a final step, test a Python script that saves depth and surface normal sequences.

(py3env) $ cd ~/Open3D/examples/python/visualization
(py3env) $ python headless_rendering.py

This should print the following:

Capture image 00000
Capture image 00001
Capture image 00002
Capture image 00003
Capture image 00004
Capture image 00005
Capture image 00030

Rendered images are at ~/Open3D/examples/test_data/depth and the image folder.


headless_rendering.py saves png files.
This may take some time, so try to tweak the script for your purpose.

Possible Issues#


If glew and glfw did not correctly link with OSMesa, it may crash with the following error.
GLFW Error: X11: The DISPLAY environment variable is missing. Failed to initialize GLFW



If OSMesa does not support GL 3.3 Core you will get the following error:
GLFW Error: OSMesa: Failed to create context

Open3D currently uses GL 3.3 Core Profile, if that is not supported you will get the above error. You can run

$ cd ~/Open3D/build
$ bin/GLInfo

to get GL information for your environment (with or without a screen). It will try and print various configurations, the second one is the one we use, it should look something like

[Open3D DEBUG] GL_VERSION:  3.3 (Core Profile) Mesa 19.2.8
[Open3D DEBUG] GL_RENDERER: llvmpipe (LLVM 9.0, 256 bits)
[Open3D DEBUG] GL_VENDOR:   VMware, Inc.

If instead you get

[Open3D WARNING] GLFW Error: OSMesa: Failed to create context
[Open3D DEBUG] Failed to create window

Then your OSMesa version might be too old. Try to follow instructions below to Compile OSMesa from source to build a newer version and see if that resolves your issue.

Headless Ubuntu 16.04#

For Ubuntu 16.04, a version of OSMesa needs to be built from source. First follow Install virtualenv instructions above, then follow Compile OSMesa from source instructions below.

Compile OSMesa from source#

Here are instructions for compiling mesa-19.0.8, last version that still supported ./configure:

# install llvm-8
(py3env) $ sudo apt install llvm-8

# download OSMesa 19.0.8 release
(py3env) $ curl -O https://mesa.freedesktop.org/archive/mesa-19.0.8.tar.xz
(py3env) $ tar xvf mesa-19.0.8.tar.xz
(py3env) $ cd mesa-19.0.8
(py3env) $ LLVM_CONFIG="/usr/bin/llvm-config-8" ./configure --prefix=$HOME/osmesa \
    --disable-osmesa --disable-driglx-direct --disable-gbm --enable-dri \
    --with-gallium-drivers=swrast --enable-autotools --enable-llvm --enable-gallium-osmesa
(py3env) $ make -j$(nproc)
(py3env) $ make install
# this installed OSMesa libraries to $HOME/osmesa/lib; in order for Open3D to pick it up
# LD_LIBRARY_PATH needs to be updated to include it:
(py3env) $ export LD_LIBRARY_PATH="$HOME/osmesa/lib:$LD_LIBRARY_PATH"
# this needs to be done for every shell, or you can add it to your .bashrc
(py3env) $ cd ~/Open3D
(py3env) $ mkdir build&&cd build
    -DOSMESA_INCLUDE_DIR=$HOME/osmesa/include -DOSMESA_LIBRARY="$HOME/osmesa/lib/libOSMesa.so" \
(py3env) $ make -j$(nproc)
(py3env) $ make install-pip-package

Now you can follow the instructions under Test headless rendering.