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Software for Visualizing HDF Files

Since the MIT Photonic-Bands package outputs its fields and dielectric functions in HDF5 format, it seemed helpful to point our users to software for reading, analyzing, and viewing HDF5 files. Please email me if you have any suggestions or additional links.

Software for HDF 4

By far the majority of the software out there is for the "classic" HDF 4.x format. Never fear, HDF5 comes with a utility called h5toh4 to convert HDF5 files to HDF(4). Note that, if you're installing HDF5 from source, you need to have HDF installed first in order for this utility to be compiled.

NCSA has a long list of software that can read HDF4 files.

Software for HDF5

There isn't as much software available yet for viewing HDF5 files directly, but NCSA maintains a list of what's out there so far.

HDF5 has a relatively easy programming interface, so it often isn't hard to add support for it to an existing application. If you find a free (open-source) program that you think would be useful if only it read HDF5 files, I encourage you to think about adding that support yourself and contributing it back to the community.

The h5utils Package

h5utils is a set of utilities that I wrote for visualization and conversion of scientific data in HDF5 format. To get it, go to the h5utils Home Page.

Besides providing a simple tool for batch visualization as PNG images, h5utils also includes programs to convert HDF5 datasets into the formats required by other free visualization software (e.g. plain text, Vis5d, and VTK).


An excellent free visualization program, which supports HDF5 with the help of the h5utils package below, is Vis5D. I was unsatisfied with the installation process of Vis5D (porting to my PowerPC laptop seemed unnecessarily difficult), so with the permission of the Vis5D authors I modified it to use the GNU autoconf and automake tools, allowing it to be installed by the familiar ./configure && make && make install sequence. The result, called Vis5d+, can be downloaded at

I and the Vis5D authors would appreciate your feedback; hopefully, this work will be well-received and thus incorporated into the main Vis5D version (the Vis5D developers have requested that you send comments on this prospect to the Vis5D mailing list).

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