Planar Visibility Computations


VisiLibity is a free open source C++ library for 2D floating-point visibility algorithms, path planning, and supporting data types. It is intended for use in robot and sensor network design software. Other possible applications include, e.g., manufacturing, facility location, architectural/urban planning, games, and education. The entire library consists only of a single compilation unit (one .hpp + one .cpp file) with no dependence on 3rd party libraries. It is therefore suitable for applications where simple visibility and path planning computations are needed but the power of a larger computational geometry library is not necessary.

Current Functionality of VisiLibity v1 in planar polygonal environments with polygonal holes:

Exact/arbitrary precision arithmetic is avoided and robustness is achieved by considering 2 points to be colocated whenever the Euclidean distance between them is less or equal to a user-defined tolerance ε called the robustness constant. If the robustness constant is chosen poorly or the scale of environment features varies too dramatically, library functions can and will return errors. However, provided the user tunes the robustness constant appropriately, we find the library works well for a large range of useful environments.


When possible, please cite VisiLibity. For your convenience, here is a BibTeX item

  author = {K. J. Obermeyer and Contributors},
  title = {{VisiLibity}: A {C}++ Library for Visibility Computations in Planar
    Polygonal Environments},
  howpublished = {\url{}},
  year = 2008,
  note = {v1},


To use VisiLibity in your C++ program,
  1. Clone the git repo and read,
  2. Place an #include "visilibity.hpp" directive at the beginning of your program, and
  3. Link your program with visilibity.cpp when compiling.

Here is the source code documentation.

Python 2 and 3

From Linux or Mac terminal,

$ pip install visilibity  # resp. pip3...
$ python  # resp. python3
>>> import visilibity
>>> dir(visilibity)  # Ta da!

See more instructions on running a demo at Yu Cao's repo. I've never used these bindings beyond confirming that the demo works, so I can't answer questions about them. However, if you have information you would like to share, esp. how you overcame difficulties, let me know and I can post it to the FAQ or contributions notes.


See constributions list below to download the SWIG interface. I've never used these, so I can't answer questions about them. However, if you have information you would like to share, esp. how you overcame difficulties, let me know and I can post it to the FAQ or contributions notes.


MEX files are included in `src/` on the main GitHub repository. See contributions list below for notes on use under Windows.

Help & Contributions

To report a bug/bugfix or ask a question, send me an email with subject line of the form "VisiLibity1: ...". This project is entirely volunteer work and I have many other demands on my time, so please forgive slow responses. Be sure to check the FAQ before emailing a question. Other comments you have are also welcome, e.g., on what your application is, overall architecture of the library, or possible future functionality.

ContributionThanks to
Python Bindings with ExampleYu Cao of U. of Southampton, UK; Stefanie T. of MIT, United States; Ramiro C. of UNC, Argentina
Ruby BindingsBrad E. of Madriska Media Group, United States
Notes on Matlab Interface under Windows Lu L. of TUM, Germany; Bruno H. of CMU, United States
Compiling with MS Visual StudioDerek K. of AFRL, United States
Using a 64-bit Machine Claus C. of Georgia Tech, United States
Misc. Minor Bug FixesGenerous people worldwide


VisiLibity uses the C++ double type. In this floating-point system, a discrete string of bits represents a number from the continuum of real numbers. One indicator of how precisely a floating point system can represent a real number is the machine epsilon (aka machine precision or unit roundoff) defined as the difference between 1 and the smallest exactly representable number greater than one. In the IEEE 754 Standard for Binary Floating-Point Arithmetic, machine epsilon for double precision on a 32-bit machine is 2-52 (roughly 2.22x10-16). Despite this small value, it is well known that the inexact nature of floating-point representation can lead to many problems, e.g.,

More details on problems associated with floating-point arithmetic can be found, e.g., in "What Every Computer Scientist Should Know About Floating Point Arithmetic".

So why use floating-point arithmetic? As Chee K. Yap wrote in the "Handbook of Discrete and Computational Geometry" (2nd Edition, p. 930),

" floating-point hardware has become a de facto standard in every computer. If we can make our geometric algorithms robust within machine arithmetic, we are assured of the fastest possible implementation..."

To achieve robustness using floating-point arithmetic, VisiLibity operates using a technique called ε-geometry (AKA interval geometry) in which geometric primitives are fattened by very small amount ε. This involves the use of fuzzy comparisons in which equality tests such as x==y are replaced by fabs(x-y) ≤ ε. When using VisiLibity, ε should typically be chosen somewhere between machine epsilon and the smallest dimension of any feature in the environment geometry at hand.

The algorithms and methods used in VisiLibity come mostly from these sources: VisiLibity.bib (BibTeX file)


VisiLibity v1 was developed originally as part of research funded by NSF award 0626457 and ARO award W911NF-05-1-0219.


VisiLibity v1 is licensed under version 3 of the GNU Lesser General Public License.