It includes a port of the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC), GNU Binutils for Windows (assembler, linker, archive manager), a set of freely distributable Windows specific header files and static import libraries which enable the use of the Windows API, a Windows native build of the GNU Project's GNU Debugger, and miscellaneous utilities.
MinGW does not rely on third-party C runtime dynamic-link library (DLL) files, and because the runtime libraries are not distributed using the GNU General Public License (GPL), it is not necessary to distribute the source code with the programs produced, unless a GPL library is used elsewhere in the program.
MinGW was originally called mingw32 (Minimalist GNU for W32), following the GNU convention whereby Windows is shortened as "W32". The numbers were dropped in order to avoid the implication that it would be limited to producing 32-bit binaries. Colin Peters authored the initial release in 1998, consisting only of a Cygwin port of GCC. Jan-Jaap van der Heijden created a Windows-native port of GCC and added binutils and make. Mumit Khan later took over development, adding more Windows-specific features to the package, including the Windows system headers by Anders Norlander. In 2000, the project was moved to SourceForge.net in order to solicit more assistance from the community and centralize its development.
MinGW was selected as Project of the Month at SourceForge.net for September 2005.
In the last quarter of 2013 a new project was started, MSYS2 together with 32-bit and 64-bit MinGW packages. This project was created to keep track with newer advances of the Cygwin project and the fact that the original MSYS was not able to keep up with Cygwin. MSYS2 is an independent rewrite of MSYS, based on modern Cygwin (POSIX compatibility layer) and MinGW-w64 with the aim of better interoperability with native Windows software. It uses Arch Linux's Pacman as the package manager.
Programming language support
Most languages supported by GCC are supported on the MinGW port as well. These include C, C++, Objective-C, Objective-C++, Fortran and Ada. The GCC runtime libraries are used (libstdc++ for C++, libgfortran for Fortran, etc.).
MinGW links by default to the Windows OS component library MSVCRT, which is the C library that Visual C version 6.0 linked to (the initial target was CRTDLL), which was released in 1998 and therefore does not include support for C99 features, or even all of C89. While targeting MSVCRT yields programs that require no additional runtime redistributables to be installed, the lack of support for C99 has caused porting problems, particularly where printf-style conversion specifiers are concerned. These issues have been partially mitigated by the implementation of a C99 compatibility library, libmingwex, but the extensive work required is far from complete and may never be fully realized. has resolved these issues, and provides fully POSIX compliant printf functionality.
The MinGW project maintains and distributes a number of different core components and supplementary packages, including various ports of the GNU toolchain, such as GCC and binutils, translated into equivalent packages. These utilities can be used from the Windows command line or integrated into an IDE. Packages may be installed using the command line via mingw-get.
MinGW supports dynamic libraries named according to the
<name>.dll conventions, as well as static libraries following the
lib<name>.a naming convention common on Unix and Unix-like systems.
In addition, a component of MinGW known as MSYS (minimal system) provides Windows ports of a lightweight Unix-like shell environment including rxvt and a selection of POSIX tools sufficient to enable autoconf scripts to run, but it does not provide a C compiler or a case-sensitive file system.
mingwPORTs are user contributed additions to the MinGW software collection. Rather than providing these "add-ons" as precompiled binary packages, they are supplied in the form of interactive Bourne shell scripts, which guide the end user through the process of automatically downloading and patching original source code, then building and installing it. Users who wish to build any application from a mingwPORT must first install both MinGW and MSYS.
The implementation of Windows system headers and static import libraries are released under a permissive license, while the GNU ports are provided under the GNU General Public License. Binary downloads of both the complete MSYS package and individual MinGW GNU utilities are available from the MinGW site.
Comparison with Cygwin
MinGW was forked from version 1.3.3 of Cygwin. Although both Cygwin and MinGW can be used to port Unix software to Windows, they have different approaches: Cygwin aims to provide a complete POSIX layer comprising a full implementation of all major Unix system calls and libraries. Compatibility is considered higher priority than performance. On the other hand, MinGW's priorities are simplicity and performance. As such, it does not provide certain POSIX APIs which cannot easily be implemented using the Windows API, such as
ioctl(). Applications written using a cross-platform library that has itself been ported to MinGW, such as SDL, wxWidgets, Qt, or GTK+, will usually compile as easily in MinGW as they would in Cygwin.
Windows programs written with Cygwin run on top of a copylefted compatibility DLL that must be distributed with the program, along with the program's source code. MinGW does not require a compatibility layer, since MinGW-based programs are compiled with direct calls to Windows APIs.
The combination of MinGW and MSYS provides a small, self-contained environment that can be loaded onto removable media without leaving entries in the registry or files on the computer. Cygwin Portable provides a similar feature that is far more robust.
It is also possible to cross-compile Windows applications with MinGW-GCC under POSIX systems. This means that developers do not need a Windows installation with MSYS to compile software that will run on Windows with or without Cygwin.
In 2005, , was created by OneVision Software under clean room design principles, since the original MinGW project was not prompt on updating its code base, including the inclusion of several key new APIs and the much needed 64-bit support. In 2008, OneVision then donated the code to Kai Tietz, one of its lead developers, under the condition that it remain open source. It was first submitted to the original MinGW project, but refused under suspicion of using non-public or proprietary information. For many reasons, the lead developer and co-founder of the MinGW-w64 project, Kai Tietz, decided not to attempt further cooperation with MinGW.
MinGW-w64 provides a more complete Win32 API implementation, including:
- better C99 support
- better POSIX Threads (pthreads) support (including the possibility to enable C++11 thread-related functionality in GCC's libstdc++)
- GCC multilib, which allows users to install 32-bit and 64-bit libraries in parallel
- Unicode entry point (wmain/wWinMain)
- DDK (from ReactOS)
- DirectX (from Wine)
- Large file support
- Win64 support
- Some useful tools such as
gendef(an improved version of MinGW's
widl(an IDL compiler, a free replacement for MIDL).
Additionally, the MinGW-w64 project maintains winpthreads, a wrapper library similar to pthreads-win32, with the main difference that it allows GCC to use it as a threads library resulting in functional C++11 thread libraries