For a web-based project, I am looking for a piece of software to create a 2D vector graphics structural formula from a textual structure encoding scheme such as SMILES or InChI, running on the server or client, and callable via some kind of API.

I’m imagining a client- or server-side library that you could just use like this:

svg_output = lib.render_from_smiles(smiles_input);

Ideally, it would have the following properties:

  • Take a SMILES or InChI representation of the compound as input
  • Compute the structure graph and 2D positional data (positions of atoms, types of bonds, etc.)
  • Render the structure in some kind of vector graphics representation (SVG would be perfect, but any other open format would do)
  • Or, alternatively, just output the computed drawing parameters, to be passed on to a separate renderer (which would need to be written, but that is the less challenging part)
  • Written in a language that is easy to use and deploy in web environments (PHP, JavaScript, Python, Ruby, Go, etc.)
  • If a renderer is included, allow me to control the rendering style (stroke width/colours, text attributes etc.)
  • Open source or with license terms that are affordable to a non-profit project :)

The application just needs to render individual structures. No reaction mechanisms or anything fancy. Small organic molecules only.

I know there are various standalone software packages (ChemDraw, MarvinSketch etc.) that do this kind of thing, but I did not find anything that can be used as a library like this.

Any suggestions or ideas? Thank you!

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If you can't find anything you like, I would like to know about it; I'm a coder and a chemist, I can definitely set this up if it isn't out there. $\endgroup$
    – sqykly
    Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 15:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @sqykly - I think you're far better contributing to RDKit or Open Babel. Setting this up requires lots of twisty passages, all alike. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 3:54

3 Answers 3


You might want to have a look at Open Babel.

  • It is licensed under GNU GPLv2
  • It has bindings for Python
  • It has bindings for PHP
  • It has bindings for Ruby
  • It can read (and write) SMILES
  • It can read (and write) InChI
  • It can write SVG
  • It can write a list of painter commands
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ smiles shortcut: obabel -:"O=C(O)c1ccccc1OC(=O)C" -osvg -O asp.svg src Of course OB is not without bugs and may fail for 3D type structures, but that shouldn't be a problem for this simple conversion $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 11:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin Yes, the shortcut is a neat feature in the shell. OTOH, even ghosts are cool in the shell ;) $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 31, 2016 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin-マーチン- "may fail for 3D type structures"? Any particular examples? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 1, 2016 at 3:50

You should also look at RDKit, which is at its core is C++ code for manipulating molecular structures, but which also has Python and Java bindings. Most people use it via its Python bindings.

Here's some example code.

# import rdkit components
from rdkit import Chem
from rdkit.Chem import Draw
from rdkit.Chem.Draw import IPythonConsole

# displaying an SVG structure (in a Jupyter notebook)
mol = Chem.MolFromSmiles('O=C(O)c1ccccc1OC(=O)C')

Inside of a Jupyter notebook, that results in a nice SVG-formated image. enter image description here. You can get a file of this image using the standard way to get SVG out of Jupyter notebooks, which I can't remember right now.

# 2D positional data for atoms
for atom in mol.GetAtoms():
    print (atom.GetIdx(), atom.GetSymbol(), atom.GetExplicitValence(), atom.GetIsAromatic())

# 2D positional data for bonds
for bond in mol.GetBonds():
    print (bond.GetIdx(), bond.GetBeginAtomIdx(), bond.GetEndAtomIdx(), bond.GetBondType())

The code above gives you just a sense of the flavor of how things are done, and just a few examples of properties available for bonds and atoms. It certainly isn't an exhaustive list of bond/atom properties. The output is:

(0, 'O', 2, False)
(1, 'C', 4, False)
(2, 'O', 1, False)
(3, 'C', 4, True)
(4, 'C', 3, True)
(5, 'C', 3, True)
(6, 'C', 3, True)
(7, 'C', 3, True)
(8, 'C', 4, True)
(9, 'O', 2, False)
(10, 'C', 4, False)
(11, 'O', 2, False)
(12, 'C', 1, False)
(0, 0, 1, rdkit.Chem.rdchem.BondType.DOUBLE)
(1, 1, 2, rdkit.Chem.rdchem.BondType.SINGLE)
(2, 1, 3, rdkit.Chem.rdchem.BondType.SINGLE)
(3, 3, 4, rdkit.Chem.rdchem.BondType.AROMATIC)
(4, 4, 5, rdkit.Chem.rdchem.BondType.AROMATIC)
(5, 5, 6, rdkit.Chem.rdchem.BondType.AROMATIC)
(6, 6, 7, rdkit.Chem.rdchem.BondType.AROMATIC)
(7, 7, 8, rdkit.Chem.rdchem.BondType.AROMATIC)
(8, 8, 9, rdkit.Chem.rdchem.BondType.SINGLE)
(9, 9, 10, rdkit.Chem.rdchem.BondType.SINGLE)
(10, 10, 11, rdkit.Chem.rdchem.BondType.DOUBLE)
(11, 10, 12, rdkit.Chem.rdchem.BondType.SINGLE)
(12, 8, 3, rdkit.Chem.rdchem.BondType.AROMATIC)

Converting between/from/to InChI and SMILES is easy. Here's an example of InChI output.

    # output InChI


You can learn a bit more about how to do common tasks in RDKit via this GitHub repo of example Jupyter Notebooks.


openchemlib is a library that can convert a smiles into a SVG. It can be used on the the server (Java) or on the client side (JavaScript).




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