This document is supposed to help users debug issues with MODTRAN when that software is run by the DIRSIG model.

Because MODTRAN doesn’t come with a robust, standardized, well documented application programmers interface (API), software like DIRSIG must integrate with MODTRAN through MODTRAN’s standard file interfaces. For a variety of reasons, this coupling can be problematic. For example, different versions of MODTRAN can behave differently when an error occurs or report that same error differently. In other cases, the format of various input and output files change and software that reads and writes those files must be updated.

Note Although the MODTRAN input and output files are documented in the MODTRAN manual, this mechanism falls short at being a robust API for a variety of reasons. The biggest limitation is the lack of a consistent and formalized error reporting mechanism that can be easily interpreted by the calling program. Recent versions of MODTRAN are improving this, but formal APIs have a consistent behavior when errors are produced.

Because this model integration is largely handled as a "black box" to the user, it seems like magic when it works but is very frustrating and obfuscated when it does not. This document is designed to help users in the later case. This document will guide the user through a step by step process to understanding how DIRSIG and MODTRAN interact and how common problems with that interaction can be resolved.

MODTRAN Software


At this time, DIRSIG has been tested to work with the following versions of MODTRAN:

  • MODTRAN4, Version 3, Release 1 (MODTRAN 4v3r1)

    • This is one of the last releases of the MODTRAN4 software. We strongly recommend not using any version prior to this release because of numerous bugs in the software, important improvements to the software, etc.

  • MODTRAN5, 2.0 and 2.2 (MODTRAN 5.2.0 and MODTRAN 5.2.2)

    • These are the most common releases of MODTRAN5 we encounter in the wild at the time of this writing. Both versions have been used with DIRSIG on all of the supported platforms.

Important Although MODTRAN 4v3r1 works with DIRSIG, it is strongly recommended that the user employ MODTRAN5 with DIRSIG. For more information, visit

These versions of MODTRAN have been found to work on Windows, Mac OSX and UNIX platforms.

Known Issues

Installation Location

The MODTRAN input files generated by DIRSIG will include the path to the MODTRAN DATA folder containing the band model, correlated-k, etc. database files. The field for this folder path in MODTRAN is limited to 80 characters.

Important Do not install MODTRAN in a folder that results in an absolute path to the DATA folder that is greater than 80 characters.

Mapped Network Drives under Windows

If you are using DIRSIG and/or MODTRAN on a Windows machine that employs a mapped network drives, a variety of problems have been reported. A "mapped network drive" in Windows is when a shortcut to a shared drive is created that does not contain a drive letter. For example, rather than a user’s home folder being Z:\joeuser, the mapped name might be \\home\joeuser.

Important Do not use a mapped network drive to store simulation inputs. Consider copying files to a local disk or use the direct path to the files (one that includes the Windows drive letter).

MODTRAN Installation

This first section discusses the installation of MODTRAN itself. Although the MODTRAN software comes with installation documentation, we will highlight some important aspects here.

Installation Layout

A typical MODTRAN installation is composed of a single file hierarchy that contains the MODTRAN executable, supporting databases, test cases and documentation. The screenshot below shows the typical layout of files and folders in a MODTRAN5 installation (this organization is common to Windows, Mac OSX and UNIX).

Figure 1. Screenshot of a standard MODTRAN5 installation folder (Windows).
Figure 2. Screenshot of a standard MODTRAN5 installation folder (Mac OSX).


The MODTRAN "manual" that focuses on the input file format and how to enable specific features is usually included as a PDF document (shown above as MODTRAN5.2.2.pdf).

Another helpful document is the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document, which includes lots of useful information about the model (shown above as FAQmay2012.pdf).


The DATA folder contains database files used by MODTRAN at run-time. This includes the band model files (databases of the spectral absorption for atmospheric gases), correlated-K coefficient files and background reflectance spectrum. If you are compiling MODTRAN from source, then some of these databases need to be generated. This will be discussed in another part of this document.

Source Code

The src file contains the source code to the MODTRAN software. On some target platforms the user is expected to compiled MODTRAN from the source code (for example, UNIX). On others, the software comes pre-compiled for the target platform.

Test Cases

The TEST folder contains typically 50+ test cases that can be used by the end-user as examples for specific scenarios, or to verify correct operation of the model.

Pre-Compiled versus Compile Your Own

As of MODTRAN 5.2.0, both the Windows and Mac OSX releases had the MODTRAN program, band model files, etc. pre-packaged and ready to use:

  • The Windows release has both 32-bit and 64-bit versions

    • As a reminder, the 32-bit version can be used on a 64-bit system, but not the other way around.

  • The Mac OSX release has only a 32-bit Intel version.

    • The 32-bit version runs fine on modern Macs, which are almost exclusively 64-bit.

    • If you are still using a PowerPC (PPC), then you will need to follow the instructions to compile he software from source, which will require a FORTRAN compiler.

On the UNIX platform, the software must be compiled from the source code. Follow the instructions included with MODTRAN on how to perform this task.

Console vs. Window Executables on Windows

A typical Windows installation comes with two executables. One is for use from a non-interactive console session (see Mod5.2.2cons.exe in the example file listing above), and the other from interactive session (see Mod5.2.2qwin.exe in the example file listing above). Make sure that DIRSIG is using the "console" executable (the one that contains cons in the name). More information about the difference between these two applications can be found in the MODTRAN documentation.

Dynamic Libraries on Mac OSX

The Mac OSX target platform is one where the MODTRAN distribution comes pre-compiled for the end-user. However, it is pre-compiled using the gfortran compiler, which introduces dependencies for two external, dynamic libraries (they are libgcc_s.1.dylib and libgfortran.3.dylib). These libraries are included with MODTRAN at the top of the installation folder (at the same level as the MODTRAN executable). A common problem with the Mac OSX distribution is that the MODTRAN executable cannot be run from a folder other than the installation folder. This is because the MODTRAN executable does not know where to find these dynamic library files when execution is started from another folder. This creates a problem for 3rd party software like DIRSIG that always starts MODTRAN from a folder other than the installation folder.

To test if this is a problem with your MODTRAN installation, simply try to run the MODTRAN executable from your home folder via the command line (for example, from If your copy of MODTRAN is installed in /Applications/Mod5.2.2 and the name of the MODTRAN5 executable is Mod90_5.2.2.exe, then try to run the executable directly with the following syntax:

$ cd $HOME
$ /Applications/Mod5.2.2/Mod90_5.2.2.exe

If you get error messages about missing dynamic libraries for libgcc or libgfortran from the runtime loader (dyld), then your installation has this problem. For example:

$ /Applications/Mod5.2.2/Mod90_5.2.2.exe
dyld: Library not loaded: libgfortran.3.dylib
  Referenced from: /Applications/Mod5.2.2/Mod90_5.2.2.exe
  Reason: image not found
Trace/BPT trap: 5

The solution to this problem is to wrap the MODTRAN executable with a shell script that tells the executable the absolute path back to the dynamic library files. This shell script simply needs to add the correct folder path to the DYLD_LIBRARY_PATH variable. An example script is shown below:


# define where MODTRAN lives and the executable name in that location
export MODTRAN_FOLDER=/Applications/Mod5.2.2
export MODTRAN_EXE=Mod90_5.2.2.exe

# check if the dynamic library path variable exists already
    # make a new variable with the MODTRAN folder in it
    # add the MODTRAN folder to the existing variable

# run the MODTRAN executable with this environment
Note The user made need to modify the MODTRAN_FOLDER and MODTRAN_EXE variables to reflect the installation folder and MODTRAN executable on their system.

A copy of this script that has been customized with the specifics of your MODTRAN version and installation location can be placed in the MODTRAN installation folder with an appropriate name (for example, The user’s DIRSIG preferences should then point to this script rather than the bare MODTRAN executable.

Populating the DATA Folder

The MODTRAN program relies on a set of band model, correlated-K coefficient, etc. databases to run. These files are stored in the DATA folder within the MODTRAN installation folder.

On the Windows and Mac platform, these databases come pre-built and ready for use. If you are deploying MODTRAN on the UNIX platform, or you have compiled MODTRAN from the source code for any reason, then you will need to create the binary database files yourself. Follow the instructions included with MODTRAN on the correct process to perform this task.

Testing the MODTRAN Installation

The MODTRAN installation folder contains a folder named TEST, which contains 50+ test scenarios for use with MODTRAN. It is best to test the correct operation of your MODTRAN installation by attempting to run some of those test cases. Specifically, verifying that those test cases can be run in a folder outside the MODTRAN installation folder is important. Consider the following test procedure:

  • Make an empty folder to run the test case in.

  • Copy one of the test case "tape5" files (the file with the .tp5 file extension) into your empty folder. Change the name of the copied file to be simply tape5.

  • Start up a command-line session (CMD,, xterm, or whatever is appropriate for your system).

  • Change folders (for example, using the cd command) to your test folder containing the tape5 file you just copied.

  • Attempt to run the MODTRAN executable from the command line using the full path to the installation folder.

  • If the program runs successfully, you should have a tape6 file that ends without error messages (the last line usually contains a copy of the CARD 5 line from the input tape5 file).

Note If one or more of the pre-packaged MODTRAN test cases cannot be run outside of the installation folder as was described above, attempt to resolve the issue before attempting to have DIRSIG utilize MODTRAN.

Setting up DIRSIG to use MODTRAN

The setup of DIRSIG to use MODTRAN is described in the MODTRAN Setup section of the DIRSIG Installation Guide.

Common Failures and Solutions

This section will outline a common set of failures and possible remedies.

If MODTRAN does not run correctly, consider the following steps to understand the nature of the problem:

Are any MODTRAN output files present?

The tape5 file is the input file, but when MODTRAN is run it should generate a set of output files including tape6 and tape7. If you do not see either of these files, then chances are MODTRAN could not be started.

  • Are your preferences pointing to the right MODTRAN executable?

  • Can the MODTRAN executable be run from the simulation folder? Sometimes shared/dynamic libraries are not correctly setup for MODTRAN to be run outside the installation folder. See specific notes earlier in this document about this common problem with the executables distributed for the Mac OSX platform.

Is there a tape6 file but not a tape7 or tape7.scn file?

If this is the case, then MODTRAN was successfully started, but could not run correctly with the supplied input.

  • Look at the end of the tape6 file for error messages

  • Look for a warnings.txt file for error messages

The most common message that a user will receive is that DIRSIG (either from the dirsig driver or the make_adb program) is that the tape7.scn file could not be read.