Third party IDL books

Below, I describe some of the third-party books about IDL, but there are also several manuals distributed with IDL as PDFs. You can find them in the help/pdf directory of the IDL distribution.


Modern IDL by Michael Galloy offers IDL programmers one place to look for beginner and advanced users alike. Modern IDL is also a useful reference guide, collecting tables and lists of items that are scattered through the online help.

Morty Canty says:

… But I’ve always wanted a thorough, concise, up-to-date overview of the the IDL language and it’s vast capabilities. This is exactly what Mike’s book provides in 464 very informative pages. Can’t wait to have the “real thing” on my bookshelf. Highly recommended!

See the website for table of contents, sample chapter (object graphics), example files, and errata.

Michael Galloy works as a research scientist for Tech-X Corporation involved in scientific visualization using IDL and Python. Before that, he worked for five years teaching all levels of IDL programming and consulting for Research Systems, Inc. (now ITT Visual Information Solutions). He is the creator and maintainer of several open source projects including IDLdoc, mgunit, dist_tools, and cmdline_tools.


IDL Programming Techniques by David Fanning. This book is an introductory to intermediate level general-purpose book about IDL focusing on graphics and writing GUI applications. Fanning says about the book:

In this book I wanted to lay out a handful of simple IDL programming principles that would allow users to write elegant programs with resizeable graphics windows, easy and automatic access to PostScript, GIF, and JPEG file output, intelligent use of color, and with intuitive graphical user interfaces. Moreover, I wanted to describe an object-oriented programming style that makes programs easy to maintain, modify, and extend over time. These principles (and especially the information on writing widget programs, or programs with graphical user interfaces) can be found nowhere else.

The table of contents, a sample chapter, and the required files are available from the book website.

David Fanning has been an instructor and consultant with IDL for many years. His website is a vital resource for IDL programmers.


Coyote’s Guide to Traditional IDL Graphics: Using Familiar Tools Creatively by David Fanning is a great resource for users of direct graphics, particularly those using David’s fantastic Coyote Graphics system. It contains discussion and many examples of various types of graphics: line plots, contour plots, surface plots, image display (and even image processing), as well as topics such as PostScript output, raster output, and using the Z-buffer.

See the book’s website for table of contents, sample chapter, and example files.

See my review for more information.


Practical IDL Programming by Liam E. Gumley is also an introductory to intermediate level general-purpose book about IDL. Liam says of the book:

I wrote this book because I felt there was a need for an in-depth yet accessible explanation of the fundamentals of procedural IDL programming, showing how to go from the basics of the language to real world applications.

See the book’s website for the errata and example programs.

Liam Gumley works as a researcher at the Space Science and Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison


An Introduction to Programming with IDL by Ken Bowman is geared towards a new user of IDL without programming experience. It covers the necessary topics to get started in IDL basic variable concepts, analysis, file input/output, and direct graphics visualizations including many exercises for these topics. I think it achieves its goal very well, but don’t look here if you want to take your programming beyond basic analysis and visualization.

See the book’s website for a sample chapter (interpolation), example code, errata, and solutions to some of the problems.

Kenneth P. Bowman is a Professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University.

See my review for more information.


Application Development with IDL: Combining Analytical Methods with Widget Programming by Ronn Kling has many examples of writing widget (GUI) programs that allow for interactive analysis in IDL. Ronn says of the book:

This book is written for scientists, engineers and programmers who want to combine their analytical techniques with widget interfaces. In the past we were restricted to writing procedural programs that read namelists, files, or had data entered in from a prompt. This book shows how to integrate widget interfaces with analysis code resulting in an application that will increase your productivity and quality of your results. By using a widget interface input values can be changed and results displayed in real time without having to endlessly execute the same procedures over and over again.

The book’s website has a table of contents (the examples come on a CD with the book).


Calling C from IDL: Making Sense of the Sometimes Confusing World of C and IDL by Ronn Kling is a great book for those entering the world of dynamically loadable modules (DLMs). This is the most sophisticated way to call C from IDL. Ronn gives many good examples (included on the accompanied disk) of how this works that go beyond the examples found in the External Development Guide.

The book’s website has the table of contents.


Object Oriented Programming with IDL by Ronn Kling is an introduction to using object oriented programming techniques in IDL. Intended for those who can already wrote procedural code. Ronn says about the book:

This book is for everyone who wants to learn Object Oriented Programming with IDL. It is meant for the average IDL user who has written normal procedures and functions. No other knowledge of Object Oriented Programming is required. Using examples and code that can be downloaded the reader will learn basic techniques and move quickly to advanced topics like polymorphism, abstraction and method overriding.

See the book’s website for table of contents, example programs, and a way to send feedback.

I have a longer review here.


Power Graphics with IDL: A Beginners Guide to IDL Object Graphics by Ronn Kling is a good introduction and reference to many of the capabilities and properties of object graphics. The key strength of this book are the examples. This was the first IDL book to discuss object graphics. Ronn says of the book:

This 245 page book endeavors to teach through explanation and example everything a user of IDL will need to “get up to speed” with Object Graphics. Programmers and researchers alike will benefit from this book as they use Object Graphics in their own projects. Over 3000 lines of IDL code are provided on the accompanying CD in order to make the learning process easier.

See the book’s website for the table of contents and a way to send feedback.


IDL Primer by Ronn Kling is a quick reference guide for IDL. Ronn says of the book:

Beginning IDL users can use this book to quickly learn the necessary IDL syntax and procedures for displaying data. New IDL users can also use this as a quick reference as they learn how to use IDL. Best of all, this paperback size book easily fits in a pocket!

See the book’s website for the table of contents and a way to send feedback.


Navigating the IDL Workbench by Ronn Kling is an introduction to the new IDL development environment introduced in IDL 7.0, the IDL Workbench. The Workbench changed considerably in IDL 8.0, so this book is a bit out of date now, but it does give some basic definitions and examples of using the Workbench. Ronn says:

This book is essential for anyone wishing to start using the new IDL Development Environment as quickly as possible. Written for the user that has never used the Eclipse Development Environment, you will quickly learn all about Perspectives, Views and useful tips and tricks.

The book’s website has a way to send feedback.


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