ISIS 2 Documentation

Isis ISIS Frequently Asked Questions


This page contains a list of frequently asked questions pertaining to the ISIS system. If you have an additional question to add, or for a more comprehensive list of questions and answers, visit the Isis Support Center (URL:
Input Word Search:

To return to a complete listing press submit with an empty search input.


Q1: What hardware and operating system platforms are supported by ISIS?

A1: The fully-supported platforms include:

  • Sun- Solaris 9 - UltrSparc Sun-Fire-V210 hardwar
  • Linux - SuSE 9.0 - PC (Intel/AMD chipsets)
  • Mac - Mac OSX verssion10.3.3 - PowerPC G4 hardware

Q2: How can a hard-copy ISIS manual be produced?

A2: Most of the ISIS documentation is contained in a set of files that can be viewed and printed with a web browser. These files are contained in the $ISISHTML directory of a local ISIS installation. For example, to view the ISIS documentation with netscape, type:

netscape $ISISHTML/documentation.html
You can also access the ISIS documentation over the Internet at the
ISIS web site (URL: However, note that the documentation on the ISIS web site is updated each time updates are made to our internal developmental version of ISIS. Thus, the web site documentation might contain information on new or modified programs that are not yet contained in the public release of ISIS that is described in your local $ISISHTML directory. However, the web site can be used for looking at the latest version of the Frequently Asked Questions list and Known Bugs list.

The web page "Notes on ISIS Documentation" describes how to use the "isisdoc" program to create a text file that can be printed to produce a hard-copy reference manual of program descriptions.

Q3: After ISIS has been installed, I get the error message "Error sending initiation message to process; host code=32" when I try to run a TAE-based program. What is wrong?

A3: There are several things that can cause this problem:

1. The full path for the directory that contains the ISIS programs contains upper-case characters. Use the command "printenv ISISEXE" to see the path. If it contains any upper-case characters, TAE will not be able to find the executable programs. Rename the directories so that no upper-case characters are used.
2. TAE cannot find the executable file for the program. When you "tutor" a program in TAE, the top line will show where TAE found the ".pdf" file for the program. This is usually $ISISEXE. For a given program such as "dsk2dsk", there should be two files in this directory: "dsk2dsk.pdf" and "dsk2dsk". If the ".pdf" file is there, but the executable is missing, contact ISIS Support (
3. You have installed executables for the wrong operating system. The "file" command will tell you if an executable is for the wrong operating system. For example, type a command (at the operating system prompt) such as "file $ISISEXE/dsk2dsk" to check the executable file for the "dsk2dsk" program. If you are running on a Solaris platform, you will see something like the following for an executable file:

/usgs/isisr/exe/dsk2dsk:  ELF 32-bit MSB executable SPARC ...
If the executable is for a different operating system, you will see something like:

/usgs/isisr/exe/dsk2dsk:  data

Q4: Is an IDL (Interactive Data Language) license required for running ISIS?

A4: No. The ISIS data processing programs do not require IDL. Most of the programs use the TAE (Transportable Applications Executive) user interface, which is included with the ISIS distribution. This includes the TAE-based "qview" display program. However, ISIS includes several additional display programs that require IDL. Some of these include "tvtie" (control point and match point picking), "cv" (spectrum plotting, spatial-spectral slice display, Instrument Spectral Library display, etc.), and "isis2std" (conversion of ISIS cube data to TIFF and JPEG format). See the Display Program Summary for details.

Q5: How can ISIS cube data be accessed by an IDL program?

A5: The READISIS and WRITEISIS routines can be called by an IDL program to read data from an ISIS cube into an IDL array and to write data from an IDL array into an ISIS cube file. These routines are contained in the source files "" and "" in the $ISISIDL directory. Comments at the beginning of these source files explain how to use the routines. The normal ISIS installation setup will put $ISISIDL into the IDL_PATH environment variable so that IDL can find these routines when they are called by your IDL program. There is also a READBACKPLANE routine, which can be called to read a backplane. Note that the "cpylab" program can be used to copy label information to the cube file created by the WRITEISIS routine. This is sometimes useful because much of the label information is lost in the READISIS/WRITEISIS sequence.

Q6: How do you apply a nice contrast stretch to a cube?

A6: We have a series of programs that automatically apply a contrast stretch to a cube. First, execute the program "hstret" which will generate a table file containing the stretch parameters needed for a good contrast stretch of each band of the cube. Then, apply the stretch parameters to the cube by running the program "stretch". The "stretch" program can be used alone to apply the same stretch to all bands of a cube. Note that "stretch" changes the values of the pixels. Interactive stretching (such as that of the display programs "cv", and "qview") does not change pixel values in the file.

Q7: How can I edit/change the pixel values in a cube?

A7: There are two programs that allow you to "doctor" pixels interactively. They are "qview" and "cubelook". For more information on these programs tutor them under TAE.

Q8: How can I change the pixel data type of a cube?

A8: The pixel data type (sometimes called "bit type") can be changed without additional data processing using the "dsk2dsk" program. Also, many processing programs allow selecting the output pixel data type with the OTYPE parameter.

Q9: How much swap space do you recommend to properly run ISIS?

A9: A general rule of thumb is that 2 to 3 times the amount of RAM is allocated to swap space. It can vary depending upon your situation, however. Note that this will reduce exactly disk space, so if, say, you are installing Linux on a laptop, you will want to keep swap to a minimum (at least twice the amount of RAM).

We have a couple of ISIS applications that need around 500MB swap to simply load. We hope to make these dynamically allocate memory rather than statically...someday. The applications that require large amounts of memory are not widely used (spice2rand, findmatch). These also have alternative versions that support a specific number of input images (spice2rand11000, findmatch2500). Note that it is unpleasant to try to add additional swap space after the fact unless you add new disks.

We have sucessfully run ISIS on systems with 64MB of RAM of which there is 256MB of swap allocated. We have several machines here with 256MB of RAM and 500MB of swap.

Q10: When I run tae (taetm) I get the following error:

       [TAE-UNRECTTY] Unknown terminal type.
I then cannot "tutor" applications.

A10: This problem is caused by TAE being unable to determine the terminal type. This behavior is typically found on RedHat Linux systems. It may appear on others as well. Specifically, an appropriate terminal profile cannot be resolved. This can be corrected by setting the TERMINFO environment variable to the directory path where terminfo entries exist. For RedHat, this is /usr/share/terminfo. So prior to executing TAE, you can set the environment variable:

      setenv TERMINFO /usr/share/terminfo   # T/C Shell users
         - or -
      TERMINFO=/usr/share/terminfo          # Bash/Bourne/Korn Shell Users
      export TERMINFO

Q11: In processing Viking data I get the following errors on the SPICELAB step of vlev1.pdf.

	[PULABTOSTR-INSMEM] (-4) Not enough memory supplied to return STRING
	[PULABTOVAL-INVSTR] (-2) Error converting label value to STRING
	[PULABTOKEY-CNVERR] (-2) Conversion error on value 1 in keyword
	[PGETSTRKEY-INVVAL] (-5) Error converting INSTRUMENT_ID keyword value(s)
	[SPICELAB-CAMERA] (-15) No camera
	[TAE-ABTERM] Abnormal termination forced by application program
What is this telling me? Is it really a memory problem, or is it something to do with the paths to the SPICE tables?

A11: This problem results from trying to use "pds2isis" instead of "cd2isis" for converting Viking data to an ISIS format. For complete instructions on the Viking data image processing sequence refer to Viking Image Processing with ISIS.

Q12: I do not have PERL installed on my system and I do not intent to do any MGS/MOC processing. How do I install ISIS from the ISIS release CD-ROM or DVD without PERL nstalled on my system?

A12: If you are running the May 15th, 2001 ISIS release or newer this should not be a problem. We have updated our installation scripts to give you the option to continue without Perl. If you are running the August 15th, 2000 ISIS release, do the following:

Create a dummy file with executable privileges in /usr/bin. Then test it by giving the command 'which perl'. If the command returns '/usr/bin/perl' you should be able to run the isis_install script successfully. If you still experience problems, contact

Documentation | Tutorials | Technical Documents | Isis Support Center (URL: | Home

Last updated: Aug 20 2004