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An overview of the RDKit

What is it?

  • Open source toolkit for cheminformatics

    • BSD licensed
    • Core data structures and algorithms in C++
    • Python (2.x) wrapper generated using Boost.Python
    • Java and C# wrappers generated with SWIG
    • 2D and 3D molecular operations
    • Descriptor generation for machine learning
    • Molecular database cartridge for PostgreSQL
    • Cheminformatics nodes for KNIME (distributed from the KNIME community site:
  • Operational:

  • History:

    • 2000-2006: Developed and used at Rational Discovery for building predictive models for ADME, Tox, biological activity
    • June 2006: Open-source (BSD license) release of software, Rational Discovery shuts down
    • to present: Open-source development continues, use within Novartis, contributions from Novartis back to open-source version

Functionality overview

  • Input/Output: SMILES/SMARTS, SDF, TDT, SLN [1], Corina mol2 [1], PDB
  • “Cheminformatics”:
    • Substructure searching
    • Canonical SMILES
    • Chirality support (i.e. R/S or E/Z labeling)
    • Chemical transformations (e.g. remove matching substructures)
    • Chemical reactions
    • Molecular serialization (e.g. mol <-> text)
  • 2D depiction, including constrained depiction
  • 2D->3D conversion/conformational analysis via distance geometry
  • UFF and MMFF94/MMFF94S implementations for cleaning up structures
  • Fingerprinting: Daylight-like, atom pairs, topological torsions, Morgan algorithm, “MACCS keys”, etc.
  • Similarity/diversity picking
  • 2D pharmacophores [1]
  • Gasteiger-Marsili charges
  • Hierarchical subgraph/fragment analysis
  • Bemis and Murcko scaffold determination
  • RECAP and BRICS implementations
  • Multi-molecule maximum common substructure [2]
  • Feature maps
  • Shape-based similarity
  • RMSD-based molecule-molecule alignment
  • Shape-based alignment (subshape alignment [3]) [1]
  • Unsupervised molecule-molecule alignment using Open3DAlign algorithm [4]
  • Integration with PyMOL for 3D visualization
  • Functional group filtering
  • Salt stripping
  • Molecular descriptor library:
    • Topological (κ3, Balaban J, etc.)
    • Compositional (Number of Rings, Number of Aromatic Heterocycles, etc.)
    • Electrotopological state (Estate)
    • clogP, MR (Wildman and Crippen approach)
    • “MOE like” VSA descriptors
    • Feature-map vectors [5]
    • MQN [6]
  • Similarity Maps [7]
  • Machine Learning:
    • Clustering (hierarchical, Butina)
    • Information theory (Shannon entropy, information gain, etc.)
  • Tight integration with the IPython notebook and qtconsole.
[1](1, 2, 3, 4) These implementations are functional but are not necessarily the best, fastest, or most complete.
[2]Contribution from Andrew Dalke
[3]Putta, S., Eksterowicz, J., Lemmen, C. & Stanton, R. “A Novel Subshape Molecular Descriptor” Journal of Chemical Information and Computer Sciences 43:1623–35 (2003).
[4]Tosco, P., Balle, T. & Shiri, F. Open3DALIGN: an open-source software aimed at unsupervised ligand alignment. J Comput Aided Mol Des 25:777–83 (2011).
[5]Landrum, G., Penzotti, J. & Putta, S. “Feature-map vectors: a new class of informative descriptors for computational drug discovery” Journal of Computer-Aided Molecular Design 20:751–62 (2006).
[6]Nguyen, K. T., Blum, L. C., van Deursen, R. & Reymond, J.-L. Classification of Organic Molecules by Molecular Quantum Numbers. ChemMedChem 4:1803–5 (2009).
[7]Riniker, S. & Landrum, G. A. Similarity maps - a visualization strategy for molecular fingerprints and machine-learning methods. Journal of Cheminformatics 5:43 (2013).

The Contrib Directory

The Contrib directory, part of the standard RDKit distribution, includes code that has been contributed by members of the community.

  • LEF: Local Environment Fingerprints

    Contains python source code from the publications:

      1. Vulpetti, U. Hommel, G. Landrum, R. Lewis and C. Dalvit, “Design and NMR-based screening of LEF, a library of chemical fragments with different Local Environment of Fluorine” J. Am. Chem. Soc. 131 (2009) 12949-12959.
      1. Vulpetti, G. Landrum, S. Ruedisser, P. Erbel and C. Dalvit, “19F NMR Chemical Shift Prediction with Fluorine Fingerprint Descriptor” J. of Fluorine Chemistry 131 (2010) 570-577.

    Contribution from Anna Vulpetti

  • M_Kossner:

    Contains a set of pharmacophoric feature definitions as well as code for finding molecular frameworks.

    Contribution from Markus Kossner

  • PBF: Plane of best fit

    Contains C++ source code and sample data from the publication:

      1. Firth, N. Brown, and J. Blagg, “Plane of Best Fit: A Novel Method to Characterize the Three-Dimensionality of Molecules” Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling 52 2516-2525 (2012).

    Contribution from Nicholas Firth

  • mmpa: Matched molecular pairs

    Python source and sample data for an implementation of the matched-molecular pair algorithm described in the publication:

    Hussain, J., & Rea, C. “Computationally efficient algorithm to identify matched molecular pairs (MMPs) in large data sets.” Journal of chemical information and modeling 50 339-348 (2010).

    Includes a fragment indexing algorithm from the publication:

    Wagener, M., & Lommerse, J. P. “The quest for bioisosteric replacements.” Journal of chemical information and modeling 46 677-685 (2006).

    Contribution from Jameed Hussain.

  • SA_Score: Synthetic assessibility score

    Python source for an implementation of the SA score algorithm described in the publication:

    Ertl, P. and Schuffenhauer A. “Estimation of Synthetic Accessibility Score of Drug-like Molecules based on Molecular Complexity and Fragment Contributions” Journal of Cheminformatics 1:8 (2009)

    Contribution from Peter Ertl

  • fraggle: A fragment-based molecular similarity algorithm

    Python source for an implementation of the fraggle similarity algorithm developed at GSK and described in this RDKit UGM presentation:

    Contribution from Jameed Hussain


This document is copyright (C) 2013-2014 by Greg Landrum

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 543 Howard Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.

The intent of this license is similar to that of the RDKit itself. In simple words: “Do whatever you want with it, but please give us some credit.”