A spectrum of free software tools for processing the VCF variant call format: vcflib, bio-vcf, cyvcf2, hts-nim and slivar

PLoS Comput Biol. 2022 May 31;18(5):e1009123. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1009123. eCollection 2022 May.


Since its introduction in 2011 the variant call format (VCF) has been widely adopted for processing DNA and RNA variants in practically all population studies-as well as in somatic and germline mutation studies. The VCF format can represent single nucleotide variants, multi-nucleotide variants, insertions and deletions, and simple structural variants called and anchored against a reference genome. Here we present a spectrum of over 125 useful, complimentary free and open source software tools and libraries, we wrote and made available through the multiple vcflib, bio-vcf, cyvcf2, hts-nim and slivar projects. These tools are applied for comparison, filtering, normalisation, smoothing and annotation of VCF, as well as output of statistics, visualisation, and transformations of files variants. These tools run everyday in critical biomedical pipelines and countless shell scripts. Our tools are part of the wider bioinformatics ecosystem and we highlight best practices. We shortly discuss the design of VCF, lessons learnt, and how we can address more complex variation through pangenome graph formats, variation that can not easily be represented by the VCF format.

MeSH terms

  • Computational Biology
  • Ecosystem*
  • Genetic Variation* / genetics
  • Nucleotides
  • Software


  • Nucleotides