Tutorials/More Golly

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Now, you will learn more about Golly and some of its more advanced features.


Layers are like different windows with different rules and different patterns. They are useful for comparing patterns and for programs to compare patterns, since it is hard for programs to tell the position of pattern x and pattern y.

There is a current maximum of 10 layers in Golly, and unlike other software, no, you can't get a "full version" to get unlimited layers. But where are they? It should be at the top above the normal buttons. If you can't find it, press the "/" key to show/hide it. Once you have the layers bar, let's add a new layer, to do that, press the "+" button above the undo button.

There! you have created a new layer. Try drawing in the first and second layers, you can change layers by clicking the different buttons (usually called "*untitled") to change to that layer. As you can see, the patterns can run differently, independent from one another. To delete a layer, click the "-" button. Ok, now, try making different patterns in different layers. Now, click the stack layers button, above the select button. The layers should appear together in each layer. Now, try clicking the tile layers button above the move button. The layers should appear to be in separate windows.


If you tile too many layers, Golly might crash. If you want to try this for yourself, open 10 layers and then tile them (Make sure you don't have precious work!)


You can change to different rules in Golly. If you read the suggested articles to read before this tutorial, you should know the rules of rules.

For this tutorial, we will focus on basic outer-totalistic B/S rules. To change the rule, click the Control button on the bar at the top, and in the dropdown menu, click Set Rule... at the very bottom. You will see a rule dialog, in which to type your desired rule. For this tutorial, try typing "B36/S23"; this rule is called HighLife, and Golly should automatically change the rule from the canonical B36/S23 to "HighLife" at the status bar at the very top where the filename is.

Good! But there are more features of the rule selector: when changing the rule, you can type either a V or H at the end of the rule to change the neighborhood to a von Neumann neighbourhood or a hexagonal neighbourhood, respectively. (You should know what a neighborhood is already.) Try entering B245/S3H in the rule box and pasting in the following:

x = 7, y = 6, rule = B245/S3H


LifeHistory is an extension of Conway's Life. Under this rule, an extra state is added to mark cells which are currently dead, but were alive at a previous point in time. This can be useful for tracking the evolution of a pattern over time. There are additional states that allow important cells to be visibly marked, so that annotations and labels can be added without affecting how the pattern evolves.

Pressing Alt+H will enable LifeHistory, while Alt+J can be used to disable LifeHistory after it is activated. This removes all the history cells and marked cells, and converts the entire pattern back to two-state B3/S23.

The Alt+H and Alt+J shortcuts have been available since Golly 3.x installs, but must be mapped manually via Preferences > Keyboard if your copy of Golly has been upgraded from a pre-3.0 version.

In the new Golly 4.0 version, an algorithm called "Super" is added that supports History extension of more rules beyond Conway's Life. The Alt+H and Alt+J shortcuts still work by default.

Bounded Grids

If you enter ":T50,50" after the rule, you will get a finite universe. This is called a bounded grid. Try messing around and you will find that you can make patterns that fill the entire universe, these are called agars. If you know your maths, you will notice that this is a torus plane. You can change the height and width of the torus by changing the 50 in the example above to any number, entering a 0 will make that axis infinite. There are a lot more bounded grids other than toruses, like spheres and Klein bottles, but you can learn about those from the Golly help page.

Non-totalistic rules

If you have the latest version, you should be able to do non-totalistic rules, these are rules that do not make "full use" of the neighborhood, for example 3c means that a cell will be born if 3 neighboring cells are on and those neighboring cells are on the corners of the cell. Adding a minus (e.g. 2-a) will subtract that birth condition or in other words, disable it. For a full list of the letters, try scrolling down in the textbox on the right of the rule dialog. You can also put multiple letters, again, scroll down on the textbox on the right of the rule dialog.

What's next?

From here, you can branch out into: