MODFLOW 6: USGS Modular Hydrologic Model

Release Date:

For over 30 years, the MODFLOW program has been widely used by academics, private consultants, and government scientists to accurately, reliably, and efficiently simulate groundwater flow. With time, growing interest in surface and groundwater interactions, local refinement with nested and unstructured grids, karst groundwater flow, solute transport, and saltwater intrusion, has led to the development of numerous MODFLOW versions. Although these MODFLOW versions are often based on the core MODFLOW version (previously MODFLOW-2005), there are often incompatibilities that restrict their use with other MODFLOW versions. In many cases, development of these alternative MODFLOW versions has been challenging due to the underlying program structure, which was designed for the simulation of a single groundwater flow model using a regular MODFLOW grid consisting of layers, rows, and columns.


Overview of MODFLOW 6

Example triangular grid from MODFLOW 6.

This figure shows a triangular grid in which the size of the triangular cells is reduced in areas with relatively large hydraulic gradients, such as around the shoreline of a lake, near pumping wells, and along a stream. This type of layered grid can be represented using the Discretization by Vertices (DISV) Package in MODFLOW 6. 

A new object-oriented program and underlying framework called MODFLOW 6 was developed to provide a platform for supporting multiple models and multiple types of models within the same simulation. This version of MODFLOW is labeled with a "6" because it is the sixth core version of MODFLOW to be released by the USGS (previous core versions were released in 1984, 1988, 1996, 2000, and 2005). In the new design, any number of models can be included in a simulation. These models can be independent of one another with no interaction, they can exchange information with one another, or they can be tightly coupled at the matrix level by adding them to the same numerical solution. Transfer of information between models is isolated to exchange objects, which allow models to be developed and used independently of one another. Within this new framework, a regional-scale groundwater model may be coupled with multiple local-scale groundwater models. Or, a surface-water flow model could be coupled to multiple groundwater flow models. The framework naturally allows for future extensions to include the simulation of solute transport.


Groundwater Flow (GWF) Model

MODFLOW 6 presently contains one type of hydrologic model, the Groundwater Flow (GWF) Model. The GWF Model for MODFLOW 6 is based on a generalized control-volume finite-difference (CVFD) approach in which a cell can be hydraulically connected to any number of surrounding cells. Users can define the model grid using

  1. a regular MODFLOW grid consisting of layers, rows, and columns,
  2. a layered grid defined by (x, y) vertex pairs, or
  3. a general unstructured grid based on concepts developed for MODFLOW-USG.

For complex problems involving water-table conditions, an optional Newton-Raphson formulation, based on the formulations in MODFLOW-NWT and MODFLOW-USG, can be activated. The GWF Model is divided into "packages," as was done in previous MODFLOW versions. A package is the part of the model that deals with a single aspect of simulation. Packages included with the GWF Model include

  • those related to internal calculations of groundwater flow (discretization, initial conditions, hydraulic conductance, and storage),
  • stress packages (constant heads, wells, recharge, rivers, general head boundaries, drains, and evapotranspiration), and
  • advanced stress packages (streamflow routing, lakes, multi-aquifer wells, and unsaturated zone flow).

An additional package is also available for moving water available in one package into the individual features of the advanced stress packages. The GWF Model also has packages for obtaining and controlling output from the model.


XT3D Flow Formulation

A new groundwater flow formulation was developed specifically for the GWF Model in MODFLOW 6. This new flow formulation is called the XT3D option. The XT3D option extends the capabilities of MODFLOW by enabling simulation of fully three-dimensional anisotropy on regular or irregular grids in a way that properly takes into account the full, three-dimensional hydraulic conductivity tensor. It can also improve the accuracy of groundwater flow simulations in cases in which the model grid violates certain geometric requirements. Thus, the XT3D option is an alternative to the Ghost-Node Correction (GNC) Package, which was developed for MODFLOW-USG.


Input Structure

In addition to the many new or redesigned capabilities, the MODFLOW 6 input structure has also been redesigned. Within package input files, information is divided into blocks and informative keywords are used to label numeric data and activate options. This new input structure was designed to make it easier for users to adjust simulation options in an intuitive manner, reduce user input errors, and allow new capabilities to be added without causing problems with backward compatibility.


Capabilities in the Initial Release

This first MODFLOW 6 release with the GWF Model synthesizes many of the capabilities in existing MODFLOW variants:

  • MODFLOW-2005 — the GWF Model contains revisions of the commonly used flow packages, stress packages, and advanced stress packages
  • MODFLOW-NWT — the GWF Model supports an optional Newton-Raphson approach for water table aquifers
  • MODFLOW-USG — GWF Models can be developed using regular MODFLOW grids or unstructured grids
  • MODFLOW-LGR — any number of GWF Models can be specified for a single simulation; these GWF Models are tightly coupled at the matrix level (15MB ZIP - note that this is legacy/unsupported software)
  • MODFLOW-CDSS — multiple stress and advanced stress packages of the same type can be specified for a single GWF Model

For MODFLOW users with existing models, the MODFLOW 6 distribution includes a conversion program that will translate a MODFLOW-2005, MODFLOW-NWT, or MODFLOW-LGR (Version 2) model into the MODFLOW 6 format.


MODFLOW 6 Publications

Three USGS publications documenting MODFLOW 6 are included in the software distribution:

  • Hughes, J.D., Langevin, C.D., and Banta, E.R., 2017, Documentation for the MODFLOW 6 framework: U.S. Geological Survey Techniques and Methods, book 6, chap. A57, 40 p.,
  • Langevin, C.D., Hughes, J.D., Banta, E.R., Niswonger, R.G., Panday, Sorab, and Provost, A.M., 2017, Documentation for the MODFLOW 6 Groundwater Flow Model: U.S. Geological Survey Techniques and Methods, book 6, chap. A55, 197 p.,
  • Provost, A.M., Langevin, C.D., and Hughes, J.D., 2017, Documentation for the "XT3D" option in the Node Property Flow (NPF) Package of MODFLOW 6: U.S. Geological Survey Techniques and Methods, book 6, chap. A56, 40 p.,


Download Current Version of MODFLOW 6

The current version of MODFLOW 6 is version 6.1.1, released June 12, 2020.


Programs Related to MODFLOW 6

The USGS also has developed several programs that can be used to assist with MODFLOW 6 simulations.

    A program for computing detailed subregional water budgets for GWF models and advanced stress packages. This program is based on ZONEBUDGET for MODFLOW-2000 and MODFLOW-2005. ZONEBUDGET for MODFLOW 6 is included in the MODFLOW 6 release.
  2. Mf5to6 Converter 
    A program for converting MODFLOW-2005, MODFLOW-NWT, and MODFLOW-LGR model datasets to MODFLOW 6 datasets. Mf5to6 is included in the MODFLOW 6 release.
  3. MODPATH version 7
    MODPATH is a particle-tracking post-processing model that computes flow paths using output from MODFLOW.
    GRIDGEN is a program for generating layered quadtree grids for MODFLOW-USG.
  5. FloPy
    FloPy is a Python package for creating, running, and post-processing MODFLOW-based models.


Previous MODFLOW Core Versions

Supported Versions

The following previous Core Versions of MODFLOW are still actively supported by the USGS.


Superseded Versions

The following software is not actively supported by the USGS. The software has been superseded by MODFLOW 6. The software versions below are provided online for historical reference only, and the pages may contain outdated information or broken links.


Find MODFLOW-Related Software

Visit the MODFLOW and Related Programs page for a list of MODFLOW-related software.


How to Cite MODFLOW 6

This USGS software has two citations associated with it.

  1. The report citation is for the original report or article documenting the underlying theory, methods, instructions, and (or) applications at the time the initial version of the software was released. This digital object identifier (DOI) is for the report.
  2. The software release citation is for the software/code itself (now referred to by USGS as a "Software Release") and references a specific version of the code and associated release date. This DOI links to the code.

In instances where an author is citing use of this software, it would be appropriate to cite both the report documenting the code and the specific software release version that was used.

Report Citations for MODFLOW 6

Report citations for MODFLOW 6 are provided above in the MODFLOW 6 Publications section.

Software/Code Citation for MODFLOW 6

Langevin, C.D., Hughes, J.D., Banta, E.R., Provost, A.M., Niswonger, R.G., and Panday, Sorab, 2020, MODFLOW 6 Modular Hydrologic Model version 6.1.1: U.S. Geological Survey Software Release, 12 December 2019,


Software License and Purchase Information

This software is a product of the U.S. Geological Survey, which is part of the U.S. Government.


This software is freely distributed. There is no fee to download and (or) use this software.


Users do not need a license or permission from the USGS to use this software. Users can download and install as many copies of the software as they need.

Public Domain

As a work of the United States Government, this USGS product is in the public domain within the United States. You can copy, modify, distribute, and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission. Additionally, USGS waives copyright and related rights in the work worldwide through CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication ( ).



This software has been approved for release by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Although the software has been subjected to rigorous review, the USGS reserves the right to update the software as needed pursuant to further analysis and review. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made by the USGS or the U.S. Government as to the functionality of the software and related material nor shall the fact of release constitute any such warranty. Furthermore, the software is released on condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from its authorized or unauthorized use. Also refer to the USGS Water Resources Software User Rights Notice for complete use, copyright, and distribution information.

Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.