macOS Package Management

This is the first in a series of articles about package managers for various programs. Packages are optional plugins that provide some extra functionality to a program you use. They are often free and open source software (FOSS) made by individuals or consortiums. Packages are available to download for a range of programs: from apps you download (Sublime Text) to the operating system itself (macOS).

On macOS for example, the git package gives you the super-popular version control language git while the htop package will display computer diagnostics in your terminal.

Equally important are package managers that give you easy access to packages as well as the ability to maintain and update packages. Unfortunately, there is no unified package manager for all programs.

This series of articles will review packages and package managers for a variety of programs such as macOS, frameworks (node), languages (R, Python, Ruby), and text editors (Sublime, Atom, and Vim).

You will need to be a least a little familiar with the terminal to follow this guide; please see a quick overview here.


brew: basic package management for command line software (distributed under open source). A simple run down and further documentation details are found at the brew website.

For installation simply type the following into terminal:

/usr/bin/ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL"

A breakdown of what is happening with the installation command above:

  • /usr/bin/ruby calls ruby (which is used to install homebrew); ruby is pre-installed on macOS
  • -e tells ruby to run raw code that is being passed to it
  • curl program to download contents at specified URL
  • fsSL this is actually four flags
    • -f fail silently if something goes wrong
    • -s silent mode
    • -S display error message if fails in silent mode
    • -L if server says that webpage has moved to a new location, curl will try that location
  • URL: location of installation script

Terminology (for more details checkout the formula cookbook)

  • formula is a package
  • keg is the installation prefix
  • cellar is where packages are installed

Some useful commands:

  • brew install [formula] install formula
  • brew search search for formulas
  • brew cleanup check for problems and fix them
  • brew doctor diagnostic check
  • brew tap caskroom/cask not all formulas are available on the main homebrew repository; to access these, you need to tap into a cask repo
    • Example: to install R you must first brew tap homebrew/science and then brew install R


There is an extension for brew called cask for the installation of licensed software. Because cask is an extension of brew it works the same as brew in terms of commands and taps.

To install cask:

brew tap caskroom/cask
brew install brew-cask

To install a program like RStudio:

brew install Caskroom/cask/rstudio

Current Packages

Below is a select list of packages that I use brew to manage. Some are trivial (e.g., cowsay) while others are frequently used system wide (e.g., r)

Brew Packages

ansiweather display weather in terminal

cmatrix turn your terminal into the Matrix

coreutils utilities for GNU

cowsay display a cow (or other creature) saying something

curl transfer data with URL syntax

doxygen source code documentation and analysis tool

elinks text based web browser

emojify emojis on the command line

fasd quick access to files and directories

figlet display text as ascii art

fortune random quote

gcc GNU compiler collection

gdbm GNU database functions

git version control

givegif display gifs

glib core application building blocks for apps written in C

htop show computer diagnostics

node javascript framework

pipes-sh pipes screen saver

python python

r r

ruby ruby

sl have a steam locomotive run across your terminal

tmux terminal multiplexer

tree display directories as a tree

vim text editor

youtube-dl download youtube videos

zsh bash alternative

zsh-completions completions for zsh

Over the next few days I’ll add to this list and show some of the cool things you can do with them.

Cask Packages

RStudio IDE for developing R; brew is terrific for managing the frequent updates

anaconda scientific computing stack provided by Continuum

Future Installments

Below are future articles for other package managers that I frequently use.

  • npm
  • gem
  • Python
  • R
  • Text editors: Sublime, Atom, Vim
  • Docker
Kyle Thomas
Kyle Thomas
AVP, Quantitative Analyst

I am a quantitative analyst focusing on consumer valuation and marketing.