4.2.Overview of Software Installation

The typical steps for installing third-party software on a UNIX system include:

  1. Find and download the software, which might be distributed in source code format or as a binary.

  2. Unpack the software from its distribution format. This is typically a tarball compressed with a program such as compress(1), gzip(1), bzip2(1) or xz(1).

  3. Locate the documentation in INSTALL, README or some file in a doc/ subdirectory and read up on how to install the software.

  4. If the software was distributed in source format, compile it. This may involve editing a Makefile or running a configure script.

  5. Test and install the software.

A FreeBSD port is a collection of files designed to automate the process of compiling an application from source code. The files that comprise a port contain all the necessary information to automatically download, extract, patch, compile, and install the application.

If the software has not already been adapted and tested on FreeBSD, the source code might need editing in order for it to install and run properly.

However, over 24,000 third-party applications have already been ported to FreeBSD. When feasible, these applications are made available for download as pre-compiled packages.

Packages can be manipulated with the FreeBSD package management commands.

Both packages and ports understand dependencies. If a package or port is used to install an application and a dependent library is not already installed, the library will automatically be installed first.

A FreeBSD package contains pre-compiled copies of all the commands for an application, as well as any configuration files and documentation. A package can be manipulated with the pkg(8) commands, such as pkg install.

While the two technologies are similar, packages and ports each have their own strengths. Select the technology that meets your requirements for installing a particular application.

Package Benefits
  • A compressed package tarball is typically smaller than the compressed tarball containing the source code for the application.

  • Packages do not require compilation time. For large applications, such as Mozilla, KDE, or GNOME, this can be important on a slow system.

  • Packages do not require any understanding of the process involved in compiling software on FreeBSD.

Port Benefits
  • Packages are normally compiled with conservative options because they have to run on the maximum number of systems. By compiling from the port, one can change the compilation options.

  • Some applications have compile-time options relating to which features are installed. For example, Apache can be configured with a wide variety of different built-in options.

    In some cases, multiple packages will exist for the same application to specify certain settings. For example, Ghostscript is available as a ghostscript package and a ghostscript-nox11 package, depending on whether or not Xorg is installed. Creating multiple packages rapidly becomes impossible if an application has more than one or two different compile-time options.

  • The licensing conditions of some software forbid binary distribution. Such software must be distributed as source code which must be compiled by the end-user.

  • Some people do not trust binary distributions or prefer to read through source code in order to look for potential problems.

  • Source code is needed in order to apply custom patches.

To keep track of updated ports, subscribe to the FreeBSD ports mailing list and the FreeBSD ports bugs mailing list.

Warning:

Before installing any application, check http://vuxml.freebsd.org/ for security issues related to the application or type pkg audit -F to check all installed applications for known vulnerabilities.

The remainder of this chapter explains how to use packages and ports to install and manage third-party software on FreeBSD.