4.2 Overview of Software Installation

If you have used a Unix system before you will know that the typical procedure for installing third party software goes something like this:

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

  2. Unpack the software from its distribution format (typically a tarball compressed with either compress(1) or gzip(1)).

  3. Locate the documentation (perhaps a README file, or some files 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, and other work.

  5. Test and install the software.

And that is only if everything goes well. If you are installing a software package that was not deliberately ported to FreeBSD you may even have to go in and edit the code to make it work properly.

Should you want to, you can continue to install software the ``traditional'' way with FreeBSD. However, FreeBSD provides two technologies which can save you a lot of effort; packages and ports. At the time of writing, over 5,800 third party applications have been made available in this way.

For any given application, the FreeBSD package for that application is a single file which you must download. The package contains pre-compiled copies of all the commands for the application, as well as any configuration files or documentation. A downloaded package file can be manipulated with FreeBSD package management commands, such as pkg_add(1), pkg_delete(1), pkg_info(1), and so on.

Installing a new application can be carried out with a single command.

A FreeBSD port for an application is a collection of files designed to automate the process of compiling an application from source code.

Remember that there are a number of steps you would normally carry out if you compiled a program yourself (unpacking, patching, compiling, installing). The files that make up a port contain all the necessary information to allow the system to do this for you. You run a handful of simple commands and the source code for the application is automatically downloaded, extracted, patched, compiled, and installed for you.

In fact, the ports system can also be used to generate packages which can later be manipulated with pkg_add and the other package management commands that will be introduced shortly.

Both packages and ports understand dependencies. Suppose you want to install an application that depends on a specific library being installed. Both the application and the library have been made available as FreeBSD ports and packages. If you use the pkg_add command or the ports system to add the application, both will notice that the library has not been installed, and the commands will install the library first.

Given that the two technologies are quite similar, you might be wondering why FreeBSD bothers with both. Packages and ports both have their own strengths, and which one you use will depend on your own preference.

Package Benefits

Ports Benefits

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

This, and other documents, can be downloaded from ftp://ftp.FreeBSD.org/pub/FreeBSD/doc/.

For questions about FreeBSD, read the documentation before contacting <questions@FreeBSD.org>.
For questions about this documentation, e-mail <doc@FreeBSD.org>.