April 14, 2010 | Apple/Mac

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In case you didn’t know, Mac OS/X is a complete UNIX environment underneath the hood. What this means for you is that there’s a lot of free and open source (F/OSS) software that you can install on on your Mac.

Darwin Ports is a system that lets you do that easily.

A “port” is a migration of software from one platform (like Windows) to another (like Linux).

Normally, you’d have to ask/beg a software company to release Mac versions (like Microsoft deigns to do for Office). And sometimes they don’t (as in Internet Explorer for Mac, now discontinued).

But with open source software, you have the software’s source code, so you can build it into a runnable program yourself. Needless to say, that can be complicated, so some folks have created a system to let you build selected programs easily.

Darwin Ports is a (growing) collection of software which has been tweaked to run on the Mac. You enter a command, and it builds both your desired program, and any other programs which yours may depend upon.

Installing Darwin Ports

First, download the Darwin Ports installer.

Note: the download page asks for your e-mail address. I can’t vouch for how it’s used, so use a throwaway address if you’re antsy.

You may or may not need to install XCode from the Optional Installs folder on your OS/X disc.

After running the installer, update your Darwin Ports by entering the following in a terminal (Applications > Utilities > Terminal):

sudo port -d selfupdate

Hit Enter and type your password when prompted (hit Enter again). Note: “sudo” means “execute this command as the admin user”.

Installing software with Darwin Ports

Once Darwin Ports is installed, you can install software packages. You can either search for a package in the search box at the Darwin Ports homepage or you can browse the list of ports in categories (also on the Darwin homepage).

To install a software package, you generally change to the directory of that package and use the "port install" command:

cd /opt/local/bin/portslocation/dports/frozenbubble2
sudo port install frozenbubble2

The Darwin Ports site has a little two-line command summary that tells you exactly what to type on each software package’s webpage, for example, see the one for Frozen Bubble.

Other OS/X ports systems

Other Mac ports systems include MacPorts and Fink.

Like many competing open source projects, there’s a fair amount of sparring among them. The MacPorts people think of themselves as the original ports for Mac, and Darwin Ports as an interloper. I can’t settle that, but generally:

  • MacPorts seems to have more ports than Darwin Ports
  • Darwin Ports seems a little easier to work with
  • Fink is supposed to have the most ports of all, but the versions are somewhat older.

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