Homebrew vs. MacPorts, A Systems Software Engineer's Perspective

As a systems software engineer navigating the macOS ecosystem, the choice between package managers is crucial. Homebrew and MacPorts are two of the most popular options, each with its own philosophy, strengths, and quirks. In this blog post, we’ll dive into the world of Homebrew and MacPorts, providing practical examples to help you make an informed choice.

Table of Content

Understanding the Basics

Before we jump into the comparison, let’s establish some foundational knowledge:

1. Homebrew

  • Philosophy: Homebrew follows the “keep it simple” approach. It installs packages into its own directory (/usr/local) and relies on symlinks to make them available.

  • Language: Brew is written in Ruby, making it easy for users to contribute packages and formulas.

2. MacPorts

  • Philosophy: MacPorts aims for a complete separation of packages from macOS system libraries, often referred to as the “self-contained” approach.

  • Language: MacPorts uses its own domain-specific language called Tcl for portfiles, which describe how software should be built and installed.



Installing Homebrew is a breeze. Open your terminal and run:

/bin/bash -c "$(curl -fsSL"


MacPorts also offers straightforward installation. Visit the official website, download the installer, and follow the instructions.

Package Availability

When it comes to available packages, Homebrew typically has the edge in terms of sheer numbers. It boasts a vast community-contributed repository, making it a go-to choice for popular software. For instance, installing Git is as simple as:

brew install git

MacPorts, while having an extensive collection of packages, might not have the latest versions for some software. However, it excels in providing less common or specialized software. To install Git with MacPorts:

sudo port install git

Package Management


Homebrew emphasizes simplicity. Updating packages is as easy as:

brew update
brew upgrade

Removing a package is equally straightforward:

brew uninstall package_name


MacPorts’ approach is more structured. To update all installed ports:

sudo port selfupdate
sudo port upgrade outdated

Uninstalling a port is done using:

sudo port uninstall port_name

Conflict Resolution

This is where the two package managers differ significantly.


Homebrew relies on symlinks in /usr/local and can occasionally run into issues if you have conflicting software already installed on your system. It might require extra effort to resolve such conflicts.


MacPorts’ self-contained approach minimizes conflicts. It isolates packages from macOS system libraries, reducing the likelihood of clashes.


The choice between Homebrew and MacPorts ultimately depends on your preferences and requirements as a systems software engineer.

  • Choose Homebrew if you prioritize simplicity and want access to a wide range of up-to-date packages. It’s great for everyday software needs and if you prefer working with Ruby.

  • Opt for MacPorts if you need a more controlled environment and want to avoid potential conflicts with macOS system libraries. It’s suitable for specialized or less common software needs and if you’re comfortable with Tcl.

In practice, many engineers use both package managers to combine the strengths of each. For instance, use Homebrew for common software and MacPorts for specialized projects.

The choice is yours, and the good news is that macOS provides flexibility for both options. Experiment with both Homebrew and MacPorts, and find the mix that best suits your systems engineering needs.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.