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pkg - a binary package manager for FreeBSD

Table of Contents:


pkg is built on top of libpkg, a new library to interface with package registration backends. It abstracts package management details such as registration, remote repositories, package creation, updating, etc.

pkg package format

pkg package format is a tar archive which can be raw, or use the following compression: gz, bzip2 and xz, defaulting in xz format.

The tar itself is composed in two types of elements:

  • the special files at the beginning of the archive, starting with a “+”
  • the data.

The metadata

pkg uses several files for metadata:

  • +MTREE_DIRS (optional)

This is a subset of the information included in the main MANIFEST, omitting the lists of files, checksums, directories and scripts. It contains the information used to build the repository catalogue.


The manifest is in YAML format, it contains all the information about the package:

name: foo
version: 1.0
origin: category/foo
comment: this is foo package
arch: i386
prefix: /usr/local
licenselogic: or
licenses: [MIT, MPL]
flatsize: 482120
users: [USER1, USER2]
groups: [GROUP1, GROUP2]
options: { OPT1: off, OPT2: on }
desc: |-
  This is the description
  Of foo
  A component of bar
categories: [bar, plop]
  libiconv: {origin: converters/libiconv, version: 1.13.1_2}
  perl: {origin: lang/perl5.12, version: 5.12.4 }
  /usr/local/bin/foo: 'sha256sum'
  /usr/local/bin/i_am_a_link: '-'
  /usr/local/share/foo-1.0/foo.txt: 'sha256sum'
- /usr/local/share/foo-1.0
  post-install: |-
    echo post-install
  pre-install: |-
    echo pre-install

Valid scripts are:

  • pre-install
  • post-install
  • install
  • pre-deinstall
  • post-deinstall
  • deinstall
  • pre-upgrade
  • post-upgrade
  • upgrade

Script MUST be in sh format. Nothing else will work. The shebang is not required.

When the manifest is read by pkg_create files and dirs can use an alternate format:

  /usr/local/bin/foo, 'sha256sum'
  /usr/local/bin/bar: {sum: 'sha256sum', uname: baruser, gname: foogroup, perm: 0644 }
- /usr/local/share/foo-1.0
- /path/to/directory: {uname: foouser, gname: foogroup, perm: 0755}

This allows overriding the users, groups and mode of files and directories during package creation. So, for example, this allows to creation of a package containing root-owned files without being packaged by the root user.


This is optional. It is used by the package the same way as done by the legacy tools. The MTREE is extracted in prefix before each installation.

In the future we hope that mtree will be deprecated in favour of a hier package or a single MTREE that won’t be customisable in per package basis. Since pkg supports packing of empty directories, per package MTREE is superfluous.

Local database

When a package is installed, it is registered in a SQLite database.

The SQLite database allow fast queries and ACID transactions. It also allows finding the reverse dependencies reliably without a needing the +REQUIRED_BY hack.

In order to save space the MTREE is only stored once, which save 18K per installed package.

pkg supports a register command to register packages into the SQLite database from the ports. The register command can execute the install script, show pkg-message, ...

Installing packages

pkg add can install a package archive from the local disk, or from a remote FTP/HTTP server.

If only a package name is given, it will search the repository catalogues and download and install the package if it exists. Any dependencies will be downloaded and installed first.

This is possible because we have the dependency information in the catalogue of the remote repository.

pkg add will check if the user attempts to install a package built for another arch or release.

Upgrading packages

pkg also supports upgrades of binary packages.

pkg will compare the versions of installed packages and those available in the repository. It will compute the proper update order and apply them.

Deleting packages

pkg delete will remove a package, and (depending on the command line arguments) any other packages that depend on what you’re trying to delete.

Directory leftovers are automatically removed if they are empty and not in the MTREE.

Installing pkg

There are three ways to install pkg: two for general day-to-day use, and the third if you want to help with pkg development.

Pkg bootstrap

All supported versions of FreeBSD now contain /usr/sbin/pkg a.k.a pkg(7). This is a small placeholder that has just the minimum functionality required to install the real pkg(8).

To use, simply run any pkg(8) command line. pkg(7) will intercept the command, and if you confirm that is your intention, download the pkg(8) tarball, install pkg(8) from it, bootstrap the local package database and then proceed to run the command you originally requested.

More recent versions of pkg(7) understand pkg -N as a test to see if pkg(8) is installed without triggering the installation, and conversely, pkg bootstrap[-f] to install pkg(8) (or force it to be reinstalled) without performing any other actions.

pkg in Ports

pkg-1.0 release was committed to the the ports tree on 30th August 2012, and a series of further releases are planned. To install the latest release version:

$ make -C /usr/ports/ports-mgmt/pkg install clean
$ echo "WITH_PKG=yes" >> /etc/make.conf

Building pkg using sources from Git

In order to build pkg from source, you will need to have Gnu autotools and some other tools installed.

# pkg install autoconf automake libtool pkgconf

The next thing to do is to get the pkg sources installed on your machine. You can grab a development snapshot of pkg from the pkg GitHub repository

To get the latest version of pkg from the Git repo, just clone it:

% git clone


% git clone

Or you can take an already tagged release of pkg from the above web page as well. Just open your browser and download the release you want.

Once you have the pkg sources, installing it is fairly easy:

% cd pkg
% ./
% ./configure
% make
# make install

Now you should have the latest pkg installed on your system. Note that this build and install procedure does not update the local package database at all, so you will get some odd effects due to the packaging system being misled into thinking an older version of pkg is installed.

Note: if you’re running anything other than FreeBSD or DragonFly, you will need to do some porting work. The pkg(8) codebase should be reasonably portable onto anything with a c99 compiler, POSIX compliant system and capable of running Gnu autotools. However, various places in the pkg(8) code make assumptions about OS specific behaviour. If you do try anything like this, we’d be very interested to hear how you get on.

Converting an old-style pkg database

If you’re on a 9.x system or earlier and did not have a release version of pkg(8) installed previously, you will need to run the pkg2ng script. This is only necessary when converting your system from the old pkg_tools style packages.

In order to register your installed packages to pkg, execute the commands below:

# cd pkg/ports
# sh pkg2ng

Otherwise, running any pkg(8) command that will attempt to write to the local package database will automatically apply any schema updates. Be aware that these may not be backwards compatible -- although usually you should see no more than a warning message if you try and run an older version of pkg(8) against a newer database schema.

A quick usage introduction to pkg

In this section of the document we will try to give a quick and dirty introduction on the practical usage of pkg - installing packages, searching in remote package repositories, updating remote package repositories and installing from them, etc.

Getting help on the commands usage

In order to get help on any of the pkg commands you should use the pkg help <command> command, which will take the man page of the specified command.

In order to get the available commands in pkg, just execute pkg help

# pkg help
# pkg help <command>

Querying the local package database

In order to get information about installed packages use the pkg info command.

pkg info will query the local package database and display information about the package you are interested in.

To list all install/registered packages in the local database, use this command:

# pkg info -a

For more information on querying the local package database, please refer to pkg-info(1) man page.

Installing packages

Packages are installed either from a repository, from the results of a local compilation of software via the ports or from a pkg tarball independently obtained from some other source.

A repository is a collection of packages which have been gathered together, had a catalogue created and then published, typically by exposing the repository via HTTP or some other networking protocol. You can also publish a repository from a local or NFS mounted filesystem (using file:// style URLs) or via SSH (using ssh:// URLs.)

Adding pkg tarballs directly

In order to install the package foo-1.2.3 from a local pkg tarball, use a command similar to the following:

# pkg add /path/to/packages/foo-1.2.3.txz

You will need to make sure that all dependencies of foo-1.2.3 are either also available as tarballs in the same directory, or previously installed by other means.

You can also install the package foo-1.2.3 tarball from a remote location using the FTP/HTTP protocol. In order to do that you could use a command similar to the following:

# pkg add

Which works in exactly the same way, except that it fetches the package tarballs using the protocol indicated by the URL.

For more information on installing packages on your FreeBSD system, please refer to pkg-add(1)

Working with a remote package repository

While pkg(8) can deal with individual package tarballs, the real power comes from the use of repositories, which publish a ‘catalogue’ of meta-data about the packages they contain.

You can configure pkg(8) to use one or several repositories. Supported versions of FreeBSD now contain a default configuration out of the box: /etc/pkg/FreeBSD.conf which is setup to install packages from the official package repositories.

To add additional repositories, create a per-repository configuration file in /usr/local/etc/pkg/repos -- it doesn’t matter what the filename is other than it must match ‘*.conf’ and you should make your preferred repositories sort earlier in the list.

To disable the default FreeBSD.conf, create a file /usr/local/etc/pkg/repos/FreeBSD.conf with the contents:

FreeBSD: { enabled: no }

To check quickly what repositories you have configured, run pkg -vv.

See pkg.conf(5) for details of the format of pkg.conf and the per-repository repo.conf files. See pkg-repository(5) for more details about package repositories and how to work with them.

Note that the old style of setting PACKAGESITE in pkg.conf is no-longer supported. Setting PACKAGESITE in the environment has meaning for the pkg(7) shim, but is ignored by pkg(8).

Then fetch the repository catalogues using the command:

# pkg update

This would fetch the remote package database to your local system. Now in order to install packages from the remote repository, you would use the pkg install command:

# pkg install zsh cfengine3

Working with multiple repositories

If you have more than one repository defined, then you probably want to install some packages from a specific repository, but allow others to be obtained from whatever repository has them available.

You can install a package from a specific repository:

    # pkg install -r myrepo zsh

where myrepo is one of the tags shown in the pkg -vv output. You can then tell pkg to always use the named repository for upgrades to that package by:

    # pkg annotate -A zsh repository myrepo

Updating remote repositories

The first thing to do when working with remote repositories is to update from them.

Updating remote repositories is done by the pkg update command. By default his will first update the local copies of the repository catalogues, unless you specifically configure pkg(8) otherwise.

So, to update your remote repositories, you would execute this command:

# pkg update

For more information on the remote repositories, please refer to pkg-update(1).

Searching in remote package repositories

You can search in the remote package repositories using the pkg search command.

In order to search in multiple package repositories the environment variable PACKAGESITE should NOT be defined, in which case pkg search will query the remote package databases found in the /etc/pkg/repositories file.

An example search for a package could be done like this:

# pkg search -x apache

For more information on the repositories search, please refer to pkg-search(1)

Installing from remote repositories

In order to install a package from a remote repository you need to set the PACKAGESITE environment variable to point to the remote server.

If PACKAGESITE is not defined then the installation process will use multiple repositories as defined in the /etc/pkg/repositories file.

During installation from multiple repositories the first repository that is found to has the package is the first one that pkg will use during the installation. If that repository is not accessible for some reason, then the next repository which contains the package is the one that is tried.

The process continues until the package is fetched and installed, or all remote repositories fail to fetch the package.

Remote installations of packages using pkg are done by the pkg install command.

Here’s an example installation of few packages:

# pkg install www/apache22
# pkg install zsh
# pkg install perl5-5.18.2_4

Or you could also install the packages using only one command, like this:

# pkg install www/apache22 zsh perl5-5.18.2_4

For more information on the remote package installs, please refer to pkg-install(1)

Backing up your package database

It is a good idea that you backup your local package database on regular basis.

In order to backup the local package database, you should use the pkg backup command.

# pkg backup -d /path/to/pkg-backup.dump

The above command will create a dump of your local package database in /path/to/pkg-backup.dump

For more information on backing up your local package database, please refer to pkg-backup(1)

Creating a package repository

You can also use pkg, so that you create a package repository.

In order to create a package repository you need to use the pkg create command.

Here’s an example that will create a repository of all your currently installed packages:

# cd /path/with/enough/space
# pkg create -a
# pkg repo .

The above commands will create a repository of all packages on your system.

Now you can share your repo with other people by letting them know of your repository :)

Additional resources

In order to get in contact with us, you can find us in the #pkg@FreeNode IRC channel.

If you hit a bug when using pkg, you can always submit an issue in the pkg issue tracker.