Tutorial

How To Install and Use Homebrew on macOS

ApplicationsDevelopmentOpen Source

Introduction

The command line interface is a non-graphical way to interact with your computer. Instead of clicking buttons with your mouse, you’ll type commands as text and receive text-based feedback. The command line, also known as a shell, lets you automate many tasks you do on your computer daily, and is an essential tool for software developers.

While the command line interface on macOS has a lot of the functionality you’d find in Linux and other Unix systems, it does not ship with a good package manager. A package manager is a collection of software tools that work to automate software installations, configurations, and upgrades. Package managers keep the software they install in a central location and can maintain all software packages on the system in formats that are commonly used.

Homebrew is a package manager for macOS which lets you install free and open-source software using your terminal. You’ll use Homebrew to install developer tools like Python, Ruby, Node.js, and more.

In this tutorial you’ll install and use Homebrew on your Mac.

Prerequisites

You will need a macOS computer running High Sierra or higher with administrative access and an internet connection.

Step 1 — Using the macOS Terminal

To access the command line interface on your Mac, you’ll use the Terminal application provided by macOS. Like any other application, you can find it by going into Finder, navigating to the Applications folder, and then into the Utilities folder. From here, double-click the Terminal application to open it up. Alternatively, you can use Spotlight by holding down the COMMAND key and pressing SPACE to find Terminal by typing it out in the box that appears.

macOS Terminal

To get more comfortable using the command line, take a look at An Introduction to the Linux Terminal. The command line interface on macOS is very similar, and the concepts in that tutorial are directly applicable.

Now that you have the Terminal running, let’s install some additional tools that Homebrew needs.

Step 2 — Installing Xcode’s Command Line Tools

Xcode is an integrated development environment (IDE) that is comprised of software development tools for macOS. You won’t need Xcode to use Homebrew, but some of the software and components you’ll want to install will rely on Xcode’s Command Line Tools package.

Execute the following command in the Terminal to download and install these components:

  • xcode-select --install

You’ll be prompted to start the installation, and then prompted again to accept a software license. Then the tools will download and install automatically.

You can now install Homebrew.

Step 3 — Installing and Setting Up Homebrew

To install Homebrew, you’ll download an installation script and then execute the script.

First, download the script to your local machine by typing the following command in your Terminal window:

  • curl -fsSL -o install.sh https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Homebrew/install/master/install.sh

The command uses curl to download the Homebrew installation script from Homebrew’s Git repository on GitHub.

Let’s walk through the flags that are associated with the curl command:

  • The -f or --fail flag tells the Terminal window to give no HTML document output on server errors.
  • The -s or --silent flag mutes curl so that it does not show the progress meter, and combined with the -S or --show-error flag it will ensure that curl shows an error message if it fails.
  • The -L or --location flag will tell curl to handle redirects. If the server reports that the requested page has moved to a different location, it’ll automatically execute the request again using the new location.
  • The -o switch specifies a local filename for the file.

Before running a script you’ve download from the Internet, you should review its contents so you know what the script will do. Use the less command to look at the installation script:

  • less install.sh

Once you’re comfortable with the contents of the script, execute the script with the bash command:

  • /bin/bash install.sh

The installation script will explain what it will do and will prompt you to confirm that you want to do it. This lets you know exactly what Homebrew is going to do to your system before you let it proceed. It also ensures you have the prerequisites in place before it continues.

You’ll be prompted to enter your password during the process. However, when you type your password, your keystrokes will not display in the Terminal window. This is a security measure and is something you’ll see often when prompted for passwords on the command line. Even though you don’t see them, your keystrokes are being recorded by the system, so press the RETURN key once you’ve entered your password.

Press the letter y for “yes” whenever you are prompted to confirm the installation.

Once the installation process is complete, you will want to put the directory Homebrew uses to store its executables at the front of the PATH environment variable. This ensures that Homebrew installations will be called over the tools that macOS includes.

The file you’ll modify depends on which shell you’re using. If you’re using Bash, you’ll use the file ~/.bash_profile:

  • nano ~/.bash_profile

However, if you’re using ZSH, you’ll open the file ~/.zshrc.

  • nano ~/.zshrc

Once the file opens up in the Terminal window, add the following lines to the end of the file:

~/.bash_profile
# Add Homebrew's executable directory to the front of the PATH
export PATH=/usr/local/bin:$PATH

The first line is a comment that will help you remember what this does if you open this file in the future.

To save your changes, hold down the CTRL key and the letter O, and when prompted, press the RETURN key. Then exit the editor by holding the CTRL key and pressing X. This will return you to your Terminal prompt.

To activate these changes, close and reopen your Terminal app. Alternatively, use the source command to load the file you modified.

If you modified .bash_profile, execute this command:

  • source ~/.bash_profile

If you modified .zshrc, execute this command:

  • source ~/.zshrc

Once you have done this, the changes you have made to the PATH environment variable will take effect. They’ll be set correctly when you log in again in the future, as the configuration file for your shell is executed automatically when you open the Terminal app.

Now let’s verify that Homebrew is set up correctly. Execute this command:

  • brew doctor

If no updates are required at this time, you’ll see this in your Terminal:

Output
Your system is ready to brew.

Otherwise, you may get a warning to run another command such as brew update to ensure that your installation of Homebrew is up to date. Follow any on-screen instructions to fix your environment before moving on.

Step 4 — Installing, Upgrading, and Removing Packages

Now that Homebrew is installed, use it to download a package. The tree command lets you see a graphical directory tree and is available via Homebrew.

Install tree with the brew install command:

  • brew install tree

Homebrew will update its list of packages and then download and install the tree command:

Output
Updating Homebrew... ==> Downloading https://homebrew.bintray.com/bottles/tree-1.8.0.catalina.bottle.tar.gz ######################################################################## 100.0% ==> Pouring tree-1.8.0.catalina.bottle.tar.gz 🍺 /usr/local/Cellar/tree/1.8.0: 8 files, 117.2KB

Homebrew installs files to /usr/local by default, so they won’t interfere with future macOS updates. Verify that tree is installed by displaying the command’s location with the which command:

  • which tree

The output shows that tree is located in /usr/local/bin:

Output
/usr/local/bin/tree

Run the tree command to see the version:

  • tree --version

The version prints to the screen, indicating it’s installed:

Output
tree v1.8.0 (c) 1996 - 2018 by Steve Baker, Thomas Moore, Francesc Rocher, Florian Sesser, Kyosuke Tokoro

Occasionally, you’ll want to upgrade an existing package. Use the brew upgrade command, followed by the package name:

  • brew upgrade tree

You can run brew upgrade with no additional arguments to upgrade all programs and packages Homebrew manages.

When you install a new version, Homebrew keeps the older version around. After a while, you might want to reclaim disk space by removing these older copies. Run brew cleanup to remove all old versions of your Homebrew-managed software.

To remove a package you’re no longer using, use brew uninstall. To uninstall the tree command, execute this command:

  • brew uninstall tree

The output shows that the package was removed:

Output
Uninstalling /usr/local/Cellar/tree/1.8.0... (8 files, 117.2KB)

You can use Homebrew to install desktop applications too.

Step 5 — Installing Desktop Applications

You’re not restricted to using Homebrew for command-line tools. Homebrew Cask lets you install desktop applications. This feature is included with Homebrew, so there’s nothing additional to install.

To use Homebrew to install Visual Studio Code, execute the following command:

  • brew cask install visual-studio-code

The application will install:

Output
Updating Homebrew... ==> Auto-updated Homebrew! Updated 1 tap (homebrew/cask). ==> Updated Casks abstract cacher chirp sipgate-softphone ==> Downloading https://update.code.visualstudio.com/1.48.2/darwin/stable ==> Downloading from https://az764295.vo.msecnd.net/stable/a0479759d6e9ea56afa657e454193f72aef85bd0/VSC ######################################################################## 100.0% ==> Verifying SHA-256 checksum for Cask 'visual-studio-code'. ==> Installing Cask visual-studio-code ==> Moving App 'Visual Studio Code.app' to '/Applications/Visual Studio Code.app'. ==> Linking Binary 'code' to '/usr/local/bin/code'. 🍺 visual-studio-code was successfully installed!

You’ll find the application in your Applications folder, just as if you’d installed it manually.

To remove it, use brew cask uninstall:

  • brew cask uninstall visual-studio-code

Homebrew will remove the installed software:

Output
==> Uninstalling Cask visual-studio-code ==> Backing App 'Visual Studio Code.app' up to '/usr/local/Caskroom/visual-studio-code/1.48.2/Visual St ==> Removing App '/Applications/Visual Studio Code.app'. ==> Unlinking Binary '/usr/local/bin/code'. ==> Purging files for version 1.48.2 of Cask visual-studio-code

It performs a backup first in case the removal fails, but once the program is fully uninstalled, the backup is removed as well.

Step 6 — Uninstalling Homebrew

If you no longer need Homebrew, you can use its uninstall script.

Download the uninstall script with curl:

  • curl -fsSL -o uninstall.sh https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Homebrew/install/master/uninstall.sh

As always, review the contents of the script with the less command to verify the script’s contents:

  • less uninstall.sh

Once you’ve verified the script, execute the script with the --help flag to see the various options you can use:

  • bash uninstall.sh --help

The options display on the screen:

Output
Homebrew Uninstaller Usage: uninstall.sh [options] -p, --path=PATH Sets Homebrew prefix. Defaults to /usr/local. --skip-cache-and-logs Skips removal of HOMEBREW_CACHE and HOMEBREW_LOGS. -f, --force Uninstall without prompting. -q, --quiet Suppress all output. -d, --dry-run Simulate uninstall but don't remove anything. -h, --help Display this message.

Use the -d flag to see what the script will do:

  • bash uninstall.sh -d

The script will list everything it will delete:

Output
Warning: This script would remove: /Users/brianhogan/Library/Caches/Homebrew/ /Users/brianhogan/Library/Logs/Homebrew/ /usr/local/Caskroom/ /usr/local/Cellar/ /usr/local/bin/brew -> /usr/local/bin/brew ==> Removing Homebrew installation... Would delete: ....

When you’re ready to remove everything, execute the script without any flags:

  • bash uninstall.sh

This removes Homebrew and any programs you’ve installed with it.

Conclusion

In this tutorial you installed and used Homebrew on your Mac. You can now use Homebrew to install command line tools, programming languages, and other utilities you’ll need for software development.

Homebrew has many packages you can install. Visit the official list to search for your favorite programs.

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