TweetFollow Us on Twitter

An Open Source Primer

Volume Number: 21 (2005)
Issue Number: 10
Column Tag: Programming

An Open Source Primer

A Practical Guide to Using Open Source Software (OSS) on Mac OS X for the Non-Developer

by Emmanuel Stein

Introduction

Readers of Dean Shavit's "The Source Hound" and Ed Marczak's "Mac In The Shell", are no doubt familiar with open source software (OSS). With Darwin as OS X's core, many if not most of the Mac OS's most critical components are based on, if not entirely built upon, open source projects. To exploit the capabilities of OS X it is, therefore, critical to have a good grasp of OSS and the many ways you can leverage open source solutions on the Mac.

For Mac aficionados without a UNIX background, the world of open source can be rather daunting at first. Given all the distribution formats out there and the occasional need to compile software, it is not surprising that many Mac Users have not exploited OSS beyond what comes with OS X. Even non-developers who know how to compile their software, often run into issues with source code that requires special compiler options to successfully compile, or for which they may need to edit the Makefile and the like. Dependencies are also a source of problems and are often at the root of problems getting OSS to run properly. Finally, there is the issue of source code not ported to the Mac OS or Darwin, for which one requires a cross compiler. Source code not ported to the Mac OS regularly stumps many users who do not realize that source code is frequently machine dependant in nature and therefore may not work on all platforms.

There is hope, however. Package management systems like Fink and Open Darwin Ports (think Apple Software Update for OSS) offer automatic downloading, compilation and linking, as well as updating. Although these tools are wonderful and make acquiring and deploying OSS a breeze (even for GUI diehards), they do not always include every piece of OSS you may want or need. Also, newer projects may not even have packages available, much less be indexed by the extant package management systems. In such situations, many people may give up and possibly look for a "safe" commercial alternative. I hope to change that with this primer by going over the convenient package management tools available, and going over the simple steps for compilation. Further, I will show you how to identify and where to find OSS that has been ported to the Mac.

Though, it is beyond the scope of a primer to go into porting OSS to the Mac, I will nevertheless touch on the conceptual issues involved. If nothing else, it will enable readers to better understand why certain code does not compile on the Mac and for more adventurous readers, shows where to find the porting instructions in a source distribution.

If you are a developer or UNIX geek, you will likely be familiar with the subjects covered. However, for the rest of us, get ready to enter the wonderful world of OSS. Far from being a "developer-only" community, the rich and vibrant world of OSS is chock full of cutting edge and highly useful non-developer tools like GIMP (Graphic Image Manipulation Program) and Blender (an advanced 3D modeling tool). Moreover, with the advent of OS X and object oriented desktop environments like Gnome and KDE, the OSS universe has become increasingly accessible to GUI folks. With every passing day, open source developers are innovating and facilitating methods of OSS distribution. Whether via an Aqua wrapper to X11-based applications, like Aqua Ethereal, or via graphical front-ends to package management tools, such as Fink's Fink Commander and Open Darwin Port's Port Authority, OSS developers are clearly making every effort to reach the Mac audience.

What Exactly is Open Source Software Anyway?

Open source, is typically used to refer to non-proprietary software, distributed with source code and a "copyleft" style license, allowing anyone to add new features to, or improve the source code as they see fit. Open source is however, more than a way of distributing software. It is a way of life with a deeply evolved philosophy that is all about fun and exploration in an intellectual arena. Central to that philosophy is the notion of hacking and an evolved spirit of play that goes beyond concepts of work and survival, to paraphrase Eric S. Raymond, a prominent OSS advocate and one of the few to have successfully hacked the three major open source UNIX projects: LINUX, BSD, and GNU. There are also practical characteristics specific to OSS that go beyond the qualification of providing the source code in a software distribution. Specifically, to "officially" qualify as open source, software must meet a set of well-defined guidelines set forth in the several extant open source licensing schemes. These include the BSD artistic License, the X11 license, GPL and other "compatible" license formats (see http://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.html). Though these licensing schemes differ slightly they are united by a similar philosophy that is delineated by the Open Software Initiative's (OSI) Open Source Definition (OSD) v1.9, whose axioms are available at (http://www.opensource.org/docs/definition.php).

Conceptually, open source, also represents a new paradigm in software development. To use the terminology coined by Raymond, in his seminal treatise "The Cathedral and the Bazaar," OSS employs the Bazaar model of development while traditional, closed source software, represents the "Cathedral Model." Without going into the details of each development model and its respective benefits and weakness, I have outlined the characteristics of open source software below:

  • Releases are made as frequently as possible. There is usually a stable and an unstable release, the later with more features, but in need of testing.
  • Users of the software, whether developers or not, contribute to the development, documentation and distribution of the software. This participation is a key element in the growth and sustainability of the OSS movement and is a way of giving back. User participation varies from submitting bug reports to taking an active role in the development of a project.
  • The source is made available with the intent of enabling users to hack the source for educational and practical purposes.
  • Whenever possible it is best to avoid forking development (e.g. The split with Emacs and xemacs is a good example of this) and duplicating effort. The ultimate goal is to work together to extend existing projects and only introducing novel projects to fill a niche not already saturated.
  • Design the program, when possible, to be easily ported to as many other platforms as possible and embrace modularization of code for facilitated distribution of development work.

Prerequisites

The vanilla install of OS X is packed with so much OSS the list is too long to reproduce here. However, so as not to rattle users who may be unfamiliar with these tools, Apple, being Apple cleverly hid them from view, much as they did the Terminal application. Even every-day applications like Safari are based on open source projects. In fact, without OSS there would be no Mac OS X!

The point is, with a standard install you can use all the OSS bundled with the Mac OS and many outside projects that are specifically packaged for the Mac. These include the OSS listed on Apple's OS X downloads page in the "UNIX & Open Source" section. However, if you want to use any OSS that requires, god forbid, compilation, or software which relies on the X11 windowing system, you have to go beyond the vanilla install.

The following is a list of the pre-requisites required for many if not most of the OSS mentioned in this primer. Installing this recommended software will enable you to get the most out of what is available in the open source community and ensure that you do not run into dependency issues.

  • If you haven't done so already, install Apple's X11 implementation. This is a custom option for the standard Mac install and can be found among the packages located on the install DVD for Tiger under the System>Library>Packages directory, for those of you who have already installed OS X and just need to add that package.
  • The Developer Tools CD contains a rich array of Apple modified OSS needed for compiling software, as well as, many of the dependencies upon which OSS projects rely. Although the standard install of Developer tools will be adequate for most needs, I recommend also installing the X11 SDK and the optional compiler packages.

Note: Once you have installed the developer tools, be sure to repair permissions, as they will be changed in the process of installation and, if not remedied, may adversely affect your system performance.

Open Source the Easy Way With Fink and Darwin Ports

Both Fink and Darwin Ports are amazing package management systems designed specifically to enable Mac users to benefit from the diverse range of OSS without having to manually compile or port source code. In addition to having easy to use command line interfaces, both Fink and Darwin Ports have mature GUIs that match virtually every available terminal option (Figures 1-4).


Figure 1. Darwin Ports' PortBase Graphical installer and Updater


Figure 2. Darwin Ports' PortView


Figure 3. FinkCommander GUI

These environments are ideal for both novice and experienced users, who simply want the equivalent of Apple's Software Update for their OSS. Frankly, I use both all the time on my work machine to get my OSS fix. Although I have been known to compile the occasional program, I have gotten so used to these wonderful utilities that I hardily ever have to compile these days. Each package manager offers access to a bewildering array of software, with Darwin Ports having 2,292 packages and Fink having 5,013 packages across 23 categories! What's more, via the GUI, you can choose to install the binary or source versions for maximum flexibility. Even if you only use Fink or Darwin Ports for one piece of OSS software, it is worth the download and install. Both detect dependencies for your desired package and automatically download and install the support files for you. This dependency checking feature alone has saved me countless hours hunting down library files and widget kits needed to run a simple OSS application. Finally the distribution options for these package managers is phenomenal, with .dmg all in-one installers familiar to any OS X user and the ability to obtain the source directly via cvs. Choose one or both, but Fink and Darwin Ports are must-have additions to any Mac user's OSS toolkit.

To Compile or Not To Compile...

Often OSS will come in a variety of package and binary formats. While many, given the choice, will instinctively go for the binary or packaged formats, there are certain benefits to compiling. These include, the ability to better monitor the installation, to effectuate custom configurations, or for reasons of security. Regarding the last point, it is rare that package maintainers are ever malicious and, provided you get your package or binary from a reputable source (e.g. sourceforge.org, freshmeat.net, are two popular examples), you risk little or nothing. Ditto, for users of package utilities like Fink and Open Darwin Ports. Users of these utilities can also compile from source.

Regardless of whether your preference is for pre-compiled and packaged binaries or source auto-compiled using Fink, there will come a day, mark my words, when you will need to compile a piece of OSS. It may be because the binaries were not updated for the latest OS update, or because there are no OS X packages out there and/or your package utility has not indexed the particular piece of OSS you need. While I know many people who would prefer to eat a bug than open the terminal and compile software, developers often make it very easy to compile their source code. Much of the time the following terminal command is all that is needed:

$ ./configure && make && make install

There are, nonetheless, instances in which this command will not suffice. We will discuss this further in the next few sections and offer reasons, as well as, tips for doing more advanced compiling. We will also cover what porting source to the Mac involves.

Where To Find Mac Friendly Source Code

Although, sites specifically geared towards OSS on the Mac exist, they are often limited to pre-made packages and can be lacking in terms of breadth and quantity of OSS software. In contrast, platform independent sites like sourceforge.org and freshmeat.net not only offer Mac-specific source and binaries, but also offer a rich and centralized repository for the latest and greatest in OSS. I have seen many advertisements for CD distributions of Mac compatible OSS binaries and source, but have always felt that these missed the whole point of OSS: To distribute up-to-date builds with frequent patching, that frankly only a medium like the Internet will allow.

What's in the Source?

With all this talk of source code, you might be wondering what it is and how it is distributed. Even though compilation is usually accomplished with a simple three-step command (e.g. configure && make && make install), knowing what to look for in a source distribution can go a long way to ensuring a successful build of your OSS.

Your typical source distribution comes packaged as a compressed tarball (e.g. mysourcecode.tar.gz). When expanded and untarred, the source distribution will likely contain several files including .c and .h files, which represent the source code and header files, with README, INSTALL, and sometimes PORT files. Although most source code is written in a version of the C programming language, hence the .c files, other distributions may be written in perl, python, and a host of other languages. As such, you may encounter distributions without .c and .h files. However, Perl and Python do not require compilation, as they are interpreter-based scripting languages and are thereby much easier to deploy.

For easy compilation, developers often supply a configure script that is generated with the autoconf OSS utility. Alternatively, you may find that your OSS distribution uses the xmkmf script to invoke the imake program, which, in turn, will construct the make files needed for compilation. When confronted with OSS based on imake, be sure to read the INSTALL file for details. However, in most cases the following command can be employed to generate necessary files for compilation:

$ xmkmf -a

The compilation may then be completed by issuing the following terminal command:

make && make test && make install

There will also be cases in which no configure script is supplied with the source. You may, nevertheless, generate one by executing the autoconf.sh script. Please note that this applies only to source, which is based upon autoconf. Most commonly, you will run into this scenario when obtaining the source directly from a CVS (Control Versioning System) repository on the Net. As previously mentioned, you should then be able to run the configure command, followed by the make and make install commands. Though this is the typical manner in which compilation is effectuated, be sure to read the INSTALL file, as it should contain more precise install instructions. The PORT file, mentioned earlier offers suggestions for developers wishing to port the OSS to another UNIX platform, like OS X.


Figure 4. A view of a typical autoconf-based source distribution

What if the Source Code for The Software I want Isn't Mac Compatible?

Unless specifically designed to be platform independent, the source code has to have been ported to the Mac architecture in order to compile and run on OS X. Unfortunately, the Mac is not binary compatible with Linux, so even Linux packages ported to the PowerPC architecture are not usable. Mac OS X differs notably from Linux, SVR 4-based systems, and other Unix variants in its lack of support of the Executable and Linking Format (ELF). The binary format specific to OS X is Mach-O. This is why even PowerPC architecture specific source and binaries are a no go in OS X.

If the OSS you need is not available for OSX, consider using an emulator or configure a dual boot option with Yellow Dog Linux, for instance. Unless you are a developer and are willing to give up a significant amount of your free time to port the OSS, the options I mentioned are your only choice. On the plus side, however, is that with each passing day more and more OSS is being ported to OS X, which though not totally Open Source itself, has become one of the leading OSS platforms.

A Call To Arms

Although OSS is free, characterizing it as simply "free software" misses the essence of the OSS philosophy and the hacker ethic from which it originated. The open source movement, along with the Internet has enabled developers to adopt a radically different development model. This new model, termed the "Bazaar" by Raymond, has and continues to prove itself as a preferred model for software development and distribution and will continue to make inroads into virtually all areas of the technoverse. Built on a foundation of cooperation, group effort, and imbued with a spirit of play and intellectual curiosity, OSS represents a novel paradigm for the exchange of ideas and has the potential to fundamentally alter how we think of and use technology. Moreover, the detailed philosophies coming out of the open source movement offer a dramatic and compelling alternative to the traditional Protestant ethic, which values work for work's sake. The vision presented by the OSS movement is of a more evolved and egalitarian society, in which the joy of hacking transcends the Protestant work ethic. As part of the Mac community, it is our collective responsibility, to not only take from the rich array of OSS, but to give back as well. For developers the meaning here is very clear. However, non-developers are far from excluded and play a crucial role as software testers, technical writers, and distributors of OSS. I urge you all to take the plunge into the world of OSS. Together, we can take ownership of the technologies upon which we depend and really make a Jobsian "dent in the universe!"


Emmanuel Stein has been an avid Mac user since 1984 and has honed his cross-platform skills while working at France Telecom, Time Magazine and Reed-Elsevier. He has recently started his own Mac-centric consulting company, MacVerse, which offers implementation, system administration and development services geared towards the enterprise market. As a diehard GNU/Linux geek, he enjoys hacking open source software and experimenting with new open source projects on OS X. You may reach him at macverse@mac.com

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Final Cut Pro 10.6.4 - Professional vide...
Redesigned from the ground up, Final Cut Pro combines revolutionary video editing with a powerful media organization and incredible performance to let you create at the speed of thought.... Read more
iMovie 10.3.4 - Edit personal videos and...
With a streamlined design and intuitive editing features, iMovie lets you create Hollywood-style trailers and beautiful movies like never before. Browse your video library, share favorite moments,... Read more
Motion 5.6.2 - Create and customize Fina...
Motion is designed for video editors, Motion 5 lets you customize Final Cut Pro titles, transitions, and effects. Or create your own dazzling animations in 2D or 3D space, with real-time feedback as... Read more
iMazing 2.15.8 - Complete iOS device man...
iMazing is the world’s favourite iOS device manager for Mac and PC. Millions of users every year leverage its powerful capabilities to make the most of their personal or business iPhone and iPad.... Read more
VueScan 9.7.90 - Scanner software with a...
VueScan is a scanning program that works with most high-quality flatbed and film scanners to produce scans that have excellent color fidelity and color balance. VueScan is easy to use, and has... Read more
Compressor 4.6.2 - Adds power and flexib...
Compressor adds power and flexibility to Final Cut Pro X export. Customize output settings, work faster with distributed encoding, and tap into a comprehensive set of delivery features. Features:... Read more
Capture One 15.3.2.11 - RAW workflow sof...
Capture One is a professional RAW converter offering you ultimate image quality with accurate colors and incredible detail from more than 400 high-end cameras - straight out of the box. It offers... Read more
Vivaldi 5.4.2753.28 - An advanced browse...
Vivaldi is a browser for our friends. We live in our browsers. Choose one that has the features you need, a style that fits and values you can stand by. From the look and feel, to how you interact... Read more
Parallels Desktop 18.0.0 - Run Windows a...
Parallels allows you to run Windows and Mac applications side by side. Choose your view to make Windows invisible while still using its applications, or keep the familiar Windows background and... Read more
TechTool Pro 16.0.1 - Hard drive and sys...
TechTool Pro has long been one of the foremost utilities for keeping your Mac running smoothly and efficiently. With the release of this version, it has become more proficient than ever. Main... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Turn-Based RPG ‘Avatar: Generations’ Sof...
Square Enix London Mobile, Navigator Games, and Paramount Consumer Products just announced that the turn-based RPG Avatar: Generations based on Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender is soft launching this month for mobile. Avatar: Generations is... | Read more »
Tower of Fantasy launches today and brin...
Level Infinite and Hotta Studio have announced the release of their very ambitious looking shared open world MMORPG Tower of Fantasy. With its cross-platform functionality between PC and mobile, it looks to be one to roll the dice on and enjoy at... | Read more »
‘Genshin Impact’ Version 3.0 Gets a New...
After HoYoverse released Genshin Impact (Free) version 2.8 on all platforms, the company has slowly been teasing the major upcoming 3.0 update. This update features the Sumeru region with many characters. While details on the update including a... | Read more »
Out Now: ‘Tower of Fantasy’, ‘Tightrope...
Each and every day new mobile games are hitting the App Store, and so each week we put together a big old list of all the best new releases of the past seven days. Back in the day the App Store would showcase the same games for a week, and then... | Read more »
SwitchArcade Round-Up: ‘Book Quest’, ‘Cl...
Hello gentle readers, and welcome to the SwitchArcade Round-Up for August 10th, 2022. In today’s article, we’ve got a little news about an update to a game I really like, a few new releases to summarize, and some sales to look at. A bit of a quiet... | Read more »
‘Pine Tar Poker’ is an Otherworldly Poke...
Developer BJ Malicoat, who put out the well-received and former Apple Game of the Day pick Downwordly in June of last year, is back working on another mobile game project called Pine Tar Poker, and it has caught my attention. Why? Because it’s a... | Read more »
Darkness Rises celebrates four years of...
Four years of uptime for a mobile game is akin to eternity, and this is exactly the milestone that Darkness Rises has reached. It is important for developers to keep updating to keep the game fresh, and NEXON has announced a massive anniversary... | Read more »
Keep Your Smatphone’s Case On When Using...
The original Gamevice was born as a sort of offshoot of the weird Wikipad gaming tablet/controller/hybrid thing way back in 2014. Interestingly, the first Gamevice controller for iOS only supported the iPad mini and launched in 2015, with versions... | Read more »
SwitchArcade Round-Up: A ‘Splatoon 3’ Ni...
Hello gentle readers, and welcome to the SwitchArcade Round-Up for August 9th, 2022. In today’s article, we’ve got some news about a Splatoon 3 Nintendo Direct, a review of QUByte’s Thunderbolt Collection, a single new release summary, and the usual... | Read more »
Orangepixel’s Pacifist Survival Game ‘Re...
Back in June we learned that long-time mobile developer Orangepixel, who also makes games for PC and consoles (including the Atari VCS!), would be bringing the unique survival game Residual to mobile devices sometime this year. Originally launched... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple has 24-inch M1 iMacs available starting...
Apple has 24-inch M1 iMacs with M1 CPUs (8-core CPU/7-core GPU) available today in their Certified Refurbished store for $1099 shipped. Their price is $200 off standard MSRP. Each iMac is in like-new... Read more
13″ M1 MacBook Airs in stock today for $799,...
QuickShip Electronics has open-box return 13″ M1 MacBook Airs in stock and on sale for $200 off MSRP on their eBay store right now, each with free express delivery. According to QuickShip, “The item... Read more
In stock today: Mac Studio models for up to $...
Apple retailer Expercom has Mac Studio models in stock today and on sale for up to $400 off Apple’s MSRP, depending on configuration. Their prices are the lowest price available for a Mac Studio from... Read more
Mac mini with M1 CPU and 512GB of storage on...
Amazon has the M1 Mac mini with a 512GB SSD in stock today on sale for $749.99 including free shipping. Their price is $150 off Apple’s MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this... Read more
Need a Mac or iPad for school? Get a free App...
Apple’s Back to School promotion for 2022 continues to run through September 26, 2022. As part of this promotion, Apple will include a free $150 Apple Gift Card with the purchase of any MacBook Air,... Read more
Apple Watch SE on sale for $50 off MSRP
Amazon has Apple Watch SE GPS models on sale for $50 off MSRP for a limited time, each including free shipping. Their prices are the lowest currently available for SE Watches: – 40mm Apple Watch SE... Read more
Save $310 on a 14″ 24-core GPU M1 Max MacBook...
Save $310 on 14″ MacBook Pros with 24-core M1 Max processors at Apple (32GB RAM/1TB SSD) with these Certified Refurbished models in stock today for $2789 in Space Gray or Silver colors. Regular price... Read more
14″ M1 Pro MacBook Pros available today at Ap...
Apple has Certified Refurbished standard-configuration 14″ MacBook Pros with M1 Pro CPUs available today for up to $250 off original MSRP, starting at $1799. Each model features a new outer case,... Read more
13″ MacBook Air with M2 CPU, in Starlight, on...
Apple retailer Expercom has the new Starlight 13″ MacBook Air with an M2 CPU (8GB RAM/256GB SSD) on sale for $1135.05, shipped, through August 12, 2022. Their price is $64 off Apple’s MSRP, and it’s... Read more
14″ M1 Pro MacBook Pro with 1TB SSD on sale f...
Expercom is offering a $200 instant discount on the 14″ M1 Pro MacBook Pro with a 1TB SSD through August 12, 2022. Their discount reduces the price of this configuration to $1999 shipped — the lowest... Read more

Jobs Board

Solutions Engineering Manager - *Apple* - S...
…in our Hardware and Advanced Solutions group leading and developing our Apple technical practice to increase revenue and profitability. The ideal candidate would Read more
Operations Associate - *Apple* Blossom Mall...
Operations Associate - Apple Blossom Mall Location:Winchester, VA, United States (https://jobs.jcp.com/jobs/location/191170/winchester-va-united-states) - Apple Read more
Cashier - *Apple* Blossom Mall - JCPenney (...
Cashier - Apple Blossom Mall Location:Winchester, VA, United States (https://jobs.jcp.com/jobs/location/191170/winchester-va-united-states) - Apple Blossom Mall Read more
Omnichannel Associate - *Apple* Blossom Mal...
Omnichannel Associate - Apple Blossom Mall Location:Winchester, VA, United States (https://jobs.jcp.com/jobs/location/191170/winchester-va-united-states) - Apple Read more
Sephora Beauty Advisor - *Apple* Blossom Ma...
Sephora Beauty Advisor - Apple Blossom Mall Location:Winchester, VA, United States (https://jobs.jcp.com/jobs/location/191170/winchester-va-united-states) - Apple Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.