TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Mac in the Shell: Packaging and Installing

Volume Number: 24 (2008)
Issue Number: 06
Column Tag: Mac in the Shell

Mac in the Shell: Packaging and Installing

Simplify and scale your install methodology

by Edward Marczak


While many systems contain a package manager, OS X's is unique, for better or worse. More and more people are now getting familiar with the graphical (and if you're not, see Jose Cruz's article in this issue). However, the GUI utility is only half the issue. Once an application is packaged, it needs to be deployed, sometimes at grand scale. Also, it's important to be able to automate updates to a package over time so new installs user the newer versions. This article talks about the command-line version of, packagemaker, and command-line installer – two tools to help get software to the masses easily and automatically.


Packaging refers to placing files into a package format (which acts like a single file) that is used to install said files (the payload) on a target system. The graphical Packager that ships with 10.5 developer tools is vastly improved over earlier versions. All of those improvements are brought to the command line build version. This includes the wonderful snapshot package, too.

For the sake of simplicity, let's imagine that the payload that you wish to install is contained entirely in a single directory. This can be a directory full of files, or a single application (which is, in reality, a folder full of files). We'll use the former in this example: a single directory containing some utility programs for our command line pleasure. This will need to be installed on all systems in our organization. packagemaker makes this a snap to package up. The simplest way to package this directory is to do the following:

Create an empty directory for general use in which to create packages.

Create another directory for the specific package to bundle up.

Place all directories and files with the correct hierarchy, permissions and owner inside of the specific directory to be packaged.

Run packagemaker:

/Developer/usr/bin/packagemaker \
-r /Users/germ/pkgbuilds/binutils/ \
-v -i com.radiotope.binutils \
-o ./binutils.pkg

The switches used in the example direct packagemaker in the following manner:

-r The build root, or, the directory of files to be packaged.

-v be verbose about it.

-i specify the package ID

-o Output file.

Technically, to make command this even shorter, the -v and -o switches could be omitted. Output, by default, will be dropped in the current directory, and be named based on the root.

To watch the file system for changes, and create a package based on those changes, use the —watch flag. Start packagemaker with the —watch, -o and -i flags, at minimum:

$ /Developer/usr/bin/packagemaker —watch -v -i com.radiotope.binutils -o binutils.pkg
Watching filesystem as pid: 53917. Send SIGUSR1 to stop: kill -SIGUSR1 53917

Note that you're provided the kill command that will properly stop packagemaker, and allow it perform the actual packaging. Once packagemaker is watching, perform the install that you'd like to package, and then send the signal using kill. packagemaker will carry on and create a package based on any files that have changed on the filesystem between the time it was started, and the time that it received the SIGUSR1 signal. Unlike it's GUI brethren, command line packagemaker does not allow an opportunity to edit the list of files that it has noted as changed. If you choose to use the —watch flag, ensure that you're running it at a time when the filesystem is least active.


While packagemaker is effective at automating package builds, sometimes it's just plain easier to use the GUI-based to create the first revision. Package grants greater flexibility in many cases. Gratefully, the two utilities can be combined: use to initially create a package, with the precise options necessary. This configuration can be saved as a .pmdoc file. The command line packagemaker can take a .pmdoc file and build a package based on the configuration options specified within. This can then be used as upgrades to the original package take place.

To allow packagemaker to take direction from a .pmdoc file, use the -d, or —doc switch to specify the .pmdoc file:

/Developer/usr/bin/packagemaker \
-d /Users/germ/pmdoc/Bin_Utils.pmdoc \
-v -i com.radiotope.binutils \
-o ./binutils.pkg

Any options specified on the command line override the equivalent option from the .pmdoc file.


Once packages are created, the goal is to install them on target systems. They can be brought over to a target system in many ways, but once there, they will be installed using Apple's installer. Like PackageMaker, installer comes in both a GUI and command-line version. The command-line version is the gateway to automating installs.

The basic syntax is short and sweet:

installer -pkg [path to package] -target [path to destination volume/device]

To install the example binutils.pkg on the current system volume, the command would look like this:

installer -pkg /packages/binutils.pkg -target /

Before installing, installer can determine which targets on the current system are valid. The -volinfo switch lists all valid volumes for a given package. Some packages have constraints on installation targets, such as "home" or "root volume only." To obtain a list of currently mounted volumes that are appropriate destinations, supply the package and volinfo switches:

installer -pkg /packages/binutils.pkg -volinfo 

This output can be parsed for a valid destination.

Finally, note that the -target switch can also accept other forms of listing the destination. Also acceptable are device node entries (/dev/disk3), a disk identifier (/dev/disk1s6) or a volume's UUID. It will also accept a domain as listed in the -dominfo switch, however, since very few packages contain domain information, this method has lesser value than methods shown earlier.


The importance of the command line versions of these utilities lies in automation.

MacTech has run several articles that talk about AFP548's InstaDMG, a build tool to create a system image. The command line installer is at the heart of this program. An excerpt from the main script shows installer in action:

/bin/ls -A1 $UPDATE_FOLDER | /usr/bin/sed '/.DS_Store/d' | while read UPDATE_PKG
      /usr/sbin/installer -verbose \
    -pkg "${UPDATE_FOLDER}/${UPDATE_PKG}/`/bin/ls ${UPDATE_FOLDER}/${UPDATE_PKG} | \
    /usr/bin/sed '/.DS_Store/d'`" \
      /bin/echo "Installed ${UPDATE_FOLDER}/${UPDATE_PKG}/`/bin/ls ${UPDATE_FOLDER}/${UPDATE_PKG} | \
    /usr/bin/sed '/.DS_Store/d'`" >> $PKG_LOG

The idea behind this except is to list all packages in a hierarchy of folders and send that list in order to installer, which installs each package in turn.

Another approach to automating this type of install would be using the find command:

find ${UPDATE_FOLDER} -iname "*pkg" -type d -exec installer -pkg {} -target / \;

This command could also be redirected to a file (remember to specify -verbose in the installer command!) for logging purposes.

The installer command can also be individually distributed to OS X systems using dshell (see the January 2008 issue of MacTech), or via Apple Remote Desktop's "Send Unix" command. While ARD does have a method to directly install packages, it proves unreliable in many instances, including sending packages to machines over a WAN, and sending packages to too many machines. The number that consists of "too many" is inconsistent from run to run and environment to environment.

Rather than send one-liners, a larger, structured script can direct a machine to mount a remote disk image (using hdiutil), install a package on that volume, dismount the volume and reboot the remote machine if necessary and appropriate. It can do all of this while checking for errors and reporting on progress, too.


As OS X systems become more prevalent, better methods of configuration and installation need to appear in order to allow administrators the ability to serve users in a timely manner. The methods in this article can be used with or without a complete OS X infrastructure (e.g. Without OS X Server supporting directory services or more of the back-end). Automation means consistency. Possibly more important, though, is that it means timeliness and less work for administrators once set up.

Also, packaging allows an administrator to pretty much do anything to a target system. Since preferences and user accounts are stored as files, installer can overwrite them. Also, since packages can runs scripts, they can perform even more sophisticated functions. Your imagination is the only limit.

Media of the month: "The Design and Implementation of the FreeBSD Operating System" by Marshall Kirk McKusick and George V. Neville-Neil. While not a perfect fit, this may be the closest thing we have to an OS X internals book. The BSD file structures all match up, along with what happens at the Unix layer. Combine this with the Mac specific (but sadly dated) Mac OS X Internals by Amit Singh, and you have some incredibly deep knowledge of lower level structures and system activity.

Hopefully you're reading this while attending WWDC (yes, it's that time of the year again). Or, this is providing some travel reading for you. In any case, MacTech will be present, so feel free to find us and say hello!

Until next month, enjoy WWDC and all that encompasses it, and keep scripting.


PackageMaker Users Guide, Apple Computer.

packagemaker man page

installer man page

Ed Marczak is the Executive Editor for MacTech Magazine, and has been lucky enough to have ridden the computing and technology wave from early on. From teletype computing to MVS to Netware to modern OS X, his interest was piqued. He has also been fortunate enough to come into contact with some of the best minds in the business. Ed spends his non-compute time with his wife and two daughters.


Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Sago Mini Superhero (Education)
Sago Mini Superhero 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Education Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: KAPOW! Jack the rabbit bursts into the sky as the Sago Mini Superhero! Fly with Jack as he lifts impossible weights,... | Read more »
Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes guide - How...
Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes is all about collecting heroes, powering them up, and using them together to defeat your foes. It's pretty straightforward stuff for the most part, but increasing your characters' stats can be a bit confusing because it... | Read more »
The best cooking apps (just in time for...
It’s that time of year again, where you’ll be gathering around the dinner table with your family and a huge feast in front of you. [Read more] | Read more »
Square Rave guide - How to grab those te...
Square Rave is an awesome little music-oriented puzzle game that smacks of games like Lumines, but with its own unique sense of gameplay. To help wrap your head around the game, keep the following tips and tricks in mind. [Read more] | Read more »
Snowboard Party 2 (Games)
Snowboard Party 2 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Crowned the best snowboarding game available on the market, Snowboard Party is back to fulfill all your adrenaline needs in... | Read more »
One Button Travel (Games)
One Button Travel 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: “To cut a long story short, If you like interactive fiction, just go buy this one.” - “Oozes the polish that... | Read more »
Light Apprentice Volume 1 (Games)
Light Apprentice Volume 1 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Light Apprentice Volume 1 includes Chapters 1 to 4, all gathered in a new exclusive game. When life in the world of... | Read more »
The best games like Animal Crossing on m...
Animal Crossing amiibo Festival is out right now for the Wii U, reminding us of just how much fun that world can be. Or at least to go back and check in on our villages once in a while. [Read more] | Read more »
Between 2 Taps - Tap for Tap interview M...
Hello, and welcome back to Between 2 Taps, Tap for Tap’s Indie Dev interview series. [Read more] | Read more »
Facility 47 (Games)
Facility 47 1.0.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0.1 (iTunes) Description: You wake up alone and freezing in an icy cell. You try the cell door but it’s locked, it seems that you are stuck with no... | Read more »

Price Scanner via

Black Friday deals on the Apple Watch and App...
Apple resellers are offering discounts and bundles with the purchase of an Apple Watch this Black Friday weekend. Below is a roundup of the deals being offered by authorized Watch resellers: Apple... Read more
Early Black Friday sale at B&H Photo, up...
B&H Photo has all new Macs on sale for up to $500 off MSRP as part of their early Black Friday sale including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $1699 $300 off... Read more
NewerTech/OWC/MacSales Black Friday Deals 201... • Free Shipping available on nearly EVERYTHING on orders $35.00 & up within USA + • International Delivery Specials from $2.99+ Special Purolator... Read more
Walmart Black Friday deals: $100 off select i...
Walmart has released their Black Friday deals for 2015, now available online. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available): - 16GB iPad Air 2: $399, $100 off MSRP - 16GB iPad Air: $... Read more
Photo Cleaner 1.0 Reclaims iPhone Storage Spa...
Seoul, Korea based mix1009 has announced the release and immediate availability of Photo Cleaner 1.0, their handy iPhone app that deletes the video portion of Live Photos, in order to reclaim space... Read more
Black Friday and Holiday sales on our price t...
Scan our Mac Price Trackers for the latest Black Friday and Holiday season information on sales, bundles, and availability on systems from Apple’s authorized internet/catalog resellers. We update the... Read more
Best Buy Black Friday deals: Up to $200 off M...
Best Buy has posted their Black Friday sale prices for 2015. Save on MacBook Pros, MacBooks, MacBook Airs, iMacs, iPads, and Apple Watches. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if... Read more
Save $30-$40 on new Apple TVs after rebate
Adorama has new Apple TVs on sale for up to $40 off MSRP after mail-in rebate, good through December 15th. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges NY & NJ sales tax only: - 32GB Apple TV: $119.99... Read more
13-Inch Haswell MacBook Air At Two Years – Th...
The 13-inch mid-2013 “Haswell” MacBook Air I ordered in Apple’s November 2013 Black Friday sale was my first new Mac in four and a half years — the longest interval I’ve gone between system upgrades... Read more
Target Black Friday Early Access deals: $100...
Target is offering early access to their Black Friday deals on Apple products on their online store for today, the 25th, only. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available): - Apple... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Enterprise / Government Professional...
# Apple Enterprise / Gove ment Professional Services Engineer Job Number: 42292976 Reston, Virginia, United States Posted: Aug. 18, 2015 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Read more
iOS Wallet & *Apple* Pay Engineer - App...
# iOS Wallet & Apple Pay Engineer Job Number: 40586801 Santa Clara Valley, Califo ia, United States Posted: Nov. 16, 2015 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** The iOS Read more
Software Engineer, *Apple* Watch - Clock Fa...
# Software Engineer, Apple Watch - Clock Face Team Job Number: 44368761 Santa Clara Valley, Califo ia, United States Posted: Nov. 14, 2015 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Read more
Administrative Assistant, *Apple* Online St...
# Administrative Assistant, Apple Online Store Job Number: 43992352 Santa Clara Valley, Califo ia, United States Posted: Nov. 9, 2015 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.