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This is a system for building static, dependent libraries for R packages. It is mainly intended to automate the maintenance of CRAN dependencies for the macOS build system, but the system is intended to be usable on other platforms as well. Resulting binaries are available at

The idea is for package authors to submit pull requests for dependencies their packages require such that they can be automatically installed on the build VMs.

The dependency descriptions are simple DCF files. The format should be self-explanatory, it follows the same conventions as DESCRIPTION files in R packages. The required fields are Package, Version and Source.URL. Most common optional fields include Depends and Configure.

There is an R script that will process the recipes and create a make file which can be used to build libraries and their dependencies. In case you do not have R yet, there is also a Perl script as well, so you need either of Perl or R.

More recently, we have added a user-friendly command line tool simply called (requires bash) which replicates the build as performed on the CRAN machines. For example, to build all libraries needed to build R use:

./ r-base-dev

You can replace r-base-dev with any recipe or use all to build all recipes. See ./ -h for a little help page. Each library is built, packaged and installed. The default locations used by the above script are /opt/R/$arch and /usr/local. The former will be used if present where $arch is typically x86_64 or arm64, otherwise /usr/local is the fall-back.

For a more fine-grained control you can run scripts/mkmk.R or scripts/ yourself and see the list of environment variables at the bottom of this page for possible configurations.


  • Package: name of the package (required)

  • Version: version of the package (required*). This version string can be substituted in other directives using ${ver}.

  • Source.URL: URL of the source tar ball (required*)

  • Depends: comma separated list of dependent recipes, i.e. recipes that must be successfully installed before this one. Optional version specification of the form rcp (>= min.ver) is allowed for individual dependencies.

Most of the following entries are optional:

  • Configure[.<os>[.<ver>]][.<arch>]: flags to add to the configure script. <os> is the lowecase name of the OS as returned by uname, <ver> is the major version of the OS (uname -r up to the first dot) and <arch> is the architecture of the platform. Multiple types can be specified and they are concatenated using precedence os, ver, arch.

  • Configure.subdir: subdirectory containing the sources

  • Special: special recipe flags, currently only in-sources is supported which forces the build to be performed inside the sources.

  • Distribution.files: list of files (or directories) to include in the final distribution tar ball. Defaults to ${prefix}. This directive is intended only for restricting the content, installation is only supported for content under ${prefix} so no files outside that tree can be part of the final distribution.

  • Configure.script: name of the configure script to use, defaults to configure. If this option is set explicitly, then the default flags --with-pic --disable-shared --enable-static and --prefix=/${prefix} are no longer used under the assumption that the script is no longer autoconf-based and thus the equivalent flags should be supplied in Configure: or friends.

  • Configure.driver: optional, if set, specifies the executable that will be called in order to process the configure script. If not specified it is assumed that the configure script is executable on its own.

  • Configure.chmod: optional, if set, chmod is called on the configure script with the specified value prior to execution. Most commonly this is set to +x if the soruces fail to make the script executable.

  • Install: command to perform installation, defaults to make install and currently will be supplied with DESTDIR=... which is expected to be honored.

  • Build-system: optional, if specified a driver named configure.<build-system> is expected to exist in the scripts directory of this project which is copied to the sources of the library as configure and should perform whatever operations are necessary to make the project autoconf-compatible. Currently we only provide drivers cmake which supports CMake and meson-ninja which supports meson for configuration and ninja for builds. The latter must be installed, typically using pip install meson ninja (add --user if you cannot install in the system location). Obviously, such systems are far more fragile so use only as a last resort.

(*) - virtual packages are packages that are only used to trigger installation of other packages, they only create a target in the Makefile, but don't create any output themselves. Those don't have Version: nor Source.URL:.


Currently the build steps are

  • download source tar ball
  • unpack the tar ball
  • move the contents to a directory with fixed naming scheme
  • if a <recipe>.patch file exists, it will be applied with -p1
  • create a build object directory
  • configure in the object directory using all the accumulated flags from the recipe
  • run make -j12
  • run make install with DESTDIR set
  • change the ownership of content inside DESTDIR to 0:0 (unless tar supports --uid/--gid flags)
  • package ${prefix} inside the destination into a tar ball
  • unpack the tar ball in the system location

Each dependency has to succeed in all the steps above before the next recipe is used. Makefile is used to determine the dependencies between the recipes.

Note: pkgconfig system stubs are expected to exist for system libraries such that they can be used as dependencies by pkgconfig. Some versions of macOS include them, but others may require manual installation. Most recent macOS versions don't allow stubs in system location since it is read-only, so adding an alternative path to PKG_CONFIG_PATH may be required. The script automatically adds the system stubs shipped with the recipes to PKG_CONFIG_PATH.

Environment Variables

The mkmk.R script will respect the following environment variables:

  • TAR path to the tar program. Note that the build system assumes a tar version that is smart enough to handle all common compression formats (gzip, bzip2, xz) automatically.

  • PREFIX defaults to usr/local and is the prefix for all builds. Note that no special effort is made for packages to respect that prefix at compile/link time, it is only passed to --prefix and used to package the final tar ball. The recipes can use ${prefix} (exact match) to substitute for the relative prefix path (i.e., without the leading /). This is not done at the shell level, but rather a substitution when generating the Makefile. The PREFIX variable is available both at shell level and to the make commands by default.

  • NOSUDO if set to 1 sudo will not be used in the unpacking step. This is mainly useful for user-space installations when setting PREFIX to a location owned by the user.

  • BINARY (experimental) if set to 1 then the script creates a Makefile which downloads binaries from BINARY_URL instead of building them. On macOS if BINARY_URL is not set, the binaries are downloaded from This is now deprecated in favor of the tools at which are better at dependency resolution as recipes may not always match the repository.


System for building static dependent libraries for CRAN packages






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