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As of 0.1-2016.0315, toolshelf is officially DEPRECATED.

Development will continue on Cat's Eye Technologies' shelf instead:

This repository is retained for historical purposes only.

First, the metaphor:

Certain bulky technologies in your home — such as your washing machine and your refrigerator (let's call them appliances) — deserve to be installed. You're not going to move them much, and they might have to be hooked up to the water pipes and so forth.

But certain other, lighter technologies — such as your can opener and your broom and dustpan (let's call them tools) — aren't "installed" anywhere. Instead, you simply store them somewhere (say, on a shelf) until they're needed.

toolshelf applies this paradigm to software. Because you should never need to install a can opener.

If this metaphor piques your curiosity, you can read more about why toolshelf exists, where it shines, and where it doesn't (tl;dr great for evaluating random projects off Github, maybe not so great for getting onto a machine.)


toolshelf is a "package manager" which doesn't actually install any files. Instead, it:

  • stores ("docks") the source distributions of projects in a directory tree (usually located in your home directory);
  • builds executables, libraries, etc. as needed in these source directories;
  • creates "link farms" of symlinks to these executables, libraries, etc.; and
  • extends your search paths to include these link farms.

The source distributions are typically version-controlled working directories (e.g. a local clone of a Git repository), but they can also be directory structures extracted from downloaded archives (so-called "tarballs" or "distfiles".)

The primary application (after acquiring and building a source) is to get these executables from the source onto your $PATH, so that you can run them from anywhere. The secondary application is to get shared components into their respective paths, so they can be used from any other project that needs them — this currently works with C, Python, and Lua, in many cases obviating the need for package managers like pip and LuaRocks.

toolshelf is, in some sense, stateless. It does not record a database of what has been docked (this information can mostly be gleaned from the filesystem) and there is no package metadata (beyond "cookies", over which you have control.)

The current released version of toolshelf is version 0.1. The current development version is version 0.2-PRE. As indicated by the major version number 0, it is a work in progress and subject to backwards-incompatible changes.

toolshelf is written in Bourne shell and Python 2.7. It also requires the presence of those tools it needs to use to get and build what it asks for. Obviously, the less you ask for, the less it needs, but at least some of the following will be helpful:

  • git or hg (Mercurial)
  • wget
  • tar and gzip and/or bzip2
  • unzip
  • make

The main toolshelf command is written as a Bourne shell function (to support toolshelf cd), so it should work with bash, ash, and other Bourne-shell- compatible shells. It has not been tested with zsh or others. It will not work with csh.

toolshelf is distributed under an MIT-style license.

Quick Start

  • Start a shell. (On some OS'es, this means "Open a Terminal window.")

  • Download, for example by running:


    (If you don't have wget installed, curl should also work. Or you can just download it from the link above with your web browser.)

  • Run:

    sh ./
  • Follow the instructions given to you by the script.

  • Start a new shell to start using toolshelf.

(If you don't want to use the bootstrap script, it's not very difficult to get toolshelf up and running manually; see below for instructions.)

Now, you can dock any source that toolshelf can handle, simply by typing, for example,

toolshelf dock gh:nelhage/reptyr

When that completes, you can run reptyr by simply typing


Convenient! And if you want to cd to where the reptyr sources are, to hack on it or whatever, just

toolshelf_cd reptyr

And if you ever want to get rid of (almost) all trace of reptyr from your system, simply run

rm -rf $TOOLSHELF/nelhage/reptyr

(For removal to be completely complete, you'd also want to run toolshelf relink all, to remove the now-broken symbolic links to the executable(s) that were in $TOOLSHELF/nelhage/reptyr.)

And, if you want to get rid of (almost) all trace of toolshelf and all of the packages you've docked using it, simply


(For removal to be completely complete, you'd also want to remove the commands that added to your .bashrc. But if your $TOOLSHELF directory doesn't exist, they won't run anyway.)

For a summary of the toolshelf commands, run toolshelf --help. If you want to know more about how it works, you can read about toolshelf's theory of operation.

Manual Setup

  • Decide where you want your toolshelf sources to be kept. I keep mine in a directory called toolshelf in my home directory. In the following examples, I'll use /home/user/toolshelf. It is strongly recommended that this pathname not contain any spaces or other characters which normally require escaping for the shell; even if toolshelf handles all these cases correctly, there's a fair chance any random source that you dock won't.

  • Make this directory:

    mkdir -p /home/user/toolshelf
  • Clone the toolshelf repo into .toolshelf in it, perhaps like so:

    git clone /home/user/toolshelf/.toolshelf

    If you prefer, you could use Mercurial and clone it from Bitbucket. Or get a zip of the toolshelf distribution, and unzip it to there. Any of these options should be fine.

  • Add the following line to your .profile, or .bash_profile, or .bashrc, or the startup script for whatever POSIX-compliant Bourne shell-alike you use:

    export TOOLSHELF=/home/user/toolshelf/ && . $TOOLSHELF/.toolshelf/
  • Start a new shell and test that it works.



(DEPRECATED: see instead) A package installer that neither packages nor installs [MIT license]






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