Skip to content


Repository files navigation

pkg - a binary package manager for FreeBSD

Table of Contents:

SourceHut CI: status status status


pkg is built on top of libpkg, a new library to interface with the package registration backends. It abstracts package management details such as registration, remote repositories, package creation, updating, etc.

pkg package format

The pkg package format is a tar archive that may be raw or compressed using one of the following algorithms: gz, bzip2, zstd, or xz. The default compression algorithm is zstd.

The tar archive itself is composed of two types of elements:

  • the special files at the beginning of the archive, starting with a "+"
  • the data.

The metadata

pkg uses several files for metadata:


This is a subset of the information included in the main MANIFEST, omitting the lists of files, checksums, directories and scripts. It contains the information used to build the repository catalogue.


The manifest is in UCL format, it contains all the information about the package:

name: foo
version: 1.0
origin: category/foo
comment: this is foo package
arch: i386
prefix: /usr/local
licenselogic: or
licenses: [MIT, MPL]
flatsize: 482120
users: [USER1, USER2]
groups: [GROUP1, GROUP2]
options: { OPT1: off, OPT2: on }
desc: <<EOD
  This is the description
  Of foo
  A component of bar
categories: [bar, plop]
deps: {
  libiconv: {origin: converters/libiconv, version: 1.13.1_2};
  perl: {origin: lang/perl5.12, version: 5.12.4 };
files: {
  /usr/local/bin/foo: 'sha256sum',
  /usr/local/bin/i_am_a_link: 'sha256sum';
  /usr/local/share/foo-1.0/foo.txt: 'sha256sum;
directories: {
  /usr/local/share/foo-1.0 : 'y';
scripts: {
  post-install: <<EOD
    echo post-install
  pre-install: <<EOD
    echo pre-install

Valid scripts are:

  • pre-install
  • post-install
  • install
  • pre-deinstall
  • post-deinstall
  • deinstall

Script MUST be in sh format. Nothing else will work. The shebang is not required.

When the manifest is read by pkg_create files and dirs can use an alternate format:

files: {
  /usr/local/bin/foo: 'sha256sum',
  /usr/local/bin/bar: {sum: 'sha256sum', uname: baruser, gname: foogroup, perm: 0644 }
directories: {
  /usr/local/share/foo-1.0: 'y',
  /path/to/directory: {uname: foouser, gname: foogroup, perm: 0755}

This allows overriding the users, groups and mode of files and directories during package creation. So, for example, this allows to creation of a package containing root-owned files without being packaged by the root user.

Local database

When a package is installed, it is registered in a SQLite database.

The SQLite database allows fast queries and ACID transactions. It also allows finding the reverse dependencies reliably without needing the +REQUIRED_BY hack.

In order to save space the MTREE is only stored once, which saves 18K per installed package.

pkg supports a register command to register packages into the SQLite database from the ports. The register command can execute the install script, show pkg-message, ...

Installing packages

pkg add can install a package archive from the local disk, or from a remote FTP/HTTP server.

If only a package name is given, it will search the repository catalogues and download and install the package if it exists. Any dependencies will be downloaded and installed first.

This is possible because we have the dependency information in the catalogue of the remote repository.

pkg add will check if the user attempts to install a package built for another arch or release.

Upgrading packages

pkg also supports upgrades of binary packages.

pkg will compare the versions of installed packages and those available in the repository. It will compute the proper update order and apply them.

Deleting packages

pkg delete will remove a package, and (depending on the command line arguments) any other packages that depend on what you're trying to delete.

Directory leftovers are automatically removed if they are empty and not in the MTREE.

Installing pkg

There are three ways to install pkg: two for general day-to-day use, and the third if you want to help with pkg development.

Pkg bootstrap

All supported versions of FreeBSD now contain /usr/sbin/pkg a.k.a pkg(7). This is a small placeholder that has just the minimum functionality required to install the real pkg(8).

To use, simply run any pkg(8) command line. pkg(7) will intercept the command, and if you confirm that is your intention, download the pkg(8) tarball, install pkg(8) from it, bootstrap the local package database and then proceed to run the command you originally requested.

More recent versions of pkg(7) understand pkg -N as a test to see if pkg(8) is installed without triggering the installation, and conversely, pkg bootstrap[-f] to install pkg(8) (or force it to be reinstalled) without performing any other actions.

pkg in Ports

pkg-1.0 release was committed to the ports tree on 30th August 2012, and a series of further releases are planned. To install the latest release version:

$ make -C /usr/ports/ports-mgmt/pkg install clean
$ echo "WITH_PKG=yes" >> /etc/make.conf

Building pkg using sources from Git [FreeBSD]

In order to build pkg from source, you will need to have GNU autotools and some other tools installed.

# pkg install autoconf automake libtool pkgconf

The next thing to do is to get the pkg sources installed on your machine. You can grab a development snapshot of pkg from the pkg GitHub repository

To get the latest version of pkg from the Git repo, just clone it:

% git clone


% git clone

Or you can take an already tagged release of pkg from the above web page as well. Just open your browser and download the release you want.

Once you have the pkg sources, installing it is fairly easy:

% cd pkg
% ./configure
% make
# make install

Now you should have the latest pkg installed on your system. Note that this build and install procedure does not update the local package database at all, so you will get some odd effects due to the packaging system being misled into thinking an older version of pkg is installed.

Note: if you're running anything other than FreeBSD or DragonFly, you will need to do some porting work. The pkg(8) codebase should be reasonably portable onto anything with a c99 compiler, POSIX compliant system and capable of running GNU autotools. However, various places in the pkg(8) code make assumptions about OS specific behaviour. If you do try anything like this, we'd be very interested to hear how you get on.

A quick usage introduction to pkg

In this section of the document we will try to give a quick and dirty introduction on the practical usage of pkg - installing packages, searching in remote package repositories, updating remote package repositories and installing from them, etc.

Getting help on the commands usage

In order to get help on any of the pkg commands you should use the pkg help <command> command, which will take the man page of the specified command.

In order to get the available commands in pkg, just execute pkg help

# pkg help
# pkg help <command>

Querying the local package database

In order to get information about installed packages use the pkg info command.

pkg info will query the local package database and display information about the package you are interested in.

To list all install/registered packages in the local database, use this command:

# pkg info -a

For more information on querying the local package database, please refer to pkg-info(1) man page.

Installing packages

Packages are installed either from a repository, from the results of a local compilation of software via the ports or from a pkg tarball independently obtained from some other source.

A repository is a collection of packages which have been gathered together, had a catalogue created and then published, typically by exposing the repository via HTTP or some other networking protocol. You can also publish a repository from a local or NFS mounted filesystem (using file:// style URLs) or via SSH (using ssh:// URLs.)

Working with a remote package repository

While pkg(8) can deal with individual package tarballs, the real power comes from the use of repositories, which publish a 'catalogue' of meta-data about the packages they contain.

You can configure pkg(8) to use one or several repositories. Supported versions of FreeBSD now contain a default configuration out of the box: /etc/pkg/FreeBSD.conf which is setup to install packages from the official package repositories.

To add additional repositories, create a per-repository configuration file in /usr/local/etc/pkg/repos -- it doesn't matter what the filename is other than it must match '*.conf' and you should add a 'priority' setting indicating the preference order. This is just an integer, where higher values indicate the more preferred repositories. Priority defaults to 0 unless explicitly stated. This is the value for the default /etc/pkg/FreeBSD.conf

To disable the default FreeBSD.conf, create a file /usr/local/etc/pkg/repos/FreeBSD.conf with the contents:

FreeBSD: { enabled: no }

To check quickly what repositories you have configured, run pkg -vv.

See pkg.conf(5) for details of the format of pkg.conf and the per-repository repo.conf files. See pkg-repository(5) for more details about package repositories and how to work with them.

Note that the old style of setting PACKAGESITE in pkg.conf is no-longer supported. Setting PACKAGESITE in the environment has meaning for the pkg(7) shim, but is ignored by pkg(8).

Updating from remote repositories

Then fetch the repository catalogues using the command:

# pkg update

For more information on updating from remote repositories, please refer to pkg-update(1).

This will fetch the remote package database to your local system. Now in order to install packages from the remote repository, you can use the pkg install command:

# pkg install zsh cfengine3

Working with multiple repositories

If you have more than one repository defined, then you probably want to install some packages from a specific repository, but allow others to be obtained from whatever repository has them available.

You can install a package from a specific repository:

# pkg install -r myrepo zsh

where myrepo is one of the tags shown in the pkg -vv output. pkg(8) will automatically create an annotation showing which repository a package came from, similarly to the effect of running:

# pkg annotate -A pkgname repository myrepo

pkg(8) will attempt to use the same repository for any updates to this package, even if there are more recent versions available from other repositories. This is usually the desired behaviour. Otherwise see the documentation for CONSERVATIVE_UPGRADE in pkg.conf(5).

Searching in remote package repositories

You can search in the remote package repositories using the pkg search command.

If you have multiple repositories configured, pkg search will return results from searching each of them. Use the -r reponame option to confine your search to a specific repository.

An example search for a package could be done like this:

# pkg search -x apache

For more information on the repositories search, please refer to pkg-search(1)

Installing from remote repositories

pkg(8) will install a package from the highest priority repository that contains the package and that allows the solver to satisfy the package dependencies. This may entail reinstalling existing packages from a different repository.

The process continues until the package is fetched and installed, or all remote repositories fail to fetch the package.

Remote installations of packages using pkg are done by the pkg install command.

Here's an example installation of few packages:

# pkg install www/apache22
# pkg install zsh
# pkg install perl5-5.18.2_4

Or you could also install the packages using only one command, like this:

# pkg install www/apache22 zsh perl5-5.18.2_4

For more information on the remote package installs, please refer to pkg-install(1)

Creating a package repository

You can also use pkg, so that you create a package repository.

In order to create a package repository you need to use the pkg create command.

Here's an example that will create a repository of all your currently installed packages:

# cd /path/with/enough/space
# pkg create -a
# pkg repo .

The above commands will create a repository of all packages on your system.

Now you can share your repo with other people by letting them know of your repository :)

Additional resources

To contact us, you can find us in the #pkg channel on Libera Chat IRC Network.

If you hit a bug when using pkg, you can always submit an issue in the pkg issue tracker.