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Using GNU command line tools in macOS instead of FreeBSD tools

macOS is a Unix, and not built on Linux.

I think most of us realize that macOS isn't a Linux OS, but what that also means is that instead of shipping with the GNU flavor of command line tools, it ships with the FreeBSD flavor. As such, writing shell scripts which can work across both platforms can sometimes be challenging.

Homebrew

Homebrew can be used to install the GNU versions of tools onto your Mac, but they are all prefixed with "g" by default.

All commands have been installed with the prefix "g". If you need to use these commands with their normal names, you can add a "gnubin" directory to your PATH from your bashrc.

Choosing GNU for Consistency

You can install most of the GNU flavored tools with:

brew install autoconf bash binutils coreutils diffutils ed findutils flex gawk \
    gnu-indent gnu-sed gnu-tar gnu-which gpatch grep gzip less m4 make nano \
    screen watch wdiff wget

Assuming you have a fairly standard Terminal/shell environment, and assuming that you want to use the GNU versions instead of the BSD versions for everything you've installed with Homebrew, you can append the following to your ~/.profile file.

# Get list of gnubin directories
export GNUBINS="$(find /usr/local/opt -type d -follow -name gnubin -print)";

for bindir in ${GNUBINS[@]}; do
  export PATH=$bindir:$PATH;
done;

coreutils provides:

[, b2sum, base32, base64, basename, basenc, cat, chcon, chgrp, chmod, chown, chroot, cksum, comm, cp, csplit, cut, date, dd, df, dir, dircolors, dirname, du, echo, env, expand, expr, factor, false, fmt, fold, groups, head, hostid, id, install, join, kill, link, ln, logname, ls, md5sum, mkdir, mkfifo, mknod, mktemp, mv, nice, nl, nohup, nproc, numfmt, od, paste, pathchk, pinky, pr, printenv, printf, ptx, pwd, readlink, realpath, rm, rmdir, runcon, seq, sha1sum, sha224sum, sha256sum, sha384sum, sha512sum, shred, shuf, sleep, sort, split, stat, stdbuf, stty, sum, sync, tac, tail, tee, test, timeout, touch, tr, true, truncate, tsort, tty, uname, unexpand, uniq, unlink, uptime, users, vdir, wc, who, whoami, yes

ed provides:

ed, red

gawk provides:

awk

grep provides:

egrep, fgrep, grep

gnu-sed provides:

sed

gnu-tar provides:

tar

make provides:

make

findutils provides:

find, locate, updatedb, xargs

@abouteiller

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abouteiller commented Oct 8, 2019

The proposed find based solution takes about 5 seconds to execute on my system. The following bash snippet executes in a fraction of a second.

if type brew &>/dev/null; then
  HOMEBREW_PREFIX=$(brew --prefix)
  # gnubin; gnuman
  for d in ${HOMEBREW_PREFIX}/opt/*/libexec/gnubin; do export PATH=$d:$PATH; done
  # I actually like that man grep gives the BSD grep man page
  #for d in ${HOMEBREW_PREFIX}/opt/*/libexec/gnuman; do export MANPATH=$d:$MANPATH; done
fi
@jwcrandall

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jwcrandall commented Oct 16, 2019

Do you know if there is a brew install command for the BSD Linker ld?

@virgilwashere

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virgilwashere commented Nov 8, 2019

@SantaXXL

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SantaXXL commented Nov 17, 2019

@skyzyx

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Owner Author

skyzyx commented May 10, 2020

@abouteiller: You're right. That's better. Updated.

@skyzyx

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skyzyx commented May 10, 2020

@SantaXXL: Maybe, but I prefer to avoid solutions which claim to be "transparent" or "magic". I'd prefer to understand what I'm adding to my system.

@pythoninthegrass

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pythoninthegrass commented Jun 3, 2020

The proposed find based solution takes about 5 seconds to execute on my system. The following bash snippet executes in a fraction of a second.

if type brew &>/dev/null; then
  HOMEBREW_PREFIX=$(brew --prefix)
  # gnubin; gnuman
  for d in ${HOMEBREW_PREFIX}/opt/*/libexec/gnubin; do export PATH=$d:$PATH; done
  # I actually like that man grep gives the BSD grep man page
  #for d in ${HOMEBREW_PREFIX}/opt/*/libexec/gnuman; do export MANPATH=$d:$MANPATH; done
fi

Thanks for this, @abouteiller. Worked like a charm!

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