Managed MacPorts upgrades: Deciding what upgrades are needed

Upgrading a full MacPorts install (the package manager for OS X) install can be time consuming. Here, I will show how port echo requested and outdated helps limiting the upgrade to the program that are really important to you.


MacPorts is a package manager for OS X. It facilitates the installation of a large amount of open source applications. It was modeled after BSD's ports and compiles everything from source. The recommended upgrade process is port upgrade outdated but upgrades may pull new dependencies and install more packages than listed under port echo outdated, requiring erratic upgrade times.

On the way to managed MacPorts upgrade, I will show how you can make an educated choice on what should be upgraded now and what can wait. In the next post, I will introduce port_deptree, a program displaying what MacPorts is actually about to do. And in a third post, I will show that port_deptree can help making educated guesses on the choice of variants.

Requested and outdated

After updating MacPorts' base with port selfupdate, port invites the user to run port upgrade outdated. This may not be the most time-efficient solution, especially if you do not upgrade the ports very often.

Is upgrading every outdated port necessary? Probably not. As one can see from

$ echo '1+3,$-3d\n%p' | ed -s <(port echo outdated | nl)
  1  atk                            @2.12.0_0
  2  gcc48                          @4.8.2_2
  3  gdk-pixbuf2                    @2.30.8_0
 26  vala                           @0.24.0_0
 27  webp                           @0.4.0_0
 28  yasm                           @1.2.0_0

many of the proposed upgrades are dependencies of the ports we are actually interested in. Upgrading them is very unlikely to have direct benefits.

For example, gcc48 takes a really long time to compile and it is a build dependency: no package relies on it being up to date. It is only used to compile other packages.

It would be simpler to only upgrade the packages we need now, eventually with their dependencies as they may contain bug fixes, security fixes, etc.

Since MacPorts 1.9.0, ports have a requested flag that indicates whether ports were installed explicitly or as dependencies. These are the ports that we actually care for. One can list them with

$ echo '1+3,$-3d\n%p' | ed -s <(port echo requested | nl)
  1  ack                            @2.120.0_0
  2  autoconf                       @2.69_2
  3  automake                       @1.14.1_2
 56  unrar                          @4.2.4_1
 57  watch                          @3.3.6_0
 58  yasm                           @1.2.0_0

The list is maintained with port setrequested and port unsetrequested.

The list of outdated requested ports can thus be obtained from the shell

$ comm -12 <(port echo outdated | sort -n) <(port echo requested | sort -n)

or with port

$ port echo requested and outdated | nl
  1  gcc48                          @4.8.2_2
  2  git                            @2.1.1_0+credential_osxkeychain+doc+pcre+perl5_16+python27
  3  gnupg                          @1.4.16_0
  4  ImageMagick                    @6.8.9-1_0+no_x11
  5  py27-networkx                  @1.9_0
  6  py27-virtualenv                @1.11.4_1
  7  texinfo                        @5.2_0
  8  yasm                           @1.2.0_0

8 ports that I know because I explicitly requested their installation. So out of the 28 outdated ports reported, I can now reduced the choice to 8. It is now up to me to decide which of these should be upgraded.

So now we have decided what we want to upgrade. In the next post, we will see what MacPorts will want to do from here.


  • Link to the MacPorts project official homepage.
  • comm(1) is used to select the lines common to two files.
  • nl(1) numbers the lines.
  • with zsh, an alternative to echo '1+3,$-3d\n%p' | ed -s <( CMD ) is CMD | tee <(head -3) | tail -3. In any case, it selects the first and last three lines of a file or stdin.

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