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Homebrew — the best friend of the macOS user

So you are planning on learning something new — Node.js for example — and you need to download it first. You visit the project’s website, download an installer, go through the installation process. Next, next, next, done. You may need some kind of database at some point — MongoDB works really well with it. Again — visit the project’s website, download an installer… You know what?! Visual Studio Code is hot. Again — visit the project’s website, download an installer…

Search, install, remove macOS apps via Homebrew

As a curious human being you are probably going to do a lot of these monotonous tasks: installing and removing software, switching versions of dependencies, searching and trying new tools. There must be a better way than doing all these things manually! Good news — there is. Homebrew, the missing package manager for macOS.

brew install node mongodb && brew cask install visual-studio-code

Package managers

The concept of using command line tools to manage packages isn’t new. apt-get from Ubuntu systems is probably the most widely used one. Scoop and Chocolatey are the equivalents for Windows users. As a macOS user Homebrew is the one that I will guide you through, but I am sure that you can follow along and find the equivalent commands for your operating system of choice.

Programming languages have their own ecosystems and their own package managers to manage project components. For example, npm and Yarn are commonly used by JavaScript developers, Composer makes the life of PHP developers much easier and Pip is the best friend of Python developers. This “Comparison of Programming Language Package Managers” HN thread is the place to go to find out more about them.

At the end of the day all package managers do the same job — make your life easier and boost your productivity by removing tedious tasks from your workflow.


Familiarity with the basics of the command line would be cool. You don’t need to be a Terminal ninja with the most complex .vimconfig file on the whole of GitHub. As long as you know what ls, cd and pwd are, you are ready to go. If not, go and grab a copy of “Working the Command Line” by Remy Sharp and come back later on.

The Homebrew documentation doesn’t do a great job of explaining its capacity to novice users. I resisted using it for years because I didn’t understand the geeky terminology. I will do my best to help you to:

  • search for stuff
  • install / uninstall stuff
  • install / uninstall macOS app
  • upgrade package / macOS app

Before doing so, we need one thing. We need brew.

Install Brew

I recently joined a new company, where I got a new MacBook. Intuitively I tried to install brew via brew — this is how using it is now melded to my muscle memory. Of course this command didn’t work so I had to visit the Homebrew installation guide to copy a one-liner and paste it into my Terminal. I brewed the rest afterwards.

/usr/bin/ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL"

Search for stuff via Homebrew

You can find tons of things on Homebrew! The default homebrew-core repository contains thousands of formulas and new ones are added everyday. A formula is just a fancy name for a little Ruby script that contains enough of information to download a package on to your machine. To look for a package of interest you can manually browse the repository (never do it like that), use the online Brew Search or use the command line. cowsay is the most useless piece of software ever — I love it and I will use it as an example.

Search packages via Homebrew
brew search cowsay

By default Homebrew uses a list of formulas included in the homebrew-core repository, but you may face a situation when it is not enough. By adding taps (third-party repositories) you can extend the list of packages available to brew.

Install / uninstall stuff via Homebrew

The most frequently used commands are install and uninstall. Let’s use the cowsay package as an example.

brew install cowsay
Cowsay in action
brew uninstall cowsay

Install / remove a macOS app via Homebrew

Since version 0.9.5 Homebrew comes with something called brew cask. It allows you to install macOS applications, fonts and drivers. You can browse all the available casks on the homebrew-cask repo or search it via the command line. For example brew search atom. To install it…

brew cask install atom
Install Atom via command line
brew cask uninstall atom

Upgrade package / macOS app via Homebrew

Of course we want the latest and greatest software on our machines. It couldn’t be easier to update our packages — brew upgrade is all that we need. Similarly to bump the version of our graphical apps we can use brew cask upgrade. Follow these commands with the name of a formula if you want to update an individual package.

Please be aware that brew update is not an alias of brew upgrade — it fetches the newest formulas from GitHub but doesn’t do anything to your brews.

Brew everything

Hopefully this article helped you out and demystified the power that Homebrew comes with. I’ve helped you to explore some very basic commands, but please don’t stop here. Look for some more sophisticated use cases in the official documentation. I use it extensively in my daily routine but also to install my favourite software every time I jump on a new machine. Thanks for reading and have a great day y’all!


  • P
    Piotr z

    Dzięki. Przypomniałeś mi by sobie uruchomić brew upgrade na mojej maszynie! :)

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