Implementing Wildcards for
the NetBSD Packages System
Hubert Feyrer <>, January 2000

Abstract: This document first recalls how dependencies worked in the NetBSD Packages System so far, and describes a way for using wildcards to install binary packages that contain wildcard dependencies, and implement better conflicting packages. In addition, an overview of the changes since the pkg_* tools were picked up is given.

1) The story so far

Let me first remind you how dependency handling worked so far in the *BSD Packages/Ports systems. Leaving aside RUN/BUILD_DEPENDS, the dependency scheme worked by specifying lines in pkgs Makefiles like:

	DEPENDS+=	foo-1.2:../../somecat/foo
This specifies two things:

  1. The version of "foo" this package depends on. If this package is to be installed, foo-1.2 needs to be present.
  2. A fallback used if the required version is not installed on the system, to build it via the packages system.
Upon installation, "pkg_info -e" is used to find if the required version of "foo" is installed. If so, everything is fine and installation proceeds, for both building from pkgsrc and installation of binary packages via pkg_add.

If the required version is not installed, the build system will use the given fallback directory to install the package available at that place, in the hope to fulfil the dependency. For installing via binary packages, pkg_add will assume there's a foo-1.2.tgz binary package out there and install it.

2) Wildcard depends

The hardcoding of the version of "foo" wanted is problematic to maintain, and most of the time, it's not even a fixed version that's needed, but some or even any version installed would do, resulting in a dependency setting such as

	DEPENDS+=	foo-*:../../somecat/foo
This indicates that "any" version of "foo" would do. The build system looks up if there's any "foo" installed by calling "pkg_info -e 'foo-*'", scanning all installed packages and accepting whatever version of "foo" is installed IF it is installed. If it's not installed, the build system will take whatever version happens to be in pkgsrc and installs it, using the fallback given.

For binary packages, the handling's more complex. Any binary package will properly know that it depends on "any" version of the "foo" package installed, and does the same check as the build system to find out. If any acceptable version is installed, fine. If not, we're a little bit in trouble to fulfil the requirement to (automatically) install "any" version of the "foo" package, as the "fallback" directory given can't be used in the context of binary packages, as rebuilding from source is not an option there.

Instead, pkg_add goes out, scans all the available (binary!) packages available, and will then install the most recent one (still meeting the "requirement criteria, "foo-*"). This scanning is necessary to support the wildcard notion. If the version depended on uses some version limitation (``dewey depend''), e.g. foo<1.0, then the latest binary package available below version 1.0 will be found and installed, thus fulfilling the required dependency.

Binary packages can be installed not only from local disk but also via FTP, and the "directory scanning" described above is being performed there too. This scanning of remote directories was the last part that was missing from the NetBSD Packages System to make it fully wildcard capable.

3) Some implementation notes

When installing packages via FTP, imagine package "a-1.0" depending on package "b-1.*", which needs "c-*", etc. - something like "kde". Now, the (net-)actions needed are (roughly):

Even if the "grab rest of ..." operation can be implemented by re-using the same connection (FTP or whatever), any new package is still be added by a new pkg_add process, which would potentially open another connection to the same FTP site, resulting in

This is avoided by using the same FTP session over all three pkg_add sessions. The co-process running ftp(1) has two pipes open for stdin and stdout, which are passed down to subsequent pkg_add commands, which know the file descriptors from some environment variables. With this connection caching, there's usually only one connection for retrieving and installing several binary packages.

4) More than just for depends

The wildcards used in the NetBSD Packages System are a superset of shell globs. Currently supported are:

For example, "pkg_info -e 'foo>=1.3'" will match version 1.3 and later for the "foo" package. Now these wildcards are not only used to check for any matching packages installed, and to find any binary packages fitting patterns for dependencies. Wildcards are also allowed (and used) to implement matching of conflicting packages, to avoid having two packages on the system that should better not be installed at the same time, usually because of conflicting filenames or functionality.

Other uses of wildcards are in pkg_info and pkg_delete, where just a package name without version can be given, and an installed package is found automatically by tacking on a "-*". That way, one saves a few keystrokes and - more important - doesn't have to know what version is currently installed on the system.

5) Other changes in the NetBSD Packages System

Since NetBSD picked up the pkg_* from FreeBSD in mid-1997, several changes were made to enhance the tools. Some of the more interesting are:

The following people deserve credits for the NetBSD Packages System, and where it is today:

Further information:

(c) Copyright 20000110 Hubert Feyrer <>
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