External Commands

Homebrew, like Git, supports external commands. This lets you create new commands that can be run like:

brew mycommand --option1 --option3 <formula>

without modifying Homebrew’s internals.

Command types

External commands come in two flavours: Ruby commands and shell scripts.

In both cases, the command file should be executable (chmod +x) and live somewhere in PATH.

Ruby commands

An external command extcmd implemented as a Ruby command should be named brew-extcmd.rb. The command is executed by doing a require on the full pathname. As the command is required, it has full access to the Homebrew “environment”, i.e. all global variables and modules that any internal command has access to. Be wary of using Homebrew internals; they may change at any time without warning.

The command may Kernel.exit with a status code if it needs to; if it doesn’t explicitly exit then Homebrew will return 0.

Other executable scripts

An executable script for a command named extcmd should be named brew-extcmd. The script itself can use any suitable shebang (#!) line, so an external script can be written in Bash, Ruby, or even Python. Unlike the ruby commands this file must not end with a language-specific suffix (.sh, or .py). This file will be run via exec with some Homebrew variables set as environment variables, and passed any additional command-line arguments.

Variable Description
HOMEBREW_CACHE Where Homebrew caches downloaded tarballs to, by default ~/Library/Caches/Homebrew.
HOMEBREW_CELLAR The location of the Homebrew Cellar, where software is staged. This will be HOMEBREW_PREFIX/Cellar if that directory exists, or HOMEBREW_REPOSITORY/Cellar otherwise.
HOMEBREW_LIBRARY_PATH The directory containing Homebrew’s own application code.
HOMEBREW_PREFIX Where Homebrew installs software. This is always the grandparent directory of the brew executable, /usr/local by default.
HOMEBREW_REPOSITORY If installed from a Git clone, the repository directory (i.e. where Homebrew’s .git directory lives).

Providing --help

All internal and external Homebrew commands can provide styled --help output by using lines starting with #: (a comment then : character in both Bash and Ruby) which are then output by --help.

For example, see the header of brew-services.rb which is output with brew services --help.

Homebrew organisation external commands


Ubuntu’s command-not-found equivalent for Homebrew. See the README for more info and usage.

Install using:

brew tap homebrew/command-not-found


Allows you to alias your Homebrew commands. See the README for more info and usage.

Install using:

brew tap homebrew/aliases

Unofficial external commands

These commands have been contributed by Homebrew users but are not included in the main Homebrew organisation, nor are they installed by the installer script. You can install them manually, as outlined above.

Note they are largely untested, and as always, be careful about running untested code on your machine.


Install any gem package into a self-contained Homebrew Cellar location: https://github.com/sportngin/brew-gem

Note this can also be installed with brew install brew-gem.

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Licensed under the BSD 2-Clause License.