Arch Build System

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The Arch build system (ABS) is a ports-like system for building and packaging software from source code. While pacman is the specialized Arch tool for binary package management (including packages built with the ABS), ABS is a collection of tools for compiling source into installable .pkg.tar.zst packages.

Ports is a system used by *BSD to automate the process of building software from source code. The system uses a port to download, unpack, patch, compile, and install the given software. A port is merely a small directory on the user's computer, named after the corresponding software to be installed, that contains a few files with the instructions for building and installing the software from source. This makes installing software as simple as typing make or make install clean within the port's directory.

ABS is a similar concept. A part of ABS is a SVN repository and an equivalent Git repository. The repository contains a directory corresponding to each package available in Arch Linux. The directories of the repository contain a PKGBUILD file (and sometimes other files), and do not contain the software source nor binary. By issuing makepkg inside a directory, the software sources are downloaded, the software is compiled, and then packaged within the build directory. Then you can use pacman to install the package.


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Reason: Clarify which components are actually part of the ABS. (Discuss in Talk:Arch Build System)

'ABS' may be used as an umbrella term since it includes and relies on several other components; therefore, though not technically accurate, 'ABS' can refer to the following tools as a complete toolkit:

Repository tree
The directory structure containing files needed to build all official packages but not the packages themselves nor the source files of the software. It is available in svn and git repositories. See the section #Repository tree for more information.
A Bash script that contains the URL of the source code along with the compilation and packaging instructions.
A shell command tool which reads the PKGBUILDs, automatically downloads and compiles the sources and creates a .pkg.tar* according to the PKGEXT array in makepkg.conf. You may also use makepkg to make your own custom packages from the AUR or third-party sources. See Creating packages for more information.
pacman is completely separate, but is necessarily invoked, either by makepkg or manually, to install and remove the built packages and for fetching dependencies.
The Arch User Repository is separate from ABS but AUR (unsupported) PKGBUILDs are built using makepkg to compile and package up software. In contrast to the ABS tree which is simply a bare git repository, the AUR exists as a polished website interface with various interactive features. It contains many thousands of user-contributed PKGBUILDs for software which is unavailable as an official Arch package. If you need to build a package outside the official Arch tree, chances are it is in the AUR.
Warning: Official PKGBUILDs assume that packages are built in a clean chroot. Building software on a dirty build system may fail or cause unexpected behaviour at runtime, because if the build system detects dependencies dynamically, the result depends on what packages are available on the build system.

Repository tree

The core, extra, and testing official repositories are in the packages repository for checkout. The community and multilib repositories are in the community repository.

Each package has its own subdirectory. Within it, there are repos and trunk directories. repos is further broken down by repository name (e.g., core) and architecture. PKGBUILDs and files found in repos are used in official builds. Files found in trunk are used by developers in preparation before being copied to repos.

For example, the tree for acl looks like this:


The source code for the package is not present in the ABS directory. Instead, the PKGBUILD contains a URL that will download the source code when the package is built.

Use cases

ABS automates certain tasks related to compilation from source. Its use cases are:

  • Any use case that requires you to compile or recompile a package.
  • Make and install new packages from source of software for which no packages are yet available (see Creating packages).
  • Customize existing packages to fit your needs (e.g. enabling or disabling options, patching).
  • Rebuild your entire system using your compiler flags, "à la FreeBSD".
  • Cleanly build and install your own custom kernel (see Kernel compilation).
  • Get kernel modules working with a custom kernel.
  • Easily compile and install a newer, older, beta, or development version of an Arch package by editing the version number in the PKGBUILD.


Retrieve PKGBUILD source

To retrieve the PKGBUILD file required to build a certain package from source, you can either use SVN or a Git-based approach.

Retrieve PKGBUILD source using Git

Using the asp tool

As a precondition, install the asp package. Asp is a tool to retrieve the build source files for Arch Linux packages using the Git interface. Also see the Arch Linux BBS forum thread [1].

A start point to using asp can be to run:

$ asp export pkgname

This will mark pkgname for tracking by asp, and also dump the current build source files for pkgname into a directory of the pkgname in the current working directory. It auto magically runs:

$ asp update pkgname

followed by

$ asp export pkgname

These 2 commands can be run manually. Note that here, build source files refers to PKGBUILD, possibly with some few other required files, such as keys. That is, the essential files the are required for Arch Linux build system. It does not refer to the source files of the package that were written by the team that authored the package, such as C or Python files.

To clone the git repository of the build source files for a given package into a directory named like the package, use

$ asp checkout pkgname

This will give you not only the current source build files, but also their previous versions. Furthermore, you can use all other git commands to checkout an older version of the package or to track custom changes. Note you do not need checkout if you do not want to look at previous versions. Also, note again for the distinction between build source files, and source files. That is, Arch Linux added files, and the upstream author files.

In any case, to update what asp tracks, you have to run asp update. In the case of the checkout from above, you also have to git pull inside the git repository to make it up to date.

Do read asp(1) for more insight, and for the other commands available.

Using git directly

Use the following git command to clone only a specific branch. This way you avoid copying the whole repository:

$ git clone --branch branch/package --single-branch

For example, to copy the apache build files:

$ git clone --branch packages/apache --single-branch has more arch related source repositories, such as svntogit-community.git. A usage example can be seen at Where can I get last source pkg for hylafax before it was dropped in 2021?. While you are at that thread, don't miss the query at its last message.

Retrieve PKGBUILD source using SVN


Install the subversion package.

Checkout a repository
Warning: Do not download the whole repository; only follow the instructions below. The entire SVN repository is huge. Not only will it take an obscene amount of disk space, but it will also tax the server for you to download it. If you abuse this service, your address may be blocked. Never use the public SVN for any sort of scripting.

To checkout the core, extra, and testing official repositories:

$ svn checkout --depth=empty svn://

To checkout the community and multilib repositories:

$ svn checkout --depth=empty svn://

In both cases, it simply creates an empty directory, but it does know that it is an svn checkout.

Checkout a package

In the directory containing the svn repository you checked out (i.e., packages or community), do:

$ svn update package-name

This will pull the package you requested into your checkout. From now on, any time you svn update at the top level, this will be updated as well.

If you specify a package that does not exist, svn will not warn you. It will just print something like "At revision 115847", without creating any files. If that happens:

  • check your spelling of the package name
  • check that the package has not been moved to another repository (i.e. from community to the main repository)
  • check to see if the package is built from another base package (for example, python-tensorflow is built from the tensorflow PKGBUILD)
Tip: To checkout an older version of a package, see #Checkout an older version of a package.

You should periodically update all of your checked out packages if you wish to perform rebuilds on more recent revisions of the repositories. To do so, do:

$ svn update
Checkout an older version of a package

Within the svn repository you checked out as described in #Checkout a repository (i.e. "packages" or "community"), first examine the log:

$ svn log package-name

Find out the revision you want by examining the history, then specify the revision you wish to checkout. For example, to checkout revision r1729 you would do:

$ svn update -r1729 package-name

This will update an existing working copy of package-name to the chosen revision.

You can also specify a date. If no revision on that day exists, svn will grab the most recent package before that time. The following example checks out the revision from 2009-03-03:

$ svn update -r'{20090303}' package-name

It is possible to checkout packages at versions before they were moved to another repository as well; check the logs thoroughly for the date they were moved or the last revision number.

Build package

Configure makepkg for building packages from the PKGBUILDs you have checked out, as explained in makepkg#Configuration.

Then, copy the directory containing the PKGBUILD you wish to modify to a new location. Make the desired modifications there and use makepkg there as described in makepkg#Usage to create and install the new package.

Tips and tricks

Preserve modified packages

Updating the system with pacman will replace a modified package from ABS with the package of the same name from the official repositories. See the following instructions for how to avoid this.

Insert a group array into the PKGBUILD, and add the package to a group called modified.


Add this group to the section IgnoreGroup in /etc/pacman.conf.

IgnoreGroup = modified

If new versions are available in the official repositories during a system update, pacman prints a note that it is skipping this update because it is in the IgnoreGroup section. At this point, the modified package should be rebuilt from ABS to avoid partial upgrades.

Other tools

  • pbget - retrieve PKGBUILDs for individual packages directly from the web interface. Includes AUR support.