Homebrew vs flox

15 March, 2023

Both Homebrew and flox are package managers, but their approach to package management is very different. Homebrew is a package manager primarily designed for MacOS, and thus focuses on providing a simple and user-friendly interface for fetching packages for OSX. flox is also a package manager that provides a simple and user-friendly interface, but flox is built on Nix, a more advanced package manager designed for Linux and other Unix-like operating systems, including MacOS.

Let's explore how you would migrate from Homebrew to flox.

Install flox

Installing flox feels like installing any other application on your Mac. If you haven't yet, you can install it here. As flox comes bundled with Nix, you can also use flox to install Nix.

To finish the installation and to use flox to replace Homebrew you need to activate it in your terminal. Please add the following to your ~/.zshrc:

. <(flox activate)

Once you've installed flox, run flox --version to verify your install.

Search and install

As flox is built on Nix it also installs packages from the biggest collection of packages - Nixpkgs. We've written at length on the importance of Nixpkgs and what makes it stand out above the rest.

As you would search for packages with a brew search, you can search for packages with flox search as well:

$ flox search ripgrep
ripgrep - A utility that combines the usability of The Silver Searcher with the raw speed of grep
ripgrep-all - Ripgrep, but also search in PDFs, E-Books, Office documents, zip, tar.gz, and more
vgrep - User-friendly pager for grep/git-grep/ripgrep

To install a package simply use the flox install command:

$ flox install ripgrep
$ # If you haven't yet, activate the default environment.
$ flox activate
$ # Is it there?
$ rg
$ flox remove ripgrep
$ # It's gone!
$ which rg

In essence, flox can supplant Homebrew by sourcing packages from Nixpkgs. However, flox can do much more: you can define multiple environments coexisting on one machine, and since they’re defined as code, the environments can be moved from one machine to another. Let’s see how.

One machine, many environments

Everyone has a flox environment called “default”. If I want to switch between versions of Python, for example, I simply switch environments: both versions of Python can coexist on my machine without any issues.

To install a package to a specific python3-env environment, use the -e flag:

$ flox install -e python3-env python310
Installed 'python310' package(s) into 'python3-env' environment.

Brew can’t do this, and neither can most package managers. flox can handle any number of environments and thereby manage which packages, versions, and the shell environments they run in.

And it can do something truly magical: since environments are defined as code, they can be moved around like code, freeing us from the constraints of our machine-bound environments.

Sharing environments

Once you have created an environment, you can share it with the world by pushing it to github/lab with:

flox push -e python3-env

Recreating your default machine environment on a new machine is as easy as flox pull. In fact if your repo is public, anyone could run flox pull and get your exact environment. “Works on my machine” is over for good!


You can also render any flox environment in a container:

flox containerize > my-container

Check out the docs for more detail.

Hold My Beer 🍺

flox opens up possibilities that Homebrew can’t go near, like enabling truly portable environments.

You can also run both flox and Homebrew side by side without any issue.

One disadvantage of flox is that it contains fewer MacOS applications for download than Homebrew, since many MacOS developers have contributed to Homebrew. However, this is rapidly changing and you can contribute to Nixpkgs too!

So if you want a taste of the future of package management, get started with flox via our docs, check out our GitHub, and follow us on Twitter!