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XFree86, fink, etc - Solution Guide #1 UNIX
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IMPORTANT NOV 14 UPDATE: The Mac development community appears to have lost a key member. Christoph Pfisterer, the lead developer on the Fink project, has given up. He lists the causes in his resignation letter, which I strongly encourage all of you to read. In particular, follow the links at the end of the letter for some excellent examples of how not to work with the Open Source development community. If you're interested in Fink at all, please take a moment and send a letter of thanks to Christoph for all his efforts. His contributions cannot be overstated, and he will be missed.

NOV 6 UPDATE: XDarwin is now available from It addresses a number of bugs; see the comments for my posting with the full list of fixes.

UPDATE: Version 1.1 has been posted with a couple of typo corrections and a new expanded section on the methods of installing packages using Fink.

Although there have been a number of threads here on the installation and use of XFree86 (an open-source version of the X Window System) on OS X, I hadn't had much luck getting it installed on my system. Then I found Fink, an amazing package installer for OS X. With Fink, literally hundreds of pre-compiled UNIX and X Window applications (including XFree86) are as easy to install as typing a sentence. So I installed XFree86 (in two separate wasy), Fink, WindowMaker (a window manager based on Next's OpenSTEP), and GIMP (a complex image manipulation program that rivals Photoshop in its complexity).

Although Fink makes this all quite trivial, I still stumbled a few times, given my relative lack of experience with UNIX and total lack of experience with XFree86. So I decided to write up a simple guide on the installation of these packages on OS X. The result is the first of an occasional (whenever I get the urge and time!) series of "Solution Guides", which will explain exactly how to get certain things done on OS X.

This particular guide covers XFree86, Fink, WindowMaker and the GIMP. It is designed for XFree86 novices (like myself!), and does not go into the much detail on how to use what's been installed. It simply relates the steps I used to get each piece running. If you're an advanced user, there's probably nothing there you haven't seen before. So if you'd like to get the above programs running on OS X, take a look at the Mac OS X Hints Solution Guide #1. As with anything like this, what you do to your machine is your responsibility, so make sure you have a backup before you start!

All comments and technical corrections are welcomed, but I cannot possibly respond to all the individual questions that may arise. Feel free to post them here as questions in the comments area, however, and someone will more than likely respond.
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XFree86, fink, etc - Solution Guide #1 | 33 comments | Create New Account
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Thx a lot!
Authored by: palx on Oct 25, '01 09:14:43AM

Hi! I just will to thx the guy who posted this nice guide. I've my GIMP and Xfree86 version running rootles and stable now!

To all the ppl considering buying the distributed CD with pre-compilde versions: give this method a try and you may end up with a little fun and a nice selection of new programs to install and use!:)

Again, thanks to macosxhints and all the ppl who's making it such a great site!

A cheerful and GIMPING palx!

[ Reply to This | # ]
Next we need Gnome and KDE
Authored by: TikTokk on Oct 25, '01 12:38:58PM

Now someone show us how to install Gnome & KDE on OSX. No real reason, just for the wow factor.

[ Reply to This | # ]
Next we need Gnome and KDE
Authored by: laubentn on Oct 25, '01 01:26:59PM

Yup . . . the GUi for Windowmaker is sort of spartan to say the least.

I did try doing a REMOVe of windowmaker and an INSTALL of gnome-core;
then changing the .xinitrc file to comment out the exec wmaker and added
in exec gnome-core. DarwinX quits if I do this . . . so hopefully somebody
with more unix smarts than me will explain how to get KDE working.

[ Reply to This | # ]
Re: Next we need Gnome and KDE
Authored by: percy on Oct 26, '01 08:15:53AM

I've got Gnome running stable and fine (if I wanted to use it. I tend to run Wmaker instead). Just install Gnome through fink and replace exec wmaker (or whatever) in your .xinitrc or .xsession (or whatever) file to exec gnome-session. It worked for me.

[ Reply to This | # ]
Next we need Gnome and KDE
Authored by: jonkneb on Oct 25, '01 08:05:19PM

What I'd really like to see is OpenOffice (StarOffice) running on Xfree86!

[ Reply to This | # ]
I forgot this...
Authored by: palx on Oct 25, '01 02:10:25PM

The installation of XFree86 made by fink doesn't work with OS X 10.1. You have to do the following:

1 - Install the XFree86 packages with fink
2 -Go to: Search for and download the patch for XFree86 (3.5 megs).
3 - Apply the patch. (It's simple cause it's a pre-compiled package). This will make XFree86 work in X 10.1

Now you have a running version of Xfree. Follow the rest of the instructions in the PDF file and you are done. Enjoy!


[ Reply to This | # ]
Installing with Fink
Authored by: damold on Oct 25, '01 04:58:28PM

Also note that in the PDF it says you can install xfree86 with fink by doing
sudo apt-get xfree86-base
sudo apt-get xfree86-server

this should read
sudo apt-get install xfree86-base
sudo apt-get install xfree86-server

[ Reply to This | # ]
Authored by: robg on Oct 25, '01 05:51:48PM

Thanks to that bug catch and a few others sent via email, I'll be posting an updated version later tonight.

Thanks for the feedback!


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KDE not possible
Authored by: jimr on Oct 26, '01 12:27:50AM

There are still difficulties with the KDE

but Gnome comes in and is very workable.
enlightenment, etc.

There is the package installer version of fink and
there is the download the source and let fink compile it.

This is only the first step of course.

first thing is to get all of the normal unix bound packages to work within
OSX with XFRee86 then...

start porting all of those apps to OSX/cocoa....

What this means is get it all working with the interface widgets that we know and love.

This is where Apples 20 year research into GUI computing is really going to pay off.

even XFree86 works better in this environment....

[ Reply to This | # ]
This works like a charm
Authored by: obidiah on Oct 26, '01 07:59:02AM


Your guide works like a charm. I did this last night (using fink the whole way) without a hitch. Thanks for all of your hard work!

[ Reply to This | # ]
What about no Dev tools?
Authored by: matt2001 on Oct 26, '01 11:51:56AM

Anyone successfully installed these applications WITHOUT Developer Tools installed?

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What about no Dev tools?
Authored by: hoytt on Oct 28, '01 04:15:29PM

You need the dev tools. I don't know about binary, but I had a XFree86 installation from source, which meant I needed a C compiler. Those tools are only in the Apple Dev Tools. So it may be worth downloading them of (free ADC membership required).

Rob, thanks for your excellent guide, I got everything up and running in 1 hour. (I must admit I already had fink and gimp packages on my drive)

[ Reply to This | # ]
What about no Dev tools?
Authored by: aine on Oct 29, '01 03:46:18PM

I just read the other response saying you definitely need Developer Tools - well, this morning I successfully got everything installed and running *without* Dev Tools installed. It went off without a hitch - everything worked just as the guide said it would.

[ Reply to This | # ]
Authored by: dewme5 on Oct 26, '01 02:18:01PM

I couldn't get xdarwin to work just right following your tips. modifying the .cshrc file just wasn't doing it right. I would have to "source .cshrc" "rehash" then "startx -- -rootless -fakebuttons" if I closed terminal, i would have to do it everytime. I found what i was looking for on the site. if .tcshrc is present, it will load before .cshrc so, I added

source /sw/bin/init.csh

alias startx startx -- -rootless -fakebuttons

to the bottom of the .tcshrc file.

now.. I can get into it from the terminal by just typing startx, which fixed my problem of having to source and rehash, (also added the alias so i could shortcut into startx)
but.. now I can also launch xdarwin from the applications. somthing that I couldn't do earlier.

[ Reply to This | # ]
Support for other shells?
Authored by: Justin.Walker on Oct 28, '01 03:09:08PM

This is a great article; thanks to Rob for putting it together.

I'm using 'bash', and the article deals only with 'tcsh'. Anyone fiddled with this enough to know how to get double-clicking to work? When I launch XDarwin, I get this in the console log:

Operating System: Darwin
Using keymapping provided in /System/Library/Keyboards/USA.keymapping.
_XSERVTransmkdir: Owner of /tmp/.X11-unix should be set to root
-bash: xinit: command not found
2001-10-28 12:04:23.746 XDarwin[7956] X client process terminated with status 127.
2001-10-28 12:04:28.747 XDarwin[7956] X server thread never quit.
Display mode: Rootless Quartz
Screen 0 added: 1152x747 @ (0,21)
Screen 0 placed at X11 coordinate (0,0).

The 'bash' complaint seems like the important one; I assume it's due to the fact that the shell doesn't know where to look. I've modified the setting of PATH in my .bashrc, but I suspect that's not enough.

Anyone have a clue to spare?



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what am I doing wrong?
Authored by: scottburton on Oct 29, '01 04:52:03PM

I followed the document to a line but I can't get XDarwin to run. It quits when I launch it from the finder and when I use 'startx' in the terminal it doesn't recognize '-rootless' as an argument.

Anyone else have this problem?

[localhost:~] scott% startx

XFree86 Version 4.1.0 / X Window System
(protocol Version 11, revision 0, vendor release 6510)
Release Date: 2 June 2001
If the server is older than 6-12 months, or if your hardware is
newer than the above date, look for a newer version before
reporting problems. (See http://www.XFree86.Org/FAQ)
Operating System: Darwin
Display mode: IOKit

Fatal server error:
Failed to connect as window server!
Quit the Mac OS X window server or use the -quartz option.

Quitting XDarwin...
^Cxinit: Resource temporarily unavailable (errno 35): unexpected signal 2

[localhost:~] scott% startx -- -rootless -fakebuttons

Unrecognized option: -rootless
use: X [:<display>] [option]


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Same Problem.
Authored by: SaturnTim on Nov 20, '01 02:45:05PM

Yea, I have the same problem running on my new tiBook.

Check the, does it day anything like this:

Fatal server error:
assert failed on line 454 of darwinKeyboard.c!

Quitting XDarwin...

I'm not sure what it all means, but It doesn't look good.
I'll keep fooling with it and post back if I find a solution.


[ Reply to This | # ]
Quartz option not installed...
Authored by: robg on Nov 20, '01 05:20:55PM

I've only seen this error ...

"Fatal server error:
Failed to connect as window server!
Quit the Mac OS X window server or use the -quartz option."

... when the "Quartz" option package wasn't downloaded or (for some reason) installed with XFree86. One thing I learned after I wrote the guide: make sure you have the XFree86 installer package inside a path with no spaces in the directory names - the "" script chokes over spaces...


[ Reply to This | # ]
Same Problem as SaturnTim
Authored by: hedgeman on Nov 30, '01 11:26:55PM
I'm experienceing the same issue as SaturnTim. WHen I run XDarwin I get the error message in the console:
Fatal server error: assert failed on line 454 of darwinKeyboard.c! OsVendorFatalError AbortDDX Quitting XDarwin...
Anyone know that this means and how to fix it? waiting for X server to begin accepting connections .

[ Reply to This | # ]
Re: Same Problem as SaturnTim
Authored by: rzdroj on Dec 01, '01 10:27:24PM

What version of XDarwin do you have? When I followed the instructions I ended up with version 1.0 and had the same problem. It can be fixed by specifying the Keymapping File in the XDarwin Preferences menu item under the Start Up tab.

The Keymapping File was blank and needs to be set to /System/Library/Keyboards/USA.keymapping. You can't start XDarwin by double clicking the icon. To do this, you must first start it by running

"startx -- -quartz -keymap /System/Library/Keyboards/USA.keymapping"

in the terminal without the quotes. Let me caution you that it has been some time since I have done this and I'm not sure about the -quartz term. This will start XDarwin, and, if it does, you will be able to access the Preferences item under the XDarwin menu to enter the Keymapping file in the correct space. After that, you should no longer get that message and XDarwin will start with a double click.

It may also be true that more recent versions of XDarwin will have a keymap set already so that none of what I said above may be necessary(see several posts below this in the main thread where robg has announced the availability of XDarwin I would recommend that you try the newest version first because you would want to be using that anyway. If the new version works, you're done.

Good luck,

Ron Z

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Slow Window Redraws
Authored by: raclo1 on Nov 03, '01 07:02:42AM

Running XFree86 on my 350 MHz slot-loading iMac in full-screen mode, scrolling and window redraws when moved or resized is VERY slow. Scrolling images (eg in the GIMP) is ridiculously slow. This is not the case in rootless; it uses Quartz of course. (In Quartz the menus are nowhere near as snappy!)
I suspect the video driver for X Windows is somehow wrong for the ATI Rage 128 VR in my iMac. Has anyone else experienced this problem?
By the way, I installed Gnome with Fink and it works nicely even in rootless mode. Now what I need is abiword...

[ Reply to This | # ]
Spanish Keyboard?
Authored by: urcindalo on Nov 03, '01 01:56:23PM


Thanks Rob for your impressive guide.
I have a question, though, and I'd really appreciate it if someone could help me.
When I just installed Xfree86, I selected the Spanish keyboard mapping in Xdarwin preferences. It worked great.
However, after installing the remaining packages, it no longer works, and I get an English mapping instead.
Xdarwin preferences are unchanged, though, and the spanish mapping is still selected.
What can I do to actually get the Spanish mapping back?

Thanks in advance,
Almería, Spain

[ Reply to This | # ]
GIMP Disappearing Cursor Solution.
Authored by: AnthonyH on Nov 05, '01 07:12:33PM

OK, for those of you who have tried to actually USE GIMP after the awesome install notes from Rob, heres the scoop on how to get the cursor to appear inside the image window during a GIMP session:

Run in Full Screen mode - NOT Rootless. i.e. select 'Full Screen' mode when XDarwin boots up.

After you boot GIMP, you'll have:

1. A cursor in image windows
2. The joy of switching between Aqua and Xfree/XWin via CMD+Option+A until another patch is released.... of which I've got NO HOPE of doing!

Unix Klutz signing off.

[ Reply to This | # ]
XDarwin Released!
Authored by: robg on Nov 07, '01 12:25:52PM
Great news - the release of XDarwin fixes the disappearing cursor bug in the GIMP! It also has a number of other fixes, and installs on top of your existing installation. Here's the whole blurb on what's new: The XonX project announces the release of XDarwin 1.0.4 for MacOS versions 10.0 and 10.1. XDarwin provides the ability to run XWindow applications on Mac OS X and is similar in functionality to XTools from Tenon. Further details are available at This release fixes many bugs and adds a new preferences panel so that mostof the new features added since XFree86 4.1 can be controlled from the GUI. The help file has also been rewritten. In addition, XDarwin is now localized in Japanese, French, German, and Swedish. We believe this version is close to final release quality and we would appreciate your feedback to at the XonX project page. This release was built from top of the XFree86 CVS tree as of November 6, 2001 at 15:30 PST. Please note that this release has a separate tarball for Mac OS X 10.0 and Mac OS X 10.1. For the technically interested, bug fixes include the following:
  • The SHAPE extension now works in rootless mode.
  • XDarwin now starts from the Finder if the user's default shell is bash.
  • /usr/X11R6/bin is no longer required to be in the user's path to start from the Finder.
  • XDarwin is now compatible with the Kensington's MouseWorks.
  • Fixed disappearing cursor in rootless mode often seen with GIMP. In cases where the cursor would have disappeared, the Aqua arrow cursor is now displayed instead.
  • Fixed cursor artifacts when running in full screen Quartz mode in 8 bit color.
  • The Option modified characters are now translated into the X11 keymap and should work. This is mainly useful on non-US keyboards.
  • Some crashes when quitting have been fixed.
  • The log no longer shows a misleading second start with a false error when XDarwin fails to start up.
  • If switched too rapidly, full screen mode could get in a strange state where X11 was displayed, but clicks fell through to Aqua.
  • Fixed a rare rootless crash.

[ Reply to This | # ]
XDarwin released!
Authored by: robg on Dec 06, '01 03:00:05PM
XDarwin 1.05 has been released. Note that there are two separate files, one ( for pre-10.1 OS X systems, the other ( for 10.1+ systems. You can download either file from the xonx project's files page on Sourceforge. This is a bug-fix release which addresses the following bugs:
  • Several crashing bugs have been fixed including a crash when passing GLX data with NaN's.
  • The at character ("@") works again.
  • The cursor no longer disappears when switching back to XDarwin running in rootless mode with more than one monitor.
  • XDarwin will launch from the Finder even if there are spaces or other bad characters in the path to its application bundle.
  • All 8 bits of PseudoColor are used in full screen Quartz mode.
  • The Alt/Option key produces Mod1 by default again instead of Mod3.
  • The "Set..." keymapping button works.
  • The full screen switch key combination is ignored in rootless mode.
The installation instructions are quite simple, and can be found in the release notes.

[ Reply to This | # ]
XDarwin guide updated...
Authored by: robg on Nov 09, '01 03:23:53PM

I have updated my <a href=">XDarwin Guide</a> to version 1.2 to reflect the release of XDarwin and fix a couple of minor issues.

[ Reply to This | # ]
Updated again...
Authored by: robg on Dec 12, '01 10:12:21AM

I now have the guidebook updated for XDarwin, along with active hyperlinks and a table of contents.

It's still available at the same download link listed in the article.


[ Reply to This | # ]
Fink founder/lead developer retires
Authored by: robg on Nov 14, '01 12:01:55PM

Please read the UPDATED blurb in the main body of this article -- Christoph P, the founder and lead Fink developer, has left the project. It's his work as the leader of the project that made it possible for us to install hundreds of UNIX packages so easily! His presence will be sorely missed...

[ Reply to This | # ]
XDarwin 1.04 'at sign' bugfix
Authored by: robg on Nov 19, '01 12:04:24AM

It's impossible to type an "@" in XDarwin ... unless you do the following, based on the solution posted by Adrian on the XDarwin forum site:

1) Start X11 and an empty terminal shell.
2) cd [to make sure you're in your home directory]
3) xmodmap -e "keycode 27=2 at currency currency"
4) xmodmap -pke > .Xmodmap

Adrian writes: "This will create a file called .Xmodmap (or overwrite it, if you already have one!) in your home directory, which OroborOSX (or XDarwin, when launched by its normal method) will automatically read on subsequent launches."

[ Reply to This | # ]
Don't love X-Windows...
Authored by: Loren on Dec 03, '01 09:35:06PM

Hi. First of all, these instructions were terrific. The only hitch I encountered is that, on my system, the file I needed to edit is .tcshrc not .cshrc.

Anyway, I decided to try it, mostly because there is no telling when Photoshop will be native, and GIMP is a free competitor that's supposed to be good. Also, if I could do that, then there is that whole world of Unix apps I would have access to (one of the big Unix selling points of OS X they have been pushing, but not so much lately).

Anyway, I did the install, and all went fine. My initial impression is that is seems a lot like running a seperate environment within OS X. Almost a cross between Virtual PC & the Classic environment.

So, I am not loving it. Don't love the look and feel of the x-windows interface, and if I am going to run an environment within an environment, why not just run classic and stick with the Mac apps I already like.

Granted, I only used it for 10 minutes at work today before leaving for the day, and I am willing to give it more of a chance tomorrow, but I was curious about other people's opinions.


[ Reply to This | # ]
Don't love X-Windows...
Authored by: nagani on Dec 04, '01 12:14:56AM

You could try a different window manger. I use OroborOSX, it's basic but well done. It only displays the windows of the running XDarwin applications, with an Aqua look. It comes as an OS X application, there is no need to further use Terminal if you already have rootless XDarwin and MacGIMP installed. You can directly launch MacGIMP and other x-programs from the Finder. Neat!

Here is the link:

[ Reply to This | # ]

New fink release
Authored by: skyko on Jan 13, '02 04:37:11PM
In case you did not notice, there's new release of fink (0.3.2) over at that dates from Jan-9 2002. I compiled all that I need from scratch and everything went smoothly (on X.1.2 with Dec-2001 DevTools).

[ Reply to This | # ]
easier way to install
Authored by: hagbard on Jan 06, '03 04:33:42PM

I had a look at your faq, then at xdarwin's homepage etc, and I felt real dizzy with all the contradictory information that I found. And I was kinda scared to download version y of one thing then applying patch z which could conflict etc etc.

I finally found the easiest way to install xfree86 with xdarwin as a rootless mode, all in ONE (yes one) command ! (well there are some perequisites...)

in the terminal, type :
sudo apt-get install xfree86-rootless

that's it, it gets everything it needs, then you can type in the terminal:
startx -- -quartz
then switch to xdarwin app (or launch it directly...)

for those who don't have apt-get, download the latest version of fink (check for example).
once installed, do:
sudo apt-get update
(it will update itself)
then the install rootless line above.
as of today, it installed version :
XFree86 Version
and XDarwin


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