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How to Set up an Apple Mac for Software Development

·15 mins

A guide to setting up an Apple Mac for DevOps and software development. This is current for macOS 12 (Monteray).

Do This First #

Log in once, run Software Update, and ensure that the operating system is at the latest point release. After all of the updates have been applied, restart the computer.

Configuring a User Account #

Log in again and create an Admin user account for your use. If other people will be using the machine, create Standard accounts for them. Log out of the initial account, and log in to the Admin account that you have just created.

Always log in with this new Admin account. The benefit of leaving the initial account untouched is that it ensures that you always have a working account to login with.

Admin accounts have sudo privileges: All Admin accounts on a Mac may use sudo to run command-line utilities with administrative (root) privileges.

Securing the Safari Browser #

Whether or not you regularly use Safari, you should open it once, and adjust the settings in case that you use it later.

First, choose Safari > Preferences > General and deselect the option Open “safe” files after downloading.

Second, go to Safari > Preferences > Search. Decide which search engine that you want to use. Ensure that Safari Suggestions and Preload Top Hit in the background are not enabled.

Configuring Security #

Apple provide quite secure operating systems, but unfortunately convenience has won out over security in a few places. These can easily be corrected by changing a few settings. If you are using a laptop then you should probably make all of these changes as soon as possible.

Security & Privacy #

Select System Preferences > Security & Privacy, and set the following:

  • Under General, set require a password after sleep or screen saver begins to immediately
  • Under General, click Advanced… and select Require an administrator password to access system-wide preferences
  • Under Firewall, click Turn Firewall On.
  • Under Privacy, select Analytics & Improvements and ensure that the options are not enabled.

Spotlight #

By default, Spotlight sends queries to Apple. Unless you want this feature, turn it off.

Select System Preferences > Spotlight > Search Results, and ensure that Siri Suggestions is not enabled.

Enable File Vault NOW #

File Vault 2, a full-disk encryption system. You should enable File Vault NOW, because it is the only protection against anyone with physical access to your computer. All other security measures will be completely bypassed if someone with physical access simply restarts the computer with a bootable pen drive.

File Vault really is secure, which means that you can permanently lose access to your data if you lose the passwords and the recovery key.

Set a Firmware Password #

Set a password to stop access to the Recovery mode. Otherwise, any malicious individual can change the firmware settings to boot from a disc or device of their choosing. If you did not enable File Vault, then the attacker will have complete access to all of the files on the system.

Apple Knowledge Base article HT204455 provides full details.

Setting Up Time Machine Backups #

Time Machine is simple to set up. Just take a suitably large external hard drive, plug it in to your Mac, and agree when prompted. The drive setup process will reformat the hard drive. The only settings that may need to change are the exclusions.

Choose System Preferences > Time Machine, and click Options. Add to the exclusions list any folders that contain ISO disk images, virtual machines, or database files (such as Entourage). If the external hard drive is short of space, exclude the System folder.

Setting Up for Development #

The first step is to install the Command Line Tools for Xcode. Once you have installed Command Line Tools, you can use Homebrew to install everything else that you need.

Getting Xcode #

Apple now provide the Xcode suite as a free download from the App Store. To install the Command Line Tools, install Xcode from the App Store, then open a Terminal window and enter the following command:

xcode-select --install

If you want to install just the Command Line Tools, you can download a package from the Apple Developer Downloads site.

Setting Up Homebrew #

Homebrew provides a package management system for macOS, enabling you to quickly install and update the tools and libraries that you need. Follow the instructions on the site.

You should also amend your PATH, so that the versions of tools that are installed with Homebrew take precedence over others. To do this, edit the file .zshrc in your home directory to include this line:

export PATH="/usr/local/bin:/usr/local/sbin:~/bin:$PATH"

You need to close all terminal windows for this change to take effect.

To check that Homebrew is installed correctly, run this command in a terminal window:

brew doctor

To update the index of available packages, run this command in a terminal window:

brew update

Enabling Auto Completion of Commands #

Many command-line tools provide automatic completion of commands. These include Git, curl and the AWS command-line tool. Homebrew installs the files for each command-line tool that provides completion, but it does not enable automatic completion in your shell.

To enable auto completion, edit the file .zshrc in your home directory to include this line:

autoload bashcompinit && bashcompinit

Close all of the Terminal windows. Every new Terminal window will support autocompletion.

To use auto completion, type the name of the command, and press the Tab key on your keyboard. You will see a list of possible completions. Press the Tab key to cycle through the completions, and press the Enter key to accept a completion.

Installing the Git Version Control System #

The Xcode Command Line Tools include a copy of Git, but this will be out of date.

To install a newer version of Git than Apple provide, use Homebrew. Enter this command in a terminal window:

brew install git

If you do not use Homebrew, go to the Web site and follow the link for Other Download Options to obtain a macOS disk image. Open your downloaded copy of the disk image and run the enclosed installer in the usual way, then dismount the disk image.

Always set your details before you create or clone repositories on a new system. This requires two commands in a terminal window:

git config --global "Your Name"
git config --global ""

The global option means that the setting will apply to every repository that you work with in the current user account.

To enable colors in the output, which can be very helpful, enter this command:

git config --global color.ui auto

Text Editors #

Installations of macOS include a command-line version of vim and TextEdit, a desktop text editor. TextEdit is designed for light-weight word processing, and it has no support for programming. Add the code editors or IDEs that you would prefer to use.

If you do not have a preferred editor, consider using a version of Visual Studio Code. Read the next section for more details.

To use a modern code editor that works like Vim, install Neovim. The default configuration for Neovim follows best practices for Vim, but you can customise it as you wish.

Visual Studio Code #

Visual Studio Code is a powerful desktop editor for programming, with built-in support for version control and debugging. The large range of extensions for Visual Studio Code enable it to work with every popular programming language and framework. It is available free of charge.

The Microsoft releases of Visual Studio Code are proprietary software with telemetry enabled by default, and download extensions from a proprietary Microsoft app store. if you have issues or concerns about the Microsoft releases, use the packages that are provided by the vscodium project.

Setting The EDITOR Environment Variable #

Whichever text editor you choose, remember to set the EDITOR environment variable in your ~/.zshrc file, so that this editor is automatically invoked by command-line tools like your version control system. For example, put this line in your profile to make Neovim (nvim) the favored text editor:

export EDITOR="nvim"

Setting Up A Directory Structure for Projects #

To keep your projects tidy, I would recommend following these guidelines. They may seem slightly fussy, but they pay off when you have many projects, some of which are on different version control hosts.

First create a top-level directory with a short, generic name like repos. For each repository host, create a subdirectory in repos. Add a subdirectory that matches your username. The final directory structure looks like this:


Creating SSH Keys #

You will frequently use SSH to access Git repositories or remote UNIX systems. macOS includes the standard OpenSSH suite of tools.

OpenSSH stores your SSH keys in a .ssh directory. To create this directory, run these commands in a terminal window:

mkdir $HOME/.ssh
chmod 0700 $HOME/.ssh

To create an SSH key, run the ssh-keygen command in a terminal window. For example:

ssh-keygen -t ed25519 -C "Me MyName (MyDevice) <>"

Programming Languages #

Avoid using the installations of programming languages that are included in macOS. Instead, use containers or specialized tools like version managers. These enable you to use the correct versions and dependencies for each project that you work on.

This article provides instructions to help you install programming languages with the mise version manager. For convenience, it also includes instructions for Homebrew. If possible you should avoid using Homebrew to install programming languages, because it has limited support for working with multiple versions of the same programming language.

JavaScript Development: Node.js #

Use either mise or Homebrew to manage your Node.js installations. Homebrew provides separate packages for each version of Node.js. To ensure that you are using the version of Node.js that you expect, specify the version when you install it. For example, enter this command in a Terminal window to install the Node.js 20, the current LTS release:

brew install node@20

Add the bin/ directory for this Node.js installation to your PATH:


Go Development #

Use either mise or Homebrew to install the go tool. To install Go with Homebrew, enter this command:

brew install golang

This provides the standard command-line tool for Go. The go tool includes support for working with multiple versions of Go.

Setting a GOPATH #

Current versions of Go do not require a GOPATH environment variable, but you should set it to ensure that third-party tools and Terminal auto-completion work correctly.

Set a GOPATH environment variable in your ~/.zshrc file:

export GOPATH="$HOME/go"

Then, add this to your PATH:


Close the Terminal and open it again for the changes to take effect.

Java Development: Adoptium #

Which Version of Java? #

Many vendors provide a JDK. To avoid licensing and support issues, use Eclipse Temurin. This is an Open Source JDK that is maintained by the Adoptium project. The versions of Java on the OpenJDK Website are for testers, and the Oracle JDK is a proprietary product. Use the LTS version of Temurin, unless you need features that are in the latest releases.

Use either mise or the jEnv version manager to work with multiple JDKs.

Once you have installed a JDK, get the Apache Maven build tool. This is provided by the Maven project itself, and is not part of Temurin or the OpenJDK.

Manual Set up of Eclipse Temurin #

To manually install a copy of the JDK:

  1. Download the version of the JDK that you need from Adoptium
  2. Unzip the download
  3. Copy the JDK directory to /usr/local/lib
  4. Edit your ~/.zshrc file to set environment variables. For example, to use jdk-11.0.3+7 as the Java version:

To manually install a copy of Apache Maven:

  1. Download the latest version of Maven
  2. Unzip the download
  3. Copy the Maven directory to /usr/local/lib/
  4. Add /usr/local/lib/MAVEN-DIRECTORY to your PATH environment variable

Replace MAVEN-DIRECTORY with the name of the directory that Maven uses, such as apache-maven-3.6.0.

Maven is written in Java, which means that the project provides one package, which works on any operating system that has a supported version of Java.

Setting up jEnv #

Run this command in a terminal window to install jEnv:

brew install jenv

Next, add this to your PATH:


Add this to your ~/.zshrc file:

eval "$(jenv init -)"

Open a new terminal window, and run this command:

jenv enable-plugin export

This enables jEnv to manage the JAVA_HOME environment variable.

To avoid inconsistent behaviour, close all the terminal windows that you currently have open. The jEnv utility will work correctly in new terminal windows.

Lastly, run this command to register your current JDK with jEnv:

jenv add $(/usr/libexec/java_home)

To see a list of the available commands, type jenv in a terminal window:


Python Development: pyenv and pipx #

Current versions of macOS include a copy of Python 3, but this will not be the latest version of Python. Use either mise or pyenv to install Python. These tools enable you to use multiple versions of Python.

To install pyenv with Homebrew, run this command in a terminal window:

brew install pyenv

Use pipx to install Python applications, rather than pip or Homebrew. To set up pipx, run these commands in a terminal window:

brew install pipx
pipx ensurepath

Rust Development: rustup #

The official rustup utility enables you to install the tools for building software with the Rust programming language. Click on the Install button on the front page of the Rust Website, and follow the instructions.

By default, the installer adds the correct directory to your path. If this does not work, add this to your PATH manually:


This process installs all of the tools into your home directory, and does not add any files into system directories.

Ruby Development: RVM #

All macOS systems include a copy of Ruby, but it is outdated. To maintain current and clean Ruby environments, use either mise or RVM.

By default, RVM downloads copies of Ruby that have been compiled for your operating system. If there is no compiled version, RVM then falls back to downloading the source code and then compiling it on your computer. Enter this command to ensure that the requirements for compiling Ruby are on your system, using Homebrew:

brew install autoconf automake gdbm gmp libksba libtool libyaml openssl pkg-config readline

Finally, you can speed up installation of gem packages by disabling the generation of local documentation. To do this, create a file in your home directory with the name .gemrc and put this line in it:

gem: --no-ri --no-rdoc

Kubernetes: Minikube #

Minikube sets up and manages Kubernetes on a single system, so that you can develop and test without needing a set of servers.

To install Minikube with Homebrew, run these commands in a terminal window:

brew install kubernetes-cli
brew install minikube

By default, Minikube uses a virtual machine manager. If you choose to install VirtualBox, MiniKube will use it. If you do not need VirtualBox, install hyperkit, which provides a minimal virtual machine manager.

brew install hyperkit

To install Helm with Homebrew, run this command in a terminal window:

brew install kubernetes-helm

To install Skaffold with Homebrew, run this command in a terminal window:

brew install skaffold

Databases #

Consider using containers to run the databases that you need. If you prefer to install services directly on to your workstation, Homebrew provides packages for PostgreSQL, MariaDB, MySQL and the Community Edition of MongoDB.

Installing PostgreSQL #

To install PostgreSQL using Homebrew, enter this command in a terminal window:

brew install postgresql

This command installs the server, the command-line tools, and the client libraries that are needed to compile adapters for programming languages.

Homebrew also provides some commands for managing your PostgreSQL installation. For example, to start the server, follow the instructions that are displayed after the installation process is completed. If you upgrade your copy of PostgreSQL, you should use the postgresql-upgrade-database command that Homebrew gives you.

Installing MariaDB or MySQL #

To install MariaDB using Homebrew, enter this command in a terminal window:

brew install mariadb

To install MySQL using Homebrew, enter this command in a terminal window:

brew install mysql

These commands install the server, the command-line tools, and the client libraries that are needed to compile adapters for programming languages. To start the server, follow the instructions that are displayed after the installation process is completed.

For compatibility, MariaDB uses the same names for command-line tools as MySQL.

Remember to set a password for the root accounts. First, login with the mysql command-line utility:

mysql -u root -q
The -q Option Disables Command History: By default, the command-line client stores the full text of every command in a history file. If you know that you are going to run statements that include passwords or other sensitive data, use the -q option.

Run these statements to change the password for root access:

UPDATE mysql.user SET password = PASSWORD('yourpassword') WHERE user
LIKE root;

You now need a password to login to the installation as root. To login with root again, use this command:

mysql -u root -p

Enter the password when prompted.

You should also remove the anonymous accounts and test database that MySQL automatically includes:

DELETE FROM mysql.user WHERE user = ’’;

If you intend to duplicate a production environment for testing, create a configuration file on your Mac. Production installations of MySQL should be configured with appropriate SQL modes to enable data integrity safeguards. By default, MySQL permits various types of invalid data to be entered.

Database Management Tools #

To work with SQL databases, use Beekeeper Studio. This graphical tool supports the popular Open Source databases, as well as Microsoft SQL Server and Amazon Redshift. This enables you to use the same tool for all of your databases.

Install Beekeeper with Homebrew:

brew install --cask beekeeper-studio

Each vendor recommends a specific graphical tool for their particular database product. These are the tools that the vendors suggest:

Other Useful Desktop Applications for Developers #

  • Joplin note-taking: brew install --cask joplin
  • LibreOffice suite: brew install --cask libreoffice
  • VirtualBox virtual machine management: brew install --cask virtualbox
If you install VirtualBox, use Vagrant to manage virtual machines for development.

Online Resources #

The macOS Privacy and Security Guide by Dr Duh provides extensive information about those topics.