PBI Module Builder Guide/9.2

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PC-BSD provides a unique file format known as a PBI (push button installer). PBI files end with the .pbi extension and are self-contained installation programs. This means that even novice users can safely install and uninstall PBIs without inadvertently overwriting or deleting files needed by the operating system or other applications.

A PBI file includes all the runtime and library dependencies required by the application. This means that a PBI is a large file, but this does not necessarily mean that the installed PBI will be that large. During installation, the PBI system compares the currently installed libraries and files with the ones contained within the PBI file and only installs the ones that are not already installed on the system. A hash database is used to eliminate dependency problems while allowing the computer to share libraries between different programs.

Once a PBI is created, it can be installed using the graphical AppCafe® utility or from the command line using PBI Manager.

In order to create a PBI, the software must already be ported to FreeBSD. The easiest way to confirm whether or not a FreeBSD port exists is to search for the software at FreshPorts.org. If a port does not exist, you can issue a port request at the PC-BSD Port Requests forum using these instructions. Alternately, if you have ported software before, the Porters Handbook contains detailed instructions for porting software to FreeBSD.

Creating a PBI from an existing FreeBSD port is a mostly automated process that does not require development skills. Some ports are effortless to convert while more complex ports may require some thought and simple scripting. Two utilities are available for converting a FreeBSD port into a PBI:

1. EasyPBI: provides a graphical interface and is available in Control Panel. See the EasyPBI section of the Handbook for instructions on how to use this utility.

2. pbi_makeport: provides a command line utility.

This section explains the components of a PBI module, demonstrates how to use the pbi_makeport utility, and provides some troubleshooting tips.

NOTE: before creating a PBI, check to see if one exists using the instructions in Submit PBI Requests. If you decide that you prefer to request a PBI that you need rather than to create one, that page also contains instructions for submitting a PBI request.

PBI Module Components

This section describes the various components that comprise a PBI module. A PBI module is simply a collection of files which controls the contents of the PBI.

When creating a PBI module, create a directory on your computer to hold the module's components. For example, if you are creating a PBI module for firefox, create the directory as the superuser using this command:

mkdir -p /usr/local/my_pbis/firefox 

As you create the subdirectories and files needed by the PBI module, save them to that directory. This directory is referred to as %PBI_APPDIR%%. The rest of this section assumes that you are the superuser.


If the application requires the user to read a license agreement, save that license as a file named LICENSE in your %PBI_APPDIR%%. This file is optional unless the underlying port is restricted and requires the user to accept a license in order to install and use the software.


The pbi.conf file is mandatory. It is a simple shell script that contains the information needed to build the PBI. Typically this file requires you to modify a few simple variables, such as the name of the program, its location in the ports tree, and the name of its icon. Sometimes you will need to set a few additional variables in order to make sure that required dependencies are included in the PBI. If you get stuck when creating your own pbi.conf, you can view the pbi.conf file for every PBI module in [1][1].

Here is an example of the pbi.conf file for firefox. When creating your file, modify the text in red to meet the needs of the PBI.

# PBI Build Configuration
# Place over-rides and settings here
# XDG Desktop Menu Spec:
# http://standards.freedesktop.org/menu-spec/menu-spec-1.0.html
# Program Name
# Program Website
# Program Author / Vendor
PBI_PROGAUTHOR="The Mozilla Foundation"
# Default Icon (Relative to %%PBI_APPDIR%% or resources/)
# The target port we are building
# Additional options for make.conf
# Ports to build before / after
PBI_MKPORTAFTER="audio/esound x11-fonts/dejavu x11-themes/qtcurve-gtk2  devel/gconf2 x11/libXScrnSaver www/gecko-mediaplayer www/firefox-i18n"
# do not include the PBI_BUILDKEY or PBI_AB_PRIORITY options
# as the correct values will be added for you when the PBI is added to the build server

Table 11.7a describes the most commonly used variables. When creating your pbi.conf file, refer to the FreeBSD port's Makefile and pkg-descr to determine which values to use.

Table 11.7a: Commonly Used pbi.conf Variables

Variable Description
PBI_PROGNAME= mandatory; should be the same value as PORTNAME= in the port's Makefile, but capitalized
PBI_PROGWEB= mandatory unless does not exist; should be the same value as WWW= in the port's pkg-descr
PBI_PROGAUTHOR= mandatory; often found in the port's pkg-descr or at the website for the application
PBI_PROGICON= mandatory path, relative to %PBI_APPDIR%%, to application icon file in .png format
PBI_PROGREVISION= bump up a PBI's revision number; useful when rebuilding a port with new PBI specific options
PBI_MAKEPORT= mandatory; the path to the port within /usr/ports/
PBI_MAKEOPTS= optional; set this to the options that you want saved to make.conf for the port building process (e.g. WITH_CUPS=YES)
PBI_MKPORTBEFORE= optional; port(s) to build before building the PBI
PBI_MKPORTAFTER= optional; port(s) to build after building the PBI
PBI_BUILDKEY= should not be included; this variable is used on the PBI build server to force the rebuild of a PBI that has failed to build
PBI_REQUIRESROOT= set to to YES to require this app to be installed as root; default is NO which allows it to be installed as a regular user
PBI_EXCLUDELIST= list of files or directories to exclude from the final archive, such as ./include or ./share
PBI_AB_PRIORITY= may be set by build server administrator; a higher number indicates a greater priority and will be built before lower priority PBIs
PBI_AB_NOTMPFS= set to YES to disable using tmpfs when doing auto-builds on a server
PBI_HASH_EXCLUDES= set to a space delimited list of files to exclude from merging into the shared hash-dir
export mandatory; followed by a list of all of the variables that will be included when the PBI is built


The optional external-links file contains a list of targets to link into the system's LOCALBASE at PBI installation time. This is useful for placing binaries and files in the user's PATH. This file is usually not needed as most binaries and files are auto-detected and automatically placed in the LOCALBASE.

Example 11.7a shows an example usage:

Example 11.7a: Example external-links File

# Files to be Sym-Linked into the default LOCALBASE
# One per-line, relative to %%PBI_APPDIR%% and LOCALBASE
# Defaults to keeping any existing files in LOCALBASE

# TARGET                LINK IN LOCALBASE       ACTION
#etc/rc.d/servfoo       etc/rc.d/servfoo        keep
#include/libfoo.h       include/libfoo.h        replace
#etc/rc.d/servfoo       etc/rc.d/servfoo        keep
bin/firefox3            bin/firefox3            binary,nocrash

The flags in the ACTION column are as follows:

  • keep: if this file already exists in LOCALBASE, do not overwrite it
  • replace: replace this file in LOCALBASE if it exists
  • binary: this file is an executable
  • nocrash: used for binary files; do not display crash handler if program exits with non-0 status
  • linux: used for binary files; indicates that this is a Linux application, and needs to be run with Linux compat


The resources/ directory can contain extra files you wish copied into the PBI application directory. This is often the best place for icons and other files not included with a port.


This directory can contain the following scripts:

  • post-install.sh: script run immediately after the extraction of PBI contents to disk
  • post-portmake.sh: script run during building of the PBI file, after the port compile is finished
  • pre-portmake.sh: script run during building of the PBI file, prior to the port compile
  • pre-install.sh: script run before installation of the PBI; return non-0 to halt installation
  • pre-remove.sh: script run before deletion of the PBI file

Table 11.7b summarizes the variables that may be used in these scripts:

Table 11.7b Supported Variables

Variable Description
PBI_PROGNAME= mandatory; should be the same value as PORTNAME= in the port's Makefile, but capitalized
PBI_PROGDIRNAME= name of the subdirectory that is created for the PBI in /usr/pbi/ (e.g. "firefox-amd64" for the 64-bit Firefox PBI)
PBI_PROGDIRPATH= full path to the PBI install directory (e.g. /usr/pbi/firefox-amd64/ for the 64-bit Firefox PBI)
PBI_PROGVERSION= version of the program - should be the same value as the DISTVERSION in the port's Makefile
PBI_RCDIR= location of rc.d/ directory used by PBIs, usually /usr/local/etc/rc.d
SYS_LOCALBASE= LOCALBASE of the default system, typically /usr/local
PBI_FAKEBIN_DIR= the binary wrapper directory, typically /usr/pbi/<pbidir>/.sbin/

xdg-menu/ and xdg-desktop/

The xdg-menu/ and xdg-desktop/ directories can be used to supply menu and desktop icons, respectively. The file that you place in these directories should be in the format pbiname.desktop. Example 11.7b shows the firefox.desktop files for the firefox PBI:

Example 11.7b: firefox.desktop File

more xdg-menu/firefox.desktop
#!/usr/bin/env xdg-open
[Desktop Entry]
Exec=%%PBI_EXEDIR%%/firefox %U

more xdg-desktop/firefox.desktop
#!/usr/bin/env xdg-open
[Desktop Entry]
Exec=%%PBI_EXEDIR%%/firefox %U

%%PBI_EXEDIR%% should reference the PBI's executable and any required switches.

For more details on the XDG menu specifications, please refer to the [2][2].


The xdg-mime/ directory is used to register file associations according to the [3][3]. This requires the creation of an XML file. The example shown in Figure 11.7c adds the MIME information for gimp, so that it can be available as an application choice in a web browser:

Example 11.7c: Gimp MIME Info

more xdg-mime/gimp-xdg.xml
<?xml version="1.0"?>
<mime-info xmlns='http://www.freedesktop.org/standards/shared-mime-info'>
 <mime-type type="application/x-gimp">
   <comment>Gimp File</comment>
  <glob weight="100" pattern="*.xcf"/>
  <glob weight="100" pattern="*.XCF"/>

Creating a New PBI with pbi_makeport

Once you have created the files needed by your PBI module, use the built-in pbi_makeport command to convert the FreeBSD port to a PBI module.

First, make sure that the FreeBSD ports collection is installed. If /usr/ports/ does not exist or is empty, the ports collection is not installed. To install the ports collection either use Control Panel ➜ System Manager ➜ Tasks ➜ Fetch Ports Tree or type portsnap fetch extract.

FreeBSD ports may contain build dependencies, runtime dependencies, and required libraries. When building a PBI, pbi_makeport automatically compiles all of the required dependencies. When the build is finished, it prunes the build dependencies before packaging the PBI file, leaving only the runtime packages and libraries that are required for the program to work. This means that any files which are included in the PBI are necessary for the program to run, and manually removing them will cause the program to fail.

Useful Tips

If your PBI's executable does not run, it may be because the program executable is actually a wrapper script rather than a binary file. If so, check the first line of the script to make sure it is using the right path for the scripting language. For example, #!/bin/python is an incorrect path which should be changed to #!/usr/pbi/(pbi-name)/bin/python.

The suggested path works because each program is packaged with the proper version of the language it uses and you want to make sure it uses that one. This is usually accomplished by putting a quick sed line in the post-install.sh script to fix the first line as seen in the post install script for [4][4].

When testing the executable, use the one located in /usr/pbi/(pbi-name)/bin/ so all the linking will be properly set up. Otherwise you can get some interesting errors about missing files.

Getting Help

The [5][5] can help if you:

  • get stuck building a PBI
  • need to ask a question about your PBI
  • are ready to submit a new module
  • find a bug in an existing PBI
  • have a bugfix for an existing PBI


  1. http://trac.pcbsd.org/browser#pbi/modules
  2. http://standards.freedesktop.org/menu-spec/menu-spec-1.0.html
  3. http://standards.freedesktop.org/shared-mime-info-spec/shared-mime-info-spec-latest.html
  4. http://trac.pcbsd.org/browser/pbi/modules/games/fretsonfire/scripts/post-install.sh?rev=13019
  5. http://lists.pcbsd.org/mailman/listinfo/pbi-dev
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