A.k.a. "BSD ports collection". The ports collection is a list of programs ported to run on FreeBSD, OpenBSD, or any Unix that supports it. It's a directory that lives under /usr/ports, and through magic makefile tricks, lets you install many diverse applications, even downloading them and building them for you. Some say this approach is even better than the RPM, DEB, SLP, TGZ, etc. that we put up with in the Linux world. Usually, building something in ports involves, "cd /usr/ports/application; make; make install", and then you are done. I give extra credit to the BSD guys for this one.

PS (li wanted me to add this.) The ports collection is said by many to be superior to Linux packaging schemes for a few reasons.
  • Builds from source - a lot of people don't like running others binaries
  • Central control over the packages - a lot of people are paranoid about getting RPMs and their ilk from here and there, and prefer to get them from one place. These are the same nuts that keep an MD5 checksum of every binary on the box.
  • Easy to upgrade - when wish to upgrade, just "cd" into the directory and do "make install", and bada-bing, it is done.
  • Easy to update - you can just cvsup your ports collection overnight

Blah, I hope I got them all.
Building a port actually requires only "cd /usr/ports/application;make install". a "make" bewteen is unnecessary/redundant.

the FreeBSD ports(7) man page:

PORTS(7)           FreeBSD Miscellaneous Information Manual           PORTS(7)

     ports - contributed applications

     The FreeBSD Ports Collection offers a simple way for users and adminis-
     trators to install applications.  Each port contains any patches neces-
     sary to make the original application source code compile and run on BSD.
     Compiling an application is as simple as typing make build in the port
     directory!  The `Makefile' automatically fetches the application source
     code, either from a local disk or via ftp, unpacks it on your system, ap-
     plies the patches, and compiles it.  If all goes well, simply type make
     install to install the application.

     It is possible to download and use ports from the FreeBSD repository that
     are newer than the installed system; however it is important to install
     the appropriate "Upgrade Kit" from http://www.FreeBSD.org/ports/ first!
     The portcheckout(1) script (also a port, of course!) will help to down-
     load new ports.

     For more information about using ports, see The Ports Collection
     (file:/usr/share/doc/handbook/ports.html --or-- http://www.FreeB-
     SD.org/handbook/ports.html).  For information about creating new ports,
     see Porting applications (file:/usr/share/doc/handbook/porting.html
     --or-- http://www.FreeBSD.org/handbook/porting.html).  Both are part of
     the FreeBSD Handbook.

     Some of the targets work recursively through subdirectories.  This lets
     you, for example, install all of the biology ports.  The targets that do
     this are build, checksum, clean, configure, depends, extract, fetch,
     install, and package.

     The following targets will be run automatically by each proceeding target
     in order.  That is, build will be run (if necessary) by install, and so
     on all the way to fetch. You will usually only target install.

     fetch      Fetch all of the files needed to build this port from the
                site(s) listed in MASTER_SITES and PATCH_SITES.  See FETCH_CMD
                and MASTER_SITE_OVERRIDE.

     checksum   Verify that the fetched distfile matches the one the port was
                tested against.  Defining NO_CHECKSUM will skip this step.

     depends    Install (or compile if only compilation is necessary) any de-
                pendencies of the current port.  When called by the extract or
                fetch targets, this is run in piecemeal as fetch-depends,
                build-depends, etc.  Defining NO_DEPENDS will skip this step.

     extract    Expand the distfile into a work directory.

     patch      Apply any patches that are necessary for the port.

     configure  Configure the port.  Some ports will ask you questions during
                this stage.  See INTERACTIVE and BATCH.

     build      Build the the port.  This is the same as calling the all tar-

     install    Install the the port and register it with the package system.
                This is all you really need to do.

     The following targets are not run during the normal install process.

     fetch-list  Show list of files needed to be fetched in order to build the

     pretty-print-run-depends-list pretty-print-build-depends-list
                 Print a list of all the compile and run dependencies, and de-
                 pendencies of those dependencies.

     clean       Remove the expanded source code.  This recurses to dependen-
                 cies unless NOCLEANDEPENDS is defined.

     distclean   Remove the port's distfile(s) and perform the clean opera-
                 tion.  The `clean' portion recurses to dependencies unless
                 NOCLEANDEPENDS is defined, but the `distclean' portion never
                 recurses (this is perhaps a bug).

     reinstall   Use this to restore a port after using pkg_delete(1) when you
                 should have used deinstall.

     deinstall   Remove an installed port from the system, similar to

     package     Make a binary package for the port.  The port will be in-
                 stalled if it hasn't already been.  The package is a .tgz
                 file that you can use to install the port on other machines
                 with pkg_add(1).  If the directory specified by PACKAGES does
                 not exist the package will be put into the current directory.
                 See PKGREPOSITORY and PKGFILE.

     readmes     Create a port's README.html. This can be used from /usr/ports
                 to create a browsable web of all ports on your system!

     You can change all of these.

     PORTSDIR      Location of the ports tree.  This is /usr/ports on FreeBSD
                   and OpenBSD and /usr/pkgsrc on NetBSD.

     WRKDIRPREFIX  Where to create any temporary files.  Useful if PORTSDIR is
                   read-only (perhaps mounted from a cdrom).

     DISTDIR       Where to find/put distfiles, normally distfiles/ in

     PACKAGES      Used only for the package target; the base directory for
                   the packages tree, normally packages/ in PORTSDIR. If this
                   directory exists, the package tree will be (partially) con-
                   structed.  This directory does not have to exist; if it
                   doesn't packages will be placed into the current directory,
                   or you can define one of

                   PKGREPOSITORY  Directory to put the package in.

                   PKGFILE        The full path to the package.

     PREFIX        Where to install things in general (usually /usr/local or

     MASTER_SITES  Primary sites for distribution files if not found locally.

     PATCH_SITES   Primary location(s) for distribution patch files if not
                   found locally.


                   If set, go to the master FreeBSD site for all files.

                   Try going to this site for all files and patches, first.

                   If defined, don't let `clean' recurse to dependencies.

     FETCH_CMD     Command to use to fetch files.  Normally fetch(1).

                   If set, overwrite any existing package registration on the

     MOTIFLIB      Location of libXm.{a,so}.

     INTERACTIVE   If defined, only operate on a port if it requires interac-

     BATCH         If defined, only operate on a port if it can be installed
                   100% automatically.

     /usr/ports       The default ports directory (FreeBSD and OpenBSD).
     /usr/pkgsrc      The default ports directory (NetBSD).
                      The big Kahuna.

     make(1),  pkg_add(1),  pkg_create(1),  pkg_delete(1),  pkg_info(1),

     The following are part of the ports collection:

     pib(1),  portcheckout(1),  portlint(1)

     The FreeBSD handbook

     http://www.FreeBSD.org/ports (searchable index of all ports)

     This man page was originated by David O'Brien. The ports collection is
     maintained by
     Satoshi Asami and the Awesome Ports Team.

     The Ports Collection appeared in FreeBSD 1.0.  It has since spread to
     NetBSD and OpenBSD .

     Ports documentation is split over four places ---
     /usr/ports/Mk/bsd.port.mk, the ``Ports Collection'' section of the hand-
     book, the ``Porting Existing Software'' section of the handbook, and

     This man page is too long.

FreeBSD 2.2                    January 25, 1998                              3

I think the Debian system compares favourably with the points VAXGeek made:

  • You can build from source: "apt-get --build source PACKAGE" will retrieve and compile a package for you
  • Central control over packages: self-apparent, I think
  • Easy to update: "apt-get update" updates your package lists
  • Easy to upgrade: "apt-get dist-upgrade" upgrades all packages on your system, even over major releases

And of course you get extra bonuses like dependency handling, the reccomends/suggests system, the care that the package maintainer has taken to produce a package that integrates well with the rest of the system, etc.

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