Mac OS X configuration guide

This guide is useful for setting up a new Mac development environment. The configuration guide is mainly meant to be used for a Mac that will serve as a local development machine for Python/Django, but you can obviously use some of these tips as general configuration options as well if Python isn’t your development language of choice.

I’d also like to give lots of credit to Justin Mayer of the Hacker Codex blog where I got many of the ideas for this post. I strongly encourage you visit his blog and read his articles. He has some great content to supplement what I’ve decided to include here.


To start, I recommend that you install the following Mac apps. I use them on a daily basis to make my development life much, much easier.

After installing Sublime Text, enable command line access from the terminal shell. This will allow you to use sublime filename from the shell to open files in Sublime Text (note: by default, the terminal command is subl, but I like more descriptive aliases, so I use sublime).

$ ln -s /Applications/Sublime\ /usr/local/bin/sublime

First steps

If your ~/Library folder is hidden, un-hide it with the following shell command:

$ chflags nohidden ~/Library/

Set your compiler to always use 64 bits. Also override the default PATH so that Homebrew binaries take precedence over stock OS X binaries. To make these changes, first open ~/.bash_profile:

$ sublime ~/.bash_profile

In the file that opens, add the following lines of text:

# Set architecture flags
export ARCHFLAGS="-arch x86_64"
# Ensure user-installed binaries take precedence
export PATH=/usr/local/bin:/usr/bin:/bin:/usr/sbin:/sbin
# Load .bashrc if it exists
test -f ~/.bashrc; and . ~/.bashrc

Refresh your file so the changes take effect:

$ . ~/.bash_profile

Ensure that you are the owner of the /usr/local directory to prevent having to use sudo all the time. If you don’t know your USER or GROUP information, use the id command and grab the text in parentheses after uid and gid:

$ sudo chown -R USER:GROUP /usr/local

# if you don't know your USER or GROUP...
$ id
uid=501(rymo) gid=20(staff) groups=20(staff)

$ sudo chown -R rymo:staff /usr/local


Download and install the latest version of Xcode from the Apple App Store. Once installed, open and agree to the terms and conditions (this is needed by additional packages later on). Also open up Preferences > Downloads and install the Command Line Tools.

I would also suggest running the following command to ensure you have accepted the Xcode license agreement:

$ sudo xcodebuild -license


RubyGems gives you access to community managed Ruby gems. This should be installed on OS X by default, but likely is an outdated version. Upgrade your system version using this shell command:

$ gem update --system


Homebrew allows you to install packages on your Mac that are not installed by default. It is the much preferred successor to MacPorts. You can install it via the shell:

$ ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL"

After installing, run the built-in environment check to make sure your system is ready to use Homebrew:

$ brew doctor

Any errors or issues found by the brew doctor are typically easy to remedy using the provided instructions. If you need to fix anything, do so and run brew doctor again. Once this returns cleanly, you can update to the latest version:

$ brew update

Optional step

Install some recommended packages. You can use brew info package to see what the packages do:

$ brew install bash-completion ssh-copy-id wget

If you decide to install bash-completion, you can auto-activate it by adding some text to your ~/.bash_profile:

$ sublime ~/.bash_profile

Then paste the following at the bottom of the file:

if [ -f $(brew --prefix)/etc/bash_completion ]; then
    . $(brew --prefix)/etc/bash_completion

Configuring Python and Virtualenv

This section outlines how to appropriately configure your environment for using Python and Virtualenv (as well as a few other items). If you aren’t going to use Python for development, you can skip this section.


Update your system version of Python to the latest 2.x version. In addition, update the system version of OpenSSL:

$ brew install python --with-brewed-openssl

Pip and Virtualenv

To install virtualenv, I highly recommend using pip. When doing this, packages are installed in /usr/local/lib/python2.7/site-packages, and binaries are placed in /usr/local/bin.

Install virtualenv and create 2 new folders for your local development:

1 $ pip install virtualenv
2 $ mkdir -p ~/Projects ~/Virtualenvs

The concept here is that you create new virtualenvs inside ~/Virtualenvs using:

1 $ cd ~/Virtualenvs; virtualenv foobar

To activate a virtualenv, use:

1 $ cd ~/Virtualenvs/foobar; . bin/activate

Then, navigate to your ~/Projects folder to create your project files. To leave/exit your virtualenv, just type deactivate into the shell.

Final Notes

You should now be ready to start using your Mac OS X environment for Python development. If you want to install some other things, here are some suggestions. I’ll be adding some additional posts on how to enhance your bash shell using fish, as well as some suggested Sublime Text plugins for Python development. Hope this was helpful.

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