Mac OS X:Application package

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Warning: this page describes the GTK-OSX port of GRAMPS to Mac, which is still under test. This page too is still under construction. The program described may not work as expected. Or even work. Use it on precious data at your own risk!

The GTK-OSX port of GRAMPS for Mac is expected to supersede the Macports and Fink versions. It is closer to a native Mac application and should rely less on other programs, so should be easier to use and maintain.

Mac GRAMPS is available for both Intel and PPC Macs. The distribution page carries both a binary application that should work as soon as it is downloaded, and also a build environment which should allow a Mac with the Apple Xcode tools to build the whole thing from scratch. The binary application was built for OS X 10.5.7 but should (in theory) work on OS X 10.4. To discover what OS and processor is in a Mac, choose About This Mac from the Apple menu in the top left of the Desktop screen.

How to Download and run the binary GRAMPS application for Mac

If there is an existing GRAMPS database, it is wise to create a backup archive of an existing GRAMPS database before trying a new program, as described in the note on backups below. GRAMPS for Mac is still new and untested. Take care!

To run the binary application, visit the download page and click on the latest download. The download name specifies the version of GRAMPS from which the build was made, and a "macnn" version which changes whenever a minor bug fix is made to the Apple binary, and the processor (Intel or PPC) on which the program will run. The files are the build environments to build each version from scratch, which can be ignored if only the binary application is needed. It's possible to download and run the binary application to a Mac without any Mac admin privileges, and with a Mac using only the programs supplied straight out of the box.

Any browser on the Mac will download the binary application, and depending on how it's configured, uncompress it and store it, usually in the Downloads stack. If it doesn't uncompress (it's still called .zip instead of GRAMPS with a pretty family tree icon) then double-clicking it should turn it into GRAMPS. It can be dragged to the Desktop for convenience, or stored in the Applications folder.

Double-clicking on the GRAMPS application should launch GRAMPS. It Should Just Work.

The GRAMPS application takes its working language from the System Preferences - International settings for the Desktop. If the list of desired languages there shows Esperanto - Russian - French - English then GRAMPS should work in Esperanto. If that translation isn't available for a particular phrase, it should produce Russian. If that's not available for a particular phrase (in the place completion tool, for example) then GRAMPS should produce French, and then eventually English.

The plugins directory of the .gramps user directory should be visible in Finder using the gramps_user_directory described below for backup. Placing plugins in there should work for most existing plugins, and can be done with the Finder straight from a download.

Double clicking an image in the media reference editor should bring up Apple Preview, or a similar program, to view the image. Clicking the view button in an internet reference should bring up the URL in the default browser. Clicking the Google Maps button in the Places display should bring up the map in the browser.

GRAMPS doesn't use the X11 Mac package. It's useful to install OpenOffice and Graphviz to produce reports, but they are both straightforward.

A Note on Backups

The first binary GRAMPS is built from gramps-3.1.2. If this reads an existing database from an earlier version of GRAMPS (like Macports) it will demand to do a database conversion, and there is no way to reverse this step. It is thus good practice when installing this binary GRAMPS on a system with an existing gramps database, first, to use Apple Time Machine to create backups, and second, to set aside a specific backup of an old GRAMPS database in case anything goes badly wrong. Unfortunately, the GRAMPS database is in a hidden directory which Finder doesn't show. One way to fix this is to create a link to the database in a non-hidden file. To do this, open a unix terminal with Finder-Applications-Utilities-Terminal, and at the prompt there type

ln -s .gramps gramps_user_directory

which should create a directory, gramps_user_directory, showing the GRAMPS database in Finder. (That's dot-gramps in that command!) Hitting Copy then Paste on this directory in finder will not create an explicit backup, it will only create a second link pointing at the original GRAMPS data! Instead, you can type

cp -r .gramps gramps_backup

It is unfortunate that the current Macports GRAMPS crashes if it is used to produce a backup archive.


Known bugs in the application are described at Mac gtk-osx port bugs and it is a good idea to look there for workaraounds. In particular, Macs with a dialect of English (like British English) as their first choice language need a tweak to keep Gramps talking English!


GRAMPS stores all its internal data in ~/gramps_user_directory. So, to upgrade a binary GRAMPS application to a newer version, just throw the old application in the Trash. Everything in ~/gramps_user_directory will still be there. Download the new version of the application and just use it. It will use all the old data still stored in ~/gramps_user_directory. If you don't like the new version and want the old one back, throw the new version in the Trash and fetch the old one back from the Trash. GRAMPS binary applications are labeled with a version string, -macnn, which can be seen by selecting the application package and choosing Get Info from the context (right-click) menu.

How the Apple binary application works

The application called GRAMPS on the desktop is actually a complete directory hierarchy called stored in the directory ~/Desktop, where ~ is the home directory of the logged-in user. The contents of the application directory hierarchy can be seen in finder by selecting the application and choosing Show Package Contents from the context (right-click) menu. Using cd and ls in a shell at a unix terminal, the "hidden" contents of the package are actually always visible and not hidden at all.

GRAMPS is a Python interpreted application and changing the program requires no build step. It's possible to change the downloaded binary application by choosing Show Package Contents in Finder, navigating in Finder to the GRAMPS Python code in, and choosing Open With... TextEdit for the .py file to change. (There seems to be a bug in the Mac implementation of the Python runtime editor "Idle". Opening the .py file with that doesn't work.) Editing the .py file and saving the new version will cause GRAMPS to use it next time it is started. It won't change a GRAMPS which is currently running. There are .pyc files also stored in the application, compiled Python byte-code, which can be ignored.

The binary GRAMPS application contains not only the GRAMPS Python sources and all their internationalised translations, but also a complete Python 2.6.2 interpreter, and the Python code libraries distributed with that, and the compiled C libraries for graphics features like gtk, glade and pango. These are all fixed for a particular version of the distributed binary application. The only way to change them is to download a new distributed binary GRAMPS application. This is intended to fix a major issue with earlier GRAMPS Mac implementations, where the program depended on so many different distributions that were always changing that determining what change introduced what bug was very hard.

One downside of the way that Mac packages work is that, to achieve a reasonable download size, some libraries and programs are missed out of the packaged application. This can cause GRAMPS crashes, or sometimes just cause some program features to be missing. Crashes of the packaged application usually produce messages on the console, which can be seen (even after the crash has finished) by choosing Finder-Applications-Utilities-Console. There is a delay of perhaps up to a minute between the crash occurring and the messages appearing on the console.

A simpler way to see messages from GRAMPS, should any appear, is to start it from a unix terminal. To do this, open a terminal with Finder-Applications-Utilities-Terminal, and type (for a GRAMPS application on the Desktop)

cd / ; ~/Desktop/

and that should run GRAMPS and produce any messages with no delay. The file ~/Desktop/ is a shell script, as is ~/Desktop/ which it calls. gramps-bin calls the Python 2.6.2 interpreter ~/Desktop/ to run the GRAMPS code which is stored in ~/Desktop/ Local translations are stored in ~/Desktop/ Standard python code is in ~/Desktop/, and the compiled C libraries are in ~/Desktop/*.dylib. Only the GRAMPS Python source is shipped in the binary application. If other sources are needed, the GRAMPS build environment must be used.

Should GRAMPS produce a message indicating that it crashed because it could not find a particular library or source file, then do please post a message on the GRAMPS users or developers mailing list, or post a bug. These tedious issues are usually easy to fix. Packaging GRAMPS like this (as opposed to including everything and the kitchen sink) reduces the download size by more than a factor of three.

The binary application is built by downloading a Whole Pile of programs from various places on the web (about forty programs) and building each of them to produce a utility to help building, or a library, or something. Just one of these applications is the GRAMPS code developed with such effort by the GRAMPS developers, so it's clear just how much work has gone into the whole thing.

Building GRAMPS from Scratch

Building GRAMPS from scratch is useful to produce a version not currently available as a binary (for example, a PPC version) or to produce a complete environment for debugging and further development, including debugging of all the C libraries GRAMPS uses, like gtk.

To build GRAMPS from scratch, click on an entry from the download page like The builder files are build environments. The downloaded builder file when uncompressed will produce a directory called gramps_important_info. This is intended to be saved at ~/gramps_important_info, where ~ is the home directory of the logged-in user. It's possible to download the builder file with any browser and to uncompress it and move it to ~/ and then to execute ~/gramps_important_info/build_gramps (by double-clicking it) entirely from within Finder. build_gramps should download a bunch of stuff (It may hang up if any of the required webservers are down) and build it. build_gramps does everything needed to build GRAMPS (provided Apple Xcode tools are installed).

build_gramps uses the jhbuild system to fetch code and compile it. It's important that jhbuild is not confused by any existing Macports or Fink installation. For this reason, it can be convenient to create a new Mac User account, without admin privilege, and log in to that account to fetch and run build_gramps. Admin access is not required to build GRAMPS from scratch: no sudo.

jhbuild is installed in ~/Source, and produces a binary which appears in ~/bin. jhbuild then puts everything it is building in ~/gtk (controlled by the .jhbuildrc hidden file). ~/gtk/source contains the downloaded sources, and ~/gtk/inst contains the built libraries and applications. More is built than is needed in the final GRAMPS application - for example, the build tools are themselves built. jhbuild gets its instructions on how to build things from the file ~/gramps_important_info/gramps.modules. This large file includes all the instructions to build all the libraries as well as GRAMPS itself, to avoid relying on jhbuild's own instructions, which might change with time and change a build of GRAMPS unexpectedly. The intent is that each major release of GRAMPS ported to Mac will see this gramps.modules file revisited to update build instructions for libraries to the latest stable releases.

The application


can run GRAMPS straight from the build directory without any OS X packaging, provided that PATH searches ~gtk/inst/bin first to pick up the right Python. GRAMPS will not work, in this build, with the standard Apple 2.5.1 Python. jhbuild constructs a 2.6.2 Python for GRAMPS to use.

build_gramps goes on to produce an application package on the desktop. It does this just by copying the relevant files, and creating some symbolic links in the target. The files come either from ~/gtk/inst, or from ~/gramps_important_info. It's a fairly ad hoc procedure. It's possible some critical Python file or compiled C library is missed out of the application and will only be discovered later. This is to reduce the download size.

Finally, build_gramps creates a pair of zipped files, the zipped packaged application for download, and the zipped gramps_important_info directory for building.

The version macnn which is given to the files (and to the file info for the packaged application) is taken from the file ~/gramps_important_info/built_version. To create a different built version (version 0 for testing, perhaps) invoke build_gramps from a command line with a single argument:

  • build_gramps 0

Good Luck!