Fig is a utility for configuring environments and managing dependencies across a team of developers.

An "environment" in fig is a set of environment variables. A "package" is a collection of files, along with some metadata describing which environment variables should be modified when the package is included. For instance, each dependency may prepend its corresponding jar to CLASSPATH. The metadata may also list that package's lower-level Fig package dependencies.

Fig recursively builds an environment consisting of package dependencies (typically specified via command-line options or a package.fig file), each of which as noted above may have its own dependencies, and optionally executes a shell command in that environment. The caller's environment is not affected.

Developers can use package.fig files to specify the list of dependencies to use for different tasks. This file will typically be versioned along with the rest of the source files, ensuring that all developers on a team are using the same environemnts.

Packages exist in two places: a "local" repository cache in the user's home directory--also called the fig-home--and a "remote" repository on a shared server. Fig will automatically download packages from the remote repository and install them in the fig-home as needed. Fig does not contact the remote repository unless it needs to. The fig-home is $HOME/.fighome, but may be changed by setting the $FIG_HOME environment variable.

Fig is similar to a lot of other package/dependency-management tools. In particular, it steals a lot of ideas from Apache Ivy and Debian APT. However, unlike Ivy, fig is meant to be lightweight (no XML, no JVM startup time), language agnostic (Java doesn't get preferential treatment), and work with executables as well as libraries. And unlike APT, fig is cross platform and project-oriented.


 $ gem install fig

Or, if running Ruby 1.8.x...

 $ gem install fig18


Fig recognizes the following options:


-?, -h, --help                   display this help text
-v, --version                    Print fig version
-p, --append VAR=VAL             append (actually, prepend) VAL to environment var VAR, delimited by separator
    --archive FULLPATH           include FULLPATH archive in package (when using --publish)
    --clean PKG                  remove package from $FIG_HOME
-c, --config CFG                 apply configuration CFG, default is 'default'
-d, --debug                      print debug info
    --file FILE                  read fig file FILE. Use '-' for stdin. See also --no-file
    --force                      force-overwrite existing version of a package to the remote repo
-g, --get VAR                    print value of environment variable VAR
-i, --include PKG                include PKG (with any variable prepends) in environment
    --list                       list packages in $FIG_HOME
    --list-configs PKG           list configurations in package
    --list-remote                list packages in remote repo
-l, --login                      login to remote repo as a non-anonymous user
    --no-file                    ignore package.fig file in current directory
    --publish PKG                install PKG in $FIG_HOME and in remote repo
    --publish-local PKG          install package only in $FIG_HOME
    --resource FULLPATH          include FULLPATH resource in package (when using --publish)
-s, --set VAR=VAL                set environment variable VAR to VAL
-u, --update                     check remote repo for updates and download to $FIG_HOME as necessary
-m, --update-if-missing          check remote repo for updates only if package missing from $FIG_HOME
    --figrc PATH                 use PATH file as .rc file for Fig
    --no-figrc                   ignore ~/.figrc
    --log-config PATH            use PATH file as configuration for Log4r
    --log-level LEVEL            set logging level to LEVEL
                                   (off, fatal, error, warn, info, debug, all)

--  end of fig options; everything following is a command to run in the fig environment.

Some of these options may also be expressed as statements in a package.fig file. For instance, --append, --archive, --resource, include.

One point of frequent confusion revolves around which statements are concerned with publishing packages, and which are for downloading packages and otherwise modifying the Fig environment. The same Fig file can contain both publish (e.g., append, resource) and download (e.g., include) statements, but you may not want to use the same dependency file for both publishing a package and specifying that same package's dependencies, since for example its "build-time" dependencies may differ from its "include-time" dependencies. Multiple config sections may be helpful in organizing these concerns.

Environment Variables Influencing Fig's Behavior

`FIG_FTP_THREADS`     Optional - Size of FTP session pool. Defaults to 16.
`FIG_HOME`            Optional - Location of local repo cache. Defaults to $HOME/.fighome.
`FIG_REMOTE_LOGIN`    Required for --login, unless $HOME/.netrc is configured.
`FIG_REMOTE_URL`      Require for operations involving the remote repository.
`FIG_REMOTE_USER`     Required for --login, unless $HOME/.netrc is configured.

[--list-remote] When using the --list-remote command against an FTP server, fig uses a pool of FTP sessions to improve performance. By default it opens 16 connections, but that number can be overridden by setting the FIG_FTP_THREADS environment variable.

[--login] If the --login option is supplied, fig will look for credentials. If environment variables FIG_REMOTE_USER and/or FIG_REMOTE_PASSWORD are defined, fig will use them instead of prompting the user. If ~/.netrc exists, with an entry corresponding to the host parsed from FIG_REMOTE_URL, that entry will take precedence over FIG_REMOTE_USER and FIG_REMOTE_PASSWORD. If sufficient credentials are still not found, fig will prompt for whatever is still missing, and use the accumulated credentials to authenticate against the remote server. Even if both environment variables are defined, fig will only use them if --login is given.


Fig lets you configure environments three different ways:

  • From the command line
  • From a "package.fig" file in the current directory
  • From packages included indirectly via one of the previous two methods

Command Line

To get started, let's define an environment variable via the command line and execute a command in the new environment. We'll set the "GREETING" variable to "Hello", then run a command that uses that variable:

$ fig -s GREETING=Hello -- echo '$GREETING, World'
Hello, World

Also note that when running fig, the original environment isn't affected:

 $ echo $GREETING

Fig also lets you append environment variables using the system-specified path separator (e.g. colon on unix, semicolon on windows). This is useful for adding directories to the PATH, LD_LIBRARY_PATH, CLASSPATH, etc. For example, let's create a "bin" directory, add a shell script to it, then include it in the PATH:

$ mkdir bin
$ echo 'echo $GREETING, World' > bin/hello
$ chmod +x bin/hello
$ fig -s GREETING=Hello -p PATH=bin -- hello
Hello, World

Fig Files

You can also specify environment modifiers in files. Fig looks for a file called "package.fig" in the current directory and automatically processes it. This "package.fig" file implements the previous example:

config default
  set GREETING=Hello
  append [email protected]/bin

Then we can just run:

$ fig -- hello
Hello, World

NOTE: The '@' symbol in a given package.fig file (or in a published dependency's .fig file) represents the full path to that file's directory. The above example would still work if we just used "bin", but later on when we publish our project to the shared repository we'll definitely need the '@', since the project directories will live in the fig-home rather than under our current directory).

A single fig file may have multiple configurations:

config default
  set GREETING=Hello
  append [email protected]/bin

config french
  set GREETING=Bonjour
  append [email protected]/bin

Config Sections

Configurations other than "default" can be specified using the "-c" option:

$ fig -c french -- hello
Bonjour, World

A config section can be included in another config section:

config default
  include :spanish

config spanish
  set GREETING="Buenas Dias"
  append [email protected]/bin


Let's share our little script with the rest of the team by bundling it into a package and publishing it. First, point the FIG_REMOTE_URL environment variable to the remote repository. If you just want to play around with fig, you can have it point to localhost:

$ export FIG_REMOTE_URL=ssh://localhost$(pwd)/remote

Before we publish our package, we'll need to tell fig which files we want to include. We do this by using the "resource" statement in our "package.fig" file:

resource bin/hello

config default...

Now we can share the package with the rest of the team by using the --publish option:

$ fig --publish hello/1.0.0

Once the package has been published, we can include it in other environments with the -i or --include option. (For the purpose of this example, let's first move the "package.fig" file out of the way, so that it doesn't confuse fig or us.) The "hello/1.0.0" string represents the name of the package and the version number.

$ mv package.fig package.bak
$ fig -u -i hello/1.0.0 -- hello
...downloading files...
Hello, World

The -u (or --update) option tells fig to check the remote repository for packages if they aren't already installed locally (fig will never make any network connections unless this option is specified). Once the packages are downloaded, we can run the same command without the -u option:

$ fig -i hello/1.0.0 -- hello
Hello, World

When including a package, you can specify a particular configuration by appending it to the package name using a colon:

$ fig -i hello/1.0.0:french -- hello
Bonjour, World


By default, the resources associated with a package live in the fig home directory, which defaults to "$HOME/.fighome". This doesn't always play nicely with IDE's however, so fig provides a "retrieve" statement to copy resources from the repository to the current directory.

For example, let's create a package that contains a library for the "foo" programming language. Define a "package.fig" file:

config default
  append [email protected]/lib/


$ mkdir lib
$ echo "print 'hello'" > lib/
$ fig --publish hello-lib/3.2.1

Create a new "package.fig" file (first moving to a different directory or deleting the "package.fig" we just used for publishing):

retrieve FOOPATH->lib/[package]
config default
  include hello-lib/3.2.1

Upon a fig --update, each resource in FOOPATH will be copied into lib/[package], where [package] resolves to the resource's package name (minus the version).

 $ fig -u
 $ cat lib/hello-lib/
 print 'hello'

Building the gem

Use rake figbuild instead of rake build, due to a glitch with "gem build's" naming of i386 gems as 'x86', which causes problems with a subsequent gem install fig18 command; it picks the wrong Fig gem to install.


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Copyright (c) 2009 Matthew Foemmel. See LICENSE for details.