Querying brew

In this document we will be using jq to parse JSON, available from Homebrew using brew install jq.


brew provides commands for getting common types of information out of the system. brew list showed installed formulae. brew deps foo shows the dependencies that foo needs.

Additional commands, including external commands, can of course be written to provide more detailed information. There are a couple of disadvantages here. First, it means writing Ruby against a possibly changing Homebrew codebase. There will be more code to touch during refactors, and Homebrew can’t guarantee that external commands will continue to work. Second, it means designing the commands themselves, specifying input parameters and output formats.

To enable users to do rich queries without the problems above, Homebrew provides the brew info command.

brew info --json

brew info outputs JSON-formatted information about formulae. This JSON can then be parsed using your tools of choice.

From the manpage:

The current schema version is v1. Note that fields may be added to the schema as needed without incrementing the schema. Any significant breaking changes will cause a change to the schema version.

The schema itself is not currently documented outside of the code that generates it: Formula#to_hash

(TODO: add a manpage for the schema)


The top-level element of the JSON is always an array, so the map operator is used to act on the data.

Prety-print a single formula’s info

brew info --json=v1 tig | jq .

Installed formulae

To show full JSON information about all installed formulae:

brew info --json=v1 --all | jq "map(select(.installed != []))"

You’ll note that processing all formulae can be slow; it’s quicker to let brew do this:

brew info --json=v1 --installed

Linked keg-only formulae

Some formulae are marked as “keg-only”, meaning that installed files are not linked to the shared bin, lib, etc. directors, as doing so can cause conflicts. Such formulae can be forced to link to the shared directories, but doing so is not recommended (and will cause brew doctor to complain.)

To find the names of linked keg-only formulae:

brew info --json=v1 --installed | jq "map(select(.keg_only == true and .linked_keg != null) | .name)"

Unlinked normal formulae

To find the names of normal (not keg-only) formulae that are installed, but not linked to the shared directories:

brew info --json=v1 --installed | jq "map(select(.keg_only == false and .linked_keg == null) | .name)"

Concluding remarks

Using the JSON output, queries can be made against Homebrew with less risk of being broken due to Homebrew code changes, and without needing to understand Homebrew’s ruby internals.

If the JSON does not provide some information that it ought to, please submit request, preferably with a patch to add the desired information.