FontForge install procedures
for the macintosh

I no longer provide pre-built packages. You may either compile from source or download a package from another site (both macports and fink have fontforge packages).

Installing from a pre-built package

Before you install

You must insure that you have the X11 server installed on your system.

10.5, 10.4
  • Open the Install DVD that came with your system.
  • Scroll down to "Optional Installs" and open it.
  • Keep clicking Continue until you get to the pane "Custom Install on "Macintosh HD""
  • Press the arrow beside "Applications so you get a list of them.
  • Select X11
  • Keep pressing Continue
  • (If you want to build from source you should also install the Xcode packages).
  • Apple appears to have shipped a buggy version of X11 with 10.5. The problem appears fixed in 10.5.6 (It may have been fixed earlier, but I don't have a machine on which I can test that).

    The problem only affects fontforge it if uses pango or cairo.

    This release of fontforge tries to check for a buggy system, and if it thinks it is running on one, then it will refuse to use Pango and Cairo.

    The problem does not affect Mac 10.4.*

    You may upgrade from 10.5 to 10.5.6 by going to the Apple Menu and selecting the "Software Update" menu item, and then the "Mac OS X Update Combined".

    You probably need to install X11 before you upgrade the Operating System.

  • The X server lives in a package called X11User.pkg in the Packages folder on the third install CD.
  • Just double click on this file and follow its instructions to install X11

You may also want to install the fink or macports packages which includes many useful libraries (see the dependencies section below for more info on this)

Configuring X11


FontForge is designed to make use of a three button mouse. It is also designed to make use of modifier key modes on mouse clicks (so Control left click can mean something different than left click). If you have a three (or two) button mouse then use it (and turn off "Emulate three button mouse" in the X11 preferences). If you have a standard one button mouse then you have the option of having the mac simulate a three button mouse (for instance Option mouse click behaves like clicking the middle mouse button). Unfortunately this means you can no longer use the Option key to change the behavior of the left (only) button click. So either choice means you lose capabilities.

Normally X11 is configured so that the Command key (cloverleaf) is bound to the X11 menu bar, and not to fontforge's. When fontforge starts it checks this, and if X11 gets command then fontforge configures its menubar to use Control rather than command. This isn't very mac-like. If you turn off the "Enable keyboard shortcuts under X11" preference item then fontforge will configure its menubar to make use of Command.

If type the following into a terminal (or xterm) window

$ cat >~/.fonts.conf
<?xml version="1.0"?>
<!DOCTYPE fontconfig SYSTEM "fonts.dtd">
<!-- /etc/fonts/fonts.conf file to configure system font access -->

<!-- Font directory list -->
<!-- Add to system list -->



then fontforge's UI will be able to use the fonts Apple supplies with the mac. (You don't type the "$", and ^D means hold down the control key and press "D").


On the mac, the Option key is mapped to what fontforge calls "Alt" or "Meta".

Obtaining one of my pre-built packages

I used to post mac install packages on sourceforge's file release system. The old ones are still there but they are now out of date. There's a certain amount of pother involved in using the file release system, but you get the file eventually.

I currently post builds for Mac 10.5 & 10.4 (I post different builds for the two systems because they provide different python libraries).

Neither of these builds will work on 10.3. If you wish a 10.3 build you can build from current source, or download a build from 2006. If you wish a 10.2 or earlier build the current sources will not work and you must delve more deeply into the past.


Generally your browser will decompress the package after pulling it down, and then start the install process itself.

If this doesn't happen, find the package (it's usually on the desktop) and double-click on it.

The install will request your password (to make sure you have the right to do an install on your machine, and then ask some innocuous questions, and proceed to install.


FontForge does not conform to Apple's Human Interface Guidelines. FontForge never will. Don't expect it to look like a normal Mac Application. It doesn't.

Before you can start FontForge you must start the X11 server. You do this by opening the Utilities sub-folder of the Applications folder and double-clicking on X11. This will bring up a new menu bar, and under the Applications menu you should find an entry for FontForge.