Tiny Deathstars of Foulness

The software patching configuration built into most operating systems is configured so that all a user has to do is open a box at home, join the network and start using the computer right away. As environments grow from homes to small offices and then small offices grow into enterprises, at some point software updates and patches need to be managed centrally. OS X Server 5.2 (on Sierra), as with its macOS Server predecessors has a Software Update service. The service in the Server app is known as Software Update and from the command line is known as swupdate.

The Software Update service, by default, stores each update in the /var/db/swupd directory. The Software Update service is actually comprised of three components. The first is an Apache server, invoked by the /Applications/ LaunchDaemon. This LaunchDaemon invokes a httpd process and clients access updates from the server based on a manifest of updates available in the sucatalog.

These are synchronized with Apple Software Updates via /Applications/, the LaunchDaemon for swupdate at /Applications/

Clients can be pointed at the server then via a Profile or using the defaults command to edit the /Library/Preferences/ file. The contents of this file can be read using the following command:

defaults read /Library/Preferences/

To point a client to a server via the command line, use a command such as the following:

sudo defaults write /Library/Preferences/ CatalogURL

But first, you’ll need to configure and start the Software Update service. Lucky you, it’s quick (although quick in a hurry up and wait kind of way). To get started, click on the View menu in Server and select the Software Update service.


By default, updates are set to simply mirror the Apple servers, by default, enabling each update that Apple publishes, effectively proxying updates. You can use the Manual button if you would like to configure updates to either manually be approved and manually synchronized or just manually approved but automatically copied from Apple. Otherwise click on the ON button and wait for the updates to cache to simply mirror the Apple servers. If you would like to manually configure updates, click on the Manual option and then click on the Updates tab.

The first item in the Updates tab is the “Automatically download new updates” checkbox. This option downloads all of the updates but does not enable them. The Updates tab also displays all available updates. click on one and then click on the cog-wheel icon towards the bottom of the screen to configure its behavior (Download, Enable, Disable, Remove and View Update).

Note: The only option for updates in an Automatic configuration environment is disable.

The service can be managed using serveradmin. To start Software Update, use the start option, followed by the swupdate service identifier:

sudo /Applications/ start swupdate

To stop the service, replace start with stop:

sudo /Applications/ stop swupdate

To see the status of the service, including the location of updates, the paths to log files, when the service was started and the number of updates running, use the fullstatus option:

sudo /Applications/ fullstatus swupdate

The output of which appears as follows:

swupdate:state = "RUNNING"
swupdate:lastChecktime = 2016-08-07 01:25:05 +0000
swupdate:syncStatus = "INPROGRESS"
swupdate:syncServiceState = "RUNNING"
swupdate:setStateVersion = 1
swupdate:lastProductsUpdate = 2016-08-16 04:02:16 +0000
swupdate:logPaths:swupdateAccessLog = "/var/log/swupd/swupd_access_log"
swupdate:logPaths:swupdateErrorLog = "/var/log/swupd/swupd_error_log"
swupdate:logPaths:swupdateServiceLog = "/var/log/swupd/swupd_syncd_log"
swupdate:readWriteSettingsVersion = 1
swupdate:pluginVers = "10.12"
swupdate:checkError = no
swupdate:updatesDocRoot = "/Library/Server/Software Update/Data/"
swupdate:hostServiceState = "RUNNING"
swupdate:autoMirror = no
swupdate:numOfEnabledPkg = 0
swupdate:servicePortsAreRestricted = "NO"
swupdate:numOfMirroredPkg = 0
swupdate:autoMirrorOnlyNew = no
swupdate:startTime = 2016-08-07 01:25:05 +0000
swupdate:autoEnable = no

There are also a number of options available using the serveradmin settings that aren’t exposed to the Server app. Available Settings include:

swupdate:checkError = no
swupdate:limitBandwidth = no
swupdate:PurgeUnused = yes
swupdate:portToUse = 8088
swupdate:autoEnable = yes
swupdate:valueBandwidth = 0
swupdate:syncStatus = “Initializing”
swupdate:autoMirror = yes
swupdate:syncBandwidth = 0
swupdate:updatesDocRoot = “/Library/Server/Software Update/Data/”
swupdate:autoMirrorOnlyNew = no

These include a feature I used to use a lot in the beginning of deployments with poor bandwidth, only mirroring new updates, which is available to swupdate via the autoMirrorOnlyNew option. To configure:

sudo /Applications/ settings swupdate:autoMirrorOnlyNew = yes

Also, the service can throttle bandwidth for clients. To use this option, run the following command:

sudo /Applications/ settings swupdate:limitBandwidth = yes

And configure bandwidth using the syncBandwidth option, as follows:

sudo /Applications/ settings swupdate:syncBandwidth = 10

To automatically sync updates but not enable them (as the checkboxes allow for in the Server app, use the following command:

sudo /Applications/ settings swupdate:autoEnable = no

The port (by default 8088) can be managed using the portToUse option, here being used to set it to 80 (clients need this in their catalog URL from here on out):

sudo /Applications/ settings swupdate:portToUse = 80

Finally, administrators can purge old packages that are no longer needed using the PurgeUnused option:

sudo /Applications/ settings swupdate:PurgeUnused = yes

One of the biggest drawbacks of the Software Update is the fact that it does not allow for serving 3rd party packages (not that Apple has much control over this, since these aren’t sourced from the App Store) from vendors such as Microsoft or Adobe. To provide those vendors with a manifest file and a quick little path option to add those manifest files while doing a little man in the middle protection would be a nice middle ground between the Mac App Store and the built in software update options in macOS. But then, we wouldn’t want to make it too easy. I don’t know, maybe by creating the Caching service… 😉

October 10th, 2016

Posted In: Mac OS X, Mac OS X Server

Tags: , , , , ,