IceCat on High Sierra

[Catalina update: the build instructions for IceCat 52.3 do not work anymore with Catalina. There is a weird error that says "C++ compiler cannot create executables." I am investigating this and I'll update the post when I have found a solution.]

The other day I received a general mail from the Free Software Foundation informing me that even if Safari on High Sierra had pretty good privacy and security features, IceCat, the GNU version of Firefox, was even better.

I was interested and checked the provided links to see what that browser was. I'm not a super fan of Mozilla stuff, but if it's GNU, then why not.

The problem is that the links did not point at any binary or downloadable package. The only thing I could find was the FTP server, with builds for Linux.

Update: It looks like there are builds of IceCat for the Mac, up to version 38.8.0 (released in May '16) on that page.

I wrote to the FSF back to tell them that if they wanted to promote better solutions for macOS users, it would be more effective if the solutions were actually available, either as binaries, or as instructions to build the software.

After checking a bit further, I found this page with instructions to build an 11 months old version on El Capitan: A way to build IceCat 45.5.1 on MacOS El Capitan.

I decided to try with the latest version of IceCat (52.3) on my High Sierra machine, and here are the amended instructions.

If you do not want to go through the build process, I have uploaded the resulting icecat-52.3.0.en-US.mac64.dmg package here, but without ANY warranty about the contents and security, and privacy and everything that you REALLY should care about when you install new software on your machine...


  1. Prepare the development environment:
    1. install Xcode and Homebrew
    2. install yasm with Homebrew
    3. install autoconf@2.13 with Homebrew
    4. if you miss dependencies, the configure step below will tell you and you just need to get them from Homebrew
  2. Download IceCat Source & configure the compilation
    1. wget
    2. tar xjvf icecat-52.3.0-gnu1.tar.bz2
    3. cd icecat-52.3.0
    4. mkdir objdir
    5. mkdir -p ./browser/branding/unofficial/
    6. cd objdir
    7. ../configure --with-l10n-base=../l10n --enable-official-branding
  3. That's it for the preparations. On a side note, the other configure options found in the original instructions were all refused. If configure does not protest, you're ready. If it does, you either miss dependencies (see step 1.4. above), or you have other issues on your machine. Check the net for error messages, fix the errors, and you should be fine. Now comes compiling time, and it's going to take quite some time, so get a book ready.
    1. make
    2. make package
  4. When make package quits without complaining, you're ready. IceCat is in the dist folder. There is one that works out of the box, and one that comes as a .dmg (icecat-52.3.0.en-US.mac64.dmg on my machine). Either seems to work fine.
During the make process, you may run into an error that says something like:
...(stuff) ... CLOBBER dependency dropped ... (more stuff) ...

and the script proposes you: 
To ignore this message, touch "/Users/suzume/Documents/Code/tmp/icecat-52.3.0/configure"

Well just do as suggested:
touch "/Users/suzume/Documents/Code/tmp/icecat-52.3.0/configure"

and relaunch the build process with make. That worked for me.

Ok, make and make package have worked, you have an IceCat build and a .dmg package into /dist, and you want to start and try the thing. Just launch it and enjoy the web, à la GNU.

Now, you may run into a problem when you want to go to a site. The first time you use IceCat, every time you want to go to a site, a error page gets displayed with the message "Content Encoding Error" (etc.)

The fix is really easy: quit IceCat and relaunch it. That's it.

Et voilà! You can now enjoy a (slightly) more secure and privacy aware GNU browser on your Mac! Have fun!

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