How to install syslog-ng on macOS

The complete and painless guide to making syslog-ng work on Mac

Roberto Meléndez
Mar 10 · 5 min read
MacBook Pro vector by Vecteezy


My goal was to send any kind of Mac logs to a big data platform (Devo). Mac already comes with syslogd, which is the Apple System Log server. It is basically a daemon that processes syslog messages but to be honest, it’s pretty old and basic. As a result, I decided to try syslog-ng.

To my surprise, the syslog-ng documentation discloses:

At present we are not supporting macOS syslog-ng on our official repository on GitHub. However, you can compile syslog-ng yourself following this guide.

That’s what I did. I compiled syslog-ng from source following the official documentation. But I encountered different obstacles that they didn’t address. In the end, I managed to make syslog-ng work successfully on my Mac. If you follow this guide, you will too.


  • OS: macOS Catalina 10.15.3

Installing Dependencies

I’m assuming you already have Homebrew installed and updated. If so, install the following packages:

  • automake
$ brew install automake autoconf binutils glib autoconf-archive \
flex bison libtool pkg-config ivykis openssl pcre

Setting Up Environment Variables

Apple provides an outdated bison package (2.3). We need to force our Mac to use the new one we just installed (3.5.2) by adding it to our PATH. Also, we require to extend the search path of pkg-config. Add these 2 lines to your .bash_profile:

export PATH=/usr/local/opt/bison/bin:$PATHexport PKG_CONFIG_PATH=/usr/local/lib/pkgconfig:/usr/local/opt/openssl/lib/pkgconfig

As usual, to apply those changes, open a new terminal or just reload your profile by running: . ~/.bash_profile

Cloning GitHub repository

To get the latest version, we can clone it from the official GitHub repository:

$ git clone


Because we cloned the repo, run this command to generate a configuration script:

$ ./

Now we could just run the configure script with core features, but the compilation would fail. You have to disable java support. These are the options I used:

$ ./configure --with-ivykis=system --disable-java

Compile and Install

$ make -j4
$ make install

This is the output from /usr/local/sbin/syslog-ng -V after installation:

syslog-ng 3 (
Config version: 3.22
Compile-Date: Feb 28 2020 00:48:18
Module-Directory: /usr/local/lib/syslog-ng
Module-Path: /usr/local/lib/syslog-ng
Include-Path: /usr/local/share/syslog-ng/include
Available-Modules: timestamp,kvformat,appmodel,afprog,examples,cef,map-value-pairs,stardate,system-source,confgen,afuser,xml,disk-buffer,tfgetent,linux-kmsg-format,dbparser,snmptrapd-parser,json-plugin,add-contextual-data,pseudofile,affile,csvparser,basicfuncs,syslogformat,hook-commands,graphite,snmpdest,tags-parser,afstomp,http,mod-python,afsocket,cryptofuncs,azure-auth-header
Enable-Debug: off
Enable-GProf: off
Enable-Memtrace: off
Enable-IPv6: on
Enable-Spoof-Source: off
Enable-TCP-Wrapper: off
Enable-Linux-Caps: off
Enable-Systemd: off

Should we run it?

If you try to start the service with the official command: /usr/local/sbin/syslog-ng -F it won’t start due to this error:

syslog-ng: Error setting file number limit; limit='0'; error='Invalid argument'
[2020-02-28T00:48:20.072382] system(): Error detecting platform, unable to define the system() source. Please send your system information to the developers!; sysname='Darwin', release='19.3.0'

The reason is that system() is not designed for macOS. At least not for now. So remove or comment that option in the default config file /usr/local/etc/syslog-ng.conf. Additionally, you can update the destination file, since Mac uses system.log instead of messages:

source s_local {
destination d_local {
log {

I thought with these changes it’d finally start, but it did not. Therefore, I decided to investigate how the service was started in other systems, such as Linux. What I found is that it requires a PID. So I replicated that command and it worked! We have a winner:

$ sudo /usr/local/sbin/syslog-ng -F -p /var/run/

It needs sudo because of /var/run/ permissions. Now if you display the processes with ps -ef | grep syslog-ng | grep -v grep you should see a couple:

0 37004 29803   0 12:17PM ttys000    0:00.06 sudo /usr/local/sbin/syslog-ng -F -p /var/run/
0 37005 37004 0 12:17PM ttys000 0:00.07 /usr/local/sbin/syslog-ng -F -p /var/run/

The process 37004 is the sudo command running in the foreground and the 37005 is the actual syslog-ng service.


The default config file comes with internal() as a source. This function sends syslog-ng stats every 10 minutes. As you saw in the ps output, I started the service at 12:17. Thus, system.log shows this line on time:

Mar  1 12:27:42 macbook syslog-ng[37005]: Log statistics; processed='src.internal(s_local#0)=1', stamp='src.internal(s_local#0)=1583385462', processed='global(internal_queue_length)=0', queued='global(scratch_buffers_count)=0', queued='global(scratch_buffers_bytes)=0', processed='global(msg_clones)=0', processed='center(received)=1', processed='center(queued)=1', processed='global(sdata_updates)=0', processed='destination(d_local)=1', processed='source(s_local)=1', processed='global(payload_reallocs)=0'

Finally, syslog-ng is sending internal stats successfully to our Mac system log!

Foreground vs Background

Now, syslog-ng is running in the foreground. What if we close the terminal where we ran the sudo command? The service will shut down. To avoid this, you could try running it in the background:

$ sudo /usr/local/sbin/syslog-ng --process-mode=background -p /var/run/

Creating a Job Definition

At this point, syslog-ng is working fine, but what if we want to go one step further and make it behave like an Apple service? That’s where launchd comes into play. This is the service management framework in macOS. It handles agents and daemons. For our use case, we require a daemon because we want the service to be running in the background upon system start without user input. So let’s create a job definition.

Following standards, I created a file calledcom.syslog-ng.syslog-ng.plist. To be treated as a global daemon it has to be stored in /Library/LaunchDaemons/. This is the XML content:

This is the actual job that was approved by the development team and will be included in the release 3.27.

Note: You can give any name to your job. However, just make sure the name matches the Label key.

I enabled RunAtLoad to make launchd start the job as soon as it has been loaded. Also, having KeepAlive enabled will make the job run no matter what.

Run and Enjoy

With this one command our job will load and run:

$ sudo launchctl load /Library/LaunchDaemons/com.syslog-ng.syslog-ng.plist

For validation, execute this command to verify if the service is running:

$ sudo launchctl list | grep syslog-ng

The output displays three columns: PID, the last exit status, and the job’s name:

39313   0   com.syslog-ng.syslog-ng

If you have a similar output and you see syslog-ng stats coming into system.log… Congratulations!

Restarting the Job

launchd does not support reload or restart commands, so if you edit your file and need to apply changes, first stop the job and then start it back. To stop the job run:

$ sudo launchctl unload /Library/LaunchDaemons/com.syslog-ng.syslog-ng.plist

Wrapping Up

I created this guide to share my syslog-ng journey with all the Mac users out there. I hope you find it useful and time-saving. Let me know your experience with syslog-ng on Mac in the comments below, or if you have any problems, don’t hesitate to contact me. Happy logging!

Mac O’Clock

The best stories for Apple owners and enthusiasts

Roberto Meléndez

Written by

Tech Support Engineer @devo_Inc. syslog-ng Contributor. New music hunter. Tech problem solver. Taco Expert. 🔗

Mac O’Clock

The best stories for Apple owners and enthusiasts

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