How to build and install st (suckless simple terminal) from source on Arch Linux

March 19, 2017


st (simple terminal), from the folks at suckless, is an extremely lightweight terminal emulator that also supports true color. It’s configured by editing a C header file, config.h, and then recompiling everything into a binary. For this reason, it doesn’t make sense to install st from the official repos (you’d just end up with a very basic, uncustomizable binary), nor does it really make sense to install it from the AUR, because you’ll inevitably want to modify the PKGBUILD to apply patches and do other things. Instead, your best bet is to create your own personal PKGBUILD (or modify an existing, similar one), which will apply the patches you want, copy over your custom config.h, and build st, which you can then make into a package with makepkg and install with pacman as usual.

Building and installing manually from source

The first step is to decide whether you want to use the stable release (currently st-0.7.tar.gz) or the development version ( I originally went with the development version, but I was unable to apply patches (because the patches were created for the stable release, and I couldn’t find any more up-to-date versions of the patches). Therefore, in the end, I decided to go with the stable release, which also has the advantage that my terminal, which I rely heavily on, won’t break any time soon.

Step 1: Follow the installation instructions

The first step (after untarring the tarball and cd-ing into the st-x.x directory) is to install st exactly as the README says:

Edit to match your local setup (st is installed into
the /usr/local namespace by default).

Afterwards enter the following command to build and install st (if
necessary as root):

    make clean install

Literally all I did was run sudo make clean install, and it worked. I could run st no problem.

Step 2: Configure config.h and apply some patches

Next, try and customize st a bit by editing config.h to your liking and applying some patches. Take note of exactly what you do. In my case, I applied the patches scrollback, hidecursor, and copyurl, by running patch -Np1 -i <patch> for each patch. Once you’re satisfied, it’s time to create a PKGBUILD.

Creating a PKGBUILD

First off, read the Arch Wiki entries on PKGBUILD and Creating packages. You can either create one from scratch (while following the Arch Wiki), modify the skeleton PKGBUILD /usr/share/pacman/PKGBUILD.proto, or modify an actual existing PKGBUILD. I decided to opt for the latter, and the existing PKGBUILD I chose to modify was the obvious one: st itself from community.

There are a number of ways to acquire an official PKGBUILD. Traditionally, you’d go the ABS route: install abs, clone the entire ABS tree (or at least the subtree of the repo containing st, i.e. community) onto /var/abs, then copy /var/abs/community/st over to something like ~/abs.

However, nowadays there are tools like asp and pbget that let you acquire the contents (PKGBUILD, etc.) of a single package without cloning an entire repo tree. So that’s what I did:

$ mkdir -p ~/.cache/asp
$ mkdir -p ~/builds
$ cd ~/builds
$ asp export st
$ cd st
$ ls
config.h PKGBUILD

Here I’ve used asp to export the st package, which comes with config.h (the configuration file) and PKGBUILD, the PKGBUILD. Now I just need to edit config.h in the same way I did in step 2 (easy part), and modify the PKGBUILD to apply the three patches I want (slightly harder part).

There are four main changes I made to the PKGBUILD. First, I added an array _patches with links to the three patches I want to apply:


Second, I added the patches to the source array by adding "${_patches[@]}" to it…


…and of course added the patches’ corresponding hashes to the md5sums array. (Protip: Run updpkgsums to automatically do this.)

Third, it turned out that any patches which tried to patch config.def.h would lead to an error. This is because those patches — specifically, the scrollback and copyurl patches — define new functions (for scrolling back and for copying a URL) by modifying st.c and then bind keys to those functions by modifying config.def.h, but config.def.h is first overwritten by the custom config.h during the build stage, which later leads to a patch error. Therefore, I decided to (i) manually modify config.h to bind the relevant functions to some keys (easy), and then (ii) remove from those two patches the lines responsible for patching config.def.h, which happen to be the first 13 lines in the scrollback patch, and the first 12 lines in the copyurl patch:

# patch patches (don't let them patch config.def.h)
sed -i '1,13d' "$srcdir/$(basename ${_patches[0]})"
sed -i '1,12d' "$srcdir/$(basename ${_patches[2]})"

Fourth, and finally, inside of the prepare() function, I looped over each patch and applied them in the same way as I did in step 2 above:

for patch in "${_patches[@]}"; do
  echo "Applying patch $(basename $patch)..."
  patch -Np1 -i "$srcdir/$(basename $patch)"

See Patching in ABS for further details.

Putting it all together

That’s basically it. Now just run makepkg -si and make sure everything applies and installs correctly. Once it does, you should also run namcap on PKGBUILD and on the resulting *.pkg.tar.xz file to make sure there’s nothing wrong. In my case, namcap told me that the package didn’t actually depend on libxext or xorg-fonts-misc, even though the official PKGBUILD included those in the depends array, so I just removed them.

Before concluding, I want to mention two bonus tips.

Tip #1: To avoid config.h from being overwritten by some future asp export (supposedly, this can’t happen, but just to be safe), and to keep my config located among all my other configuration files, I moved config.h into ~/.config/st and then created a symlink to it from inside the build directory:

$ mkdir -p ~/.config/st
$ mv ~/builds/st/config.h ~/.config/st
$ ln -s ~/.config/st/config.h ~/builds/st

The directory ~/.config/st is not actually recognized by st in any way, but ~/.config is where most other apps put their configuration files, so it makes things tidier, especially since I version-control most things inside ~/.config with git.

Tip #2: What if you want to modify the patches themselves, i.e. patch a patch (apart from removing the error-prone lines mentioned above)? In my case, I wanted to modify the copyurl patch. By default, this patch patches st.c so that it allows you to copy any URL starting with http:// or https://, but I wanted to also be able to copy anything starting with ftp://, mailto:, or simply www.. So, here’s what I did.

First, I edited st.c by hand (after the copyurl patch had applied to it) in the way that I wanted, then manually reinstalled st to make sure it worked as expected. It did. I could’ve stopped here, but this isn’t really the elegant way to do things.

Next, I created a directory ~/builds/st/mypatches, and within that, two subdirectories, a and b. Inside a, I placed the post-copyurl-patched st.c file, and inside b, I placed my revised post-copyurl-patched st.c file, and then ran…

diff -u a/st.c b/st.c > ../st-copyurl-bb.diff

…to create a patch st-copyurl-bb.diff in the base package directory (alongside the other three patches).

Then I added this patch to the end of the _patches array, updated the hashes with updpkgsums, and re-ran makepkg -si, and everything worked out great.

So far, I’m extremely happy with st. It’s especially great to have a full range of colors in vim with minimal hassle, by adding these lines to my vimrc:

set termguicolors " Enable true color support.
let &t_8f = "\<Esc>[38;2;%lu;%lu;%lum"
let &t_8b = "\<Esc>[48;2;%lu;%lu;%lum"