Build Provenance and Code-signing for Homebrew

Authors: William Woodruff, Dustin Ingram Last updated: July 2023


The document contains a technical proposal for introducing build provenance and cryptographic signatures to the Homebrew package manager. The end goal is to improve Homebrew’s authenticity and supply-chain integrity properties, establishing that a given package was both built from an attested source artifact as well as on an attested machine (i.e., a Homebrew-controlled GitHub Actions workflow).

The proposal is broken up into individual technical items, which are meant to be semi-independent units of work. The units of work are ordered by dependency relationship; i.e. signature generation must come before any signatures can be verified on the client side.

Technical Background

Homebrew is the predominant package manager for macOS, with millions of daily users and hundreds of active contributors. Homebrew is written in Ruby, and uses GitHub Actions to create binary packages (called “bottles”) of popular open source projects, which clients then install on their machines via the brew CLI. Homebrew successfully delivers over 400 million binary builds of open source packages to macOS users each year.

Sigstore is a Linux Foundation project aimed at making codesigning available to everybody. It uses a combination of open standards (OpenID Connect, WebPKI, Certificate Transparency) to bind non-cryptographic identities (such as emails or GitHub Actions workflow identities) to short-lived signing keys, which can then be used to sign for artifacts much like gpg or any other signing tool.

SLSA is a set of incrementally adoptable guidelines for supply chain security, established by industry consensus, as well as a specification for attesting to the usage of these best practices in a verifiable way. The specification set by SLSA is useful for both software producers and consumers: producers can follow SLSA’s guidelines to make their software supply chain more secure, and consumers can use SLSA to make decisions about whether to trust a software package.

Technical Items

Provenance attestations and signatures for official Homebrew taps

Homebrew’s packaging processes are built around GitHub Actions. In particular, Homebrew uses GitHub Actions to perform builds of all core formulae (package specifications, like LLVM, bash, or git) into bottles (binary distributions that can be installed on client machines, similar to an .app or .pkg). Bottles are then hosted on GitHub Packages (or other hosts, for third-party taps) and are installed by end-user clients e.g. during brew install invocations.

Because Homebrew uses GitHub Actions for all homebrew-core builds, the Homebrew CI has trivial access to GitHub Actions’ ambient OpenID Connect identities. These identities can in turn be used to generate build provenance and sign with Sigstore, meaning that Homebrew’s existing CI workflows would require relatively little additional configuration (and zero external key management) to produce valid in-toto attestations and Sigstore signatures for each bottle build.

The high-level flow for bottle signing:

  1. Existing bottle-building workflows will gain a signing step, which will only run as a finalization step for bottles that appear on master (i.e., not just the temporary bottles that are built as part of the normal PR lifecycle).

  2. The signing step is responsible for producing an attestation with a Sigstore signature that attests to the bottle. This signed attestation should include, at minimum, the bottle archive’s SHA256 digest and the bottle’s filename. The digest is necessary to produce a proof that the signature is for a particular bottle’s contents, and the filename is necessary to produce a proof that the signature is intended to accompany a particular install step (i.e. brew install foo should not verify if an attacker substitutes foo’s bottle for a correctly signed bottle of bar, or even a different version of foo than the resolver produces). The exact attestation format is subject to further engineering considerations; current candidates include the the in-toto provenance attestation format (designed for SLSA v1.0), the in-toto VSA attestation format (also designed for SLSA v1.0), and an adaptation of the NPM attestation format. Regardless of the format chosen, the final attestation will be consistent with SLSA’s attestation model.

  3. The signing step is responsible for uploading the resulting signature to the same object storage as the bottle, and ensuring that the uploaded signature is addressable in a predictable and publicly derivable manner from just the formula and bottle’s own metadata, consistent with SLSA’s guidelines on distributing provenance. In other words: a client that knows how to access the bottle’s resource should also be able to access the bottle’s signature resource with no additional metadata, similar to how signature location and management works for signing container images with Sigstore.

At the end of this flow, both the bottle and its attestation with signature should appear in the tap’s associated object storage.

In addition to signing for bottles as they’re produced, the signing step may be used to “backfill” signatures (and corresponding attestations) for pre-existing bottles. These signatures would effectively act as notarizations for pre-existing bottles, rather than guarantees of build provenance. This “backfill” stage is expected to produce an initial attestation and signature for every pre-existing bottle, after which it will be removed and supplanted by signing during the bottle-building workflows. Removal of the “backfill” functionality after the initial backfill operation ensures that all subsequent attestations have corresponding build provenances.

Once a tap has been fully signed for (i.e., all referenced bottles have either a “backfill” or build attestation), the tap must establish a piece of “flag day” metadata: the tap should designate a timestamp T, after which all bottles defined by formulae in the tap are signed. This fundamentally requires that the tap itself is honest about its flag day: an attacker who can replace the tap’s flag day can perform a downgrade by disabling signature verification. This is no different in scope from Homebrew’s existing threat model, where an attacker must not be allowed to modify files in a tap. In other words: this signing scheme only protects the bottles themselves, not the tap’s repository; the tap’s repository must continue to be protected as a matter of policy.

Sigstore signatures for third-party taps

While not in scope for this proposal, this work would also enable signing for third-party taps, such as those maintained by independent open source organizations or companies.

For third-party taps hosted on GitHub, the signing flow would be identical: any bottle-building workflow (including reusing the official one) would sign for bottles.

Client-side signature verification in Homebrew

The Sigstore signatures described above are submitted to each tap’s object storage so that they can be verified by clients during the normal brew install flow.

To verify a Sigstore signature, a particular brew client needs the following:

Client-side verification of bottles requires brew to know which bottles are actually signed. Clients should use the “flag day” metadata above to establish this: brew install should refuse to install any unsigned bottle from a tap that both had a flag day and whose flag day is before the local system time.

The high-level flow for bottle signature verification, at tap time:

And at brew install time:

Like with previous Homebrew features, an experimental feature-flagged variant of signature verification may be merged and enabled before it is enabled by default. Verification will be optional while bottles are incrementally updated/rebuilt with signatures, and once every core bottle is signed, then everything must be signed after the flag day.

Full source and build provenance for Homebrew

Bottle signing and subsequent verification unlocks a potential subsequent improvement: because Homebrew performs source builds to produce bottles, Homebrew could also verify signatures for those source artifacts. That signature could then be countersigned for by Homebrew’s own bottle signatures, effectively producing a strong cryptographic association from the original source artifact (produced by a third-party upstream) to the Homebrew-produced binary artifact.

Verifying each formula’s source artifact requires each formula to carry or derive additional metadata about the identity trusted to sign for that artifact, in a manner similar to the “trust proposition” described under client-side verification. This, in turn, will require changes to Homebrew’s formula DSL.

One potential DSL modification for this metadata is shown below:

class Ripgrep < Formula
  desc "Search tool like grep and The Silver Searcher"
  homepage "https://github.com/BurntSushi/ripgrep"
  url "https://github.com/BurntSushi/ripgrep/archive/13.0.0.tar.gz"

  # OPTION 1:
  # verifies using the default `#{url}.sigstore` bundle above
  # with the identity and issuer for the repo
  sigstore :default

  # OPTION 2:
  # verifies using the provided bundle/identity/issuer
  sigstore do
    # specifies the signature's URL
    bundle "https://<...>.sigstore"
    # the expected signature identity, e.g. an email or GitHub slug
    identity "<...>"
    # (optionally) the expected OIDC issuer
    oidc_issuer "<...>"

For source artifacts hosted on GitHub and provided (along with their signatures) through GitHub releases, the first option will be sufficient: Homebrew can re-derive the expected signing identity from the url’s user/repo component.

For source artifacts hosted on other services (or that are signed with a non-GitHub-Actions identity), the second option allows the formula to explicitly specify the signature’s URL and associated identity.

For formulae with verifiable source artifacts, the signed bottle attestation described above can be extended to include the verified source signature, resulting in a countersignature. This countersignature can be verified by brew (through a Sigstore client) using the same basic client-side signature verification process described in the task above, making this a progressive enhancement to “bottle-only” signatures.

Compatibility considerations

macOS executable code signing

Because this proposal only concerns bottles and not their individual executable members, it should have no effect on Homebrew’s current use or any future uses of “ad-hoc” executable signatures (which are produced not for authenticity, but because macOS on Apple Silicon requires all executables to be signed).

Threat model


The scope of this proposal is authenticated build provenance for Homebrew bottles.

Source compromise is not included in the scope of this proposal.

As an end state: when a user performs brew install foo, the bottle corresponding to foo will be installed if and only if it has a valid signature defined over an attestation for that bottle. That signature in turn is considered valid if and only if it is both cryptographically valid and* corresponds to the tap repository identity that foo was built in (e.g. homebrew/homebrew-core).

Attacker models

All attacker models listed below are remote models. Local attackers are not modeled, under Homebrew’s pre-existing operating assumption that a local attacker capable of modifying files or running code has already won. This assumption is comparable to the client integrity assumption in the Web PKI (i.e., that the client’s root of trust is not itself compromised).

These models are not intended to be exhaustive.

Model 1: Compromise of bottle storage

Scenario: Mallory is able to circumvent Homebrew’s ordinary bottle building and publishing workflows and is able to upload malicious bottles to a tap’s bottle storage.

Mitigation: With just upload access to the bottle storage, Mallory is unable to forge valid signatures for her malicious bottles. brew install $compromised-bottle fails to install due to a missing or mismatched signature, and users who attempt to install $compromised-bottle are loudly notified.

Outcome: Mallory is unable to force an install of a compromised bottle. Mallory remains undetected.

Model 2: Compromise of bottle-building workflows

Scenario: Mallory is able to interpose or otherwise control Homebrew’s authentic bottle-building workflows. She is able to modify or outright replace authentic bottles with malicious ones in a way that does not reveal her presence.

Mitigation: With just access to the bottle-building workflows, Mallory still lacks access to the signing workflow. As such, she is unable to force valid signatures for her malicious bottles and remains unable to compel malicious bottle installation as described above.

Outcome: Mallory is unable to force an install of a compromised bottle. Mallory remains undetected.

Model 3: Compromise of bottle-signing workflows

Scenario: Mallory is able to interpose or otherwise control Homebrew’s authentic bottle-signing workflows. She is able to sign for malicious bottles that she controls, resulting in signatures that match a given tap’s signing identity but are inauthentic.

Mitigation: With just access to the bottle-signing workflows, Mallory is unable to upload her inauthentically signed bottles to the bottle storage. Her bottles would pass signature verification but remain inaccessible to users. By virtue of Sigstore’s transparency services, Mallory loses her stealth in mounting this attack.

Outcome: Mallory is unable to force an install of a compromised bottle. Mallory does not remain undetected.

Model 4: Compromise of bottle-building and bottle-signing workflows

Scenario: Mallory is able to compromise both the bottle-building and signing workflows, allowing her to craft, inauthentically sign, and upload to bottle storage.

Mitigation: Mallory’s bottles appear authentic and are hosted, meaning that she successfully convinces uses to brew install $compromised-bottle. However, she does so at a cost: she loses stealth due to Sigstore’s transparency services, and she is compelled to distribute her compromised bottle to all users due to Homebrew’s bottle distribution architecture.

Outcome: Mallory is able to force an install of a compromised bottle. Mallory does not remain undetected, and is unable to target individual users.


In models (1), (2), and (3), Mallory is unable to compel users to install maliciously modified bottles, even when she is otherwise able to produce valid-but-inauthentic signatures for those bottles (the third scenario).

In models (1) and (2), Mallory remains “undetected” in the sense of the transparency log: she might be detected by other means (such as event logs and security monitoring systems), but her inability to produce valid-but-inauthentic signatures means that the transparency log does not contain actionable evidence of her attack. Being undetected is not itself a successful “win” state for Mallory.

In models (3) and (4), Mallory is able to produce inauthentic signatures in exchange for a loss of stealth. This assumes that Homebrew and other parties monitor the transparency service that Mallory is required to submit her inauthentic signatures to.

In model (4) (the “disaster case”), Mallory is able to compel users to install a malicious, inauthentically signed bottle. However, even in this scenario, Mallory’s attack posture is diminished: she is forced to accept a loss of stealth in exchange for mounting her attack, and is unable to target individual users. This is comparable in attacker risk to certificate transparency under the Web PKI.