ASDF, the version manager for all your languages


Why use ASDF?

ASDF is a version manager for programming languages. It's somewhat like RVM is for Ruby or NVM is for Node but it also supports Erlang, Elixir, Haskel, Ocaml, PHP, Python, Rust and many other languages.


This guide assumes you have homebrew and Xcode command line tools and nothing else. To see the setup of those from a fresh macOS Mojave install, see this short video.

Install dependencies (mac)

  1. Install Postgres: brew install postgresql
  2. Configure PostgreSQL to start on reboot: brew services start postgresql
  3. Install other dependencies:
    brew install \
    coreutils automake autoconf openssl \
    libyaml readline libxslt libtool unixodbc \
    unzip curl gpg wxmac

Install dependencies (ubuntu)

  1. Install PostgreSQL via
  2. Ensure essential C toolchain libraries are installed: apt-get install -y gcc make automake autoconf libssl-dev libncurses5-dev
  3. Install libraries that will be needed for Erlang:
    apt-get -y install \
    build-essential autoconf m4 libncurses5-dev libwxgtk3.0-gtk3-dev \
    libwxgtk-webview3.0-gtk3-dev libgl1-mesa-dev libglu1-mesa-dev \
    libpng-dev libssh-dev unixodbc-dev xsltproc fop libxml2-utils \
    libncurses-dev openjdk-11-jdk

Clone the repo

The ASDF repo page on will have directions for cloning the newest repo github:

git clone ~/.asdf --branch v0.10.0

Next, add it to your shell:

echo -e '\n. $HOME/.asdf/' >> ~/.bashrc
echo -e '\n. $HOME/.asdf/completions/asdf.bash' >> ~/.bashrc

Restart your shell (or just open a new tab to work from) and run asdf to verify that it's installed.

Basic commands

  • asdf plugin-list-all: shows all the plugins (i.e., languages) available
  • asdf plugin-add <language>: installs language
  • asdf list-all <language>: shows all available versions of language
  • asdf list <language>: shows all installed versions of language
  • asdf install <language> <version>:
  • asdf current: shows currently enabled languages
  • asdf global <language> <version>: enables the chosen version of a language

Installing Node

bash ~/.asdf/plugins/nodejs/bin/import-release-team-keyring # not required in recent versions
asdf plugin-add nodejs
asdf list-all nodejs
asdf install nodejs <version>
asdf global nodejs <version>

Installing Erlang

asdf plugin-add erlang
asdf list-all erlang

According the readme on the ASDF Erlang plugin repo we need to pass a couple of flags to the install command:

export KERL_CONFIGURE_OPTIONS="--disable-debug --without-javac"
asdf install erlang <version>
asdf global erlang <version>

Installing Elixir

asdf plugin-add elixir
asdf list-all elixir
asdf install elixir <version>
asdf global elixir <version>

Installing Ruby

asdf plugin-add ruby
asdf list-all ruby
asdf install ruby <version>
asdf global ruby <version>

Verify you have what you need

asdf current

Installing the Phoenix Framework

If you're reading this on Alchemist Camp, you're likely using ASDF for Elixir and also want to set up Phoenix:

mix local.hex
mix archive.install hex phx_new 1.5.3 # or whichever version you prefer


ASDF is a very handy tool for setting up dev machines and keeping the versions of whichever languages you may need. It's a big improvement to have one unified tool over several language specific ones.

ASDF also supports per-project configuration via .tool-versions files and a number of other things not covered in this setup guide.

How to fully remove ASDF

If you ever want to fully remove ASDF from your system, all you need to do is delete the directory where you cloned it at the top of the tutorial and the .tool-versions (if any):

rm -rf ~/.asdf/ ~/.tool-versions

You'll probably want to get rid the lines with $HOME/.asdf/ and $HOME/.asdf/completions/asdf.bash in your shell config, and that's all there is to it.

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