FreeBSD Myths and Realities
As the BSD projects (including DragonFlyBSD, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD) have grown in size, a number of persistent myths have grown up around them. Some of these are perpetuated by well meaning but misguided individuals, others by people pursuing their own agendas.
This page aims to dispel those myths while remaining as dispassionate as possible.
Note: Throughout this page, "*BSD" refers to all of the BSD Projects. Where a myth or response is specific to a particular project it is indicated as such.
If you are aware of an omission or error on this page, please let the FreeBSD Documentation Project mailing list know.
Myth: *BSD has a closed development model, it’s more "Cathedral" than "Bazaar"
Eric Raymond wrote an influential paper, "The
Cathedral and the Bazaar" in which the Linux development model
(and the model Eric used for
fetchmail) is held up as
an example of how to do "open" development. By contrast, the model
employed by *BSD is often characterized as closed.
The implicit value judgment is that "bazaar" (open) is good, and "cathedral" (closed) is bad.
If anything, *BSD’s development model is probably more akin to
the "bazaar" that Eric describes than either Linux or
Consider the following;
All the *BSD projects: The current, bleeding edge source code for FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD is available for anyone to download from the Internet, 24 hours a day. You don’t need to wait for someone else to roll a release.
FreeBSD: An installable snapshot of the current progress is made weekly. These snapshots can be installed exactly like an ordinary release, and do not require installation over an existing system.
OpenBSD: Installable snapshots are generated daily and if Theo thinks they are good enough, he uploads them to the mirrors.
Contrast this with Linux, where new kernel distributions are made available on an ad-hoc basis, and where the frequency of each Linux distribution release is at the whim of the individual vendor.
There’s none of the Linux fanfare every time a new kernel is released, simply because for most *BSD users it is an every day event.
Anyone can submit patches, bug reports, documentation, and other contributions. They can do this by using a web based interface.
Pointers to this system litter the documentation.
Not everyone can commit code changes to the *BSD code. You need to be a committer first. Typically, people are offered "commit privs" after they have made a few well-thought out submissions to the project using Bugzilla or similar.
This is identical to the Linux mechanism. Only one person is (notionally) allowed to change the Kernel, Linus. But specific areas (such as the networking code) are delegated to other people.
Aside: Nik (nik@FreeBSD.org) is a case in point. After making several submissions to the FreeBSD Documentation Project and web pages, he was offered "commit privs" so that he did not have to keep bothering other committers to commit the changes. He never had to ask for them, they were freely given.
Myth: You cannot make your own distributions or derivative works of *BSD
You can. You just need to say in the documentation and source files where the code is derived from. Multiple derivative projects exist:
DragonflyBSD started as a code fork from FreeBSD 4.X, but it has since its own user community and development goals.
Gentoo/FreeBSD is an effort by the Gentoo Project to port their complete administration facilities to take advantage of the reliable FreeBSD kernel and userland. This project is purely incomplete and experimental.
NanoBSD is another project to produce reduced versions of FreeBSD to put it on a Compact Flash card or other mass storage. It is also a part of the FreeBSD source tree, see /usr/src/tools/tools/nanobsd.
NomadBSD is a persistent live system for USB flash drives, based on FreeBSD. Together with automatic hardware detection and setup, it is configured to be used as a desktop system that works out of the box, but can also be used for data recovery, for educational purposes, or to test FreeBSD’s hardware compatibility
GhostBSD is derived from FreeBSD, uses the GTK environment to provide a beautiful looks and comfortable experience on the modern BSD platform offering a natural and native UNIX® work environment.
MidnightBSD is a FreeBSD derived operating system developed with desktop users in mind. It includes all the software you’d expect for your daily tasks: mail, web browsing, word processing, gaming, and much more.
pfSense is an open source firewall derived from the m0n0wall firewall system with several different goals and features, such as OpenBSD’s Packet Filter (PF), FreeBSD 6.1, ALTQ support for excellent packet queuing and finally an integrated package management system for extending the environment with new features.
HardenedBSD was Founded in 2014 by Oliver Pinter and Shawn Webb, HardenedBSD is a security-enhanced fork of FreeBSD. The HardenedBSD Project is implementing many exploit mitigation and security technologies on top of FreeBSD.
OPNsense started as a fork of pfSense© and m0n0wall in 2014, with its first official release in January 2015. The project has evolved very quickly while still retaining familiar aspects of both m0n0wall and pfSense. A strong focus on security and code quality drives the development of the project.
TrueNAS is a Network Attached Storage (NAS) software that shares and protects data from modern-day threats like ransomware and malware. TrueNAS makes it easy for users and client devices to access shared data through virtually any sharing protocol.
XigmaNAS is an embedded Open Source NAS (Network-Attached Storage) distribution based on FreeBSD.
Similarly to DragonflyBSD, OpenBSD was not a standalone project, it started as a spinoff from the NetBSD project, and has since evolved its own distinctive approach.
Myth: *BSD makes a great server, but a poor (UNIX®) desktop
*BSD makes a great server. It also makes a great desktop. Many of the requirements for a server (responsiveness under load, stability, effective use of system resources) are the same requirements as for a desktop machine.
*BSD has access to the same desktop tools (KDE, GNOME, Firefox, windowmanagers) as Linux. And "office" applications such as LibreOffice suite work under *BSD too.
Myth: The BSD codebase is old, outdated, and dying
While the BSD codebase is more than forty-four years old, it is neither outdated nor dying. Many professional users like the stability that years of testing has provided FreeBSD. A detailed timeline of the FreeBSD history can be checked in the FreeBSD Foundation timeline.
Technological enhancements continue to be added to *BSD.
Myth: The *BSD projects are at war with one another, splinter groups form each week
No. While occasional advocacy may get a touch heated, the *BSD flavors continue to work with one another. FreeBSD’s Alpha port was initially heavily based on the work done by the NetBSD team. Both NetBSD and OpenBSD used the FreeBSD ports collection to bootstrap their own port sets. FreeBSD and NetBSD both integrate security fixes first discovered by the OpenBSD team.
The FreeBSD and NetBSD projects separated more than twenty years ago. OpenBSD and DragonflyBSD are the only new BSD projects to split off in the last twenty years.
Myth: You can’t cluster *BSD systems (parallel computing)
The following URLs should disprove this;
https://people.FreeBSD.org/~brooks/papers/bsdcon2003/fbsdcluster/ Brooks Davis’s paper about the implementation of a FreeBSD cluster with more than 300 CPU’s
http://www.openbsd.org/faq/pf/carp.html OpenBSD’s Common Address Redundancy Protocol (CARP) to build redundant clusters at the level of the firewall
http://pf4freebsd.love2party.net/carp.html OpenBSD’s CARP ported to FreeBSD
Note, that freebsd-cluster mailing list is available for further discussion about clustering of FreeBSD.
Myth: There’s no commercial support for *BSD
FreeBSD: The FreeBSD Commercial Vendors Page lists companies that offer commercial support for FreeBSD.
The FreeBSD Mall also offer commercial support, along with shirts, hats, books, software, and promotional items.
OpenBSD: The OpenBSD Commercial Consulting Page lists companies that offer commercial support for OpenBSD.
Myth: There are no applications for *BSD
The free software community started running on predominantly BSD systems (SunOS and similar). *BSD users can generally compile software written for these systems without needing to make any changes.
In addition, each *BSD project uses a "ports" system to make the building of ported software much easier.
FreeBSD: There are currently more than 30,000 applications ready to download and install in the FreeBSD ports collection. On i386 and AMD64, the Linux emulation layer will also run the vast majority of Linux applications. On the AMD64 architectures there is a compatibility layer to run 32-bit FreeBSD binaries.
NetBSD: The Linux emulation layer will run the vast majority of i386 Linux applications, and the majority of SunOS4 applications can be run on a SPARCStation.
OpenBSD: There are currently more than 8000 applications ready to download and install in the OpenBSD ports collection. The Linux emulation layer will also run the vast majority of i386 Linux applications, and the majority of SunOS4 applications can be run on a SPARCStation.
Both NetBSD and OpenBSD are able to use applications in FreeBSD’s ports collection with minimal effort. Their lower number of ported applications reflects this.
It is true that most companies when porting to PC Unix will choose Linux first. Fortunately, *BSD’s Linux emulation layer will run these programs (Acrobat, StarOffice, Mathematica, WordPerfect, Quake, Intel ICC compiler, Compaq’s Alpha compiler …) with few, if any, problems.
As a historical note, the first version of Netscape Navigator that ran on FreeBSD with Java support was the Linux version. These day you can also use a native FreeBSD version of Mozilla with a native Java plugin, all compiled conveniently from ports.
Myth: *BSD is better than (insert other system)
This is user opinion only.
Myth: (insert some other system) is better than *BSD
This is user opinion only.
Last modified on: November 4, 2022 by Graham Perrin