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FreeBSD: A Linux Alternative


By wantar
Published: Aug 5 2005

The objective of this whitepaper is to explain some of the features and benefits provided by FreeBSD, and where applicable, compare those features to Linux. This paper provides a starting point for those interested in exploring Open Source alternatives to Linux.



FreeBSD: A Linux Alternative

1 Introduction

FreeBSD is a UNIX® like operating system based on the Berkeley Software Distribution. While FreeBSD and Linux are commonly perceived as being very similar, there are differences:

  1. Linux itself is a kernel. Distributions (e.g. Red Hat, Debian, Suse and others) provide the installer and the utilities available to the user. http://www.linux.org/dist lists well over 300 distinct distributions. While giving the user maximum flexibility, the existence of so many distributions also increases the difficulty of transferring one's skills from one distribution to another. Distributions don't just differ in ease-of install and available programs; they also differ in directory layout, available shells and window managers, and software installation and patching routines.

    FreeBSD is a complete operating system (kernel and userland) with a well-respected heritage grounded in the roots of Unix development.[1] Since both the kernel and the provided utilities are under the control of the same release engineering team, there is less likelihood of library incompatibilities. Security vulnerabilities can also be addressed quickly by the security team. When new utilities or kernel features are added, the user simply needs to read one file, the Release Notes, which is publicly available on the main page of the FreeBSD website.

  2. FreeBSD has a large and well organized programming base which ensures changes are implemented quickly and in a controlled manner. There are several thousand programmers who contribute code on a regular basis but only about 300 of these have what is known as a commit bit and can actually commit changes to the kernel, utilities and official documentation. A release engineering team provides quality control and a security officer team is responsible for responding to security incidents. In addition, there is an elected core group of 8 senior committers who set the overall direction of the Project.

    In contrast, changes to the Linux kernel ultimately have to wait until they pass through the maintainer of kernel source, Linus Torvalds. How changes to distributions occur can vary widely, depending upon the size of each particular distribution's programming base and organizational method.

  3. While both FreeBSD and Linux use an Open Source licensing model, the actual licenses used differ. The Linux kernel is under the GPL license while FreeBSD uses the BSD license. These, and other Open Source licenses, are described in more detail at the website of the Open Source Initiative.

    The driving philosophy behind the GPL is to ensure that code remains Open Source; it does this by placing restrictions on the distribution of GPLd code. In contrast, the BSD license places no such restrictions, which gives you the flexibility of keeping the code Open Source or closing the code for a proprietary commercial product.[2] Having stable and reliable code under the attractive BSD license means that many operating systems, such as Apple OS X are based on FreeBSD code. It also means that if you choose to use BSD licensed code in your own projects, you can do so without threat of future legal liability.



2 FreeBSD Features

2.1 Supported Platforms

FreeBSD has gained a reputation as a secure, stable, operating system for the Intel (i386) platform, However, FreeBSD also supports the following architectures:

  • alpha

  • amd64

  • ia64

  • i386

  • pc98

  • sparc64

In addition, there is ongoing development to port FreeBSD to the following architectures:

  • ARM

  • MIPS

  • PowerPC

Up-to-date hardware lists are maintained for each architecture so you can tell at a glance if your hardware is supported. For servers, there is excellent hardware RAID and network interface support.

FreeBSD also makes a great workstation and laptop operating system! It supports the X Window System, the same one used in Linux distributions to provide a desktop user interface. It also supports over 13,000 easy to install third-party applications,[3] including KDE, Gnome, and OpenOffice.

Several projects are available to ease the installation of FreeBSD as a desktop. The most notable are:

  • FreeSBIE which provides a LiveCD of FreeBSD.

  • PC-BSD which provides an easy-to-use GUI installer for FreeBSD aimed at the desktop user.

2.2 Extensible Frameworks

FreeBSD provides many extensible frameworks to easily allow you to customize the FreeBSD environment to your particular needs. Some of the major frameworks are:

Netgraph

Netgraph is a modular networking subsystem that can be used to supplement the existing kernel networking infrastructure. Hooks are provided to allow developers to derive their own modules. As a result, rapid prototyping and production deployment of enhanced network services can be performed far more easily and with fewer bugs. Many existing operational modules ship with FreeBSD and include support for:

  • PPPoE

  • ATM

  • ISDN

  • Bluetooth

  • HDLC

  • EtherChannel

  • Frame Relay

  • L2TP, just to name a few.

GEOM

GEOM is a modular disk I/O request transformation framework. Since it is a pluggable storage layer, it permits new storage services to be quickly developed and cleanly integrated into the FreeBSD storage subsystem. Some examples where this can be useful are:

  • Creating RAID solutions.

  • Providing full-blown cryptographic protection of stored data.

Newer versions of FreeBSD provide many administrative utilities to use the existing GEOM modules. For example, one can create a disk mirror using gmirror(8), a stripe using gstripe(8), and a shared secret device using gshsec(8).

GBDE

GBDE, or GEOM Based Disk Encryption, provides strong cryptographic protection and can protect file systems, swap devices, and other uses of storage media. In addition, GBDE transparently encrypts entire file systems, not just individual files. No cleartext ever touches the hard drive's platter.

MAC

MAC, or Mandatory Access Control, provides fine-tuned access to files and is meant to augment traditional operating system authorization provided by file permissions. Since MAC is implemented as a modular framework, a FreeBSD system can be configured for any required policy varying from HIPAA compliance to the needs of a military-grade system.

FreeBSD ships with modules to implement the following policies; however the framework allows you to develop any required policy:

  • Biba integrity model

  • Port ACLs

  • MLS or Multi-Level Security confidentiality policy

  • LOMAC or Low-watermark Mandatory Access Control data integrity policy

  • Process partition policy

PAM

Like Linux, FreeBSD provides support for PAM, Pluggable Authentication Modules. This allows an administrator to augment the traditional Unix username/password authentication model. FreeBSD provides modules to integrate into many authentication mechanisms, including:

  • Kerberos 5

  • OPIE

  • RADIUS

  • TACACS+

It also allows the administrator to define policies to control authentication issues such as the quality of user-chosen passwords.



3 Security

Security is very important to the FreeBSD Release Engineering Team. This manifests itself in several concrete areas:

  • All security incidents and fixes pass through the Security Team and are issued as publicly available Advisories. The Security Team has a reputation for quickly resolving known security issues. Full information regarding FreeBSD's security handling procedures and where to find security information is available at http://www.freebsd.org/security/.

  • One of the problems associated with Open Source software is the sheer volume of available applications. There are literally 10s of 1000s of Open Source application projects each with varying levels of responsiveness to security incidents. FreeBSD has met this challenge head-on with VuXML. All software shipped with the FreeBSD operating system as well any software available in the Ports Collection is compared to a database of known, unresolved vulnerabilities. An administrator can use the portaudit utility to quickly determine if any software on a FreeBSD system is vulnerable, and if so, receive a description of the problem and an URL containing a more detailed vulnerability description.

FreeBSD also provides many mechanisms which allow an administrator to tune the operating system to meet his security needs:

  • The jail(8) utility allows an administrator to imprison a process; this is ideal for applications which don't provide their own chroot environment.

  • The chflags(1) utility augments the security provided by traditional Unix permissions. It can, for example, prevent specified files from being modified or deleted by even the superuser.

  • FreeBSD provides 3 built-in stateful, NAT-aware firewalls, allowing the flexibility of choosing the ruleset most appropriate to one's security needs.

  • The FreeBSD kernel is easily modified, allowing an administrator to strip out unneeded functionality. FreeBSD also supports kernel loadable modules and provides utilities to view, load and unload kernel modules.

  • The sysctl mechanism allows an administrator to view and change kernel state on-the-fly without requiring a reboot.



4 Support

Like Linux, FreeBSD offers many venues for support, both freely available and commercial.

4.1 Free Offerings

  • FreeBSD is one of the best documented operating systems, and the documentation is available both as part of the operating system and on the Internet. Manual pages are clear, concise and provide working examples. The FreeBSD Handbook provides background information and configuration examples for nearly every task one would wish to complete using FreeBSD.

  • FreeBSD provides many support mailing lists. where answers are archived and fully searchable. If you have a question that wasn't addressed by the Handbook, it most likely has already been answered on a mailing list. The Handbook and mailing lists are also available in several languages, all of which are easily accessible from http://www.freebsd.org.

  • There are many FreeBSD IRC channels, forums and user groups. See http://www.freebsd.org/support.html for a selection.

If you're looking for a FreeBSD administrator, developer or support personnel, send a job description which includes geographic location to freebsd-jobs@FreeBSD.org.

4.2 Commercial Offerings

There are many vendors who provide commercial FreeBSD support. Resources for finding a vendor near you include:

There is also an initiative to provide certification of BSD system administrators. http://www.bsdcertification.org.

If your project requires Common Criteria certification, FreeBSD includes the TrustedBSD MAC framework to ease the certification process.



5 Advantages to Choosing FreeBSD

There are many advantages to including FreeBSD solutions in your IT infrastructure:

  • FreeBSD is well documented and follows many standards. This allows your existing intermediate and advanced system administrators to quickly transfer their existing Linux and Unix skillsets to FreeBSD administration.

  • In-house developers have full access to all FreeBSD code[4] for all releases going back to the original FreeBSD release. Included with the code are all of the log messages which provide context to changes and bugfixes. Additionally, a developer can easily replicate any release by simply checking out the code with the desired label. In contrast, Linux traditionally didn't follow this model, but has recently adopted a more mature development model. [5]

  • In-house developers also have full access to FreeBSD's GNATS bug-tracking database. They are able to query and track existing bugs as well as submit their own patches for approval and possible committal into the FreeBSD base code. http://www.freebsd.org/support.html#gnats

  • The BSD license allows you to freely modify the code to suit your business purposes. Unlike the GPL, there are no restrictions on how you choose to distribute the resulting software.



6 Conclusion

FreeBSD is a mature Unix-like operating system which includes many of the features one would expect in a modern Unix system. For those wishing to incorporate an Open Source solution in their existing infrastructure, FreeBSD is an excellent choice indeed.


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.

 Please check if...

 
 by poisoned on: Aug 5 2005
 
Score 50%

applicable:
[ ] there is anything you can do with FreeBSD that you can't do with GNU/Linux
[ ] FreeBSD has better or equal support for current Hardware compared to Linux
[ ] FreeBSD has equal or better SMP support compared to Linux
[ ] FreeBSD Performs better than or as good as Linux on either a server or a desktop machine
[ ] There is any benefit for a Company/Person that wants to be fair and doesn't want to rip off/cheat the community in having BSD licenced software opposed to GPL/LGPL

I don't mean to offend anybody ... but since you pointed out the 'benefits' I'd like to point out the downsides ...
I've played a little bit with FreeBSD, and found absolutely no reason why I should switch from GNU/Linux.
I can't use it for our servers at work, since there all SMP machines; It doesn't run on my laptop since there's always a kernel panic at boot because it doesn't like some of the hardware (I've tried quite a few times and there was no workaround); Hardwaresupport in FreeBSD generally is ...uhm ... really bad (Audio Cards, Video Cards, Firewire Controllers, ...) ; I've tried to run a FreeBSD machine as Database server and it was _terribly slow_; KDE also runs a _lot_ smoother under GNU/Linux (at least on my hardware setup);
And .. oh yeah ... I'm not afraid of beeing legally threatend because of using GPL'd code in my software, because I stick to the GPL and play fair =)

Maybe I'll give it another try in the future ...
But right now I'm rather running GNU/Linux and NetBSD ...


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 Re: Please check if...

 
 by Brandybuck on: Aug 7 2005
 
Score 50%
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Whatever rocks your boat. This is NOT about world domination. If you want to use Linux, go ahead! But I find it odd that you dislike FreeBSD so much that you had to make such a long post against it. Do you really want a Microsoft-style homogeny? We should be celebrating freedom and choice instead of denigrating it.


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 Re: Re: Please check if...

 
 by poison on: Aug 11 2005
 
Score 50%

Sure ... whatever rocks you boat ... and no ... I'm not for world dominition by any OS ...
I just posted the issues I have(had) with FreeBSD ... I don't like it from a technical point of view and it's not possible to use it as a Linux alternative for a lot of purposes ...
I made no insults or such (you could also say to the author that he really must hate GNU/Linux for making such a long post against it ^^)
Also ... why am I denigrating FreeBSD ?
I was just pointing out facts ... is that a bad thing to do ?

... ... and also I didn't claim ridiculous stuff like 'netbsd apps even run faster in linux with an emulator'


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 Re: Re: Re: Please c

 
 by Brandybuck on: Aug 12 2005
 
Score 50%
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Your "issues" with FreeBSD are mostly erroneous. They're FUD. Don't believe the crap on Slashdot. I'm not going to rebut them here, because there are better venues for that. Please learn the facts before you repeat the lies.

Why is the Linux community so insecure? In any forum where any BSD is mentioned in a positive light, some person has to post this same old tired FUD. Is Linux unable to stand on its own that its advocates feel compelled to tear down all other systems?


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 Re: Please check if.

 
 by wantar on: Aug 13 2005
 
Score 50%

I agree with Brandybuck on several points:



  • You sould learn the subject amtter before commenting on it

  • It is rather strange that Linux users are so against *BSD



FreeBSD DOES have excellent support for SMP. I use FreeBSD on a Dell Lattidue C600. I also use FreeBSD on a Dell Dimension 2400 as a web/database/mail/SubVersion server.


Also, according to this study: http://www.mi2g.com/cgi/mi2g/frameset.php?pageid=http%3A//www.mi2g.com/cgi/mi2g/press/021104.php not only are *BSD the most secure OSs, but Linux is the most HACKED OS on the market - more than even Windows.


Also, there are many articles and reports on the net documenting that FreeBSD does, in fact, run many Linux apps faster than Linux itself. FreeBSD does NOT emulate Linux.


Linux - and it's many distros - are an excellent example of the strengths that the Open Source community has to offer, it is also an excellent case study in the potential pitfalls that may beset Open Source projects.


Open source: by the people, for the people.
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 Re: Please check if.

 
 by UnixUsr on: Aug 17 2005
 
Score 50%
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First off, FreeBSD does and has had VERY GOOD SMP SUPPORT for quite some time, available on i386, X64, Sparc and Alpha platforms.

Secondly, FreeBSD has been proven, time and time again to outperform GNU/Linux on the server platform.

Thirdly, The BSD license allows far more flexibility to the commercial entities which want to invest significant time and money into a proven technological foundation, (see Apple, Cisco, or Lucent for a few examples). These companies may very well be 'ripping off' the developer community by not contributing everything they add back, but in doing so they are offered a competative advantage. - So yeah, there IS a benefit for a company or even individual developer to develop under a BSD-style license. - Try reading both of them and doing a comprehensive comparasin before ripping on the BSD style license.

Lastly, I do have to agree with you on one point - hardware support. FreeBSD is and has been lacking in really good hardware support, namely in the desktop/laptop environment. I myself am using a Linux/GNU desktop on my Compaq Laptop, simply because the hardware support is there, Mostly due to companies like nvidia writting code/drivers for the linux platform. Thankfully, nvidia has started to recognize FreeBSD too, but they (at this time) are only releasing 32-bit FreeBSD drivers, which is at least a step.

In the end, it doesn't matter what you use, for me it's about security, ease-of-administration, and stability. I'm running FreeBSD/64-bit on Dual AMD Opterons using SMP. I find these 'wars' annoying because 90% of the messages people like you post are biased; when was the last time you ran FreeBSD?


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 GPL anf FreeBSD+++

 
 by soulrebel on: Aug 9 2005
 
Score 50%

i am personally a very convinced opensource user. i absolutely prefer the GPL and the pilosophy behind it (its all about politics ;) ) and think that RMS is one of three greatest persons i know of (beside Karl Marx and Jesus - i am not christian or anyhow relifgous, but Jesus rocks :D );
BUT i still use FREEBSD!
why?
because from a technical point of view (besides the moral and politcal view), it runs FASTER, more STABLE and MORE SECURE than GNU/Linux!!!
i really cant say muczh about it, just install FreeBSD and see for your self, comparing boot-up-time, desktop speed or even framerates in 3D-Games (yes my FreeBSD kernel reaches better results with an game in running in (linux-)emutlation than GNU/linux does itself)....
cheers


# cd /usa/whitehouse
# rm -rf *

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 a bit FUDish, right?

 
 by brainkillah on: Aug 14 2005
 
Score 50%

I am Linux user, and I do like *BSD, but what I do not like is this low-profile campaign that *BSD devs/users try to carry out about their OS being actually better than Linux, based exclusively on highlighting Linux' weaknesses. So, on eg.PC-BSD's pages, you have an opportunity to find out how the existence of many Linux distros is bad (M$ tells us the same), how package management is bad (M$ tells us the same), how Linux is not that secure as we are accustomed to thinking (again, M$ tells us the same). Why in the name of God do they have to compare *BSD to Linux? Make your own strong points, dammit, and leave us alone. This negative campaign gives me sufficient insight into the heads of the *BSD people, and I do not like what I see... Are these two camps of ours enemies? Do we not have anyone else to fight? This 'more *nix than *nix' attitude really starts to irritate me...


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 Re: a bit FUDish, right?

 
 by Brandybuck on: Aug 15 2005
 
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Part of what you see is merely a response to FUD from the other side. For the longest time the refrain against BSD was that it had too many forks, it didn't have SMP, it didn't support any hardware, bad performance, etc. This was NOT coming from Microsoft, this was coming from the Linux side!

Advocacy is not a one way street. Before you complain about what other communities do, make sure your own isn't guilty of the same thing.


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 BSD is good.

 
 by agentdunken on: Aug 14 2005
 
Score 50%

I like BSD. It is fast and a little more stable with X and hardware. But I like Linux better. Why? Well because theres a lot of distros for Linux and most of the distros install and run. Iv always had trouble with PCDSD and FreeBSD. They install fine with no trouble and very easy but they can't boot and they say the same thing, can not load kernel. I got FreeBSD to work on my friends computer, it booted up fine but on mine both say can not load kernel.


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