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Introducing FreeBSD

By Jeremy C. Reed

(This article was originally published in the Computer Source Magazine in March 2003.)

Thousands of server owners choose the FreeBSD operating system because of its technical features, security benefits, remarkable uptime, low-cost, and its heritage. Known as one of the most reliable server platforms, FreeBSD powers a variety of popular websites and internet service providers, including Yahoo!, Sony Japan, Rackspace, Affinity and pair Networks. In fact, even Microsoft's Hotmail is partially powered by FreeBSD.

Since 1993, FreeBSD has been providing regular releases of its widely-used software. And FreeBSD recently released the 5.0 version of the operating system.

FreeBSD is a Unix operating system. Well, technically it doesn't have the right to use the UNIX trademark. But it provides the same Unix-type tools, developer files, shells, libraries, file system permissions, and Posix capabilities. Anyways, FreeBSD is based on the Berkeley Software Distributions (BSD) which most -- if not all -- of the proprietary Unix systems derive a lot of their code.

"As part of the BSD family, FreeBSD has been under continuous development for over thirty years," said FreeBSD developer and open source author, Michael W. Lucas. "This has produced an operating

system where the core functionality is polished, highly functional, and very reliable."

"FreeBSD is the most stable and reliable system I have ever used," said David Johnson, a software developer for Siemens Medical Systems, Ultrasound Division. "I have never experienced a crash with it. I have both FreeBSD and Windows 2000 on the same machine at work, and FreeBSD is significantly faster with fewer hassles than Windows 2000."

FreeBSD Software

A default install of FreeBSD includes the essential GNU Compiler Collection (GCC), most commonly used sendmail, cron, syslogd, various networking daemons, tcsh, awk, OpenSSH, a complete set of documentation, as well as other standard Unix-type software.

It also includes NFS, NIS (also known as "yp"), FTP, BIND for DNS, PPP, and OpenSSL. FreeBSD can be used as a network router, NAT gateway, and a robust packet filter (using the included IP Filter or IPFW).

The FreeBSD operating system also provides multi-processor support, IPsec, IPv6, the stable UFS filesystem, high-performance disk access, and excellent memory management.

FreeBSD also provides an organized collection of instructions for building and installing over 7,500 software products. This categorized "ports" collection helps FreeBSD administrators quickly optimize and install popular software from source code, like the number one used web server, Apache, Samba for Windows file and printer sharing, XFree86, and popular programing languages, Perl, Ruby, and Python. They also provide a packages collection of this same software in already-made, ready-to-use format for quick installations and software updates.

"FreeBSD lets me work the way I want to work. The packaging system is the best I have ever seen," Johnson said. "Upgrading software is a snap. I have actually upgraded my complete system in the background while I was working, stopping only to reboot once at the end."

Professional ... but free

The FreeBSD Project maintains the base source code, the download and development servers, and manages over 300 developers responsible for updating, auditing, and improving the vast collection of software. An elected core team helps govern the project.

"I have personally found FreeBSD's code and documentation to be of a very high caliber," said Anthony Chavez, a consultant from the state of Utah. "FreeBSD is not a pile of amateur hacks. It is the result of years of development and testing by some very brilliant individuals, many of whom hold doctorates in Computer Science."

The FreeBSD Project also provides support forums, bug tracking, detailed documentation, including the FreeBSD Handbook which is available for free in HTML and PDF formats or as a 653-page book published by Wind River Systems (and other publishers). Other print books are available, such as Annelise Anderson's FreeBSD: An Open-Source Operating System for Your Personal Computer, The Complete FreeBSD by Greg Lehey, the FreeBSD Corporate Networker's Guide by Ted Mittelstaedt, Lucas' Absolute BSD: The Ultimate Guide to FreeBSD, and several others.

Various professional consultants, outsourced administrators, and trainers are also available for commercial FreeBSD support, including from local company, Puget Sound Technology.

FreeBSD is based on open source software. This is software where the original source code instructions are available for review, improvement, and re-use in other software. Many governments are switching to open source software, because it helps foster local software business growth and better matches their government needs, such as free access to public information by the citizen, permanence of public data, and improved security.

FreeBSD freely shares its code, so others can benefit from its strengths. In fact, the proprietary UNIX, Mac OS X, is largely based on FreeBSD.

Desktop OS

Although FreeBSD is known as a top server OS, it is also widely used for desktop workstations for personal and office computing. Popular and easy-to-use software such as Gnome, Abiword, K Office, Adobe Acrobat, Mozilla-based web browsers, Netscape, and numerous games are included with the FreeBSD ports.

Johnson uses FreeBSD at home and at work for his primary systems. "Using FreeBSD, KDE, OpenOffice and other open source applications, I can do everything Windows users can do, but better," he said. "I find I boot into Windows at work only to perform my monthly chore of changing my NT domain password."

More information about FreeBSD is available at and


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September 16, 2013 11:24:33

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