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Journal pgpckt's Journal: OpenBSD vs. FreeBSD vs. Linux 5

For those that have read my posts lately, I have had a question in my sig that reads "Can someone please explain the difference between OpenBSD and FreeBSD?" I use my sig to get questions answered once in a while, and have found it successful.

One nice user was kind enough to give me a length reply. I will repost it here, though I will leave out who sent it since I don't think it is fair to post his/her name without asking. The user in question send me an email asking if I was serious in my question. In responce, I detailed my questions, which are indicated here by being blockquoted. His/her responce follows. I post this reply in the hopes that others who are curious might see it and have some of their questions answered too.


Yes, I was quite serious actually. I have been in the Linux realm for a little under a year now, and as such have leaned the differences between the major Linux distros. It is mostly just aesthetics, but some have small advantages over others.

Recently, I was reading something that made me recall about this other option that is BSD. I am an end-user, so Linux is my desktop replacement. The purpose of my sig is to try to understand the differences between what I perceived to be the two major flavors of Linux {(sic) I meant the two flavors of BSD}. A true comparion between BSD and Linux would also be a bonus. Too much evangelism in the *nix community, not enough comparison.

What are *BSD's advantages/disadvantages, and how do the various BSD variants compare? When would a BSD computer be better than a Linux computer, and vice-versa.

I am trying to learn, so forgive the basic nature of my questions.



Well, where do I start...? At the ISP I work for, we used to run a mix of redhat and debian boxes. I decided it was time to migrate to FreeBSD almost two years ago, and haven't looked back since.

I occasionally play with a fre Linux distros just to kinda check on how the desktop front is coming along. I see no reason to use Linux for _any_ server anymore. That may seem bias, but I've used both Linux and FreeBSD in the production enviornment and FreeBSD takes the cake. I'm not saying Linux is bad, I just don't prefer it for servers.

FreeBSD will never takeoff on the desktop, although it'd probably be better (ie easier to maintain.) than linux.. It's just that it doesn't have the masses behind it.. There are currently no nvidia drivers that support full hardware acceleration for FreeBSD because nvidia "already spends enough time maintaining Linux drivers." (actual quote from nvidia)

If you're using Linux primarily for the desktop, by all means stay there. If you've got a mailserver with 2000+ mailboxes, Linux just won't cut it.. We have over 4000 accounts on our mailserver.

The FreeBSD developers have done a nice job on making it rock solid.. Yahoo! and Hotmail (search engine and webmail) are both powered by
FreeBSD. is hosted on a FreeBSD machine. All the Linux zealots (not implying all Linux users are zealots) scream about NetCraft's little graphs showing Linux with more market share than FreeBSD... NetCraft runs on FreeBSD too. The only massive site I know about running on Linux is Google.

FreeBSD has something called the "ports system" that makes debian's apt-get and gentoo's emerge look pitiful. When you install something from ports it basically downloads the source, patches it with FreeBSD specific information (mostly file paths and whatnot), compiles it, and builds it. Anything you install is installed into /usr/local/bin or /usr/local/sbin. All config files go to /usr/local/etc. One of the things I *hated* about linux is that every distrobution puts files in different places.. /var/www on debian, /home/www on redhat, etc. Every FreeBSD box in the world that installed Apache from ports is setup at /usr/local/www.

Now for some FreeBSD vs OpenBSD... :) I occasionally deploy OpenBSD boxes for office firewalls. Only because it's easier to deploy than FreeBSD is.. OpenBSD's new firewall "ipf" is kernel-level and built into the generic kernel. FreeBSD's firewall "ipfw" is also kernel-level but it isnt built into the generic kernel. Sometimes I dont feel like recompiling kernels for ipfw support and when people hand me a 100mhz machine for their firewall, I use OpenBSD. =)

OpenBSD doesn't support SMP (more than 1 cpu) and FreeBSD does. Linux just recently ugraded the way it handles SMP and it is currently better than FreeBSD. FreeBSD is fine with 2 cpus, but more than 2 is kind of a waste. FreeBSD's next version (5.0) will fix this issue. FreeBSD's SMP is worse than Linux's because only one cpu can access certain areas of memory at a time, and when you have 4 cps, 3 are waiting in line.. Kinda pointless..

OpenBSD also has worse driver support than FreeBSD does. FreeBSD will support almost anything.. I've ran into one funky RAID controller that FreeBSD doesn't support and it's because IBM won't share the information with the FreeBSD developers.. They were very quick to give Linux kernel hackers all the necessary information just after they started their "Peace. Love. Linux." campaign. Oh well, it's a pretty bad RAID controller anyways.. =)

Right now, it seems the only thing OpenBSD has going for them is that a lot of people seem to accredit them as the "most secure os" and their (old) slogan was "No remote exploits in over 4 years" which they have since updated to "Only 1 remote exploit in almost 6 years" due to the new OpenSSH exploit. They seem to have skipped year 5. They claim they are the most secure os because they have an "auditing team" that constantly audits all the os's new [and old] code.. They have been obviousely not been doing so well, since the only reason I've updated my FreeBSD servers in the past 2 years is twice for OpenSSH and once for Apache.

Well, that is probably a lot more than you expected so I'll let your eyes rest.. =) I hope this answers some of your BSD questions... I'm astonished someone on /. that is alreasy using Linux would have an open enough mind to ask questions about any of the BSD's. That is very commendable. If you have any more questions don't hesitate to ask.


Many thanks to this friendly user for taking his/her time to answer a stranger's question. That certainly represents the best of the free/open software movement, and I am profusely thankful.

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OpenBSD vs. FreeBSD vs. Linux

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  • Hey, I've always wanted to reply to your sig too, but never found the time. I would say, try a bunch of different things out and make your own opinions. There's definitely a lot of choices out there, and a lot of disagreeing voices that can obviously confuse a newbie.

    I currently use Linux and BSD as servers only - I pretty much don't have use for the desktops(I use Windows for that) and use the command line exclusively. I've found that in those environments the clunky desktops tend to slow me down. Its definitely worthwhile to invest the time learning bash, shell scripting, awk, sed, and perl in order to manipulate these systems, and once you do you'll see where the real power lies in Unix. Its really a command line oriented system. In fact I know several people who use desktops, but only to have multiple command line windows open.

    Currently I'm using Debian as a server OS(email, samba, ssh, apache, etc) and using OpenBSD as a firewall. There are many things that can be said in favor of OpenBSD's security, and a firewall is its natural use. You simply cannot get a more rock solid and secure firewall than a system running OpenBSD out of the box. OpenBSD's pf software(the firewall/NAT) is one of the few pieces of software preinstalled so if you run OpenBSD as a firewall and nothing else you will have a stripped down system with no extraneous software running, and that has undergone a complete code audit for security. I can't think of a safer system to protect a network with.

    I have a couple of friends who have a few FreeBSD servers on their network, and those are nice too. Seemed to me that getting things configured correctly was a bit more difficult than in Debian, but thats likely because I'm currently much more familiar with setting things up in Debian than I am with FreeBSD. One example I can think of that threw me off(although others like it this way) is apache. On Debian and other Linux systems everything goes in /usr/local/apache. On FreeBSD you have logs in /var/log, data in /usr/local/www/data, binaries in /usr/sbin, etc. So it took a bit longer to figure how to set things up. Also the httpd.conf file was set up a lot differently I understand why they did it this way, but when you are used to doing things one way, other ways can throw you off.

    As far as distros keeping up on the latest and greatest code, well I'm a bit torn on this one. Debian in particular is known for having older code, but damn the system is rock solid. Everything just works and works well together, although you are certainly free to screw things up on your own. I'm not as familiar with ports on the BSD's but I've installed a few things and its gone smoothly. The big difference in my case in comparing the two is that Debian, being Linux, has a lot more things that can run, until you start getting into BSD's Linux compatibility layer. But if you're going to do that, you might as well just run Linux. Also, its my opinion that certain programs written originally for Linux but later ported to BSD(MySQL is a good example) seem to run better on Linux.

    Hopefully there was some useful information for you in that long rant! Bottom line though, try a bunch of things and form your own opinion.

  • I didn't read your sig, but why haven't you looked
    at the obvious places, i.e.,,
    comp.unix.bsd.* and the mailing lists archives,
    e.g. ?

    • I tried looking in those locations, but they didn't give me the information I needed. I was looking for an opinion from a user who could tell me in a non-ranting comparitive way what the differences were. Neither OpenBSD nor FreeBSD provided the comparision I was looking for.
      • hehe.. you may be right, but probably we are all
        tired of such comparisions?
        Free and Open are more similar than SuSE Windows
        and Debian GNU/Linux.

        My personal opinion is: try it out. If you like one
        better (from the "feeling"), use it, else choose
        OpenBSD - due to improved stability and better multiple
        platform support. You won't need SMP, just more RAM.
        And if you get a PSX-2, NetBSD is not much relearnign
        effort since it shares root with OpenBSD.

"My sense of purpose is gone! I have no idea who I AM!" "Oh, my God... You've.. You've turned him into a DEMOCRAT!" -- Doonesbury