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NetBSD 5.0

May 6, 2009

This article was contributed by Koen Vervloesem

After more than two years of development, NetBSD 5.0 was released at the end of April. The thirteenth release of this derivative of UC Berkeley's 386BSD boasts improved performance and scalability on modern multiprocessor and multicore systems. This is the result of a lot of rewritten code: a new threading subsystem based on a 1:1 threading model, new kernel synchronization primitives, kernel preemption, a rewritten scheduler and real-time scheduler extensions.

The improvements in the areas of scheduling and threading are reviewed in a short document [PDF] written by NetBSD developer Mindaugas Rasiukevicius. NetBSD 5.0 provides some soft real-time extensions, which means that it doesn't meet latency requirements unconditionally, but tries to minimize the latencies. Rasiukevicius performed a latency test with two threads with a POSIX SCHED_FIFO (First in, first out) real-time scheduling policy when the system was under heavy load. This showed that NetBSD 5.0 with kernel preemption tends to respond within 5 microseconds on a modern pc, which is similar to other real-time operating systems. The details of the test and the different scheduling policies can be consulted in the document written by Rasiukevicius.

NetBSD 5.0 also has processor sets: the possibility to exclusively dedicate specific (groups of) processors to processes or threads. The API is expected to be nearly compatible with Solaris and HP-UX processor set interfaces. According to the NetBSD developers, almost all core kernel subsystems, including virtual memory, memory allocators and file system frameworks, were audited and overhauled to shift to a fine-grained locking model, which allows multiple processors to execute kernel code simultaneously.

Much of the development in the areas of SMP (symmetrical multi-processing) performance and scalability has been sponsored by the 2007 fundraising campaign that pretty much exactly met its targeted USD 50,000. NetBSD developer Andrew Doran was sponsored for parts of 2007 and 2008 to work full time on improving SMP in NetBSD, and later to help to get the NetBSD 5.0 beta in shape.

But improved performance is not the only difference with the previous major release: a number of NetBSD ports (platforms) now finally use X.Org instead of XFree86, a step that virtually all Linux distributions made years ago. The file system FFS (Fast File System) has a preview of metadata journaling, known as WAPBL (Write Ahead Physical Block Logging), which makes file system consistency checking after an unclean shutdown much faster. And one thing many laptop users will love to hear: ACPI suspend and resume now should be working on many computers.

What didn't change so much is NetBSD's installer, sysinst. This is still rather basic, but it does its job. One especially good thing is that sysinst doesn't let the user create an insecure password. There is no shortage of password enforcement tools on Linux, but it's nice to see this enforced by default in NetBSD.

Unit tests for an operating system

Also new is the Automated Testing Framework (ATF), a collection of libraries and utilities designed to ease unattended testing of applications. ATF provides the means to create test suites composed of multiple test programs, which in turn are a collection of test cases. When a test case detects an error, ATF provides as much information as possible about the failure.

ATF started as a Google Summer of Code 2007 project mentored by The NetBSD Foundation. Its original goal was to provide a testing framework for NetBSD, but it grew into an independent project because the framework could be made platform-independent. At the moment, only a few NetBSD-specific tests are available as ATF-based tests, but these are a good preview of what NetBSD 6.0 will have: many more test cases.

ATF is not only for developers. In fact, the NetBSD developers encourage all users to run the test suites themselves. They do not need to have development tools installed or source trees available to certify that a certain application works as advertised. This is the main difference from other test frameworks, which ship as part of a source package and are only run by developers after the program is built. Then the end user, who uses binary packages, never sees these tests or the results.

During the installation of NetBSD 5.0, the user sees ATF as a new tests.gz distribution set. If he chooses to install it, sysinst will populate /usr/tests with a collection of ATF test programs. Once installed, the user edits /etc/atf/NetBSD.conf to suit his system preferences and then runs atf-run | atf-report in the directory /usr/tests. At the end, the program gives a summary with the number of passed and failed test cases. If all test cases ran successfully, the user is sure the tested software behaves as it should on his hardware.

Of course it runs NetBSD.

Although NetBSD is one of the most portable operating systems (the NetBSD motto is "Of course it runs NetBSD.", your author had a fair amount of problems installing it. A physical install didn't work out because NetBSD doesn't recognize the keyboard of his Dell laptop, and resorting to virtualization proved problematic too. Only Xen seems to like NetBSD, and fortunately this process is explained well in the NetBSD Xen Guide [PDF].

What did impress your author is the cross-compiling framework: this allows a user to build a complete NetBSD distribution from another system, which could be on a different architecture or even running a different operating system. The only requirement is that the host operating system has a POSIX environment and C/C++ compiler. Because your author is generally suspicious of such claims, he put it to the test in Ubuntu 9.04 and OpenSolaris build 111 (2009.06), and the process worked flawlessly in both cases. After downloading and extracting the NetBSD sources, a simple

./ -U -m i386 release iso-image
command creates a cross-build environment, cross-compiles the sources and creates a bootable ISO image. This is a huge time saver for building embedded systems.

Towards NetBSD 6.0

The NetBSD Foundation is already looking forward to the future and developers have begun working on NetBSD 6.0. The next version will improve the performance and concurrency of the network stack, it will improve existing file systems and develop new ones. The operating system will also add features for embedded use, including high-resolution timers, and it will improve the quality assurance and automatic testing. A desktop improvement we will see is dhcpcd-gtk, an application that shows a systray icon with the state of dhcpcd and provides a graphical user interface to configure the network. While NetworkManager requires libnl and hal, which at the moment depend too much on Linux, dhcpcd-gtk only requires dhcpcd-dbus, which is much simpler to port.

In this year's Google Summer of Code program, 11 out of the 34 submitted applications by the NetBSD project have been chosen. The list shows some interesting projects, such as a port of Sun's ZFS file system, a minimalistic X server for embedded environments and a NetBSD router. The NetBSD Foundation has also announced the 2009 Fund Drive and expects to collect USD 60,000 by the end of the year.


Recently a couple of projects have emerged to create a better NetBSD desktop experience, such as the graphical user interface for dhcpcd and the NetBSD Desktop Project that was announced in February. The primary goal for this project, started by Andrew Doran and Jared D. McNeill, is to simplify the installer to be able to install a useful NetBSD system with Gnome desktop environment in 15 minutes. This will give new users a better chance to evaluate NetBSD. But this mature Unix system has always focused on the server and embedded applications. The improvements in the scheduler give NetBSD 5 an even stronger position as an embedded operating system, and some Google Summer of Code projects are paving the way for more embedded features in NetBSD 6.

Comments (3 posted)

New Releases

openSUSE 11.1 KDE4 Reloaded: Includes KDE 4.2.2 and 11.1 updates

openSUSE 11.1 Reloaded is a respin of openSUSE 11.1, including KDE 4.2.2 packages and updates to 11.1. "This is an installable live CD that features the KDE 4.2.2 packages from the openSUSE Build Service repo. The live CD was created by Stephan 'Beineri' Binner, and is useful for people who want to test out KDE 4.2 and users who are doing new installs and want the most recent openSUSE updates straight out of the box."

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Mandriva Linux 2009 Spring released

Mandriva Linux 2009 Spring has been released. "Mandriva Linux 2009 Spring comes with a big improvement in boot time. Tools of Mandriva Control Center have been also optimized. Network center is now supporting advanced network configuration together with additional pre-configured Internet providers, integration with new network devices and support for different wireless regulatory domains. msev, the Mandriva security framework has been also redesigned." See the tour page for details.

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hackable:1 - new release

A new release of hackable:1 is available. "hackable:1 now offers phone functionality and sms plus a full PIM suite consisting of contacts, calendar and todo list manager, plus a timesheet time tracker application."

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OpenBSD 4.5 released

OpenBSD 4.5 is out, right on schedule. It has the usual pile of new drivers and fixes; there are also ports for the Gumstix platform and the OpenMoko phone.

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NetBSD 5.0 released

NetBSD 5.0 is out; it looks like the developers have been busy. "In addition to scalability and performance improvements, a significant number of major features have been added. Some highlights are: a preview of metadata journaling for FFS file systems (known as WAPBL, Write Ahead Physical Block Logging), the 'jemalloc' memory allocator, the X.Org X11 distribution instead of XFree86 on a number of ports, the Power Management Framework, ACPI suspend/resume support on many laptops, write support for UDF file systems, the Automated Testing Framework, the Runnable Userspace Meta Program framework, Xen 3.3 support for both i386 and amd64, POSIX message queues and asynchronous I/O, and many new hardware device drivers." More information can be found in the release notes.

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FreeBSD 7.2-RELEASE Available

The FreeBSD Release Engineering Team has announced the availability of FreeBSD 7.2-RELEASE. "This is the third release from the 7-STABLE branch which improves on the functionality of FreeBSD 7.1 and introduces some new features." See the release notes for additional information.

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DragonFly BSD Release 2.2.1

The DragonFly 2.2.1 release is available. "The HAMMER filesystem is considered production-ready in this release; It was first released in July 2008. The 2.2 release represents major stability improvements across the board, new drivers, much better pkgsrc support and integration, and a brand new release infrastructure with multiple target options." DragonFly is a desktop cluster oriented fork of FreeBSD.

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BSDanywhere 4.5 released

BSDanywhere 4.5 is available for i386 and AMD64. BSDanywhere is a bootable Live-CD image based on OpenBSD 4.5. It has the entire OpenBSD base system (without the compiler) plus a graphical desktop.

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Distribution News

Debian GNU/Linux

Debian switching to EGLIBC

Here's a weblog posting with an interesting statement: "I have just uploaded Embedded GLIBC (EGLIBC) into the archive (it is currently waiting in the NEW queue), which will soon replace the GNU C Library (GLIBC)." The EGLIBC project has produced a version of the C library aimed primarily at embedded situations. Evidently the Debian developers feel that it is good enough for wider use, though, and they seem to strongly prefer the way that project is run upstream. (Thanks to Paul Wise).

Comments (121 posted)

Looking for new Security Team members

The Debian Project is looking for new members for the Security Team. If you are an experienced programmer with some time to kill and are concerned about Debian security, consider joining the team.

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(Overlapping) bits from the DPL

Debian Project Leader Steve McIntyre has some bits about releases, press, teams, talks, Google Summer of Code 2009 and DebConf 9.

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No deltarpms in Fedora 11

As seen in passing on Paul Frields's weblog: it appears that the deltarpm feature is not going to make it into the imminent Fedora 11 release after all. There is apparently work to be done on Fedora's internal update systems which will not be completed in time. That's an unfortunate development, but, at least, Rawhide users are able to use this feature to reduce the pain of keeping up with the update stream.

Comments (15 posted)

Fedora Board Recap

Click below for a brief recap of the April 29, 2009 meeting of the Fedora Advisory Board. Topics include: "Belgian Domain Request" and "What is Fedora?"

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Fedora Classroom: May 2009

Fedora IRC Classroom for May 2009 was completed successfully with 3 sessions. One for Fedora Ambassadors, one looking at 4 key causes of SELinux errors, and an introduction to libvirt. IRC logs are available at the Classroom wiki. There is also a new mailing list for the discussion, ideas, feedback, planning and announcement of Fedora Classroom sessions.

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Gentoo Linux

Gentoo Council summary for meeting on April 23, 2009

Click below for a summary of the April 23, 2009 meeting of the Gentoo Council. Several technical issues were discussed.

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Mandriva Linux

Hello KDE cooker users...

Mandriva's KDE Cooker will soon be open for development. There is a warning though as the developers have promised, "We will go to future KDE 4.3 codebase - We will break A LOT of things"

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Distribution Newsletters

Arch Linux Newsletter May 2009

The May 2009 edition of the Arch Linux Newsletter is out. "This month the Arch Linux newsletter sees, among others, a great interview with Hugo Doria, one of our developers. We also take a tour through our Schwag shop, where we spend some time looking at some of the new collector items. In the community highlights we discover some of the great work of Xyne, and pogeymanz explains what, for him, makes the ideal desktop. Additionally, we have a general review of what happened in the Arch Linux community this last month. Last, but not least, we try to increase your knowledge a little further through a great article about diff. All of this and much more is made available for you by the awesome Arch Linux Newsletter Team."

Comments (none posted)

Arch User Magazine #2

The Arch User Magazine is a monthly newsletter created by Arch fans. This issue looks at Replacing the Arch Initscripts, Disaster Preparation: How Paranoid Should You Be?, Living at The Command Line: Grep by Paragraph, and more.

Comments (none posted)

DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 301

The DistroWatch Weekly for May 4, 2009 is out. "Last week we took a look at how two distributions based on the same environment and one a derivative of the other, can actually be very different. Xubuntu and Debian both use the same package management system and both have the same suites of software available. So what makes them so different when installed out of the box? Can Xubuntu be just as lightweight as its Debian counterpart? This week we take another look at how Xubuntu 9.04 fairs when installed in a more minimalist manner. In the news this past week, Mandriva developers make massive updates to "Cooker" following the stable 2009.1 release, four main BSD projects all announce new updates of their flagship products, the openSUSE community releases updated media for 11.1 with KDE 4.2.2, users of the Arch Linux distribution put together a free community magazine, the creator of Puppy Linux looks set for a return to the helm of the project, and Oracle's Solaris (no, the name doesn't roll off the tongue easily here either) is rumoured to be working on version 11 set for release in the middle of 2010. Finally, we are pleased to announce that the recipient of the April 2009 donation is Python, the popular programming language. Happy reading!"

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Fedora Weekly News #174

The Fedora Weekly News for the week ending May 3, 2009 is out. "This week Announcements suggests reading the release notes for "Fedora 11 (Leonidas)". PlanetFedora highlights some choice posts from Fedora blogs including one on the relevance of PPC as a primary architecture. Ambassadors reports that "Fedora stars at Flisol Caracas". QualityAssurance is packed with information on "Test Days" for SSSD and Virtualization. Developments warns of a "Presto No Go" and shares some "Ext4 fallocate() Happiness". Translation reflects a huge amount of activity including "Documentation Decisions for Fedora 12". Artwork wonders if there will be a Plymouth plugin for Fedora 11 Leonidas. The Weekly Webcomic peeks and pokes at some color preferences! Virtualization includes a look at a new libguestfs release and other salient developments."

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openSUSE Weekly News, Issue #69

This edition of the openSUSE Weekly News covers openSUSE 11.2 Milestone 1 Released, People of openSUSE: Jan Engelhardt, Michal Vyskocil : How to track changes in packages: osc vc, Joe Brockmeier: The argument for free fonts, openSUSE Forums: Newbie KDE Questions, and more.

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OpenSUSE Weekly News/70

This issue of the OpenSUSE Weekly News covers KDE4 Reloaded, Google Summer of Code Introduction, 3.1beta6, Lukas Ocilka: YaST Has New Icons / Mascot ... Finally :), ARM support in openSUSE Buildservice - fixed, and more.

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Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter #140

The Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter for the week ending May 2, 2009 is out. "In this issue we cover: Karmic Open for Development, Notify OSD to be discussed at Ubuntu UDS Karmic, Ubuntu Open Week Summary, New Ubuntu Member, Ubuntu Hug Day: May 7th, LoCo News: Jaunty Release Parties, Launchpad 2.2.4, Launchpad's web service code released as stand alone libraries, New prefixes in the help sub-forums, Hiding post (bean) counts, Announcing the Ubuntu High Availability Team, Ubuntu Brains, Ubuntu 9.04 does not use ext4 by default, Ubuntu-UK podcast: Partners in Crime, Canonical engaging Ubuntu Software Partners, Team Meeting Summaries for April 2009, and much, much more!"

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Newsletters and articles of interest

How to choose the best Linux distro for you (TuxRadar)

TuxRadar has an article on choosing the best distribution for your needs. "Choice is the best thing about Linux. Without choice, we may as well use an operating system where the developers make those choices for us. As we've covered in the past, anyone can create a Linux distribution. If it is different enough, it will survive, but most disappear without a trace. There is a flip side to all this choice however, and that's finding the time to find the perfect distribution for you. You really need to try several before setting on the one you prefer, and downloading, installing and testing a Linux distribution takes a lot of time."

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The Perfect Desktop - Ubuntu Studio 9.04 (HowtoForge)

HowtoForge sets up a desktop with the latest version of Ubuntu Studio. "This tutorial shows how you can set up an Ubuntu Studio 9.04 desktop that is a full-fledged replacement for a Windows desktop, i.e. that has all the software that people need to do the things they do on their Windows desktops. The advantages are clear: you get a secure system without DRM restrictions that works even on old hardware, and the best thing is: all software comes free of charge."

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