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FreeBSD 8: an evolutionary release of the unknown giant

December 9, 2009

This article was contributed by Koen Vervloesem

FreeBSD 8.0 is a major release of the free UNIX descendant. Support for ZFS, jails and USB have been improved, but the release also adds new features, such as NFSv4 and Xen DomU support and some new kernel-related tools. The release notes detail these and other changes that appear in the latest FreeBSD.

New kernel tools

The new textdump feature comes in handy when debugging kernel panics, as it extracts commonly needed information from the kernel memory dump. Textdump stores human-readable text files into a tar archive, and those files can then be analyzed without access to kernel source and symbols. The textdump files are also appropriate for filing a bug report. By default, kernel dumps are still generated in the machine-readable binary format, but by setting the debug.ddb.textdump.pending sysctl variable to 1 using sysctl, the next dump will be a textdump.

Another interesting utility is procstat, which displays detailed information about running processes, such as command line arguments, virtual memory mappings, thread information, file descriptor information, etcetera. FreeBSD 8 also supports Sun's DTrace (introduced in release 7.1), a dynamic tracing framework to assist in profiling the operating system and applications, e.g. to find performance bottlenecks.

FreeBSD 8's network stack has been optimized with a per-CPU flow cache, which increases network throughput on multi core systems, and improvements in the scalability of UDP and TCP. The wireless networking stack has been extended with the "Virtual Access Points (VAP)" functionality, which lets administrators define multiple wireless networks to be hosted from a single access point. This allows for example one wireless network with WPA2 encryption for access to the local network and one without encryption for basic network access for visitors. FreeBSD 8 also supports draft 802.11s mesh networks.

File systems

On the file system front, NFSv4 support has been added (both client and server side), although it is still experimental. Thanks to NFSv4, users can have better security access controls and performance improvements. NFSv4 ACL support is not yet complete: libc changes and some of the kernel changes are part of FreeBSD 8.0, but user space utilities and support for the access control lists in ZFS are expected in FreeBSD 8.1.

The ZFS file system has been upgraded from version 6 to version 13 and is deemed production ready. Also, because ZFS requires a large amount of kernel memory, the limit of kernel memory that could be allocated in FreeBSD has been increased from 2 GB to 512 GB. Two GB was a bit cramped for Sun's file system, which tends to use as much kernel memory as it can. ZFS is not recommended for 32-bit architectures: the ZFS Tuning Guide for FreeBSD reads "A 64-bit system is preferred due to its larger address space and better performance on 64bit variables, which are used extensively by ZFS. 32-bit systems are supported though, with sufficient tuning."


Since FreeBSD 7.2, it has been possible to assign multiple IPv4 or IPv6 addresses to a FreeBSD jail. Jails can now also be restricted to certain CPUs and they can be nested hierarchically. A child jail is always at least as restricted as its ancestors.

Another (experimental) virtualization improvement is VImage, a network virtualization system. This makes it possible to give jails their own independent packet filters and routing tables. All these features open new possibilities for FreeBSD hosting services, who use jails a lot. For example, a web server in a jail can now be assigned multiple addresses and offer virtual hosting, customers can create jails inside their own jail to secure their services, and they can use their own firewall.

The developers have also integrated experimental Xen DomU support into FreeBSD, allowing it to be used as a 32-bit guest operating system on a Xen 3.1 or higher Dom0 host. This will eventually make it possible to use FreeBSD on Amazon EC2 (which at the moment uses Xen 3.0.3). Moreover, the open source edition of VirtualBox has also been ported to FreeBSD (emulators/virtualbox in the ports collection).


FreeBSD focuses on the server, but it can also be used as a desktop system, although its descendant PC-BSD (8.0 now in alpha release) is better suited for this purpose. The GNOME desktop environment has been updated to version 2.26.3 (x11/gnome2), and KDE to 4.3.1 (x11/kde4). In previous versions, removing a USB storage device without unmounting its file system first resulted in a kernel panic, crashing the operating system. Release 8.0 adds USB storage hot plug functionality. For desktop users, this is a visible improvement of their user experience, giving FreeBSD the stability it needs on the desktop. Under the hood, the USB stack received a significant overhaul, fixing many long standing problems.

For users that compile their software from the FreeBSD ports collection (with around 20,000 packages that can be compiled from source), there is a simple but very effective new feature. If the hardware has a multi core processor, individual software will be built in parallel on all available cores by default. This is achieved by passing the -jX flag to make, with X the number of cores in the machine. The user can override this number with MAKE_JOBS_NUMBER in /etc/make.conf. Not all software supports this, but the most popular ports do, which speeds up compilation considerably.

One thing that hasn't changed a lot (again) is the installation utility, sysinstall. Its man page even reads "This product is currently at the end of its life cycle and will eventually be replaced". However, currently there are no signs of a replacement utility. One domain where sysinstall fails is that it doesn't support ZFS yet. As a consequence, installing a ZFS-only FreeBSD system requires a lot of manual steps.

For developers

Because the GCC compiler suite was relicensed to GPLv3 after the 4.2 release, commercial users of FreeBSD have been looking into compilers with a more liberal license. One promising project is the Clang/LLVM combination, which is a BSD-licensed C/C++ compiler suite. So the FreeBSD project is intending to use Clang/LLVM as the default compiler for the base system. This is a work in progress, and Clang/LLVM will not likely replace GCC for all third party software, because many depend on GCC-specific constructs.

Last month, FreeBSD 8 also saw the addition of Grand Central Dispatch, Apple's solution for automatic thread pool management in Mac OS 10.6 ("Snow Leopard"). The FreeBSD wiki lists the status of the GCD port and some references to give it a try. Incidentally, both Clang/LLVM and Grand Central Dispatch are backed by Apple, making the Cupertino-based company an important contributor to the future of FreeBSD.


It is difficult to pinpoint one unique area were FreeBSD 8 shines. The release shows improvements in a lot of areas. From kernel programmers and file system lovers to developers, administrators and even end-users, everyone will find something new. From the standpoint of a Linux user, one could ask why someone might want to choose FreeBSD over Linux. This is largely a matter of taste, but your author likes the clean FreeBSD ports system which even allows you to select build options, the excellent hands-on documentation in the FreeBSD Handbook and the quality of the man pages.

Comments (8 posted)

New Releases

AV Linux 3.0 Released

AV Linux has released version 3.0 of its Debian squeeze based distribution for multimedia creators. From the release announcement: "[P]erhaps the most notable change is the new 2.6.32 default Kernel and the now pre-installed optional 2.6.31-rt11 Realtime Kernel (available post-install). Both seem to be giving fast and reliable performance in preliminary testing however boot times have increased significantly over previous Kernels. Users should be aware that the LiveDVD may take a few minutes to configure and boot and that the few udev warnings that are displayed are harmless."

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Calculate Linux 10.0 released ( takes a quick look at the latest release from the Russian distribution Calculate Linux. "A new version of the Calculate Linux distribution has been released. Version 10.0 has been released with a slew of new important updates and changes. The new version includes greater compatibility with Gentoo, OpenGL installation, Linux kernel, new versions of Gnome and KDE, and up to date applications."

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Fedora 12 LXDE Spin available for download

The delayed Fedora 12 LXDE Spin is now available. "Sorry it took so long. While the actual problems were solved within 2 days, it took a little longer to create the new ISO images. FESCo, the Fedora Steering Committee, had to decide how to proceed with the new images."

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SimplyMEPIS 8.5 beta1 Release

MEPIS has released SimplyMEPIS 8.4.90, the beta1 of MEPIS 8.5. "Warren Woodford reported on the progress in the 8.5 release cycle: "This beta includes a 2.6.32 kernel that is one patch short of the final. The next beta will probably contain kernel We still use KDE 4.3.2 but we're hoping we can leverage the dedicated efforts of the Debian KDE Team to update to a newer version soon." Warren continued: "We've had a lot of input from users. We're trying to tweak 8.5 to reflect their suggestions and preferences. In particular, our thanks go out to the community members who designed and tested a new desktop theme for 8.5.""

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Distribution News


Rawhide users: fasten your seat belts

For the daring folks who follow Rawhide: life is about to get interesting for a while. Fedora developers have announced that Rawhide will be moving to upstart 0.60 and to RPM 4.8.0. Both postings should be considered required reading for people with Rawhide systems.

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Fedora Board, FESCo & FAmSCo Elections - Voting Information

Fedora elections are open until December 15, 2009. Click below for information about each election.

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Fedora Board appointment

Christopher Aillon will continue in his appointed seat on the Fedora Project Board for this cycle. "His term will last until the selection process following the release of Fedora 14, in accordance with the Board's established succession planning. Christopher's presence on the Board has helped our discussions on a number of subjects over the past year, and I look forward to having him continue that relationship."

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Fedora Board Recap 2009-12-03

Click below for a recap of the December 3, 2009 meeting of the Fedora Advisory Board. Topics include FUDCon post-mortem, Election schedule extension, Marketing & F13, and more.

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Fedora 13 release name

The Fedora 13 release name is "Goddard". "Thank you to the community for their suggestions, the Board for their work on additional diligence searches, and Nigel Jones for setting up the voting."

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SUSE Linux and openSUSE

Announcing new openSUSE Board Members

The openSUSE Board has three new members, Bryen Yunashko (non-Novell seat), Pavol Rusnak (Novell seat) and Rupert Horstkötter (non-Novell seat). "The election committee wants to thank Stephen Shaw for his tenure on the board and the new board members Bryen, Rupert and Pavol for stepping up and volunteering to serve on the openSUSE board."

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Ubuntu family

Call for nominations: Ubuntu Developer Membership Board

The Ubuntu Developer Membership Board (DMB) has the responsibility for approving new Ubuntu developers and granting them the appropriate privileges in Launchpad. "Now that the DMB is formally established and active, we would like to hold an election to determine its membership. Until now, the members of the Technical Board have been standing in to fulfill the functions of the DMB."

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ubuntu-distributed-devel mailing list created

There is a new mailing list related to Ubuntu development, ubuntu-distributed-devel. "A new list was created, as the effort involves people from Ubuntu, Bazaar and Launchpad, and cross-posting all discussions between the three lists would not work well. We now have a single list to discuss issues that involve changes to more than one of the groups. It does not mean that things decided there will be thrust upon Ubuntu developers without consultation however. While the details are thrashed out there, the changes will be open to scrutiny from the larger Ubuntu developer as any other proposal from a sub-team is."

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Distribution Newsletters

DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 332

The DistroWatch Weekly for December 7, 2009 is out. "FreeBSD has long been recognised as a fast, stable and reliable operating system, powering large server farms of some of the biggest web sites and search engines on the Internet. This week Jesse Smith installed the project's latest release, version 8.0, on his home server to ascertain that it works as advertised. What were his findings? Read on to find out. In the news section, Fedora project announces a lightweight variant with LXDE as the main desktop, Canonical confirms that Kubuntu 10.04 will be an LTS release, the FreeNAS project considers switching to Debian, and ClearOS presents an excellent alternative to small business - no Linux knowledge required. Also in this issue, links to interviews with Klaus Knopper from KNOPPIX and Ubuntu's Daniel Holbach, a PLD announcement of a live CD featuring the first beta of KDE 4, and another from PC-BSD which confirms that the upcoming version of the desktop FreeBSD system is now feature complete. Finally, we are pleased to announce that the recipient of the November 2009 donation is Parted Magic. Happy reading!"

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Fedora Weekly News 205

The Fedora Weekly News for December 6, 2009 is out. "Welcome to the post-FUDCon Toronto 2009 issue of Fedora Weekly News! In this issue, details on the various Fedora elections and announcement of the Fedora 13 release name, as well as news of the new Bugzilla 3.4 public beta availability. In news from the Fedora Planet, details on why Chromium is not packaged for Fedora, an upcoming Gnome Color Manager release, a guide to theming Plymouth, and much more! Updates from FUDCon Toronto and work towards Fedora 13 from the Marketing beat. In news from Ambassadors, a report on a F12 event in Nicaragua. Translation brings us news of an upcoming outage for and details related to this, a draft Fedora 13 schedule, and new Localization team members. From the Design team, brainstorming on the Goddard theme, and a new mailing list for the Echo icon set. Security Advisories brings us up to date on patches for Fedora 10, 11 and 12. The Virtualization beat wraps up this issue, with details on a Red Hat Virtualization online event on 12/9, details on a new virt-manager release. Enjoy this issue of FWN!"

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OpenSUSE Weekly News/100

This issue of the openSUSE Weekly News covers openSUSE Board Election Update, Egbert Eich: The Future of SaX2, Ben Kevan: KDE 4.3.4 Released - openSUSE Build Service, Linux Weekly News: Firefox locks down the components directory, Linux Desktop Search Engines Compared, and more.

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Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter #171

The Ubuntu Weekly Newsletter for December 5, 2009 is out. "In this issue we cover: Renewed call for nominees - IRC Council, 2009 Ubuntu Server Edition user survey, UDS Lucid - Kernel Summary, An interview with Daniel Holbach, Jono Bacon: Lernid, A selection of easy merges from the Ubuntu Server Team, Finksburg, Maryland Tour, Ubuntu Party Toulouse 2009, Getting the most from bug mail, The Planet: Daniel Holbach, Matthew Helmke, Ara Pulido, & Jonathan Riddell, Forensic Cop Journal: Ubuntu Forensic, Ubuntu CE 6.0 Beta Brings Dansguardian Fix, Meeting Summaries: November 2009, and much, much more!"

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Knoppix founder Klaus Knopper speaks (Linux User)

Linux User & Developer has an interview with Knoppix founder Klaus Knopper. "Klaus Knopper teaches at the Kaiserslautern University of Applied Sciences where he lectures in software engineering and software technology and occasionally gives seminars and talks about open source in various parts of the IT industry. Klaus received his diploma in electrical engineering from the Kaiserslautern University of Technology, which in German is die Technische Universität Kaiserslautern. He co-founded LinuxTag in 1996, a Linux exhibition which has not really seen any competition from anywhere. He has been a self-employed information technology consultant since 1998. As well as all of this he started the Knoppix GNU/Linux distribution. Knoppix is something of a legend as far as system administrators and computer repair technicians are concerned. Most people who know about it have a healthy respect for it. Linux User & Developer was able to catch up with Klaus in the middle of his busy schedule and ask him some questions about himself."

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Distribution reviews

A Linux answer to Windows SBS: ClearOS (ITworld)

ITworld takes a look at ClearOS. "ClearOS, formerly known as ClarkConnect, doesn't ask for its users to become expert Linux administrators. Indeed, its interface hides all of Linux's complexity away. While it's built solidly on Linux and other open-source programs, a non-technical user could use ClearOS and never know what was his server's hood."

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