Chapter 1 Introduction

Welcome to the FreeBSD 2.X-4.X FAQ!

As is usual with Usenet FAQs, this document aims to cover the most frequently asked questions concerning the FreeBSD operating system (and of course answer them!). Although originally intended to reduce bandwidth and avoid the same old questions being asked over and over again, FAQs have become recognized as valuable information resources.

Every effort has been made to make this FAQ as informative as possible; if you have any suggestions as to how it may be improved, please feel free to mail them to the FAQ Maintainer .

1.1. What is FreeBSD?
1.2. What are the goals of FreeBSD?
1.3. Why is it called FreeBSD?
1.4. What is the latest version of FreeBSD?
1.5. What is FreeBSD-CURRENT?
1.6. What is the FreeBSD-STABLE concept?
1.7. When are FreeBSD releases made?
1.8. Who is responsible for FreeBSD?
1.9. Where can I get FreeBSD?
1.10. Where do I find info on the FreeBSD mailing lists?
1.11. Where do I find the FreeBSD Y2K info?
1.12. What FreeBSD news groups are available?
1.13. Are there FreeBSD IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channels?
1.14. How do I access the Problem Report database?
1.15. Is the documentation available in other formats, such as plain text (ASCII), or Postscript?
1.16. How do I become a FreeBSD Web mirror?
1.17. What other sources of information are there?

1.1. What is FreeBSD?

Briefly, FreeBSD is a UN*X-like operating system for the i386 and Alpha/AXP platforms based on U.C. Berkeley's ``4.4BSD-Lite'' release, with some ``4.4BSD-Lite2'' enhancements. It is also based indirectly on William Jolitz's port of U.C. Berkeley's ``Net/2'' to the i386, known as ``386BSD'', though very little of the 386BSD code remains. A fuller description of what FreeBSD is and how it can work for you may be found on the FreeBSD home page.

FreeBSD is used by companies, Internet Service Providers, researchers, computer professionals, students and home users all over the world in their work, education and recreation. See some of them in the FreeBSD Gallery.

For more detailed information on FreeBSD, please see the FreeBSD Handbook.

1.2. What are the goals of FreeBSD?

The goals of the FreeBSD Project are to provide software that may be used for any purpose and without strings attached. Many of us have a significant investment in the code (and project) and would certainly not mind a little financial compensation now and then, but we are definitely not prepared to insist on it. We believe that our first and foremost ``mission'' is to provide code to any and all comers, and for whatever purpose, so that the code gets the widest possible use and provides the widest possible benefit. This is, we believe, one of the most fundamental goals of Free Software and one that we enthusiastically support.

That code in our source tree which falls under the GNU General Public License (GPL) or GNU Library General Public License (LGPL) comes with slightly more strings attached, though at least on the side of enforced access rather than the usual opposite. Due to the additional complexities that can evolve in the commercial use of GPL software, we do, however, endeavor to replace such software with submissions under the more relaxed FreeBSD copyright whenever possible.

1.3. Why is it called FreeBSD?

  • It may be used free of charge, even by commercial users.

  • Full source for the operating system is freely available, and the minimum possible restrictions have been placed upon its use, distribution and incorporation into other work (commercial or non-commercial).

  • Anyone who has an improvement and/or bug fix is free to submit their code and have it added to the source tree (subject to one or two obvious provisions).

  • For those of our readers whose first language is not English, it may be worth pointing out that the word ``free'' is being used in two ways here, one meaning ``at no cost'', the other meaning ``you can do whatever you like''. Apart from one or two things you cannot do with the FreeBSD code, for example pretending you wrote it, you really can do whatever you like with it.

1.4. What is the latest version of FreeBSD?

Version 4.4 is the latest STABLE version; it was released in September, 2001. This is also the latest RELEASE version.

Briefly explained, -STABLE is aimed at the ISP or other corporate user who wants stability and a low change count over the wizzy new features of the latest -CURRENT snapshot. Releases can come from either branch, but you should only use -CURRENT if you are sure that you are prepared for its increased volatility (relative to -STABLE, that is).

Releases are only made every few months. While many people stay more up-to-date with the FreeBSD sources (see the questions on FreeBSD-CURRENT and FreeBSD-STABLE) than that, doing so is more of a commitment, as the sources are a moving target.

1.5. What is FreeBSD-CURRENT?

FreeBSD-CURRENT is the development version of the operating system, which will in due course become 5.0-RELEASE. As such, it is really only of interest to developers working on the system and die-hard hobbyists. See the relevant section in the handbook for details on running -CURRENT.

If you are not familiar with the operating system or are not capable of identifying the difference between a real problem and a temporary problem, you should not use FreeBSD-CURRENT. This branch sometimes evolves quite quickly and can be un-buildable for a number of days at a time. People that use FreeBSD-CURRENT are expected to be able to analyze any problems and only report them if they are deemed to be mistakes rather than ``glitches''. Questions such as ``make world produces some error about groups'' on the -CURRENT mailing list are sometimes treated with contempt.

Every day, snapshot releases are made based on the current state of the -CURRENT and -STABLE branches. Nowadays, distributions of the occasional snapshot are now being made available. The goals behind each snapshot release are:

  • To test the latest version of the installation software.

  • To give people who would like to run -CURRENT or -STABLE but who do not have the time and/or bandwidth to follow it on a day-to-day basis an easy way of bootstrapping it onto their systems.

  • To preserve a fixed reference point for the code in question, just in case we break something really badly later. (Although CVS normally prevents anything horrible like this happening :)

  • To ensure that any new features in need of testing have the greatest possible number of potential testers.

No claims are made that any -CURRENT snapshot can be considered ``production quality'' for any purpose. If you want to run a stable and fully tested system, you will have to stick to full releases, or use the -STABLE snaphosts.

Snapshot releases are directly available from for 5.0-CURRENT and for 4-STABLE snapshots. 3-STABLE snapshots are not being produced at the time of this writing (May 2000).

Snapshots are generated, on the average, once a day for all actively developed branches.

1.6. What is the FreeBSD-STABLE concept?

Back when FreeBSD 2.0.5 was released, we decided to branch FreeBSD development into two parts. One branch was named -STABLE, with the intention that only well-tested bug fixes and small incremental enhancements would be made to it (for Internet Service Providers and other commercial enterprises for whom sudden shifts or experimental features are quite undesirable). The other branch was -CURRENT, which essentially has been one unbroken line leading towards 5.0-RELEASE (and beyond) since 2.0 was released. If a little ASCII art would help, this is how it looks:

                      |  [2.1-STABLE]
     *BRANCH*       2.0.5 -> 2.1 -> 2.1.5 -> 2.1.6 ->  [2.1-STABLE ends]
                      |                            (Mar 1997)
                      |  [2.2-STABLE]
     *BRANCH*       2.2.1 -> 2.2.2-RELEASE -> 2.2.5 -> 2.2.6 -> 2.2.7 -> 2.2.8 [end]
                      |       (Mar 1997)    (Oct 97) (Apr 98) (Jul 98) (Dec 98)
                   3.0-SNAPs  (started Q1 1997)
                   3.0-RELEASE (Oct 1998)
                      |  [3.0-STABLE]
     *BRANCH*      3.1-RELEASE  (Feb 1999) -> 3.2 -> 3.3 -> 3.4 -> 3.5 -> 3.5.1
                      |                     (May 1999) (Sep 1999) (Dec 1999) (June 2000) (July 2000)
                      |  [4.0-STABLE]
     *BRANCH*        4.0  (Mar 2000) -> 4.1 -> 4.1.1 -> 4.2 -> 4.3 -> 4.4 -> ... future 4.x releases ...
                      |              (July 2000)   (Sep 2000)   (Nov 2000)
              [5.0-CURRENT continues]

The 2.2-STABLE branch was retired with the release of 2.2.8. The 3-STABLE branch has ended with the release of 3.5.1, the final 3.X release. The only changes made to either of these branches will be, for the most part, security-related bug fixes.

4-STABLE is the actively developed -STABLE branch. The latest release on the 4-STABLE is 4.4-RELEASE, which was released in September, 2001.

The 5-CURRENT branch is slowly progressing toward 5.0-RELEASE and beyond. See What is FreeBSD-CURRENT? for more information on this branch.

1.7. When are FreeBSD releases made?

As a general principle, the FreeBSD core team only release a new version of FreeBSD when they believe that there are sufficient new features and/or bug fixes to justify one, and are satisfied that the changes made have settled down sufficiently to avoid compromising the stability of the release. Many users regard this caution as one of the best things about FreeBSD, although it can be a little frustrating when waiting for all the latest goodies to become available...

Releases are made about every 4 months on average.

For people needing (or wanting) a little more excitement, binary snapshots are made every day... see above.

1.8. Who is responsible for FreeBSD?

The key decisions concerning the FreeBSD project, such as the overall direction of the project and who is allowed to add code to the source tree, are made by a core team of 9 people. There is a much larger team of more than 200 committers who are authorized to make changes directly to the FreeBSD source tree.

However, most non-trivial changes are discussed in advance in the mailing lists, and there are no restrictions on who may take part in the discussion.

1.9. Where can I get FreeBSD?

Every significant release of FreeBSD is available via anonymous FTP from the FreeBSD FTP site:

Information about obtaining FreeBSD on CD, DVD, and other media can be found in the Handbook.

1.10. Where do I find info on the FreeBSD mailing lists?

You can find full information in the Handbook entry on mailing-lists.

1.11. Where do I find the FreeBSD Y2K info?

You can find full information in the FreeBSD Y2K page.

1.12. What FreeBSD news groups are available?

You can find full information in the Handbook entry on newsgroups.

1.13. Are there FreeBSD IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channels?

Yes, most major IRC networks host a FreeBSD chat channel:

  • Channel #FreeBSD on EFNet is a FreeBSD forum, but do not go there for tech support or to try and get folks there to help you avoid the pain of reading man pages or doing your own research. It is a chat channel, first and foremost, and topics there are just as likely to involve sex, sports or nuclear weapons as they are FreeBSD. You Have Been Warned! Available at server

  • Channel #FreeBSDhelp on EFNet is a channel dedicated to helping FreeBSD users. They are much more sympathetic to questions then #FreeBSD is.

  • Channel #FreeBSD on DALNET is available at in the US and in Europe.

  • Channel #FreeBSD on UNDERNET is available at in the US and in Europe. Since it is a help channel, be prepared to read the documents you are referred to.

  • Channel #FreeBSD on HybNet. This channel is a help channel. A list of servers can be found on the HybNet web site.

Each of these channels are distinct and are not connected to each other. Their chat styles also differ, so you may need to try each to find one suited to your chat style. As with all types of IRC traffic, if you are easily offended or cannot deal with lots of young people (and more than a few older ones) doing the verbal equivalent of jello wrestling, do not even bother with it.

1.14. How do I access the Problem Report database?

The Problem Report database of all user change requests may be queried (or submitted to) by using our web-based PR submission and query interfaces. The send-pr(1) command can also be used to submit problem reports and change requests via electronic mail.

1.15. Is the documentation available in other formats, such as plain text (ASCII), or Postscript?

Yes. The documentation is available in a number of different formats and compression schemes on the FreeBSD FTP site, in the /pub/FreeBSD/doc/ directory.

The documentation is categorised in a number of different ways. These include:

  • The document's name, such as faq, or handbook.

  • The document's language and encoding. These are based on the locale names you will find under /usr/share/locale on your FreeBSD system. The current languages and encodings that we have for documentation are as follows:

    Name Meaning
    en_US.ISO8859-1 US English
    de_DE.ISO8859-1 German
    es_ES.ISO8859-1 Spanish
    fr_FR.ISO8859-1 French
    ja_JP.eucJP Japanese (EUC encoding)
    ru_RU.KOI8-R Russian (KOI8-R encoding)
    zh_TW.Big5 Chinese (Big5 encoding)

    Note: Some documents may not be available in all languages.

  • The document's format. We produce the documentation in a number of different output formats to try and make it as flexible as possible. The current formats are;

    Format Meaning
    html-split A collection of small, linked, HTML files.
    html One large HTML file containing the entire document
    pdb Palm Pilot database format, for use with the iSilo reader.
    pdf Adobe's Portable Document Format
    ps Postscript
    rtf Microsoft's Rich Text Format[a]
    txt Plain text
    a. Page numbers are not automatically updated when loading this format in to Word. Press CTRL+A, CTRL+END, F9 after loading the document, to update the page numbers.
  • The compression and packaging scheme. There are three of these currently in use.

    1. Where the format is html-split, the files are bundled up using tar(1). The resulting .tar file is then compressed using the compression schemes detailed in the next point.

    2. All the other formats generate one file, called book.format (i.e., book.pdb, book.html, and so on).

      These files are then compressed using three compression schemes.

      Scheme Description
      zip The Zip format. If you want to uncompress this on FreeBSD you will need to install the archivers/unzip port first.
      gz The GNU Zip format. Use gunzip(1) to uncompress these files, which is part of FreeBSD.
      bz2 The BZip2 format. Less widespread than the others, but generally gives smaller files. Install the archivers/bzip2 port to uncompress these files.

      So the Postscript version of the Handbook, compressed using BZip2 will be stored in a file called in the handbook/ directory.

    3. The formatted documentation is also available as a FreeBSD package, of which more later.

After choosing the format and compression mechanism that you want to download, you must then decide whether or not you want to download the document as a FreeBSD package.

The advantage of downloading and installing the package is that the documentation can then be managed using the normal FreeBSD package management comments, such as pkg_add(1) and pkg_delete(1).

If you decide to download and install the package then you must know the filename to download. The documentation-as-packages files are stored in a directory called packages. Each package file looks like document-name.lang.encoding.format.tgz.

For example, the FAQ, in English, formatted as PDF, is in the package called faq.en_US.ISO8859-1.pdf.tgz.

Knowing this, you can use the following command to install the English PDF FAQ package.

    # pkg_add

Having done that, you can use pkg_info(1) to determine where the file has been installed.

    # pkg_info -f faq.en_US.ISO8859-1.pdf
    Information for faq.en_US.ISO8859-1.pdf:
    Packing list:
            Package name: faq.en_US.ISO8859-1.pdf
            CWD to /usr/share/doc/en_US.ISO8859-1/books/faq
    File: book.pdf
            CWD to .
    File: +COMMENT (ignored)
    File: +DESC (ignored)

As you can see, book.pdf will have been installed in to /usr/share/doc/en_US.ISO8859-1/books/faq.

If you do not want to use the packages then you will have to download the compressed files yourself, uncompress them, and then copy the appropriate documents in to place.

For example, the split HTML version of the FAQ, compressed using gzip(1), can be found in the en_US.ISO8859-1/books/faq/book.html-split.tar.gz file. To download and uncompress that file you would have to do this.

    # fetch
    # gzip -d book.html-split.tar.gz
    # tar xvf book.html-split.tar

You will be left with a collection of .html files. The main one is called index.html, which will contain the table of contents, introductory material, and links to the other parts of the document. You can then copy or move these to their final location as necessary.

1.16. How do I become a FreeBSD Web mirror?

Certainly! There are multiple ways to mirror the Web pages.

  • Using CVSup: You can retrieve the formatted files using CVSup, and connecting to a CVSup server.

    To retrieve the webpages, please look at the example supfile, which can be found in /usr/share/examples/cvsup/www-supfile.

  • Using FTP mirror: You can download the FTP server's copy of the web site sources using your favorite ftp mirror tool. Keep in mind that you have to build these sources before publishing them. Simply start at

1.17. What other sources of information are there?

The following newsgroups contain pertinent discussion for FreeBSD users:

Web resources:

The FreeBSD handbook also has a fairly complete bibliography section which is worth reading if you are looking for actual books to buy.

This, and other documents, can be downloaded from

For questions about FreeBSD, read the documentation before contacting <>.
For questions about this documentation, e-mail <>.