FreeBSD or OpenBSD

Adam Fabian afabian at
Sun Dec 5 15:24:56 PST 2004

On Sun, Dec 05, 2004 at 12:47:08PM -0900, Damien Hull wrote:

> 1. OpenBSD has good security
> 2. Stable
> 3. Firewall and routing support is built in
> Why I use FreeBSD
> 1. Stable
> 2. Ports tree has a lot of software
> 3. I can upgrade to new versions 
> Should I make the switch from FreeBSD to OpenBSD for my servers?

DISCLAIMER:  The question borders on flame-bait, and everything that
follows here is my completely subjective opinion; it's here for anyone
that finds it useful, may contain errors, and is based completely on
my statistically insignificant experience using both systems.  I'm
not going to "advocate" one over the other, and I'm not interested in
debating the subject.  With that said...

FreeBSD has excellent security.  OpenBSD has proactively rabid security.
(Which I don't mean to sound derogatory at all; sometimes it's what's
called for.)  That being said, your administration of the system is, in
all likelihood, going to be a much larger factor than choosing OpenBSD
or FreeBSD.

Typically, servers only have a few packages and it's not very hard to
simply download and compile the software yourself.  To me, that mostly
negates the advantage of FreeBSD's larger ports tree for a server.
OpenBSD has just about every major package you'd expect to use on a
server, also.  There's also NetBSD's pkgsrc, which a release of will
probably work for typical major server packages for either operating

FreeBSD has imported OpenBSD's packet filter in 5.3.  On a stock install
of FreeBSD, you can kldload pf and start using it.  Like security,
excellent networking is a *BSD speciality, and either OS is likely going
to satisfy all of your networking needs.  I'd say this is another no-go
for the list of criteria that actually matter.

Here's my opinion of how these OS'es compare for a server.  This is all
purely subjective and based on my statistically insignificant experience
with both OS'es.

FreeBSD superior to OpenBSD:
   Speed (subjectively, FreeBSD is much faster)
   More "3rd party support" (, freebsd-update,
   Ports tree
   UFS2 (background fsck)
   Fewer bugs (random, very minor stuff, like terminal emulation; 
     can't remember any gross bugs in OpenBSD or anything like that)
   2 year life on extended branches (compared to 1 year for an OpenBSD
   Source upgrades (OpenBSD offers no official support for the
     procedure, though it may well work.)
   Better x86 hardware support

OpenBSD superior to FreeBSD:
   Multi-platform support
   GENERIC kernel supports just about everything
   Ports tree has neat, easy to use flavors feature
   Ports tree tied to particular version (almost no broken ports,
   Encouraged use of binary packages
   Stringent adherence to license ideology (replace everything
      possible with BSD licensed equivalents, NDA's never acceptable,
   ksh shell in base system with nice tab-completion by default
   Better marketing (t-shirts, posters)
   Man pages are absolutely the canonical reference for the system 
      (very high priority)
   ProPolice stack-smashing protection in the system compiler
In a lot of ways, FreeBSD has the profile on an operating system with
a larger user-base, and OpenBSD has the profile of an operating system
more directed by a single man. (Theo da Raadt.)  Each has advantages
and disadvantages.  FreeBSD has broader support, and OpenBSD has more
focus.  Theo has an inclination to make things simple for the users and
stop them from shooting themselves in the feet, proverbially speaking,
and keeping things secure, simple, stable, and working.  Things like
tweaking compiler options and tripping over your own feet to get your
hands on the latest version of some piece of software are generally
frowned on.  In my experience, the OpenBSD community is much less
tolerant of people who do not read the manuals and ask stupid questions.
(Which I don't consider a bad thing.)  FreeBSD has bigger 3rd party
support, and fewer bugs simply because there are more people trying more
potentially bug-revealing combinations of hardware and software and more
people around to fix them.

While you're exploring BSD's, don't forget NetBSD, which makes the
comparison yet-more-complicated. ;) Unless you place a really high
priority on something, like license-purity, this is largely a question
of what you like.  And it's hard to say without trying them all.  I've
spent a lot of time with FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and NetBSD, and in the end,
it's all really a matter of taste.

Use them both for a while and see what you like.
Adam Fabian (afabian at

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