Request for clarification on encumbered files and avoiding proprietary drivers

Waitman Gobble gobble.wa at
Sat May 15 04:52:08 UTC 2021

On Sat, May 15, 2021 at 12:40 AM Frederick C. Doe <fred.doe at> wrote:
> Howdy! My sincere apologies if this question is answered elsewhere.
> I'm trying to better understand Section 5.4 of the FreeBSD manual:
> I find the following wording from the FreeBSD manual confusing:
> ---
> 1. Any file which is interpreted or executed by the system CPU(s) and
> not in source format is encumbered.
> 2. Any file with a license more restrictive than BSD or GNU is encumbered.
> 3. A file which contains downloadable binary data for use by the
> hardware is not encumbered, unless (1) or (2) apply to it. It must be
> stored in an architecture neutral ASCII format (file2c or uuencoding is
> recommended).
> ---
>  From my (admittedly weak) understanding of FreeBSD, closed-source files
> can be broken down into three categories:
> 1. Kernel Modules (primarily drivers) that operate in kernel-space
> 2. Firmware that is loaded into hardware on hardware power-up and is
> *not* executed on the system CPU (either in kernel-space or user-space)
> 3. Software that runs in user-space (games, applications, etc)
> A cursory reading would indicate that closed-source kernel modules are
> encumbered, but I'm uncertain about proprietary firmware. How are
> proprietary firmware files licensed?
> Assuming that all closed-source drivers *and* firmware fall in the
> "encumbered" category, is there a way to prevent FreeBSD from loading
> *any* encumbered drivers while still maintaining encumbered firmware?
> Page 19 of "Absolute FreeBSD" by Michael W. Lucas* recommends avoiding
> all proprietary drivers. Is that the standard out-of-the-box behaviour
> of FreeBSD (as it is for Fedora GNU/Linux), or must a user manually
> disable proprietary drivers during/post-installation?
> I would like to avoid proprietary drivers but am uncertain about how to
> do so. In Fedora GNU/Linux I simply don't enable the closed-source
> driver repositories.
> * An excellent book, by the way. If you're reading this, Mr. Lucas, hi!
> --
> PGP fingerprint: 8261 80CC 3E97 0EFF 9AE5  DA33 887D C0AD 230D CAA9

>From my experience mostly it's GPU, Wifi and Bluetooth that load
proprietary binary blobs. They are usually closed-source like gmail is
So I guess the first thing to do is not use hardware that requires
proprietary binary blobs.

Waitman Gobble

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