Looking at NetBSD from an OpenBSD user perspective

I use to use NetBSD quite a lot. From 2.0 to 6.99. But for some reasons, I stopped using it about 2012, in favor of OpenBSD. Reading on the new 8 release, I wanted to see if all the things I didn’t like on NetBSD were gone. Here is a personal Pros / Cons list. No Troll, hopefully. Just trying to be objective.

So I grabbed an 8.0/amd64 iso file and fired a new VirtualBox instance.

What I liked (pros)

You can choose the “log” option from the installer. This is the journaling option for FFS on NetBSD. On OpenBSD, it is called “softdep”. And AFAIK, it’s not available from the installation wizard. One have to edit the fstab to add the option. the “softdep” option is enabled by editing /etc/fstab.

One can install binary packages from the install process. In fact, I could install “pkgin”, the package manager, but failed installing third party software. But I didn’t try very hard.

pkgin is really intuitive. I am now used to “pkg_info -Q something” to search for OpenBSD binary packages. But running “pkgin search” is far more intuitive ; from the newcomer perspective ; hear the one that didn’t read the man yet…

Things I didn’t like (cons)

It seems you can’t tell the installer to “use all the remaining disk space” when partitioning the disk. You have to set the default value to 0. Then look at the remaining space. And then use that value for the last partition. On OpenBSD, the wizard automatically detects that size and offers it by default.

Installing from HTTP is something I’d rather do. In my test case, I could choose that NetBSD installation method. But the network card would not be configured. You can do it from the extra steps of the wizard. On OpenBSD, configuring the network is one of the first standard steps.

I use a french keyboard. I configured it during the installation. And it was populated to the NetBSD installation. In console, I was using FR. But, by default, XDM still uses US. Hence, I had to kill XDM, run the “X -configure”, edit xorg.conf and restart XDM. On OpenBSD, xenodm automatically inherits from the console keyboard layout.

On NetBSD, there doesn’t seem to be any sudo or doas binary by default. You have to switch to root using su. I don’t like that too much.

I went for a complete XFCE4 installation. Using pkgin, it’s easy! But… The MESSAGE notifications are lost in thousands of “installing dependency D” lines… In the end of the process, you have to scroll back that whole bunch of text to identify directives for packages configuration. On OpenBSD, you get all the directives in the end of the whole installation process. Much easier to read.
I also notice duplicated MESSAGE. The dbus package seemed to be installed (or referenced) and displayed 2 times. Weird… and dirty.

When the packages installation is finished, I noticed all the rc.d files are stored in /usr/pkg/share/examples/rc.d. From the documentation, it seems you either have to copy the relevant files in /etc/rc.d and/or to put a rc_directories directive in /etc/rc.conf. That doesn’t seem stright forward. It’s not new. But I forgot about that. Then you have to edit the rc.conf and add the “YES” flags for your daemons. I used to do that a lot. And, honestly, I didn’t switched to OpenBSD rcctl tool in the early days. But now that I am used to it, it’s a far better way to manage third party daemons.

There were no MESSAGE for XFCE4. Being used to it, I just added “startxfce4” to my .xsession and expected it to run smoothly. It didn’t. I got an obscur error message saying “X server already running on display :0”. When XDM was stopped and I got back to the console, “startxfce4” did work ; starting Xorg in the whole process. I did test openbox and it worked as expected with XDM. Quite annoying.


So that was it. I didn’t spend more than 30 minutes of it. But I didn’t want to spend more time on it. I did stop using NetBSD because of the need to compile each and every packages ; it was in the early days of pkgin. I also didn’t like the way system maintenance was to be done. OpenBSD’s 6-months release seemed far more easy to manage. I still think NetBSD is a great OS. But I believe you have to spent more time on it than you would have to do with OpenBSD.

That said, I’ll keep using my Puffy OS.

Author: Joel Carnat

@work Technical Architect and SysAdmin ; @home OpenBSD and FOSS, Karate, Kobudō, Jōdō, Bodyweight workout, Photography & Music

11 thoughts on “Looking at NetBSD from an OpenBSD user perspective”

        1. Long story short: because I don’t want to deal with problems I wouldn’t have with OpenBSD.

          I have used FreeBSD 3 and 4 quite a lot. Then stopped because of instability in FreeBSD 5. Went back to FreeBSD 8 and later from times to times. I installed it on my X230i a few weeks ago. Couldn’t get the wireless card working ; the same that worked out of the box with OpenBSD.
          I can deal with UFS rather than ZFS. chroot seem easier than Jail to me. I read about Dtrace but I never faced a usercase where I missed it.
          I’m obviously biased. But I try to keep open minded. So far, couldn’t get a good reason to use FreeBSD where OpenBSD could do the job.

  1. OpenBSD’s soft updates are not the same things as NetBSD’s WAPBL (journaling), so *no* ‘softdep’ and ‘log’ aren’t equivalent.



    1. I agree that they implement different features. But both enhance the stock file system consistency. In that, they are equivalent. Although the major point here was the fact that NetBSD would allow FS options from the installer where OpenBSD requires direct fstab editing.

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