What Is OpenBSD? Everything You Need to Know

Linux supporters love to brag about their system’s security, but one group of BSD developers believes it falls short. OpenBSD, one of the most secure versions of BSD, promises to be one of the most secure operating systems available. Is it up to par with the hype?

Let’s do a look.

What Is OpenBSD and How Does It Work?

OpenBSD is a free and open-source operating system built on the 1970s “Berkeley Unix” strand. It’s similar to Linux, but there are a few key distinctions. While Linux releases include the kernel and a number of utilities, OpenBSD is designed to be a complete operating system. The current version is 7.0 as of this writing.

The emphasis on security in OpenBSD is well-known. Only two remote holes have been discovered “in a heck of a long time,” according to the project’s website.

The OpenBSD project strives to produce the most secure operating system possible by conducting rigorous code audits and searching for defects line by line. They say on their website that by auditing their code in this way, they’ve discovered entire new categories of security flaws. They’ve also put in place a number of strategies to try to thwart exploits, with their homepage describing all of the technical information.

To outsiders, the most distinguishing feature of OpenBSD is the theming of its releases. Designs and even songs based on pop culture, such as “Ghostbusters” and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” have appeared on their releases. Puffy the pufferfish, the company’s mascot, appears in all of the artwork.

Despite its devotion to security, OpenBSD appears to be unafraid to display its lighter side. The project’s emphasis on security has made it popular among security-sensitive applications, such as routers. “If you want it done well, do it yourself,” appears to be OpenBSD’s security philosophy.

They’ve created their own C library, as well as their own firewall, PF, and HTTP server. They even have a sudo alternative known as doas. Even outside of OpenBSD, OpenBSD’s programs are widely utilized. OpenSSH and tmux are two of the most well-known projects in other Unix/Linux distributions.

OpenBSD’s History

Former NetBSD engineer Theo de Raadt founded OpenBSD after he was asked to depart due to differences with the development team. As is customary in the world of open source software, he forked the project. Over the years, the project has developed to over 50 versions, which are issued every six months or so.

OpenBSD is immune from the export rules on cryptography that an organization based in the United States would have to follow because it is based in Canada (where de Raadt lives). The majority of OpenBSD’s developers are still based in North America and Western Europe, according to a map showing their locations.

Although OpenBSD was first released in the 1990s, its ancestry can be traced back to the late 1970s as the Berkeley Software Distribution from UC Berkeley.

How to Setup OpenBSD

Installing OpenBSD is similar to installing any other Linux distribution: you download the installation disk and boot your machine with it.

You’ll be confronted with the installation process right away. It seems to encapsulate some of the characteristics of OpenBSD itself: it’s terse, text-based, and doesn’t appear to grip your hand too tightly. It, like the system, is aimed at advanced Unix users and administrators. Many of the same methods apply to it as they do to any other Unix or Linux system: you partition your hard drive and install packages.

If this is your first time, the most straightforward option is to simply install everything. This ensures you don’t miss anything, and storage space is rather inexpensive these days. After that, you’ll boot into your new OpenBSD system after installing the bootloader.

OpenBSD Package Management

On the surface, using OpenBSD is fairly similar to operating a Linux system. Unlike Linux, pdksh, a derivative of the Korn Shell with capabilities comparable to Bash, is the default shell.

OpenBSD starts with a console interface by default. This is excellent if you want to use it as a server because you can run it “headless” and connect to it over the network that way, but you can also use it as a desktop if you really want to.

OpenBSD has its own package manager for installing third-party software. The pkg add and pkg delete commands add and remove packages, respectively. The /etc/installurl file specifies which mirror OpenBSD searches for packages.

To install a package as root, for example, type:

OpenBSD as a Desktop? pkg add vim

While OpenBSD is best known for server applications, it may also be used on a desktop in the same way that Linux can. By default, the FVWM desktop comes with an X Window server installed.

This, like the other NetBSD options, appears to be very old-school and Unixy, which is exactly how the creators want it. Using the package manager, you can install various window managers and desktops that you may like.

The xenodm display manager is included with the system, and the literature suggests that you use it to start X. It will also offer to start it automatically as part of the installation process. The “startx” command can be used to start X without a display manager, however it appears to only operate with the root user. This could be another “secure by default” design decision made by OpenBSD.

Even if you don’t use OpenBSD, you’re using it.

As previously said, OpenBSD’s influence goes far beyond the people who use it, thanks to a variety of open-source projects.

OpenSSH, which provides SSH connectivity for most open source operating system distributions, is the most conspicuous of these. It’s also utilized in a number of commercial goods because of its BSD-licensed code, which doesn’t require you to disclose changes to the source.

The homepage also states that many companies do not give cash (which was blamed for the Heartbleed bug), and helpfully indicates that funding can be directed to the OpenBSD Project (possibly in an attempt at subtle shaming).