NetBSD is a freely redistributable, open source version of the Unix-derivative Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) computer operating system. It was the second open source BSD descendent to be formally released, after 386BSD, and continues to be actively developed. Noted for its portability and quality of design and implementation, it is often used in embedded systems and as a starting point for the porting of other operating systems to new computer architectures.
NetBSD, like its sister project FreeBSD, was originally derived from the 4.3BSD release from the Computer Systems Research Group of the University of California, Berkeley, via the Networking/2 and 386BSD releases. The project began as a result of frustration within the 386BSD developer community with the pace and direction of the operating system's development. The four founders of the NetBSD project, Chris Demetriou, Theo de Raadt, Adam Glass and Charles Hannum, felt that a more open development model would be beneficial to the project; one which was centered on portable, clean, correct code. Their aim was to produce a unified, multi-platform, production-quality, BSD-based operating system.
Because of the importance of networks such as the Internet in the distributed, collaborative nature of its development, de Raadt suggested the name "NetBSD", which was readily accepted by the other founders.
The NetBSD source code repository was established on March 21 1993 and the first official release, NetBSD 0.8, was made in April, 1993. This was derived from 386BSD 0.1 plus the version 0.2.2 unofficial patchkit, with several programs from the Net/2 release missing from 386BSD re-integrated, and various other improvements.
In August the same year, NetBSD 0.9 was released, which contained many enhancements and bug fixes. This was still a PC-platform-only release, although by this time work was underway to add support for other architectures.
NetBSD 1.0 was released in October, 1994. This was the first multi-platform release, supporting the PC, HP 9000 Series 300, Amiga, 68k Macintosh, Sun-4c series and the PC532. Also in this release, the legally encumbered Net/2-derived source code was replaced with equivalent code from 4.4BSD-lite, in accordance with the USL v BSDi lawsuit settlement.
In 1994, for disputed reasons, one of the founders, Theo de Raadt, was forced out of the project. He later founded a new project, OpenBSD, from a forked version of NetBSD 1.0 near the end of 1995.
NetBSD 1.x releases continued at roughly annual intervals, with minor "patch" releases in between. In 1998, NetBSD 1.3 introduced the pkgsrc packages collection. By 1999, NetBSD 1.4 had been released, supporting 16 different platforms in its binary release, and several others in the source code.
In December, 2004, NetBSD 2.0 was released. The change in major version number signified the introduction of a native threads implementation for all platforms (based on the Scheduler Activations model) and support for SMP on several different CPU architectures. 48 platforms were supported in the 2.0 binary release, with another six in source code form only.
From release 2.0 onwards, each major NetBSD release corresponds to an incremented major version number, i.e. the major releases following 2.0 are 3.0, 4.0 and so on. The previous minor releases are now divided into separate "stable" x.y maintenance releases and "security/critical fix" x.y.z releases.
The current release of NetBSD is version 4.0 (December 19, 2007).
NetBSD has had support for SMP since the NetBSD 2.0 release in 2004 , which was initially implemented using the giant lock approach. During the development cycle of the NetBSD 5 release, major work was done to improve SMP support; most of the kernel subsystems were modified to be MP safe and use the fine-grained locking approach. New synchronization primitives were implemented and scheduler activations was replaced with a in February 2007 . A scalable M2 thread scheduler was implemented, though the old 4.4BSD scheduler is still provided as an option. Threaded software interrupts were implemented to improve synchronization. The virtual memory system, memory allocator and trap handling were made MP safe. The file system framework, including the VFS and major file systems were modified to be MP safe. Since April, 2008 the only subsystems running with a giant lock are the network protocols and most device drivers.
NetBSD provides various features in the security area . The Kernel Authorization framework (or Kauth) is a subsystem managing all authorization requests inside the kernel, and used as system-wide security policy. It allows external modules to plug-in the authorization process. NetBSD also incorporates exploit mitigation features , ASLR, MPROTECT and Segvguard from PaX project, and GCC Stack Smashing Protection (SSP, or also known as ProPolice) compiler extensions. The Verified Executables (or Veriexec) is an in-kernel file integrity subsystem in NetBSD. It allows the user to set the digital fingerprints (hashes) of files in the system to monitor by the Veriexec, and prevent the execution of them. For example, one can allow Perl to run only scripts that match the fingerprints . The cryptographic device driver (CGD) provides functionality which allows using the disks or partitions (including CDs and DVDs) for encrypted storage in NetBSD .
NetBSD has been ported to a large number of 32- and 64-bit architectures, from VAX minicomputers to Pocket PC PDAs. The NetBSD motto is "Of course it runs NetBSD." As of 2007, NetBSD supports 54+ hardware platforms (comprising around 17 different processor architectures). Although the Linux 2.6 kernel includes support for more processor architectures, NetBSD supports more platforms than any single Linux distribution. The kernel and userland for these platforms are all built from a central unified source-code tree managed by CVS. Currently, unlike other kernels such as μClinux, the NetBSD kernel requires the presence of an MMU in any given target architecture.
Because of the centralized source code management, and portable design, feature additions (which are not hardware specific) can benefit all platforms immediately, with little or no re-porting required.
NetBSD’s portability is due to a number of interfaces for bus space and DMA. Using this portability layer, device drivers are somewhat isolated from the hardware platform. This allows a single driver to be easily used on several platforms by hiding details of exactly how the driver talks to the hardware and dramatically reduces the amount of work needed to port it to a new architecture.
This enables, for instance, a driver for a specific PCI card to work whether that card is in a PCI slot on an IA-32, Alpha, PowerPC, SPARC, or other architecture with a PCI bus. Also, a single driver for a specific device can operate via several different buses (eg. ISA, PCI, PC card, etc).
In comparison, Linux device driver code often needs to be reworked for every new architecture. As a consequence, in recent porting efforts by NetBSD and Linux developers, NetBSD has taken much less time to port to new hardware.
This platform independence aids the development of embedded systems, particularly since NetBSD 1.6, when the entire toolchain of compilers, assemblers, linkers, and other tools fully supported cross-compiling. The NetBSD cross-compiling framework allows a complete NetBSD system for an architecture to be built from another system of different architecture (usually faster or with more hardware resources), even on different operating system since the framework supports most POSIX-compliant systems. Several embedded systems using NetBSD have required no additional software development other than toolchain and target rehost.
In 2005, as a demonstration of NetBSD's portability and suitability for embedded applications, Technologic Systems, a vendor of embedded systems hardware, designed and demonstrated a NetBSD-powered kitchen toaster .
Commercial ports to embedded platforms, including the AMD Geode LX800, Freescale PowerQUICC processors, Marvell Orion, AMCC 405 family of PowerPC processors, Intel XScale IOP and IXP series, are available from and supported by Wasabi Systems.
On June 20, 2008, the NetBSD Foundation announced a transition to the two clause BSD license, citing concerns with UCB support of clause 3 and industry applicability of clause 4.
NetBSD also includes the GNU development tools and other packages, which are covered by the GPL and other open source licenses.
At the source code level, NetBSD is very nearly entirely compliant with POSIX.1 (IEEE 1003.1-1990) standard and mostly compliant with POSIX.2 (IEEE 1003.2-1992).
NetBSD also provides system call-level binary compatibility on the appropriate processor architectures with several UNIX-derived and UNIX-like operating systems, including Linux, other BSD variants like FreeBSD, Apple's Darwin, Solaris, HP-UX, SunOS 4 and SCO UNIX. This allows NetBSD users to run many applications that are only distributed in binary form for other operating systems, usually with no significant loss of performance.
NetBSD features pkgsrc (short for "package source"), a framework for building third-party application software packages that will install almost "automagic". The pkgsrc collection consists of more than 6400 packages as of January 2007. Building packages such as KDE, GNOME, the Apache server or Perl is performed simply by typing make install in the appropriate directory. This will fetch the source code, unpack, patch, configure, build and install the package such that it can be removed again later. An alternative to compiling from source is to use a precompiled binary package. Either way, any prerequisites/dependencies will be installed automatically by the package system, with no need for manual intervention.
Following its mantra of portability, pkgsrc has been made portable not only across the hardware platforms that run NetBSD, but also — with the help of an autoconf-based bootstrap system — on several other Unix-like operating systems, such as Linux, other BSD variants like FreeBSD and OpenBSD, Solaris, Darwin/Mac OS X, IRIX, Interix and others. pkgsrc has also been adopted as the official package system for DragonFly BSD (announcement).
The NetBSD "flag" logo, designed by Grant Bissett, was introduced in 2004 and is an abstraction of their older logo, designed by Shawn Mueller in 1994. This was based on the famous World War II photograph Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, which some perceived as culturally insensitive and inappropriate for an international project Even so, the primary reason for the change was actually the complexity of the drawing making it unsuitable for use as logo.
The NetBSD Foundation is the legal entity that owns the intellectual property and trademarks associated with NetBSD, and has obtained 501(c)3 non-profit organisation status with respect to U.S. taxation. The members of the foundation are NetBSD developers who have CVS commit access. The NetBSD Foundation has a Board of Directors, elected by the voting of members for two years.
Hosting for the project is provided primarily by the Internet Systems Consortium Inc, the Luleå University of Technology, Columbia University, and Western Washington University. Mirrors for the project are spread around the world and provided by volunteers and supporters of the project.