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FreeBSD 7.1 Gets a Little Help from Sun

By Sean Michael Kerner (Send Email)
Posted Jan 8, 2009


The open source FreeBSD operating system is out with its first major update in nearly a year.

The latest BSD release adds a Sun-developed feature, but the tech transfer isn't just one one way.

FreeBSD 7.1 includes numerous improvements over its predecessor FreeBSD 7.0, including Sun Microsystem-developed Dtrace technology as well as new boot options and scalability improvements.

The FreeBSD 7.1 release comes as FreeBSD developers push toward a FreeBSD version 8.0 later this year. The FreeBSD 7.1 release also demonstrates how the open source ecosystem can extend across company lines as well different operating systems. FreeBSD is one of the earliest open source operating system projects and is a direct descendant of the original open source BSD work performed at the University of California, Berkeley.

"DTrace is a mature and compelling technology for performance monitoring developed originally by Sun, released as open source as part of OpenSolaris," FreeBSD core team member Robert Watson told InternetNews.com. "While we have had many tools for specific sorts of analysis in the past, DTrace is an excellent general-purpose framework for managing and presenting trace data, and also allowing us to more easily add new types of tracing."

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Watson added that integrating DTrace into FreeBSD would not have been possible without Sun's contribution of DTrace to the open source world. John Birrell, who did the port, has been in close contact with Sun during his work.

Bryan Cantrill, senior staff engineer at Sun Microsystems, told InternetNews.com that, in addition to Birrell, several FreeBSD folks attended Sun's DTrace unconference last year.

DTrace isn't the only Sun-developed technology found in FreeBSD. The FreeBSD 7.0 release introduced experimental support for Sun's ZFS filesystem. Plus, the technology transfer goes more than one way between Sun and FreeBSD.

"We (the FreeBSD Project) have made a lot of noise about adopting some key OpenSolaris technologies. I'm not sure that the movement of code in the other direction has been as well-publicized," FreeBSD's Watson said.

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Watson argued that OpenSolaris has benefited from adopting the FreeBSD wireless networking framework in its kernel as well as the CIFS file system support in OpenSolaris, which is also from FreeBSD.

Sun denied that the CIFS stack came from FreeBSD. A Sun spokesperson noted that it comes from a company that Sun acquired years ago named Procom.

The spokesperson agreed that many of OpenSolaris's WiFi drivers and kernel WiFi infrastructure (common/io/net80211/) derive from FreeBSD.

More FreeBSD 7.1 Features

Beyond the DTrace integration, FreeBSD 7.1 also lists USB booting as one of its new features. Michael Lucas, FreeBSD contributor and author of Absolute FreeBSD argued that FreeBSD has been able to boot from USB for years now.

"Some particular pieces of hardware didn't like to boot FreeBSD off of USB, though," Lucas told InternetNews.com. "The FreeBSD community has high standards for claiming that something works. We work really hard not to claim that a feature works when it only works on 90 percent of the hardware out there. USB booting is much more reliable now."

Lucas also sees improvements in the FreeBSD 7.1 UDP network stack.

"The last few years have seen huge improvements in the scalability of our network stack on multiprocessor hardware, but most of the testing has been done with typical TCP-based network loads — Web, email, and so on," Lucas commented. "The network group has done a lot of work with ISC on improving UDP performance for root nameserver operators. It's a less obvious change, but it will let some of the Internet's most vital infrastructure handle more load."

FreeBSD 8.0

While the FreeBSD 7.1 is still fresh off the release train, developers are hard at work on the next major release, FreeBSD 8.0 which will include network virtualization improvements.

"We're very excited about FreeBSD 8.0, due out later this year, which includes support for a virtualized network stack, which will allow FreeBSD jails to have their own routing, firewalls, VPNs, etc," Watson explained. "This is exciting for our ISP users, but also appliance vendors, research community, etc. Another similarly exciting feature is support for 802.11 Virtual Access Points, which allow a single radio to be used for many different 802.11 SSIDs, a feature that will be important to hobbyist use of FreeBSD to companies building commercial access point products."

This article was originally published on InternetNews.com.

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