FreeBSD 5.0 Unleashed

After three years and many revisions, the fifth incarnation of FreeBSD will be available this weekend.

Early Friday morning, volunteers at began distributing the popular and free version of the UNIX operating system to its main FTP sites and corresponding mirror sites for download.

Patterned after the BSDI (Berkeley Software Design Inc.) operating system, the server software runs on x86-compatible, DEC Alpha and PC-98 architectures.

Besides a number of new features, FreeBSD 5.0 also contains a number of major developments in the underlying system architecture. But because the system has a tremendous amount of new and not-widely-tested code, the release engineering team says you might want to wait for the FreeBSD 5.1 release or the FreeBSD 5.2 release.

“We would not advise our conservative customers downloading this ‘dot-oh’ release,” Release Engineer Team member Murray Stokely told “Clearly staying with the 4.7 release is just as safe until 5.1 comes out with its stable version. Version 5.0 is certainly for early adopters.”

Stokely, who also runs FreeBSD Mall, said even though the server operating system is in its fifth version, the organization is actually still developing FreeBSD 4.x. Stokely says 4.8 is not that far off and there is a strong possibility of a FreeBSD 4.9 coming before the end of the year.

FreeBSD 5.0 suffers from what has been described as a “chicken and egg” problem. Stokely said the entire project has a goal of producing a 5.0-release that is as stable and reliable as possible. The past two stable branches (3-Stable and 4-Stable) were created immediately after their respective “dot-oh” releases (3.0 and 4.0, respectively). In hindsight, the organization admits this practice did not give sufficient time for either “current” or the new “stable” branches to stabilize after the new branches were created.

As of late Thursday, Stokely and others were testing a few final bug fixes. Some of those holes were related to FreeBSD’s DHCP client and RPC .

“We made sure we checked with CERT (CERT Coordination Center) to be careful about patching a security bug without exposing the flaw to hackers,” Stokely said.

The group said the operating system’s new features and functions generally involved large architectural changes that were not feasible to port back to the FreeBSD 4-Stable development branch. By contrast, FreeBSD said many self-contained enhancements, such as new device drivers or userland utilities, have already been ported.

Some of the new features include:

— SMPng: The “next generation” support for SMP machines (work in progress). There is now partial support for multiple processors to be running in the kernel at the same time.

— KSE: Kernel Scheduled Entities allow a single process to have multiple kernel-level threads, similar to Scheduler Activations.

— New architectures: Support for the sparc64 and ia64 architectures, in addition to the i386, pc98, and alpha.

— GCC: The compiler toolchain is now based on GCC 3.2.1, rather than GCC 2.95.X.

— MAC: Support for extensible, loadable Mandatory Access Control policies.

— GEOM: A flexible framework for transformations of disk I/O requests. An experimental disk encryption facility has been developed based on GEOM.

— FFS: The FFS filesystem now supports background fsck operations (for faster crash recovery) and filesystem snapshots.

— UFS2: A new UFS2 on-disk format has been added, which supports extended per-file attributes and larger file sizes.

— Cardbus: Support for Cardbus devices.

Stokely said the project really took so long mostly as a process issue and a lack of enough trained developers and skilled engineers.

“We did have a lot of new volunteers on this release, but the SMP barrier to entry is very high and we needed very skilled people,” said Stokely. “And if that weren’t bad enough, if the staff didn’t find themselves laid off, employers were very stingy with their time asking the engineers to work on their own products first. We see that a lot when times are bad. But I continue to be impressed with the project and this group has grown quite a bit.”

The next stable release is slated for March.

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