What is NetBSD?

NetBSD is an entirely free and open-source UNIX-like operating system developed by an international community. It isn’t a “distribution” or variant, but has evolved over several decades to be a complete and unique operating system in the BSD family.

NetBSD was originally released in 1993. Over time, its code has found its way into many surprising environments, on the basis of a long history of quality, cleanliness, and stability. The NetBSD code was originally derived from 4.4BSD Lite2 from the University of California, Berkeley.

NetBSD is distributed as a set of fully reproducible binaries:

  • Releases are cut periodically from stable branches after a period of testing and are supported for several years.
  • NetBSD-stable is a nightly distribution of the latest release branch, and includes fixes and improvements that will make it into the next point release. It is compatible with binaries from releases from the same branch.
  • NetBSD-current is a nightly distribution of the latest development branch, and includes the latest features, but also potentially experimental changes and bugs. Official package builds are not currently produced for -current.

Why use NetBSD?

NetBSD users enjoy a simple, well-documented, and fully integrated UNIX-like system that feels minimal, and in many ways traditional, while including many modern and interesting features, and support for recent hardware.

As a community, the people who make NetBSD have a wide area of interests, which has resulted in a system with some diverse features:

  • Security and memory hardening features – including PaX MPROTECT (W^X) enforced globally by default with an option to exclude binaries, among others. File integrity protection is provided by veriexec, and the traditional BSD securelevels further restrict operations that can be performed by even the superuser. NetBSD includes its own native firewall, NPF, and has been used successfully on security-critical networking devices. NetBSD’s kernel and userspace have undergone extensive checks by code sanitizers and automated testing.
  • Powerful package management – NetBSD’s pkgsrc has its own release schedule of quarterly stable branches and a “rolling release” branch, which can be combined in any way with the NetBSD base system. pkgin is a user-friendly binary package manager for pkgsrc, but on its own pkgsrc itself allows power users a great deal of flexibility. pkgsrc has been widely adopted in the high-performance scientific computing community, including at NASA, and supports other platforms, but NetBSD is prioritized.
  • Modern storage capabilities – including the ZFS file system, RAIDframe software RAID system, and cgd disk encryption. There is support for the Logical Volume Manager, as well as the traditional BSD filesystem (with logging extension) and disklabel system.
  • ARM hardware support for a wide range of open, low-cost, and high-end devices, including powerful SBBA/SBBR servers, open hardware laptops, and pocket-sized development boards. Entirely in the mainline kernel, supported by a single image, and maintained by NetBSD developers with long-term support in mind.
  • Virtualization support – including the well-established enterprise solution in Xen, and the native NetBSD kernel module and library making up the NVMM hypervisor, which provides hardware acceleration for QEMU in a clean and secure way.
  • Support for modern x86 hardware including NVMe, UEFI, accelerated graphics, and a range of laptops.
  • Continuing stable support for a wide range of “legacy” hardware and ABIs. There’s long-term backwards compatibility to even the earliest NetBSD releases without compromising on feature like 64-bit time. We intend to keep these systems running long after Year 2038.