Berkeley Software Distribution

This line of operating systems started out life as a series of patches to AT&T UNIX which was introduced to the University of Berkeley by Ken Thompson whilst on sabbatical in 1977.

The development of BSD is closely tied with that of the internet. BSD's modern variants are some of the oldest communities who have collaborated over the internet to develop a software project which continues to today. The workflow of the projects has transpired to become the standard way of developing open source software on the internet, whether it's adhering to a style guide, developing with a publicly accessible source repository, or holding a hackathon.

For a newcomer interested in an operating system to run on your hardware, it is a great opportunity to be a part of a tech savvy community working to evolve an idea started almost 40 years ago.

As a business, each project produces a mature and robust operating system that has seen many applications from running on devices such as game consoles, mobile phones, cars, satellites and the international space station. Nearly all projects are backed by a non-profit foundation which can act as a liaison for businesses and assist with enquiries regarding development.

You'll find the various BSD's listed on the side menu in chronological order, starting from the oldest to the newest. All but the original BSD project are actively developed.


No matter the flavour, documentation is a key part of the development process for the BSDs. Whether it is the Design & Implementation series which started with covering 4.3BSD in 1989 and more recently FreeBSD 10 in the fourth instalment of the series, or each projects own set of documentation. Documentation is important as it distinguishes intent & implementation as well as save a lot of question and answer emails. FreeBSD has handbooks, NetBSD has guides, OpenBSD has FAQs, DragonFly BSD has a handbook and all projects make their man pages available online as web pages. There is even a teaching course based around the The Design and Implementation of the FreeBSD Operating System, 2nd edition.

Frameworks for building embedded images

Each operating system release is a complete, self contained bundle, containing the documentation and necessary toolchain required for building a copy of the operating system from source. release(7) on NetBSD & FreeBSD, release(8) on OpenBSD, nerelease(7) on DragonFlyBSD cover the release build process for each operating system.

For the purpose of embedding the operating system it may not be desirable to build a full blown release. Depending on the choice of variant, either the functionality is built in as standard or a project exists to assist with generating customised images with ease.

NetBSD has a target for generating an image in, customisations controlled by variables set in mk.conf. FreeBSD had PicoBSD which is now superseded by NanoBSD. OpenBSD has flashrd and resflash. DragonFlyBSD has nrelease.

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