Farhan Khan runs FreeBSD

My first experience with Unix was telneting into an OSF/1 Unix system, which I later came to learn is a BSD-derived system. However, I had almost no idea what I was doing. In about 1999, a friend introduced me to Linux. I distro-hopped but eventually settled on Slackware Linux 4, where I learned the foundational concepts of Unix, the terminal and quite a bit of C programming. During this time I was very interested in low-level programming and tried to learn security from the largely blackhat community. Even then, I always found constructing a solution or project more interesting than breaking down a system or bypassing a security mechanism. Despite my career choice in IT security, that is still my preference.

A year or two later the same friend introduced me to FreeBSD 4, but given my use case as my personal computer, there was little different between running Linux and somewhere down the line I switched back. I alternated between Linux and Windows all throughout High School up to Graduate School, and eventually settled on Linux Mint as my desktop of choice.

My return to FreeBSD was two-fold.

I started using FreeNAS to preserve my family’s files. I was very impressed by the system’s functionality and tooling. Oddly enough, rather than the system’s intended purpose, I found myself using a combination of jails, VIMAGE and IPv6 more than it as a fileserver, to create disposable container environments for testing and experimentation. I was very impressed with the ease of use, organization and functionality. I consolidated all of my other machines and devices onto a single machine, thus maximizing my server density rather than running little raspberry PIs. I also used one jail to host a fairly large security appliance I was writing in Django on python3. And that leads into the second reason.

In writing said application, I reviewed on every element along the stack to make it as efficient and functional as possible, including the programming techniques and style, libraries, application server and operating system. I always assumed Debian would be my go-to operating system, but I figured I would give FreeBSD a fair shot, especially considering my very positive experiences with FreeNAS. Across every category I was concerned with, such as the ease of use, tooling, file system options, base system disk footprint, container technology and others, FreeBSD unquestionably won.

Since then, I have come to appreciate the system design, both under the hood and from a user perspective. As a developer, having the entire operating system in a single coherent source tree makes the system a lot easier to understand and modify. I also find the code a lot cleaner and easier to trace through versus GNU code. Growing up, I always wanted to make contributions to various FOSS projects, but tracing through the nests of preprocessor code or unnecessary jumps proved too difficult and I lost focus. But BSD code is intuitive and well-written. Also, the development tooling, namely dtrace, make debugging and real-time analysis much easier. Linux has some great efforts at tracing, but nothing as sophisticated as dtrace.

I work in Computer Security, specifically Penetration Testing. In most situations and very unfortunately, Kali Linux is the default operating system of choice. However, on the defensive side I have noticed an uptick in pfSense deployments without people realizing its FreeBSD on the backend.

In my opinion, FreeBSD is technically superior to Linux. The designs are deliberate, stable and offers superior functionality. However, it lacks in hardware and orchestration. Going forward, I hope to help bridge this gap. In particular, I am personally interested in contributing to the Wi-Fi drivers. I would also be interested in helping to work on porting over Docker. I have a lot of other ideas, but not enough time to implement them. On the side, when I come across software that does not work on FreeBSD, I enjoy making minor tweaks and submitting upstream patches.

I’m no one special, but find me on Twitter and Farhan Codes.

12 Aug 2018

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