About me: My name is Solène Rapenne, pronouns she/her. I like learning and sharing knowledge. Hobbies: '(BSD OpenBSD Qubes OS Lisp cmdline gaming security QubesOS internet-stuff). I love percent and lambda characters. OpenBSD developer solene@. No AI is involved in this blog.

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Why I use OpenBSD

Written by Solène, on 16 November 2020.
Tags: #openbsd #life

Comments on Fediverse/Mastodon

1. Introduction §

In this article I will share my opinion about things I like in OpenBSD, this may including a short rant about recent open source practices not helping non-linux support.

2. Features §

2.1. Privacy §

There is no telemetry on OpenBSD. It's good for privacy, there is nothing to turn off to disable reporting information because there is no need to.

The default system settings will prevent microphone to record sound and the webcam can't be accessed without user consent because the device is root's by default.

2.2. Secure firefox / chromium §

While the security features added (pledge and mainly unveil) to the market dominating web browsers can be cumbersome sometimes, this is really a game changer compared to using them on others operating systems.

With those security features enabled (by default) the web browsers are ony able to retrieve files in a few user defined directories like ~/Downloads or /tmp/ by default and some others directories required for the browsers to work.

This means your ~/.ssh or ~/Documents and everything else can't be read by an exploit in a web browser or a malicious extension.

It's possible to replicate this on Linux using AppArmor, but it's absolutely not out of the box and requires a lot of tweaks from the user to get an usable Firefox. I did try, it worked but it requires a very good understanding of the Firefox needs and AppArmor profile syntax to get it to work.

2.3. PF firewall §

With this firewall, I can quickly check the rules of my desktop or server and understand what they are doing.

I also use a lot the bandwidth management feature to throttle the bandwidth some programs can use which doesn't provide any rate limiting. This is very important to me.

Linux users could use the software such as trickle or wondershaper for this.

2.4. It's stable §

Apart from the use of some funky hardware, OpenBSD has proven me being very stable and reliable. I can easily reach two weeks of uptime on my desktop with a few suspend/resume every day. My servers are running 24/7 without incident for years.

I rarely go further than two weeks on my workstation because I use the development version -current and I need to upgrade once in a while.

2.5. Low maintenance §

Keeping my OpenBSD up-to-date is very easy. I run syspatch and pkg_add -u twice a day to keep the system up to date. A release every six months requires a bit of work.

Basically, upgrading every six months looks like this, except some specific instructions explained in the upgrade guide (database server major upgrade for example):

# sysupgrade
# pkg_add -u
# reboot

2.6. Documentation is accurate §

Setting up an OpenBSD system with full disk encryption is easy.

Documentation to create a router with NAT is explained step by step.

Every binary or configuration file have their own up-to-date man page.

The FAQ, the website and the man pages should contain everything one needs. This represents a lot of information, it may not be easy to find what you need, but it's there.

If I had to be without internet for some times, I would prefer an OpenBSD system. The embedded documentation (man pages) should help me to achieve what I want.

Consider configuring a router with traffic shaping on OpenBSD and another one with Linux without Internet access. I'd 100% prefer read the PF man page.

2.7. Contributing is easy §

This has been a hot topic recently. I very enjoy the way OpenBSD manage the contributions. I download the sources on my system, anywhere I want, modify it, generate a diff and I send it on the mailing list. All of this can be done from a console with tools I already use (git/cvs) and email.

There could be an entry barrier for new contributors: you may feel people replying are not kind with you. **This is not true.** If you sent a diff and received critics (reviews) of your code, this means some people spent time to teach you how to improve your work. I do understand some people may feel it rude, but it's not.

This year I modestly contributed to the projects OpenIndiana and NixOS this was the opportunity to compare how contributions are handled. Both those projects use github. The work flow is interesting but understanding it and mastering it is extremely complicated.

OpenIndiana official website

NixOS official website

One has to make a github account, fork the project, create a branch, make the changes for your contribution, commit locally, push on the fork, use the github interface to do a merge request. This is only the short story. On NixOS, my first attempt ended in a pull request involving 6 months of old commits. With good documentation and training, this could be overcome, and I think this method has some advantages like easy continuous integration of the commits and easy review of code, but it's a real entry barrier for new people.

2.8. High quality packages §

My opinion may be biased on this (even more than for the previous items), but I really think OpenBSD packages quality is very high. Most packages should work out of the box with sane defaults.

Packages requiring specific instructions have a README file installed with them explaining how to setup the service or the quirks that could happen.

Even if we lack some packages due to lack of contributors and time (in addition to some packages relying too much on Linux to be easy to port), major packages are up to date and working very well.

I will take the opportunity of this article to publish a complaint toward the general trend in the Open Source.

  • programs distributed only using flatpak / docker / snap are really Linux friendly but this is hostile to non Linux systems. They often make use of linux-only features and the builds systems are made for the linux distribution methods.
  • nodeJS programs: they are made out of hundreds or even thousands of libraries often working fragile even on Linux. This is a real pain to get them working on OpenBSD. Some node libraries embed rust programs, some will download a static binary and use it with no fallback solution or will even try to compile source code instead of using that library/binary from the system when installed.
  • programs using git to build: our build process makes its best to be clean, the dedicated build user **HAS NO NETWORK ACCESS* and won't run those git commands. There are no reasons a build system has to run git to download sources in the middle of the build.

I do understand that the three items above exist because it is easy for developers. But if you write software and publish it, that would be very kind of you to think how it works on non-linux systems. Don't hesitate to ask on social medias if someone is willing to build your software on a different platform than yours if you want to improve support. We do love BSD friendly developers who won't reject OpenBSD specifics patches.

3. What I would like to see improved §

This is my own opinion and doesn't represent the OpenBSD team members opinions. There are some things I wish OpenBSD could improve there.

  • Better ARM support
  • Better performance (gently improving every release)
  • FFS improvements in regards to reliability (I often get files in lost+found)
  • Faster pkg_add -u
  • hardware video decoding/encoding support
  • better FUSE support and mount cifs/smb support
  • scaling up the contributions (more contributors and reviewers for ports@)

I am aware of all the work required here, and I'm certainly not the person who will improve those. This is not a complain but wishes.

Unfortunately, everyone knows OpenBSD features come from hard work and not from wishes submitted to the developers :)

When you think how little the team is in comparison to the other majors OS, I really think a good and efficient job is done there.