Published on (
 See this if you're having trouble printing code examples

Big Scary Daemons

NetBSD for the FreeBSD User


In the first installment of our new Big Scary Daemons column, Michael Lucas, a FreeBSD user, gives us a walk through of a NetBSD install.

I recently came into a pile of elderly hardware, including a Digital Alpha Multia and an SGI IRIS. I've run FreeBSD for years, but never had a chance to play with anything other than x86 architectures. My first thought was to install FreeBSD on the Multia. The install went simply enough, but I discovered that FreeBSD doesn't support the Multia's TGA framebuffer video. It makes a decent enough server, if you can call something that runs like treacle in February and generates enough heat to roast burgers "decent".

Unfortunately, I wanted this as a desktop machine. There's a certain amount of "geek stud" factor in having an Alpha workstation, even if it's a Multia. A bit of checking around showed that NetBSD supported the Multia's video, so I decided to give it a try.

I downloaded boot floppies from Rather than FreeBSD's kern.flp and mfsroot.flp, these had the simpler names of "disk1of2" and "disk2of2". To this day, after more FreeBSD installs than I care to count, I still can't remember which floppy to use first. I used dd to copy the images onto floppies and booted.

The install is fairly straightforward; I booted off a serial console on my FreeBSD laptop, and the Multia picked it right up. A simple "boot dva0" made the machine boot the first disk, and it asked for the second a few minutes later.

The installer asked for the terminal type. When I took the default of vt100 it brought up the NetBSD sysinst program -- a very plain looking, text mode installer menu. It gave me a variety of options, including "set up network" and "install".

Welcome to sysinst, the NetBSD-1.4.2 system installation tool.
This menu-driven tool is designed to help you install NetBSD 
to a hard disk, or upgrade an existing NetBSD system, with a 
minimum of work.  In the following menus, you may change the 
current selection by either typing the reference letter 
a, b, c, ...).  Arrow keys may also work.  You activate the 
current selection from the menu by typing the enter key.

If you booted from a floppy, you may now remove the disk.

Thank you for using NetBSD!

       * NetBSD-1.4.2 Install System                   *
       *                                               *
       *>a: Install NetBSD to hard disk                *
       * b: Upgrade NetBSD on a hard disk              *
       * c: Re-install sets or install additional sets *
       * d: Reboot the computer                        *
       * e: Utility menu                               *
       * x: Exit Install System                        *

I started with the network setup. NetBSD recognized the de0 Ethernet card and took the network information flawlessly. I was pinging the Multia from the rest of the network when I finished.

The installation menu won't be any surprise to a FreeBSD user. There's the obligatory warning that NetBSD will be installed on your hard disk, overwriting the current operating system. It offers a variety of disk partitioning schemes, both with and without X. To my surprise, the default partitioning scheme didn't include a /var partition. The partitioning system gives you the option of using cylinders or megabytes, and it explains the difference. It also tells you the actual cylinder size of your current hard drive, which is helpful.

Since I'm a self-described expert, I did a custom disk partition. I wound up taking the defaults for everything, but that's not the point. sysinst asks for a name for the disk and then asks, "Last chance, are you sure?"

I was sure. And sysinst blew up:

With 16065 sectors per cylinder, minimum cylinders per group is 64
This requires the block size to be changed from 8192 to 32768
        and the fragment size to be changed from 1024 to 4096

Moments later, I found myself summarily dumped back to the sysinst main menu.

I went back to the install menu, this time watching for an option to change block size and fragment size. Just before the "last chance" warning, there's an option to change partition characteristics. Setting block and fragment sizes are a simple matter of choosing the right option. The text menus are obvious to anyone who's done a FreeBSD install.

newfs ran. Some warnings appeared, but vanished too quickly to read. I hope they weren't vital.

Another install menu appeared, giving me the choice of what to install. Much like FreeBSD, NetBSD gives you the option to install (or not) huge chunks of the system. I picked "custom" to see what NetBSD offers and wound up taking everything anyway.

The FTP menu was nice and simple, and the defaults were all sensible. I felt a moment of trepidation as the installer's first attempt to download the files failed. The server was just busy, however. The second try ran just as I expected.

The install ran automatically from that point on, fetching and installing system files. Once it finished, a quick reboot brought my new NetBSD system up in single-user mode.

Overall, the install ran fairly smoothly. A backarrow would have been nice -- it would have been easier to simply back up a step to correct my block and fragment sizes, rather than run through the entire partitioning process again. But that's a minor quibble.

Total time from downloading floppies to completed install, ninety minutes. Without a T1 or cable modem your time might vary, but that's still not bad for a new OS.

Michael W. Lucas

Discuss this article in the O'Reilly Network Operating Systems.

Return to the BSD DevCenter.


Copyright © 2009 O'Reilly Media, Inc.