FreeBSD Project Puts Out 5.4 Unix Release
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
The FreeBSD Project, which is the organization that manages the evolution of the FreeBSD variant of the open source BSD Unix operating system, has announced release 5.4 of its software. While FreeBSD 5.4 does not represent a major release change, it does have some interesting improvements and makes FreeBSD an even more appropriate and wickedly stable Unix platform.
In March, the FreeBSD Project put the older 4.X branch into legacy mode and will only provide that release with tweaks for key new features and security patches. The FreeBSD 5.X branch was launched in January 2003, and it includes a lot of reworking in the guts of BSD Unix, including expanded SMP scalability, support for new file systems and devices (such as wireless networking), and the ability to encapsulate Microsoft Windows drivers for devices not explicitly supported by FreeBSD and support them in this manner. Notable was the support for the UFS2 file system, which broke above the 1 TB storage barrier. The 5.X release was also the first one to support the Sparc platform.
FreeBSD 5.4 includes a lot of stability enhancements, but don't be fooled into thinking that this somehow means FreeBSD has not been stable. Quite the contrary. Open source programmers are never ashamed to admit the instabilities in their systems, unlike closed source operating system providers, who only say something when it becomes a public relations nightmare. Only by admitting there are problems can one hope to fix them. In any event, stability and performance enhancements were made to FreeBSD's network stack, the power management systems (including support for Intel's SpeedStep power governors), and the Linux emulation environment (which is very handy indeed).
Like prior FreeBSD 5.X releases, 5.4 runs on 32-bit X86 and Athlon processors, 64-bit Xeon and Opteron processors, 64-bit Itanium processors, 64-bit Alpha processors, 64-bit Sparc processors, and the 98X1 processor from NEC. According to Scott Long, release and build engineer for the FreeBSD Project, the team is also working on a port of FreeBSD to the PowerPC and Power platforms, which he characterized as "coming along nicely despite the fact that Apple doesn't allow easy dual-booting on its Mac machines." Long is, in fact, using the current 6-Current development release on his Mac. (He is an Apple "Darwin" Unix environment programmer by day, a FreeBSD contributor by night.)
Long said that the SMP scalability on FreeBSD 5.4 has been tested thoroughly on two-way and four-way X86 and X64 servers and that, in theory, the software can scale to eight-way processing on X86 iron, just like Linux can. He cautioned, however, that this has not been tested, and when you consider that only a few vendors are making servers that scale beyond four-way processing, it doesn't much matter. The FreeBSD 5.4 release also includes "significantly improved" support for machines with more than 4 GB of main memory.
Further on the SMP front, Long said the future FreeBSD 6.0 release, due in a few months, would have even better SMP scalability, and has been tested on a Sparc server with 12 processors. He also cautioned that although the project has created an Itanium version of FreeBSD, it has not seen a lot of activity and that its SMP scalability is not that great right now.
Long said the project estimates that the bulk of FreeBSD installations are on 32-bit X86 iron (the i386 version), but that the increasing popularity of 64-bit X64 processors from AMD and Intel have been boosting the distribution of the AMD64 version of FreeBSD 5.X. He said there is renewed interesting in reporting FreeBSD to the MIPS architecture for embedded devices (like Linksys routers), and also that FreeBSD contributors are talking about creating a distro for ARM/Xscale embedded chips from Intel.
With FreeBSD 5.4, the project has added support for Areca's SATA II RAID disk controllers and HighPoint's RocketRAID SATA RAID controllers. Support has also been improved for LSI Logic's MegaRAID and Adaptec's ServeRAID disk controllers. And support for 64-bit Windows network drivers on the AMD64 version has also been improved. FreeBSD 5.4 also includes the Common Address Redundancy Protocol (CARP) for allowing multiple machines to share an IP address; the TCP-MD5 extension has been added for IPv4's IPsec security software beefs up security; and FreeBSD now includes netcat (to manually control TCP and UDP connections) and tcpdrop (for killing TCP sessions by hand. Finally, BIND, Kerberos, OpenSSL, Sendmail, KDE. Gnome, and X have all been updated with this release.
You can order FreeBSD 5.4 on DVD at FreeBSDMall for $59.95. The BSD Mall is selling FreeBSD 5.4 for $40, but you can get it at a discount for $35 now. Or, you can go to FreeBSD.org and get the software for free.
This article has been corrected since it was first published. We stated that the FreeBSD Foundation was behind the release of the FreeBSD Unix software. It is not. The FreeBSD Project is in control of the software, while the FreeBSD Foundation is a separate entity that manages donations for the FreeBSD Project. As it turns out, the members of the FreeBSD Project do the majority of the work on FreeBSD for free--which is about what you would expect. IT Jungle regrets the error. [Correction made 6/02/2005.]