posted by Andrew Hudson on Tue 23rd Feb 2010 00:23 UTC
IconWhat's that you say? You made a New Year's resolution but haven't kept it? You vowed to sharpen your programming skills, write a cool application, AND use cutting edge operating system technology? Look no further, you have come to the right place. This article will get you started writing applications for Haiku, the open source version of the advanced BeOS operating system.

Just how cool is Haiku? Here's a short list of cutting edge features that set it apart from the rest of the pack:

  • Object oriented micro-kernel operating system? Check.
  • Advanced 64-bit, database-like, journaling filesystem? Check.
  • Everything completely multi-threaded? Check.
  • Elegant messaging system? Check.
  • The cleanest programming API in the neighborhood? Check.
  • POSIX compliant? Check.
  • Plenty of coding samples. Check.

The last commercial release of BeOS was in 2001, and at that time it was light years ahead of its peers: Windows 2000, Mac OS 9, or Linux kernel V2.3. In many respects Haiku has features that are still years ahead these OS's. This article will lay out all the steps you need to get started writing applications in Haiku, and exploring it from a developer's perspective. The intent here is to bring together information from a variety of sources, and streamline your path to coding new apps in Haiku.

Install the Haiku Alpha Release

In October of 2009 the long awaited Alpha version of Haiku was released. I've been using it for several weeks and I'm happy to say that it is both reasonably stable and well maintained. Your first step to coding for Haiku is to install it. Installations are available for CD ISO, VMWare, and RAW for USB. Haiku is also compatible with QEMU and Microsoft's Virtual PC. Installation instructions are documented here. Haiku runs nicely on older hardware. If you have an older PC or laptop that's not up for Vista or Win7, try installing Haiku. A partial hardware compatibility list is here.

Download the Arora Web Browser

Before updating the Alpha R1 release to a nightly build version, download and install the Arora web browser from here. Installing the nightly build may or may not cause issues with the standard Firefox/BeZilla browser, which is under development. Arora is your backup browser if there are issues. Download it to your desktop. Click on the icon. The Installer will prompt you for the destination folder. Type in /boot, then select Expand. Arora will be installed in /boot/common/apps.

Update to a Recent Nightly Build

After you install the Alpha and verify that it runs on your system, you may want to update to a recent nightly build. On the one hand, a nightly build will get you the incremental fixes and patches made since the Alpha release. Improvements are listed here. On the other hand, nightly builds are not regression tested and are the very definition of 'a work in progress'. Just be aware that a nightly build could have issues. The nightly builds can be downloaded from here. To install, download and copy the image to your CD or USB drive, boot from it, and run the installation. Install it over your Alpha R1 installation. Any package installations or setting changes you made to the Alpha installation will be preserved.

Check the Bug Log

Haiku development is ongoing and changes are made nightly. You should check the bug log for issues that might affect your development. This is where you can submit a bug ticket should you encounter an issue. Create a login on the site, and be sure to respond to the verification email when it comes. You will not be able to submit a bug ticket until you respond to the verification email.

Haiku has a Command Line

Once you update to the nightly build you can start getting acquainted with the Haiku operating system. Anyone with Linux/UNIX command line experience will be comfortable getting started with Haiku command line tools. Bring up a Terminal session from the Deskbar (upper right corner with the Haiku feather logo) and you can use many familiar tools: cd, ls, ps, top, vi, which, find, bash, awk, grep, etc.

The env command will list your paths. BEINCLUDES, LIBRARY, BELIBRARIES, and PATH will be useful to know.

Getting Files Onto Your Dev System

The current Haiku distribution is slimmed down and contains just the system essentials and basic development tools. You will want to be able to copy files on to and off of your Haiku dev system. The site has hundreds of applications, games, and utilities to download. You can use Firefox or Arora to download source and libs from other Haiku repositories. FTP is also available.  Support for USB zip drives was a little shaky at the time this article was being written. The issue may be resolved by the time you read this. If not you can burn files onto a CD and copy them from the CD to your Haiku system. Rsync is available as an external package. Samba is under development for a future release.

Old Skool Dev Tools

The usual coding tools are available for Haiku development including: bash, GCC, BASIC, Perl, Python, Eiffel, make, Ruby, OCaml, and even a version of SmallTalk. GCC, Perl, Python, and Vi are installed on the Alpha release by default.  EMACS is in development.

Hello World?

Let's download and compile a sample application. Literally dozens of great sample applications can be downloaded from here. Once you have downloaded to your desktop you can unzip it to your local folder. From the Terminal command line, type: unzip ~/Desktop/  Then cd to sample-code/intro/HelloWorld. Type make to build the example. Then type obj.x86/HelloWorld to run it. The HelloWorld window will display. Congratulations, you just did your first compile/link/run cycle! Sure, it's not fancy but it is an easy starter. The other code samples provide great starting points for multimedia projects, games, screen savers, openGL, networking, even device drivers. You've already downloaded them, why not take a look? Use the Tracker to browse the folders and files. Right click on your Haiku filesystem icon in the upper left corner, the file folders will automatically expand.


A lot of development for classic BeOS was done using BeIDE, a customized version of Metrowerks Codewarrior. You will see it mentioned in a lot of the BeOS documentation. BeIDE is still available for download on various mirrors but is no longer supported. Popular, supported IDEs for Haiku include: Paladin, Niue, SiSong, and Pe.  Pe is very popular with Haiku veterans and can be installed by typing at the command line: installoptionalpackage -a Pe . For a list of all optional packages you can install, type: installoptionalpackage -l. There is good stuff to be had.

GCC Hybrids?

Haiku is available in both GCC2 and GCC4 versions, called hybrids. A GCC hybrid, has a main GCC and an alternative GCC. The main GCC is the version that was used to compile Haiku. The alternative GCC provides both a runtime time environment and a cross-compiler for using and creating other-GCC objects.

The GCC2 hybrid is the OS compiled with gcc2, with additional gcc4 libraries.

The GCC4 hybrid is the OS compiled with gcc4, with additional gcc2 libraries.

"Since x86 is the only platform for which BeOS R5 binary compatibility is possible, no other target platforms need to be built with gcc2. Thus, x86 is the only platform that a GCC Hybrid is usable." For more details see this note.

Check Out the Libraries

Any serious development project needs libraries. Haiku has lots of them available here. Some libraries are still in development so be sure to check the bug log for any issues that might affect your project. To install a library, download it to your desktop, click on the library to launch the Installer, and type /boot as your destination. Then select Expand.

Jam on Your Haiku?

Jam is very popular with the developers of Haiku and you will see it mentioned in Haiku documentation. It is a program construction tool like make. For more information look here: Jam man page, A little more Jam.

Porting Old BeOS Projects

Thinking about porting an old BeOS project to Haiku? This question has come up before.

I want to port my BeOS application/driver to Haiku. What do I need to do?

"Since Haiku R1 is mostly BeOS R5 binary and source compatible, in most cases you don't have to do anything. At the application level API, there are only a few incompatibilities. There's also a new driver interface, but BeOS R5 drivers are still supported (small changes might be needed). The filesystem add-on interface has changed considerably, so you will need to port your old file system. For more information, check out the document(s) listed below; or if you need further help, please contact us through the Haiku mailing list."

"Haiku has many API advantages over BeOS and Zeta, which includes but is not limited to better POSIX compatibility. These API advantages greatly improve the ease of porting software to Haiku. Due to this, it is unreasonable to expect software that compiles on Haiku to compile on BeOS or Zeta without additional effort. While BeOS R5, BONE, and Zeta are still of importance, focus has shifted to Haiku."

More application compatibility between Haiku and BeOS is documented in this compatibility note.

The BeBook API

Want access to Haiku internals? No problem, the BeOS API is well documented in the BeBook. It lays out the object structures that BeOS/Haiku applications are written in and is available online. Another book, Programming the Be Operating System is also available online. Additional BeOS/Haiku programming references are available here.


Haiku is an advanced OS with well documented, mature development tools. Getting started with Haiku development is very easy and the Alpha release is a stable platform to work with. Haiku is a great platform to explore.  Your project might involve coding for the micro kernel, or writing highly interactive multi-threaded GUIs, cools multimedia, or even a game. Coding for Haiku is a rich experience, with good tools and documentation.

Haiku is a programmer's playground, so check it out and start coding.

About the Author
Andrew Hudson is a PMP certified technical project manager living in Florida, USA. In his abundant spare time he analyzes technology trends, listens to punk rock music, and watches Chinese kung fu movies.

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