posted by Tony Bourke on Thu 29th Apr 2004 19:08 UTC
IconOpenBSD is a name synonymous with security, having earned the respect and adoration of security-concious sysadmins everywhere. OpenBSD is used in data centers all over the world, is the basis for several security products (from OpenBSD's site), and is even the basis for Microsoft's Services For Unix.

And like FreeBSD, it's not known for running on UltraSPARC systems. Among its many platforms, OpenBSD does indeed have a port for both SPARC (sun4/4c/4m) and SPARC64 (sun4u/UltraSPARC), and the SPARC64 port supports my Ultra 5. So in continuing with my ongoing series on evaluating operating systems running on the Sun Ultra 5, I took a look at OpenBSD 3.4, SPARC64 edition.


OpenBSD, like FreeBSD and NetBSD, exists as a 64-bit only operating system on SPARC64. And like FreeBSD, OpenBSD has no mechanism for supporting 32-bit applications. This contrasts with Solaris and Linux, where 64-bit and 32-bit binaries, libraries, and kernels live together in harmony.

My test system is of course my Sun Ultra 5, of which the specs can be found in my intro article.


If you've used OpenBSD, you know the installation is about as no-frills as you can get. No fancy menus, no nice and neat CD ROM ISOs, and certainly no graphics. But while it's lacking in refinements, it's perfectly functional, and there is excellent documentation to back it up.

erase ^?, werase ^W, kill ^U, intr ^C, status ^T

(I)nstall, (U)pgrade or (S)hell? i

Welcome to the OpenBSD/sparc64 3.4 install program.

This program will help you install OpenBSD in a simple and rational way. At
any prompt except password prompts you can run a shell command by typing
'!foo', or escape to a shell by typing '!'. Default answers are shown in []'s
and are selected by pressing RETURN. At any time you can exit this program by
pressing Control-C and then RETURN, but quitting during an install can leave
your system in an inconsistent state.
Part of OpenBSD Install Screen

You can get the install files from OpenBSD's FTP site or one of many mirror sites. You can also order install media from the OpenBSD site. With my cable modem on the ready, I chose the download route.

The SPARC64 install tree contains a bootable ISO image for installation, but the bootable CD does not contain the actual installation files, only the installation program itself. You can either burn the installations files to a separate (non-bootable) CD, or make them available via other means, such as FTP (either locally or from a main FTP server/mirror), HTTP, or NFS.

Because of its spartan design, installing OpenBSD may be a bit intimidating for more green users, but the documentation should be able to walk most through.

Probably the toughest part of this (or just about any other) install is drive partitioning. Every operating system seems to have their own unique way of doing the same task, even among the BSDs. Mentally switching between the various iterations can get tedious, although that's more of a general complaint, not one directed at OpenBSD.

Fortunately for me, I already had my drive partitioned from NetBSD and FreeBSD, so I didn't make any changes. I let OpenBSD re-format the already-existing partitions and continued on.

Installation is quick, taking only about 10 minutes to get a system up and running. I didn't run into any problems.


Although I hadn't it in my previous reviews, I thought it important to make special note of the documentation that accompanies OpenBSD. Having a reputation for putting security above all other matters, I was expecting somewhat weak documentation.

However the documentation for OpenBSD is in fact, excellent.

It's concise, easy to follow, and comprehensive. As I found myself pondering a question, I quickly found the answer in the FAQ. What files do I need there to be available over HTTP, FTP, etc. for install? Does OpenBSD support soft-updates? Those questions were all covered simply and succinctly in the documentation. Kudos to the team that put that together and maintains it. They've done an exceptional job.


By default OpenBSD runs more minimalist than a living room spread in an Ikea catalog. Here's a ps -auxww from my OpenBSD 3.4 system:

That's only 16 running processes; 11 if you don't count the processes started from my login and subsequent su. Definitely a plus for security. By contrast, my Fedora Core desktop system, while waiting for a GUI login, runs 56 processes while idle mode. Pretty much the only outside services turned on in OpenBSDby default are sendmail and sshd. Otherwise, the machine is deaf to the world.

Speaking of SSH, you can thank OpenBSD for the ubiquitous OpenSSH, used in just about every *nix system on the planet. Even Sun's commercial SSH is based on OpenSSH. A detailed history of OpenSSH can be found here.

Table of contents
  1. "OpenBSD 3.4 for SPARC64, Page 1/3"
  2. "OpenBSD 3.4 for SPARC64, Page 2/3"
  3. "OpenBSD 3.4 for SPARC64, Page 3/3"
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