NetBSD in 2001 - A Report
Hubert Feyrer, January 2002
2001 was an eventful year in many ways. In addition to the many
political and economic changes that happened which influence all our
lives, there were also many changes in the technical sector showing
interesting trends. One of them is the increasing popularity and
awareness of Open Source software. While Linux has become a serious
alternative to both established server and desktop systems, BSD based
systems are getting increasing attention due to their clearer internal
structure, maturity and stability. This article intends to talk a bit
about the highlights of the NetBSD project in the year 2001, with the
hope that this trend will continue in 2002.
Of course NetBSD added another slew of supported platforms in 2001
again, following it's goal to run on any hardware platform in the
universe. Among the ones added last year are:
With these ports, the overall number of supported platforms rose above
forty, with 16 different CPU architectures supported. See
the ports page for all the
The most notable omission in the platforms supported by NetBSD is
the HP Precision Architecture (HP-PA) family. If anyone
wants to do work on this, don't hesitate to start discussion on the port-hp700
Of course, all the achievements of the NetBSD project as the world's
most portable operating system wouldn't be possible without the people
devoting their time to it. A great MANY THANKS goes out to all
NetBSD developers and supporters!
In 2001, the NetBSD Project got many new developers doing work in
At the end of 2001, the NetBSD project had about 250 active developers
that work on various parts of the source tree and related areas.
- 16 developers joined kernel development with various points
of focus, including device drivers, console drivers,
compat systems for Linux, Irix and MS Windows as well as
to port NetBSD to new platforms.
- 11 developers joined the pkgsrc crew, doing work on the
NetBSD Packages Collection and the NetBSD Packages System.
- 6 developers joined our team to work in the
documentation area, writing and maintaining the NetBSD
web site, working on translations as well as answering
user questions coming in from various mailing lists and
- 2 developers joined in to help with administrative tasks,
managing the NetBSD projects machines as well as doing
- 2 developers came aboard to do various bugfixing tasks all
over the source tree, including userlevel and kernel
One fact that should be mentioned here is something that should need
no mentioning, but I still feel like telling about it. With all of the
emancipation going on in the world, women are still a scarce species
in technical areas, and we are very proud to welcome our first two
female developers. Tracy Di Marco White will help us out with user
account management and general system administration tasks on all the
NetBSD machines, while Maria Zevenhoven will take special care of the
NetBSD project's CVS server. Welcome on board, ladies!
And if you want to know where all the NetBSD developers are
located, in case you want to drop off some pizza, there is now an official map of
all developers available from the NetBSD project's web server!
Creating an Open Source operating system is a lot of fun, but that's
not all there is to it! There are a number of very serious applications,
especially as NetBSD fills some niches that make it really unique throughout
the world, thanks to its wide platform support, clean design and
maturity. In 2001, quite a number of manufacturers have shown their
confidence by choosing NetBSD as an operating system for which they
either offered a software product, used it to drive their hardware,
or just offer some devotionalia to increase the publicity of the NetBSD
project's operating system.
Here's an attempt to compile a list of various such products!
For more details see the following entries in the
* Phunny tech stuff
After NetBSD 1.5 was released in December 2000, there was no new major
release in 2001. Besides the maintenance releases that happened in
2001 and that we will talk about later, there were many things that
happened on the NetBSD-current development branch and that will be
major new features in the next major release of NetBSD. Here are a few
The above list is by no means exhaustive! For a list of major changes,
see the "NetBSD Changes"
web page, more details about changes can be found in the doc/CHANGES
file as well as in the source-changes
mailing list archive.
- A number of the m68k
based ports were switched to using ELF as the native execution format.
This will mean some interesting upgrade procedures for the next
major release, but previous experiences from the i386 and sparc
port have shown that this isn't all that difficult to do correctly.
With ELF in place, using the FSF based toolchain is possible
without the need to maintain local patches to compiler, linker
etc., resulting in more time for our developers to concentrate on
- The I4B ISDN
subsystem was integrated into NetBSD
- UVM and the unified buffer cache system (UBC, not part of any
NetBSD release yet) got quite some tuning for optimized memory
usage-balance. See the news entries on
memory usage of UBC as well as
- The alpha
port support SMP now. The code is included in NetBSD-current and
will be part of the next major release.
- The SCSI/ATAPI mid-layer (SCSIPI) that manages communication
between high-level drivers for SCSI disks etc. and host bus
adapter drivers was completely rewritten and replaced with the
system that allows better reporting of errors and also supports SCSI emulation for ATAPI
devices, which allows using the same userland programs to talk
to a ATAPI/IDE CDROM as a SCSI CDROM (cdrecord, ...).
- Emmanuel Dreyfus wrote an excellent series of article about
implementation of Linux binary compatibility for
NetBSD/powerpc. The articles
can be read at O'Reilly's OnLAMP site.
- In the networking area, news include support for various Gigabit
Ethernet drivers, in-kernel support for PPPoE as well as hardware
checksumming of TCP/IP
- A new pipe
implementation was committed, replacing the old code for
- File system changes include the so-called "dirpref"
speeds up creating/deleting of files and many other changes
- USB v2.0
support was added
- Initial IrDA
support was committed
- Massive work on a new
build system for crosscompiling of the whole system added, also
for non-NetBSD host systems; still under development!
- During the last few weeks of the year, lots of activity was
happening on Nathan William's branch for Scheduler Activations.
This code will implement userland threads as well as a
sophisticated system mapping between kernel and userland threads.
One of the working areas in the NetBSD project is the collection of
3rd party programs, AKA the NetBSD Packages Collection AKA pkgsrc.
Currently it consists of 2638 applications, ranging from small tools
over web browsers to full-blown desktop systems like KDE and GNOME.
There are currently about 22 developers working on maintaining the
NetBSD Packages Collection as well as the NetBSD Packages System that
allows installing these programs either from source or from
precompiled binary packages.
Besides the continous growth
of the Packages Collection, some of the hilights that were implemented
last year include:
Again, this list is by no means exhaustive! See Al's monthly "Changes
to the NetBSD Packages Collection" status reports in the netbsd-announce
list archive, as well as the doc/pkg-CHANGES
- buildlink: with the help of buildlink.mk files, packages that
depend on other packages can now make easier use of these. Paths
for includes, libraries, etc. are merged in automatically. See
pkgsrc/Packages.txt #8 for more details.
- The pkgsrc per-packet directory layout
was changed to remove the
"pkg" subdirectory, allowing a faster updating of the tree with
CVS, and also faster extraction of pkgsrc.tar.gz.
packages can now have digital signatures
- pkgsrc now
works on Apple's Darwin (MacOS X) too. Adding to Linux,
Solaris and HP/UX, this allows NetBSD's Packages Collection to be
used on five different operating systems now.
* Project events
After the many technical changes and details, there were a few other
events that were interesting for the NetBSD project in 2001
After NetBSD 1.5 was released in December 2000, a 2-CD-set of
precompiled binaries for 1.5/i386 was released on ftp.netbsd.org in
February. Even before the set was announced (to give our mirrors some
time to catch up!) it got ftp.netbsd.org some 40 concurrent downloads
of the images only. After the announcement it went as high as 150 concurrent
downloads; again, of the two images only - there
were 50-100 other downloads taking place at the same time. One week
after the images were uploaded, we had a total of more than 330
In July, NetBSD
1.5.1 was released as the first maintenance update to NetBSD 1.5,
including many bugfixes and minor improvements over the previous
Almost identical with NetBSD 1.5.1, an updated 1.5.1/i386 set of
precompiled binary packages was released. As this was taken from the
latest pkgsrc, there were three CD images available now. The images
are sold by a number of companies such as Wasabi
Systems. Thanks to some disk-shuffling and hardware-upgrade of
ftp.netbsd.org, the machine did take the release of these CDs a bit
better. No numbers, though. ;)
After the success of NetBSD 1.5.1, another maintenance release was
done with NetBSD
1.5.2 in September 2001. Again, it consisted mostly of bugfixes to
the previous release, and is the latest release of NetBSD so far.
It is likely that there will be a NetBSD 1.5.3 in early 2002. Everyone
who wants to have a look at what it will be like can check out the
work-in-progress that has all the changes beyond NetBSD 1.5.2 from the
Speaking about branches, since April 2001 we now have some documentation about the
various branches that exist in the NetBSD source tree. Check it
out if you're confused or want to know about development not even
available on the main (development) branch, NetBSD-current.
Another change that helps in navigating the NetBSD source tree
consists of a change that was made in June to the source-changes mails
that document every change to the NetBSD CVS repository. As of then,
the Subject: lines
of the commit log mails now contain more information. Not only do
they tell which branch a commit went to, but it now also contains the
path of the file(s) that were modified, making it easier to identify
changes to various parts of the source tree by a single look at the
mailfolder's Subject: list.
Last but not least, there were not only user-visible changes affecting
the NetBSD documentation and mailing lists, but the NetBSD project
itself was also present on a list of roadshows and exhibitions. Among
For a full list of all past, present and future events regarding
NetBSD, see our events page!
That's enough about 2001. It was a year with many ups and downs, and
we can now look forward to another exciting year in Open Source
operating systems' history, of course with NetBSD. :-)
Things to look out for include a new major release soon, which will
include many of the goodies described above. Furthermore, a native
Java implementation may finally show up, there will be some updates on
the status of the NetBSD Foundation, and there are many many other
features that can still be added to NetBSD. Let's see what time will
Happy New Year!
(c) Copyright 20020101 Hubert Feyrer
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