FOSDEM 2018 | BSD Now 232

We talk about our recent trip to FOSDEM, we discuss the pros & cons of permissive licensing, cover the installation of OpenBSD on a dedibox with full-disk encryption, the new Lumina guide repository & we explain ZFS vs. OpenZFS.

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– Show Notes: –


FOSDEM Trip report

  • Your BSDNow hosts were both at FOSDEM in Brussels, Belgium over the weekend.
  • On the friday before FOSDEM, we held a FreeBSD devsummit (3rd consecutive year), sponsored by the FreeBSD Foundation and organized by Benedict (with the help from Kristof Provost, who did it in previous years but could not make it this year). We had 21 people attend, a good mixture of FreeBSD committers (mostly ports) and guests. After introductions, we collected topics and discussed various topics, including a new plan for a future FreeBSD release roadmap (more frequent releases, so that features from HEAD can be tried out earlier in RELEASES). The devsummit concluded with a nice dinner in a nearby restaurant.
  • On Saturday, first day of FOSDEM, we set up the FreeBSD Foundation table with flyers, stickers, FreeBSD Journal print editions, and a small RPI 3 demo system that Deb Goodkin brought. Our table was located next to the Illumos table like last year. This allowed us to continue the good relationship that we have with the Illumos people and Allan helped a little bit getting bhyve to run on Illumos with UEFI. Meanwhile, our table was visited by a lot of people who would ask questions about FreeBSD, take info material, or talk about their use cases. We were busy refilling the table throughout the day and luckily, we had many helpers at the table. Some items we had ran out in the early afternoon, an indicator of how popular they were.
  • Saturday also featured a BSD devroom, organized by Rodrigo Osorio. You can find the list of talks and the recordings on the BSD Devroom schedule. The room was very crowded and popular. Deb Goodkin gave the opening talk with an overview of what the Foundation is doing to change the world. Other speakers from various BSD projects presented their talks after that with a range of topics. Among them, Allan gave his talk about ZFS: Advanced Integration, while Benedict presented his Reflections on Teaching a Unix Class With FreeBSD.
  • Sunday was just as busy on the FreeBSD table as Saturday and we finally ran out of stickers and some other goodies. We were happy with the results of the two days. Some very interesting conversations at the table about FreeBSD took place, some of which we’re going to follow up afterwards.
  • Check out the FOSDEM schedule as many talk recordings are already available, and especially the ones from the BSD devroom if you could not attend the conference. We would like to thank everyone who attended the FreeBSD devsummit, who helped out at the FreeBSD table and organized the BSD devroom. Also, thanks to all the speakers, organizers, and helping hands making FOSDEM another success this year.

NetBSD kernel wscons IOCTL vulnerable bug class

I discovered this bug class during the InfoSect public code review session we ran looking specifically at the NetBSD kernel. I found a couple of these bugs and then after the session was complete, I went back and realised the same bug was scattered in other drivers. In total, 17 instances of this vulnerability and its variants were discovered.
In all fairness, I came across this bug class during my kernel audits in 2002 and most instances were patched. It just seems there are more bugs now in NetBSD while OpenBSD and FreeBSD have practically eliminated them.


Reporting of the bugs was easy. In less than a week from reporting the specific instances of each bug, patches were committed into the mainline kernel. Thanks to Luke Mewburn from NetBSD for coming to the code review session at InfoSect and coordinating with the NetBSD security team.

“Permissive licensing is wrong!” – Is it?

A few weeks ago I’ve been attacked by some GNU zealots on a German tech site after speaking in favor of permissive licenses. Unfortunately a discussion was not possible there because that would require the will to actually communicate instead of simply accusing the other side of vile motives. Since I actually do care about this topic and a reader asked for a post about it in comments a while ago, here we go.

This first part tries to sum up the most important things around the topic. I deliberately aim for an objective overview that tries not to be one-sided. The second part will then contain my points in defence of permissive licensing.

  • Why license software at all?

    Licenses exist for reasons of protection. If you’re the author/inventor of some software, a story or whatever product, you get to decide what to do with it. You can keep it for yourself or you can give it away. If you decide for the latter, you have to decide who may use it and in which way(s). In case you intend to give it to a (potentially) large group of people, you may not want to be asked for permission to xyz by everybody. That’s when you decide to write a license which states what you are allowing and explicitly disallowing.
    Most of the well-known commercial licenses focus on what you’re not allowed to do (usually things like copying, disassembling, etc.). Open source licenses on the other hand are meant to grant the user rights (e.g. the right to distribute) while reserving some rights or only giving permission under certain conditions – and they usually make you claim responsibility for using the software. For these reasons licenses can actually be a good thing!
    If you got an unlicensed piece of code, you’re not legally allowed to do anything with it without getting the author’s permission first. And even if you got that permission, your project would be risky, since the author can withdraw it later. A proper license protects both parties. The author doesn’t get his mail account full of email asking for permission, he’s save from legal trouble if his code breaks anything for you and at the same time you have legal certainty when you decide to put the code to long-term use.

  • Permissive vs. Copyleft (in a nutshell)

In short terms, permissive licensing usually goes like this: “Here you are, have fun. Oh, and don’t sue me if it does something else than what you expect!” Yes, it’s that easy and there’s little to dispute over.
Copyleft on the other side sounds like this (if you ask somebody in favor of Copyleft): “Sure, you can use it, it’s free. Just keep it free, ok?”. Also quite simple. And not too bad, eh? Other people however read the same thing like this: “Yes, you’re free to use it. Just read these ten pages of legalese and be dead certain that you comply. If you got something wrong, we will absolutely make you regret it.”

  • The GNU Public license (GPL)

The most popular copyleft license in use is the GPL (in various versions). It got more and more complex with each version – and to be fair, it had to, because it was necessary to react to new threats and loop holes that were found later. The GNU project states that they are committed to protect what they call the four freedoms of free software:

the freedom to use the software for any purpose
the freedom to change the software to suit your needs
the freedom to share the software with your friends and neighbors
the freedom to share the changes you make

These are freedoms that every supporter of open source software should be able to agree with. So what’s the deal with all the hostility and fighting between the two camps? Let’s take a look at a permissive license, too.

  • The BSD license

Unlike the GPL, the BSD family of licenses begun with a rather simple license that span four rules (“original BSD license”). It was later revised and reduced to three (“modified BSD license”). And the modern BSD license that e.g. FreeBSD uses is even just two (“simplified BSD license”).

Did you read the GPLv3 that I linked to above? If you are using GPL’d code you really should. In case you don’t feel like reading all of it, at least take a look and grasp how long that text is. Now compare it to the complete modern BSD license.

  • What’s the problem?

There are essentially two problems that cause all the trouble. The first one is the question of what should be subject to the freedom that we’re talking about. And closely related, the second one is where that freedom needs to end.

Ironically both camps claim that freedom is the one important thing and it must not be restricted. The GPL is meant to protect the freedom of the software and enforces the availability of the source code, hence limiting the freedom of actual persons. BSD on the other hand is meant to protect the freedom of human beings who should be able to use the software as they see fit – even if that means closing down former open source code!

The GNU camp taunts permissive licenses as being “lax” for not providing the protection that they want. The other camp points out that the GPL is a complex monster and that it is virulent in nature: Since it’s very strict in a lot of areas, it’s incompatible with many other licenses. This makes it complicated to mix GPL and non-GPL code and in the cases where it’s legally possible, the GPL’s terms will take precedence and necessarily be in effect for the whole combined work.

  • Who’s right?

That totally depends on what you want to achieve. There are pros and cons to both – and in fact we’re only looking at the big picture here. There’s also e.g. the Apache license which is often deemed as kind of middle ground. Then you may want to consider the difference between weak (e.g. LGPL) as well as strong copyleft (GPL). Licensing is a potentially huge topic. But let’s keep it simple here because the exact details are actually not necessary to understand the essence of our topic.

In the next post I’ll present my stance on why permissive licensing is a good thing and copyleft is more problematic than many people may think.

The previous post gave a short introduction into the topic of software licenses, focusing on the GPL vs. BSD discussion. This one is basically my response to some typical arguments I’ve seen from people who seem to loathe permissive licensing. I’ll write this in dialog style, hoping that this makes it a little lighter to read.


Install OpenBSD on dedibox with full-disk encryption

  • TL;DR:

I run several “dedibox” servers at, all powered by OpenBSD. OpenBSD is not officially supported so you have to work-around. Running full-disk encrypted OpenBSD there is a piece of cake. As a bonus, my first steps within a brand new booted machine 😉

  • Step #0: choosing your server

OpenBSD is not officially supported, I can’t guarantee that this will work for you on any kind of server provides, however I’ve been running on OpenBSD there since 2008, only switching machines as they were getting a bit old and new offers came up.

Currently, I’m running two SC 2016 (SATA) and one XC 2016 (SSD) boxes, all three running OpenBSD reliably ever since I installed them.

Recently I’ve been willing to reinstall the XC one after I did some experiments that turned it into a FrankenBSD, so this was the right occasion to document how I do it for future references.

I wrote an article similar to this a few years ago relying on qemu to install to the disk, since then provided access to a virtual serial console accessed within the browser, making it much more convenient to install without the qemu indirection which hid the NIC devices and disks duid and required tricks.

The method I currently use is a mix and adaptation from the techniques described in to boot the installer, and the technique described in to setup the crypto slice.

  • Step #1: boot to rescue mode
  • Step #2: boot to the installer
  • Step #3: prepare softraid
  • Step #4: reboot to encrypted OpenBSD system
  • Bonus: further tightening your system
  • enable doas
  • disable the root account
  • update system with syspatch
  • add my ssh public key to my ~/.ssh/authorized_keys
  • disable password authentication within ssh
  • reboot so you boot on a brand new up-to-date system with latest stable kernel
  • VOILA !

January 2018 Development Projects Update

  • Spectre and Meltdown in FreeBSD

Issues affecting most CPUs used in servers, desktops, laptops, and mobile devices are in the news. These hardware vulnerabilities, known by the code-names “Meltdown” and “Spectre”, allow malicious programs to read data to which they should not have access. This potentially includes credentials, cryptographic material, or other secrets. They were originally identified by a researcher from Google’s Project Zero, and were also independently discovered by researchers and academics from Cyberus Technology, Graz University of Technology, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Maryland, Rambus, the University of Adelaide and Data61.

These vulnerabilities affect many CPU architectures supported by FreeBSD, but the 64-bit x86 family of processors from Intel and AMD are the most widely used, and are a high priority for software changes to mitigate the effects of Meltdown and Spectre. In particular, the Meltdown issue affects Intel CPUs and may be used to extract secret data from the running kernel, and therefore, is the most important issue to address.

The FreeBSD Foundation collaborates with Intel, and under this relationship participated in a briefing to understand the details of these issues and plan the mitigations to be applied to the x86 architectures supported by FreeBSD. We also made arrangements to have FreeBSD’s security officer join me in the briefing. It is through the generous support of the Foundation’s donors that we are able to dedicate resources to focus on these issues on demand as they arise.

Foundation staff member Konstantin (Kostik) Belousov is an expert on FreeBSD’s Virtual Memory (VM) system as well as low-level x86 details, and is developing the x86 kernel mitigations for FreeBSD.

The mitigation for Meltdown is known as Page Table Isolation (PTI). Kostik created a PTI implementation which was initially committed in mid-January and is available in the FreeBSD-CURRENT development repository. This is the same approach used by the Linux kernel to mitigate Meltdown.

One of the drawbacks of the PTI mitigation is that it incurs a performance regression. Kostik recently reworked FreeBSD’s use of Process-Context Identifiers (PCID) in order to regain some of the performance loss incurred by PTI. This change is also now available in FreeBSD-CURRENT.

The issue known as Spectre comes in two variants, and variant 2 is the more troubling and pressing one. It may be mitigated in one of two ways: by using a technique called “retpoline” in the compiler, or by making use of a CPU feature introduced in a processor microcode update. Both options are under active development. Kostik’s change to implement the CPU-based mitigation is currently in review. Unfortunately, it introduces a significant performance penalty and alternatives are preferred, if available.

For most cases, the compiler-based retpoline mitigation is likely to be the chosen mitigation. Having switched to the Clang compiler for the base system and most of the ports collection some years ago, FreeBSD is well-positioned to deploy Clang-based mitigations. FreeBSD developer Dimitry Andric is spearheading the update of Clang/LLVM in FreeBSD to version 6.0 in anticipation of its official release; FreeBSD-CURRENT now includes an interim snapshot. I have been assisting with the import, particularly with respect to LLVM’s lld linker, and will support the integration of retpoline. This support is expected to be merged into FreeBSD in the coming weeks.

The Foundation’s co-op students have also participated in the response to these vulnerabilities. Mitchell Horne developed the patch to control the PTI mitigation default setting, while Arshan Khanifar benchmarked the performance impact of the in-progress mitigation patches. In addition, Arshan and Mitchell each developed changes to FreeBSD’s tool chain to support the full set of mitigations that will be applied.

These mitigations will continue be tested, benchmarked, and refined in FreeBSD-CURRENT before being merged into stable branches and then being made available as updates to FreeBSD releases. Details on the timing of these merges and releases will be shared as they become available.

I would like to acknowledge all of those in the FreeBSD community who have participated in FreeBSD’s response to Meltdown and Spectre, for testing, reviewing, and coordinating x86 mitigations, for developing mitigations for other processor architectures and for the Bhyve hypervisor, and for working on the toolchain-based mitigations.

Guides: Getting Started & Lumina Theme Submissions

I am pleased to announce the beginning of a new sub-series of blog posts for the Lumina project: Guides!

The TrueOS/Lumina projects want to support our users as they use Lumina or experiment with TrueOS. To that end, we’ve recently set up a central repository for our users to share instructions or other “how-to” guides with each other! Project developers and contributors will also submit guides to the repository on occasion, but the overall goal is to provide a simple hub for instructions written by any Lumina or TrueOS user. This will make it easier for users to not only find a “how-to” for some procedure, but also a very easy way to “give back” to the community by writing simple instructions or more detailed guides.

  • Guides Repository

Our first guide to get the whole thing started was created by the TrueOS Linebacker (with technical assistance from our own q5sys). In this guide, Terry Tate will walk you through the steps necessary to submit new wallpaper images to the Lumina Themes collection. This procedure is fully documented with screenshots every step of the way, walking you through a simple procedure that only requires a web browser and a Github account!

The end result of this guide was that Terry Tate was able to submit this cool new “Lunar-4K” wallpaper to the “lumina-nature” collection.

ZFS vs. OpenZFS (by Michael Dexter)

You’ve probably heard us say a mix of “ZFS” and “OpenZFS” and an explanation is long-overdue. Our Senior Analyst clears up what ZFS and OpenZFS refer to and how they differ.
I admit that we geeks tend to get caught up in the nuts and bolts of enterprise storage and overlook the more obvious questions that users might have. You’ve probably noticed that this blog and the FreeNAS blog refer to “ZFS” and “OpenZFS” seemingly at random when talking about the amazing file system at the heart of FreeNAS and every storage product that iXsystems sells. I will do my best to clarify what exactly these two terms refer to.
From its inception, “ZFS” has referred to the “Zettabyte File System” developed at Sun Microsystems and published under the CDDL Open Source license in 2005 as part of the OpenSolaris operating system. ZFS was revolutionary for completely decoupling the file system from specialized storage hardware and even a specific computer platform. The portable nature and advanced features of ZFS led FreeBSD, Linux, and even Apple developers to start porting ZFS to their operating systems and by 2008, FreeBSD shipped with ZFS in the 7.0 release. For the first time, ZFS empowered users of any budget with enterprise-class scalability and data integrity and management features like checksumming, compression and snapshotting, and those features remain unrivaled at any price to this day. On any ZFS platform, administrators use the zpool and zfs utilities to configure and manage their storage devices and file systems respectively. Both commands employ a user-friendly syntax such as‘zfs create mypool/mydataset’ and I welcome you to watch the appropriately-titled webinar “Why we love ZFS & you should too” or try a completely-graphical ZFS experience with FreeNAS.
Yes, ZFS is really as good as people say it is.
After enjoying nearly a decade of refinement by a growing group of developers around the world, ZFS became the property of database vendor Oracle, which ceased public development of both ZFS and OpenSolaris in 2010. Disappointed but undeterred, a group of OpenSolaris users and developers forked the last public release of OpenSolaris as the Illumos project. To this day, Illumos represents the official upstream home of the Open Source OpenSolaris technologies, including ZFS. The Illumos project enjoys healthy vendor and user participation but the portable nature and compelling features of ZFS soon produced far more ZFS users than Illumos users around the world. While most if not all users of Illumos and its derivatives are ZFS users, the majority of ZFS users are not Illumos users, thanks significantly in part to FreeNAS which uses the FreeBSD operating system. This imbalance plus several successful ZFS Day events led ZFS co-founder Matt Ahrens and a group of ZFS developers to announce the OpenZFS project, which would remain a part of the Illumos code base but would be free to coordinate development efforts and events around their favorite file system. ZFS Day has grown into the two-day OpenZFS Developer Summit and is stronger than ever, a testament to the passion and dedication of the OpenZFS community.
Oracle has steadily continued to develop its own proprietary branch of ZFS and Matt Ahrens points out that over 50% of the original OpenSolaris ZFS code has been replaced in OpenZFS with community contributions. This means that there are, sadly, two politically and technologically-incompatible branches of “ZFS” but fortunately, OpenZFS is orders of magnitude more popular thanks to its open nature. The two projects should be referred to as “Oracle ZFS” and “OpenZFS” to distinguish them as development efforts, but the user still types the ‘zfs’ command, which on FreeBSD relies on the ‘zfs.ko’ kernel module. My impression is that the terms of the CDDL license under which the OpenZFS branch of ZFS is published protects its users from any patent and trademark risks. Hopefully, this all helps you distinguish the OpenZFS project from the ZFS technology.

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