FreeBSD The Power to Serve

Early Adopter's Guide to FreeBSD 5.0-RELEASE

The FreeBSD Release Engineering Team

$FreeBSD: src/release/doc/en_US.ISO8859-1/early-adopter/article.sgml,v 2003/01/14 18:12:49 roam Exp $

1 Introduction

FreeBSD 5.0 marks the first new major version of FreeBSD in over two years. Besides a number of new features, it also contains a number of major developments in the underlying system architecture. Along with these advances, however, comes a system that incorporates a tremendous amount of new and not-widely-tested code. Compared to the existing line of 4.X releases, 5.0 may have regressions in areas of stability, performance, and occasionally functionality.

For these reasons, the Release Engineering Team does not encourage users to blindly update from older FreeBSD releases to 5.0. Specifically, for more conservative users, we recommend running 4.X releases (such as 4.7-RELEASE or the upcoming 4.8-RELEASE) for the near-term future. We feel that such users are probably best served by upgrading to 5.X only after a 5-STABLE development branch has been created; this may be around the time of 5.1-RELEASE or 5.2-RELEASE.

(FreeBSD 5.0 suffers from what has been described as a ``chicken and egg'' problem. The entire project has a goal of producing a 5.0-RELEASE that is as stable and reliable as possible. This stability and reliability requires widespread testing, particularly of the system's newer features. However, getting a large number of users to test the system, in a practical sense, means building and distributing a release first!)

This article describes some of the issues involved in installing and running FreeBSD 5.0-RELEASE. We begin with a brief overview of the FreeBSD release process. We then present some of the more noteworthy new features in FreeBSD 5.0, along with some areas that may prove troublesome for unwary users. For those users choosing to remain with 4-STABLE-based releases, we give some of the short- to medium-term plans for this development branch. Finally, we present some notes on upgrading existing 4.X systems to 5.0.

2 An Overview of the FreeBSD Release Process

FreeBSD employs a model of development that relies on multiple development branches within the source code repository. The main branch is called ``CURRENT'', and is referred to in the CVS repository with the HEAD tag. New features are committed first to this branch; although this means that CURRENT is the first to see new functionality, it also means that it occasionally suffers from breakages as new features are added and debugged.

Most FreeBSD releases are made from one of several ``STABLE'' branches. Features are only added to these branches after some amount of testing in CURRENT. At the moment, only one STABLE branch is under active development; this branch is referred to as ``4-STABLE'', and all of the FreeBSD 4.X releases were based on it. This branch has the tag RELENG_4 in the CVS repository.

FreeBSD 5.0 will be based on the CURRENT branch. This will be the first release from this branch in over two years (the last was FreeBSD 4.0, in March 2000).

At some point after the release of FreeBSD 5.0, a ``5-STABLE'' branch will be created in the FreeBSD CVS repository with the branch tag RELENG_5. The past two stable branches (3-STABLE and 4-STABLE) were created immediately after their respective ``dot-oh'' releases (3.0 and 4.0, respectively). In hindsight, this practice did not give sufficient time for either CURRENT or the new STABLE branches to stabilize after the new branches were created.

Therefore, the release engineering team will only create the 5-STABLE branch in the CVS repository after they have found a relatively stable state to use as its basis. It is likely that there will be multiple releases in the 5.X series before this happens; we estimate that the 5-STABLE branch will be created sometime after 5.1-RELEASE or 5.2-RELEASE.

More information on FreeBSD release engineering processes can be found on the Release Engineering Web pages and in the FreeBSD Release Engineering article.

3 New Features

A large attraction of FreeBSD 5.0 is a number of new features. These new features and functionality generally involve large architectural changes that were not feasible to port back to the FreeBSD 4-STABLE development branch. (By contrast, many self-contained enhancements, such as new device drivers or userland utilities, have already been ported.) A brief, but not exhaustive list includes:

  • SMPng: The ``next generation'' support for SMP machines (work in progress). There is now partial support for multiple processors to be running in the kernel at the same time.

  • KSE: Kernel Scheduled Entities allow a single process to have multiple kernel-level threads, similar to Scheduler Activations.

  • New architectures: Support for the sparc64 and ia64 architectures, in addition to the i386, pc98, and alpha.

  • GCC: The compiler toolchain is now based on GCC 3.2.1, rather than GCC 2.95.X.

  • MAC: Support for extensible, loadable Mandatory Access Control policies.

  • GEOM: A flexible framework for transformations of disk I/O requests. An experimental disk encryption facility has been developed based on GEOM.

  • FFS: The FFS filesystem now supports background fsck(8) operations (for faster crash recovery) and filesystem snapshots.

  • UFS2: A new UFS2 on-disk format has been added, which supports extended per-file attributes and larger file sizes.

  • Cardbus: Support for Cardbus devices.

A more comprehensive list of new features can be found in the release notes for FreeBSD 5.0.

4 Drawbacks to Early Adoption

Along with the new features of FreeBSD 5.0 come some areas that can cause problems, or at least can lead to unexpected behavior. Generally, these come from the fact that a number of features are works-in-progress. A partial list of these areas of difficulty includes:

  • A number of features are not yet finished. Examples from the feature list above include SMPng and KSE.

  • Because of changes in kernel data structures and ABIs/APIs, third-party binary device drivers will require modifications to work correctly under FreeBSD 5.0. There is a possibility of more minor ABI/API changes before the 5-STABLE branch is created.

  • Several parts of FreeBSD's base system functionality have been moved to the Ports Collection. Notable examples include Perl, UUCP, and most (but not all) games. While these programs are still supported, their removal from the base system may cause some confusion.

  • A number of ports and packages do not build or do not run correctly under FreeBSD 5.0, whereas they did under FreeBSD 4-STABLE. Generally these problems are caused by compiler toolchain changes or cleanups of header files.

  • Because FreeBSD 5.0 is the first release from the CURRENT branch in over two years, many of its features are seeing wide exposure for the first time. Many of these features (such as SMPng) have broad impacts on the kernel.

  • A certain amount of debugging and diagnostic code is still in place to help track down problems in FreeBSD 5.0's new features. This may cause FreeBSD 5.0 to perform more slowly than 4-STABLE.

  • Features are only added to the 4-STABLE development branch after a ``settling time'' in -CURRENT. FreeBSD 5.0 does not have the stabilizing influence of a -STABLE branch. (It is likely that the 5-STABLE development branch will be created sometime after 5.1-RELEASE or 5.2-RELEASE.)

  • Documentation (such as the FreeBSD Handbook and FAQ) may not reflect changes recently made to FreeBSD 5.0.

Because a number of these drawbacks affect system stability, the release engineering team recommends that more conservative sites and users stick to releases based on the 4-STABLE branch until the 5.X series is more polished.

5 Plans for the 4-STABLE Branch

The release of FreeBSD 5.0 does not mean the end of the 4-STABLE branch. There will be at least one more release on this branch, namely 4.8-RELEASE, currently scheduled for 1 March 2003.

As of this writing, the release engineering team has no definite plans for future releases (past 4.8) on the 4-STABLE branch. However, a 4.9-RELEASE or even a 4.10-RELEASE are likely possibilities. Any future releases from this branch will depend on several factors. The most important of these is the existence and stability of the 5-STABLE branch. If CURRENT is not sufficiently stable to allow the creation of a 5-STABLE branch, this may require and permit more releases from the 4-STABLE branch. Until the last declared release on the 4-STABLE branch, new features may be merged from HEAD at the discretion of developers, subject to existing release engineering policies.

To some extent, the release engineering team will take into account user demand for future 4-STABLE releases. This demand, however, will need to be balanced with release engineering resources (in terms of personnel, computing resources, and mirror archive space).

The Security Officer Team will continue to support releases made from the 4-STABLE branch in accordance with their published policies, which can be found on the Security page on the FreeBSD web site. Generally, the two most recent releases from any branch will be supported with respect to security advisories and security fixes. At its discretion, the team may support other releases.

6 Notes on Upgrading

For those users with existing FreeBSD systems, this section offers a few notes on upgrading a FreeBSD 4.X system to 5.X. As with any FreeBSD upgrade, it is crucial to read the release notes and the errata for the version in question, as well as src/UPDATING for source upgrades.

6.1 Binary Upgrades

Probably the most straightforward approach is that of ``backup everything, reformat, reinstall, and restore everything''. This eliminates problems of incompatible or obsolete executables or configuration files polluting the new system.

As of this time, the binary upgrade option in sysinstall(8) has not been well-tested for cross-major-version upgrades. Using this feature is not recommended. In particular, a binary upgrade will leave behind a number of files that are present in FreeBSD 4.X but not in 5.0. These obsolete files may create some problems.

On the i386 and pc98 platforms, a UserConfig utility exists on 4-STABLE to allow boot-time configuration of ISA devices when booting from installation media. Under FreeBSD 5.0, this functionality has been replaced in part by the device.hints(5) mechanism (it allows specifying the same parameters, but with a very different interface).

Floppy-based binary installations may require downloading a third, new floppy image holding additional device drivers in kernel modules. This drivers.flp floppy image will generally be found in the same location as the usual kern.flp and mfsroot.flp floppy images.

CDROM-based installations on the i386 architecture now use a ``no-emulation'' boot loader. This allows, among other things, the use of a GENERIC kernel, rather than the stripped-down kernel on the floppy images. In theory, any system capable of booting the Microsoft Windows NT 4 installation CDROMs should be able to cope with the FreeBSD 5.0 CDROMs.

6.2 Source Upgrades

Reading src/UPDATING is absolutely essential. The section entitled ``To upgrade from 4.x-stable to current'' contains a step-by-step update procedure. This procedure must be followed exactly, without making use of the ``shortcuts'' that some users occasionally employ.

6.3 Common Notes

Perl has been removed from the base system, and should be installed either from a pre-built package or from the Ports Collection. Building Perl as a part of the base system created a number of difficulties which made updates problematic. The base system utilities that used Perl have either been rewritten (if still applicable) or discarded (if obsolete). sysinstall(8) will now install the Perl package as a part of most distribution sets, so most users will not notice this change.

It is generally possible to run old 4.X executables under 5.X, but this requires the compat4x distribution to be installed. Thus, using old ports may be possible.

When installing or upgrading over the top of an existing 4-STABLE-based system, it is extremely important to clear out old header files in /usr/include. Renaming or moving this directory before a binary installation or an installworld is generally sufficient. If this step is not taken, confusion may result (especially with C++ programs) as the compiler may wind up using a mixture of obsolete and current header files.

7 Summary

While FreeBSD 5.0 contains a number of new and exciting features, it may not be suitable for all users at this time. In this document, we presented some background on release engineering, some of the more notable new features of the 5.X series, and some drawbacks to early adoption. We also presented some future plans for the 4-STABLE development branch and some tips on upgrading for early adopters.

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Last modified on: May 15, 2021 by Allan Jude