Desktop FreeBSD Part 1: Installation

By Ed Hurst | Posted at 4:17 AM
A few years ago, Ed Hurst began what would become an extremely popular series of articles on getting started with desktop BSD. Because of the continuing popularity of this series, Ed had revised the articles to apply to the latest and greatest versions of FreeBSD. In this first part, Ed examines the process of installing the operating system.

Sysinstall: The FreeBSD Installer

Allow the installer to help you. It helps if you've read through the installation documentation to familiarize yourself with the appearance, layout and sequence. Much of it is likely to be over your head, but you don't have to understand every detail. Never be afraid to start over, as most FreeBSD users have done many times. If you are sure you've made a wrong move somewhere, you can be sure there will be a Cancel button fairly often during the installation process and it will allow you to stop the process.

Remember that hitting the TAB key will jump between the list and buttons at the bottom of the page. The arrow keys work within lists, the SPACE bar selects an option if there is a check box, and PGDN and PGUP do just that within lists, too. Read this through once at least before you try the installation. What follows here is a reflection of my experience with FreeBSD 6.2, and there's no guarantee your attempt will work precisely this way. This article assumes you already know how to get your system to boot from a CD.

1. Booting with the CD -- Upon booting, you will see the usual hardware scan. If you have Linux experience, some of what scrolls by will seem familiar. Next, you'll see the Sysinstall menu. You will want to choose the "Standard" option.

2. Setting up your hard drive -- Quite often you will get an informational popup box about the geometry of your harddrive. There's really not much you can do at this point, so accept the information by hitting ENTER, which is the same as OK. In all likelihood, Sysinstall can work this out with no input from you. If you have more than one hard drive, you will have to select which one you are going to use for FreeBSD. If you don't understand the jargon of disk identification, just notice this pattern: two or three letters and a number. Computers start numbering drives at zero, not at one. "0" is the first, "1" is the second, etc.

ad0 = ATAPI Drive = IDE/EIDE hard drive, the most common type.

ad4 = SATA Drive = Depending on your BIOS settings, if you run a single SATA drive in IDE mode, it will usually look like an IDE drive with a higher number (RAID is not covered here).

da0 = SCSI Drive = Not many computers you buy for home use have these.

Choose the drive for this installation and go to the next screen for setting up the file system on that drive. The simplest is to use the whole drive for FreeBSD, without complicated partitioning. So here we choose option A for "All" of the drive for FreeBSD.

Boot options: Still a part of the hard drive setup, you will probably want to choose the BootMgr for maximum flexibility later. If you have other hard drives in your box, you'll be returned to the page for selecting which one to configure. Tab to Cancel to leave this screen. There is usually an informational popup following this, which you should read, then press ENTER for OK and move on.

At the next screen, again choose the A option for "Automatic" partitioning. Note that BSD uses the Unix file system, which refers to slices rather than partitions, though BSD will use partitions, too. The automatic setup is quite unlikely to bring you problems. Press Q to save and move to the next screen.

3. Distribution -- we will want the most useful option, which is to select All at this point, unless you have a serious problem with hard drive space. For the most part, the options are self-explanatory, and it's easy to make adjustments later. The next immediate screen asks if you want the Ports Collection installed; select Yes because you'll need this later. As with most screens, TAB to the OK button and ENTER. You'll come back to the Distributions screen; choose Exit to move on.

4. Source for the installation -- since we booted from the CD/DVD-ROM drive, that is your obvious choice. If it's the only one, it should be designated acd0. If you have both a DVD-ROM and a CD-RW, it seems to work best to install from the DVD reader. Typically that one would be acd1.

5. LAST CHANCE -- The next screen tells you that this is your last chance to back out. Take the Yes answer when you are ready. This is the one part of the installation procedure which you must not interrupt by hitting keys, the power or reset button, or unplugging machines. I've watched people panic and do those things, which usually destroys the harddrive.

You will see the following information flash on the screen:

  • Making the file system on your hard drive
  • Installing basic OS files
  • Individual packages that you selected (the default set here)
  • Setting up the other slices

Finally, you will see a screen that congratulates you on a successful installation. If not, there are problems and you need to get help. Write down word for word whatever messages you get that indicate what the problem is. The most common error is some failure to read the CD and copy files. All is not lost, but you'll need to read up a bit on installing over a network connection. For more serious problems, there are very few genuine newbie forums, but if you know how to use search engines, you'll probably find what you need. Search terms will of course include "freebsd install" and whatever particular keywords you can associate with your specific case, such as hardware parts names.

If you have no problems, you are now running FreeBSD.

6a. Modem setup -- Usually this means selecting the ppp0 option for this purpose. You must know where your hardware believes the modem is, probably one of four "COMM" ports, to use the common term. As before, the first in the list is 0, the second is 1, etc. What most of the world calls COMM1 is cuaa0 in BSD, COMM2 is cuaa1, and so on. If you don't know, FreeBSD won't do it for you.

You won't need to worry about the next two screens, IPv6 and DHCP, so answer No to both.

6b. Ethernet setup -- There are numerous chipsets out there, and some 40 different drivers for standard wired ports, and a dozen for wireless. Chances are good Sysinstall has already identified your chipset and it will be listed first, and already highlighted. If not, seek assistance as discussed above. My own chipset and driver look like this:

vr0 VIA VT6102 Rhine II 10/100BaseTX

Hit ENTER. The next question will be about IPV6, and it's probably best to say NO for now. The next question is about DHCP. You'll have to find out from your provider whether your connection offers this. Many DSL modems and cable routers do, so try YES if you don't know. If Sysintall can't find a DHCP service, it will warn you and require manual setup. This takes you to the next page, item #7 below. You'll need to know the IP numbers for at least your IPV4 Gateway and your own machine. Discuss it with your provider, and be ready to search for ways other FreeBSD users have managed this.

7. Network setup -- There are only a couple of boxes you need to worry about filling in at this point.

Host: Every machine on any standard network has it's own name. This name takes three parts, each separated by a dot or period. The first name is anything you choose, but I recommend keeping it short. This will become obvious why later. I've seen things like yoda, shad, bite, and whit. Four characters is a good idea; pick anything from the dictionary or make up your own. The second part of the name indicates the name of the network. Yours should say local unless your machine is on a LAN with a domain name. The obvious exception is via the dialup connection to the Internet, when your ISP will provide a cover name for you, regardless of what your machine is called. The last part of the name is the stuff you see on most Internet addresses: .com, .org, .biz, etc. Yours is self-contained, and .bsd is highly recommended, since it won't confuse things with your ISP. For now, the .bsd ending isn't used on the official Internet, so your ISP won't have to worry about anyone looking for that address. Here's what it will look like:


with name substituted by your choice.

Domain: This should end up with the local.bsd part automatically once you type in the first field. However, if DHCP is working, it's probably got something there already; just accept it. If not, type it manually.

You are now finished with this page, so tab to Done and hit ENTER. On dialup, you have no reason to bring up the interface, so on the next page choose No. There are several more option screens listed with my recommendations:

  • Gateway: choose No
  • Inetd: choose No
  • SSH: for now, chooses No unless you know what you are doing
  • Anonymous ftp: choose No
  • NFS Server: choose No
  • NFS Client: choose No

8. Console settings -- unless you have a compelling reason to operate a lot in the console (without a GUI), this isn't worth much of your time. We will be learning about the console just enough to avoid being there long. This is for the desktop, remember? Take the defaults, unless you need to change the language settings or something. By the way, the screensaver option here applies only to the console.

9. Time zone -- most machines are set to local time, so don't select to base your system on UTC. Next, select your region, country and specific Time Zone. There are enough options in this last to cover just about every square inch of the world, so be patient and search.

10. Linux compatibility -- Select Yes here because too often you'll find something you want or need is available for Linux but not FreeBSD. For example, if you really must have the capability to view Flash videos, you'll need a Linux browser with the Linux version of FlashPlayer. Unless you are restricted on disk space, I recommend you take this now.

11. Mouse options -- This question is sort of backwards, in that it's asked in the negative. I had a USB mouse, so the answer was No. Otherwise, there is nothing here to setup, since it applies only the console mouse. You can set it up, but do not enable it. If you have a mouse that really needs the system mouse daemon to run in X, it will be setup automatically.

12. Additional packages -- There was a time when Sysinstall would walk you through the process of configuring the GUI. This is also called "setting up the X server." Nowadays that's a separate procedure. However, this is the place in our quick desktop installation to select your graphical desktop. I recommend KDE.

When Sysinstall asks if you want to add additional packages, select YES and All to get a complete listing. Scroll down the alphabetical list to KDE and hit the space bar. (For advanced users wishing to build their FreeBSD system fully optimized, you can skip this part, and get it later when you add packages through the ports system.)

At this point, I'm going to recommend only two additional packages. Most inexperienced users prefer the Bash Shell. For your user account, this should be the default. Run down the list until you get to something like bash-3.1.17. If you do not already see an "X" in the square box, hit the space bar to select it. Do the same for something like mutt- Then tab down to the OK button and ENTER again. This will take you back to the previous window, where to tab to the Install button and ENTER.

13. User account -- If you don't create a user account, you had better not ever connect to the Internet. That's the mantra from everyone in the FOSS community, and I won't repeat the whole spiel here. We choose YES to this option. Next screen, select Add user. The next page has blocks for entries.

Login name: Keep it simple. Long cutesy names can present problems later when you need to work in a terminal or from the console. Three or four initials or something short and simple will be fine.

UID: Don't touch this. The system handles it fine.

Group: Leave for the defaults.

Password: I can only echo the good advice of Jon "maddog" Hall here. The best passwords have at least 8 characters, and are based on something you'll remember, but aren't easy to guess. Jon used the example of the phrase, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis has left the building." He then takes the first letter of each word, upper or lower case as is proper, and inserts the punctuation, too. Then, when it's time to enter your password, you need only recite the phrase and type accordingly:


Notice that "and" is replaced with an ampersand (&). I prefer to use favorite songs. Since I've worked in church music, I would obviously use hymns. One of my past choices is the song "God Is in Control" which give us this:


You can replace letters with numbers that are similar (o=0, a=4, e=3, etc.). Throwing in punctuation is a good idea, of course.

Full name: Whatever you want to use.

Member groups: Type in the word wheel which allows your user account to act briefly as root for administrative tasks. Without this, the su command won't work.

Home dir: Let the system choose the default.

Login shell: Unless you have a favorite, I'm going with the previously recommend bash, so type in


Tab to OK to exit the screen. Unless you have more users to setup, choose Exit and tab to OK for the next step.

14. Root password -- The same rule applies here as for user passwords. You'll need to be able to type it the same twice. Memorize the phrase and pay attention to how you type in each character. After about a half-dozen times, most folks have it nailed down.

15. Revise options -- It's not likely, but here's your chance. At the next screen, choose Exit install.

Now the system will reboot. This is a good time to catch the BIOS setup and return to booting from the hard drive, and removing the CD from the drive. You will see the usual boot messages. Unless things hang somewhere, you are on your way.

In our next installment, we'll cover post-install setup.

Ed Hurst is Associate Editor of Open for Business. Ed operates a computer ministry in Oklahoma City. He loves computers, runs FreeBSD and GNU/Linux and reads all sorts of things

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Das FreeBSD auf dem Desktop nutzbar ist wird immer noch gerne belächelt. Sicher, gerade im Multimediabereich gibt es noch einiges aufzuholen, aber mit swfdec sind nun auch die bewegten Bilder und Töne von YouTube unter FreeBSD nutzbar. Daneben gib…

Posted by grUNIX - Aug 16, 2007 | 8:06 AM