OpenBSD FAQ - Introduction to OpenBSD [FAQ Index]

What is OpenBSD?

The OpenBSD project produces a freely available, multi-platform 4.4BSD-based UNIX-like operating system. Our goals place emphasis on correctness, security, standardization, and portability.

This FAQ only covers the most recent release of OpenBSD.

On what systems does OpenBSD run?

OpenBSD runs on the following platforms:

Available on CD means the official CD set includes that platform and a small selection of useful packages. CD ISO images can be downloaded for most other platforms. These are not the same as the official CD sets, however. Some platforms also have USB disk images available.

People sometimes ask why we support so many "odd" machines. The short answer is "because we want to." If enough skilled people (and sometimes "enough" is only one really skilled person!) wish to maintain support for a platform, it will be supported. There are practical benefits to keeping OpenBSD multi-platform: when new platforms come out, the code tree is relatively free of portability-breaking bugs and design flaws. The OpenBSD platforms include 32 bit and 64 bit processors, little and big endian machines, and many different designs. And yes, supporting "unusual" platforms has helped produce a higher-quality code base for more common platforms too.

Why might I want to use OpenBSD?

New users frequently want to know whether OpenBSD is superior to some other free UNIX-like operating systems. That question is largely unanswerable, and is the subject of countless (and useless) religious debates. Do not, under any circumstances, ask such a question on an OpenBSD mailing list.

Below are some reasons why we think OpenBSD is a useful operating system:

However, whether OpenBSD is right for you is a question that only you can answer.

Is OpenBSD really free?

OpenBSD is all free. The binaries are free. The source is free. All parts of OpenBSD have reasonable copyright terms permitting free redistribution. This includes the ability to REUSE most parts of the OpenBSD source tree, either for personal or commercial purposes. OpenBSD includes NO further restrictions other than those implied by the original BSD license. Software which is written under stricter licenses cannot be included in the regular distribution of OpenBSD. This is intended to safeguard the free use of OpenBSD. For example, OpenBSD can be freely used for personal use, for academic use, by government institutions, by non-profit making organizations and by commercial organizations. OpenBSD, or parts of it, can also be freely incorporated into commercial products.

People sometimes ask if it bothers us that our free work is put into commercial products. The answer is that we would prefer that our good code be widely used rather than have commercial software vendors reimplement and create badly coded or incompatible alternative solutions to already solved problems. For example, it is likely that SSH is a widely used protocol due to this freedom, much more widely used than if restrictions had been placed on how people used the OpenSSH code. If a free SSH solution was not available for vendors to use (in their multitude of rapidly developed products), they would have written or purchased some crummy off-the shelf version instead.

This isn't to say we would object to financial or hardware support in thanks. In fact, it is stunning how little support of any kind comes from companies that depend upon OpenBSD (or OpenSSH) for their products, but there is no requirement of compensation.

For further reading on other popular licenses, read the OpenBSD copyright policy.

The maintainers of OpenBSD support the project largely from their own pockets. This includes the time spent programming for the project, equipment used to support the many ports, the network resources used to distribute OpenBSD to you, and the time spent answering questions and investigating users' bug reports. The OpenBSD developers are not independently wealthy, and even small contributions of time, equipment and resources make a big difference.

How can I help support OpenBSD?

We are greatly indebted to the people and organizations that have contributed to the OpenBSD project. Some are acknowledged by name on the donations page. This is not done for everyone anymore, however.

OpenBSD has a constant need for several types of support from the user community. If you find OpenBSD useful, you are strongly encouraged to find a way to contribute. If none of the suggestions below are right for you, feel free to propose an alternative by sending email to

When is the next release of OpenBSD?

The OpenBSD team makes a new release every six months, with target release dates in May and November. More information on the development cycle can be found here.

What is included with OpenBSD?

OpenBSD is distributed with a number of third-party software products, including: As can be seen, the OpenBSD team often patches third party products, typically to improve the security or quality of the code. In some cases, the user will see no difference in operation. In other cases, there ARE operational differences which may impact some users. Keep these enhancements in mind before blindly adding different versions of the same software. You may get a bigger version number but a less secure system.

Much home-grown software is also included, and additional applications can be added through the OpenBSD packages and ports system.

Can I use OpenBSD as a desktop system?

This question is often asked in exactly this manner, with no explanation of what "desktop" requirements entail. The only person who can answer that question is you, as it depends on what your needs and expectations are.

While OpenBSD has a great reputation as a "server" operating system, it can be (and is) used on the desktop. Many "desktop" applications are available through packages and ports. As with all operating system decisions, the question is: can it do the job you desire in the way you wish? You must answer this question for yourself.

It might be worth noting that a large amount of OpenBSD development is done on laptops running OpenBSD.

Why is/isn't ProductX included?

People often ask why a particular product is or isn't included with OpenBSD. The answer is based on two things: the wishes of the developers and compatibility with the goals of the project. A product will not be included simply because it is "nifty" -- it must also be "free" for use, distribution and modification by our standards. A product must also be stable and secure -- a bigger version number does not always mean a better product.

Licensing is often the biggest problem: we want OpenBSD to remain usable by any person anywhere in the world for any purpose.

Another major consideration is the wishes of the developers. The OpenBSD developers are the ultimate judges of what does and doesn't go into the project. Just because an application is "good" doesn't mean the OpenBSD project wishes to devote the resources needed to maintaining it, or that they will share other's enthusiasm about its place in OpenBSD.

Of course, if you wish to use one of these packages and your use is compatible with the license of the products, no one will stop you. That wouldn't be very free if we tried, would it? However, your needs may change -- you may not want to develop a "Killer Application" that you can't sell, distribute, or get rich from because you incorporated non-free software into it.