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Networking, Release 2

During one of our weekly group meetings at the CSRG, Keith Bostic brought up the subject of the popularity of the freely-redistributable networking release and inquired about the possibility of doing an expanded release that included more of the BSD code. Mike Karels and I pointed out to Bostic that releasing large parts of the system was a huge task, but we agreed that if he could sort out how to deal with reimplementing the hundreds of utilities and the massive C library then we would tackle the kernel. Privately, Karels and I felt that would be the end of the discussion.

Undeterred, Bostic pioneered the technique of doing a mass net-based development effort. He solicited folks to rewrite the Unix utilities from scratch based solely on their published descriptions. Their only compensation would be to have their name listed among the Berkeley contributors next to the name of the utility that they rewrote. The contributions started slowly and were mostly for the trivial utilities. But as the list of completed utilities grew and Bostic continued to hold forth for contributions at public events such as Usenix, the rate of contributions continued to grow. Soon the list crossed one hundred utilities and within 18 months nearly all the important utilities and libraries had been rewritten.

Proudly, Bostic marched into Mike Karels' and my office, list in hand, wanting to know how we were doing on the kernel. Resigned to our task, Karels, Bostic, and I spent the next several months going over the entire distribution, file by file, removing code that had originated in the 32/V release. When the dust settled, we discovered that there were only six remaining kernel files that were still contaminated and which could not be trivially rewritten. While we considered rewriting those six files so that we could release a complete system, we decided instead to release just what we had. We did, however, seek permission for our expanded release from folks higher up in the University administration. After much internal debate and verification of our method for determining proprietary code, we were given the go-ahead to do the release.

Our initial thought was to come up with a whole new name for our second freely-redistributable release. However, we viewed getting a whole new license written and approved by the University lawyers as an unnecessary waste of resources and time delay. So, we decided to call the new release Networking Release 2 since we could just do a revision of the approved Networking Release 1 license agreement. Thus, our second greatly expanded freely-redistributable release began shipping in June 1991. The redistribution terms and cost were the same as the terms and cost of the first networking release. As before, several hundred individuals and organizations paid the $1,000 fee to get the distribution from Berkeley.

Closing the gap from the Networking Release 2 distribution to a fully functioning system did not take long. Within six months of the release, Bill Jolitz had written replacements for the six missing files. He promptly released a fully compiled and bootable system for the 386-based PC architecture which he called 386/BSD. Jolitz's 386/BSD distribution was done almost entirely on the Net. He simply put it up for anonymous FTP and let anyone who wanted it download it for free. Within weeks he had a huge following.

Unfortunately, the demands of keeping a full-time job meant that Jolitz could not devote the time needed to keep up with the flood of incoming bug fixes and enhancements to 386/BSD. So, within a few months of the release of 386/BSD, a group of avid 386/BSD users formed the NetBSD group to pool their collective resources to help maintain and later enhance the system. Their releases became known as the NetBSD distribution. The NetBSD group chose to emphasize the support of as many platforms as possible and continued the research style development done by the CSRG. Until 1998, their distribution was done solely over the Net; no distribution media was available. Their group continues to target primarily the hardcore technical users. More information about the NetBSD project can be found at

The FreeBSD group was formed a few months after the NetBSD group with a charter to support just the PC architecture and to go after a larger and less technically advanced group of users, much as Linux had done. They built elaborate installation scripts and began shipping their system on a low cost CD-ROM. The combination of ease of installation and heavy promotion on the Net and at major trade shows such as Comdex led to a fast, large growth curve. Certainly FreeBSD currently has the largest installed base of all the Release 2-derived systems.

FreeBSD has also ridden the wave of Linux popularity by adding a Linux emulation mode that allows Linux binaries to run on the FreeBSD platform. This feature allows FreeBSD users to use the ever-growing set of applications available for Linux while getting the robustness, reliability, and performance of the FreeBSD system. The group recently opened a FreeBSD Mall (, which brings together many parts of the FreeBSD community, including consulting services, derived products, books, and a newsletter.

In the mid-1990s, OpenBSD spun off from the NetBSD group. Their technical focus was aimed at improving the security of the system. Their marketing focus was to make the system easier to use and more widely available. Thus, they began producing and selling CD-ROMs with many of the ease-of-installation ideas from the FreeBSD distribution. More information about the OpenBSD project can be found at

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Last updated: 1999-08-06