FreeBSD vs Linux: Which Open Source OS is Superior?
FreeBSD vs Linux, which is superior? The answer isn’t so simple. Both have their strengths and weaknesses and the solution isn’t one-size-fits-all.
Our experts at A-Team Systems have decades of experience working with both. So, we’re going to lay out the advantages and disadvantages to help you decide which one is right for you!
FreeBSD vs Linux: Feature Comparison
Let’s compare some of the most prominent aspects of these two Unix systems and see how they stack up.
FreeBSD has the edge when comparing Operating Systems. This is because Linux isn’t actually a whole OS. It’s actually a kernel. This is a common misconception and users frequently refer to Linux as if it is a whole OS. It’s normally packaged in a Linux distribution which includes system software and libraries. Most of these are from the GNU project, which is why the Free Software Foundation refers to Linux as “GNU/Linux.”
Some popular Linux distros include:
- Arch Linux
- Linux Mint
This category is a tie, because both FreeBSD and Linux are free by nature of the fact that they’re open source. Expect to spend some money on add-ons, such as support and hardware, though.
Anyone can use, modify, distribute, or view the source code of both Linux and FreeBSD for free. However, any modifications to Linux must be released publicly. This is not the case with FreeBSD, which gives it an advantage to companies looking to use it in their products.
FreeBSD is slightly more secure than Linux. One of the foundational pillars of the FreeBSD project was security, so it’s not surprising that they have an edge in this category. It comes pre-packaged with top-notch security features.
This isn’t to say that Linux isn’t highly secure. It’s highly configurable, so you can implement just about any security features that you want. But from a whole operating system standpoint, FreeBSD has better security.
Hardware & Architectural Support
Linux definitely takes the win when it comes to hardware and architectural support. Linux works on many different platforms, while FreeBSD does not. So if you’re concerned about compatibility, there’s a better chance that Linux will work for you than FreeBSD.
The negative side to this is that Linux has been forced to make performance sacrifices to ensure that it will work across a wide range of platforms. On the other hand, FreeBSD doesn’t have to sacrifice performance since it works on a limited number of platforms.
Being that Linux is a mainstream system, and FreeBSD is not, vendors tend to release hardware and software with Linux support in mind. Therefore, you’ll have to consider how you want to utilize your system. For instance, if you need regular updates for graphics drivers, Linux will support these updates much quicker than FreeBSD.
Most if not all of these differences, and FreeBSD’s shortcomings in terms of support, typically center around desktop things like peripherals and graphics cards. FreeBSD is fairly server centric so this makes sense from that standpoint.
Linux and FreeBSD are both extremely stable systems. However, if we had to give the nod to one of them, it would be FreeBSD. This goes back to the fact that FreeBSD is more organized. Linux’s stability can be hindered by the additional components that a user is utilizing. Meanwhile, since FreeBSD is a whole operating system, its default configuration is more stable. On the whole, though, stability isn’t something that either is lacking in.
There’s no hard evidence that FreeBSD is any better than Linux when it comes to performance, but most users that have used both will say that FreeBSD has an edge over Linux. This is another instance where Linux’s versatility works against it. FreeBSD is more streamlined. This allows it to function as intended, which results in its performance generally being better.
FreeBSD has a lower latency time than Linux. Latency time refers to the time between an interrupt and when a processor begins to run code to process it. However, most applications run faster on Linux.
FreeBSD uses their own BSD License. This allows users to have free access to the operating system and they can modify the code as they see fit. If they want to, they can release and distribute this source code. Alternatively, they can keep it to themselves, they have that right.
Linux utilizes a GNU GPL license (General Public License). Users are free to modify the source code under this license. The main difference is that if you make adjustments to the Linux source code you legally MUST release your source code. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. One disadvantage is that users can’t develop a closed-source system from Linux. But an advantage is that other users are able to build off of the work of others and develop the system further. This is a major reason as to why Linux has such a vibrant community.
Most users will not need to worry about this distinction, because most users will not modify the source code. If you do intend to develop a closed-source system from an open-source one, you’ll want to use FreeBSD instead of Linux.
Most users would consider Linux’s default BASH shell to be superior to FreeBSD’s “tcsh” shell from a user standpoint. This is because the “tcsh” shell is kind of old-school. The BASH shell is incredibly versatile and allows users to do nearly anything on compliant Unix systems. However, that doesn’t mean the “tcsh” shell isn’t excellent. It just requires more knowledge and understanding to utilize. Ultimately you can easily install BASH on FreeBSD as well.
This would be another tie category. Both Linux and FreeBSD utilize effective file systems.
FreeBSD comes with ZFS (Zettabyte file system). This is absolutely one of the best systems for long-term data storage. It includes a built-in volume manager. This allows users to create multiple file systems that share the same pool of available storage. It ensures that you won’t experience data loss from physical errors, misprocessing, or data corruption.
Ext4 is the default file system for most Linux distros. It’s not as dynamic as ZFS, but it’s incredibly stable.
Linux wins this round. IBM, Dell, and HP directly support running Linux on their servers. However FreeBSD does run on these servers as well, and A-Team Systems provides support for them all. You can also check out FreeBSD’s hardware vendors to get an idea of the hardware currently supported.
When considering updates, you have to look at two different aspects: convenience of updates and the speed at which those updates become available.
FreeBSD wins when it comes to convenience. Users can choose the updates that they want and don’t want. You can choose only core components, such as the kernel, src, and world, or you can just select sub-components. Or choose them all. It’s simple to then apply these updates.
Linux wins when it comes to the speed at which updates are available. There’s a strong incentive for open-source corporations to develop updates quickly. Therefore, they’re available shortly after they’re needed. FreeBSD can take longer to develop and roll out these updates, but in reality both Linux and FreeBSD typically have updates around the same time since they’re both getting them from upstream projects.
It’s easy to install software packages on FreeBSD. The FreeBSD Ports collection features nearly 40,000 ports which can be installed quickly by users and administrators. Each port comes with necessary patches to ensure that the source code works on a user’s system.
Linux’s package managers can be hit or miss. Some are excellent and some are not. It all depends on your distro. Some of the best include:
- DPKG – Debian
- RPM – Red Hat
- Pacman Package Manager
FreeBSD is run by 9 Core Team members and features ~500 committers around the globe. This group debugs, develops, and improves the master source code repositories. Most committers are unpaid volunteers. The Core Team members are voted in by active committers every two years.
In comparison, the Linux kernel is controlled, modified, and maintained by Linus Torvalds (the original creator). He has the final say when it comes to new features for Linux updates.
How is FreeBSD different from Linux?
FreeBSD is a complete operating system, with a kernel, drivers, documentation, and utilities. Linux only brings a kernel and drivers to the table and relies on third-party system software. FreeBSD source code is released under a BSD license, while Linux utilizes a copyleft GPL.
Linux features compatibility with a wide-range of hardware, while FreeBSD is more limited. Linux is also the most popular open source system on the market currently, so there is no shortage of resources for support. FreeBSD also features a loyal user-base, but it can’t compare with Linux’s base.
Is FreeBSD safer than Linux?
FreeBSD generally has fewer security issues than Linux, but not by a considerable margin. Linux also has more users than FreeBSD, so, theoretically, more vulnerabilities have been discovered for that system. Because FreeBSD offers a complete system, its default configuration is quite secure.
The security of a Linux system is dependent upon the user’s configuration. Due to its highly customizable nature, Linux users can make their systems extremely secure.
Can FreeBSD run Linux programs?
FreeBSD provides binary compatibility with Linux. This allows users to install and utilize Linux binaries on FreeBSD systems. Linux libraries are not installed or enabled by default. However, they can be installed from the FreeBSD Ports Collection or installed manually.
Why is Linux more popular than FreeBSD?
There are several reasons as to why Linux is more popular than FreeBSD. For one thing, the lack of supported hardware with FreeBSD. This limits the number of users that are able to utilize it.
Another reason is the lack of enterprise support. Large corporations, such as Red Hat, are able to ensure that updates are provided rapidly for Linux. This isn’t possible with FreeBSD.
Lastly, the number and size of package repositories for Linux allows for maximum flexibility and usability. FreeBSD does offer pre-compiled packages, but it still doesn’t compare with the resources available for Linux.
Which is easier: FreeBSD or Linux?
Both FreeBSD and Linux have a learning curve. However, FreeBSD is arguably easier to learn and utilize because it doesn’t have nearly as many options to choose from, such as distros, package managers, etc.
Most developers will tell you that when compared to FreeBSD, Linux is chaotic. There are many ways to accomplish the same task and different users have different (and strong) opinions about how things should be done. It’s a fast-paced community that frequently experiences changes. Therefore, many users prefer the consistent and organized world of FreeBSD.
Which is faster?
On the whole, FreeBSD is generally faster than Linux. This is largely due to the fact that it’s a complete system. Furthermore, FreeBSD has a lower latency than Linux, which means that it processes inputs faster. Companies like Netflix, Apple, and Cisco utilize FreeBSD for this processing advantage.
Linux can be just as fast, however, it will depend on your configuration. It’s also worth noting that most applications run faster on Linux. For this reason, most supercomputers utilize it over FreeBSD.
FreeBSD vs Linux: Which is Right for You?
FreeBSD and Linux are both dynamic options for any open source user. The main takeaway here is that FreeBSD is more complete and more standardized, while Linux only provides a kernel and drivers and requires third-party software to utilize.
FreeBSD is a better option for anyone that wants to minimize the amount of configuration they have to do. However, Linux offers more customization options and is still a great option for anyone that wants versatility with their system. Additionally, if you have any hardware restrictions, Linux is more likely to offer support than FreeBSD.
If staying on the cutting-edge is important to you, you’ll appreciate the speed at which Linux makes new tech, features, and updates available. If stability, performance, and security are more your style, FreeBSD is probably for you.
We hope that this post has helped you understand the debate over FreeBSD vs Linux. If you need FreeBSD support, check out our page on FreeBSD support administration.
We also offer Linux server support as well (we do not offer Linux desktop support at this time), so check out our page on Linux support administration. We have decades of experience with open source systems, so we can get your team back on track rapidly. Contact us today and we’ll get back with you as soon as possible.