DragonFly BSD Introduction

As a long-time IT guy, I’ve grown accustomed to randomly discovering that the boss has purchased some new toy and wants me to put it into production. Usually, both the application and the underlying platform are completely incompatible with everything else we have. This demonstrates that one can grow accustomed to anything. This job is a little different, though. I came into the office to find that Fearless Leader installed a pair of new Dragonfly BSD machines and left me a shopping list of stuff I was to accomplish on them.

As surprises go, it could be a lot worse.

Why did Fearless Leader do this? As so much in this field, it started with annoyance — specifically, annoyance at ZFS requiring gigs and gigs of RAM for deduplication, even on OpenSolaris. HAMMER promised snapshots with more modest equipment requirements. This should help us sync different multiple servers.

For the most part, Dragonfly is configured just like any other BSD. I thought it might be worth giving a quick run-through on how to start with Dragonfly, however. Besides, this is the most interesting thing I’ve done for a while. (Debugging multicast on Ubiquiti radios is both tedious and unproductive).

First, let’s get these machines properly on the network. DHCP is fine for an install, but a server needs a static address. Dragonfly is based on the tail end of FreeBSD 4, also known as “what Lucas wrote his first tech book about,” so the configuration is fairly familiar. In /etc/rc.conf, add:

ifconfig_em0="inet netmask"

Reboot, and the network still works.

One thing we noticed right away is that Dragonfly’s SSH server ships with passwords disabled. You must use public key auth or explicitly enable password auth. This presents a certain chicken-and-egg annoyance for us, because we distribute our public keys and our accounts via LDAP. When you install a Dragonfly machine, I suggest copying your authorized_keys file to the server before leaving the console.

Now I need to install a whole bunch of software, such as text editors, a SNMP agent, and so on. Some of these programs will work as needed when installed from packages, but some will require special builds. I’ll start with the special builds. Dragonfly uses pkgsrc, NetBSD’s cross-platform ports project. I like a lot of things about pkgsrc, most obviously that it installs software in /usr/pkg. Install pkgsrc on your machine like so.

# cd /usr/
# make pkgsrc-create

This downloads and installs the current pkgsrc tree. When complete, you can go to the package’s build directory and do the usual BSD-style bmake all install clean to install the package. (Note that you need bmake, not make.)

If you’re happy with precompiled binary packages, just use pkg_radd.

# pkg_radd net-snmp

Wait a moment, and the package is installed from the remote FTP server.

Both precompiled packages and packages you compile put their configuration information in /usr/pkg/etc.

Other things I noticed:

  • Dragonfly has its own NTP daemon, dntpd. Enable it with dntpd_enable=YES in /etc/rc.conf. When you start dntpd, it forcibly syncs the clock if necessary.
  • Like FreeBSD, Dragonfly supports three firewall programs: ipfilter, IPFW, and PF. As of this time, PF is based on OpenBSD 4.4.
  • Dragonfly still mounts /proc by default.
  • Both Fearless Leader and I noticed that Dragonfly feels fast. This is a purely subjective statement, but both of the new machines feel very responsive. I look forward to seeing how much our typical load slows them down.

    UPDATE: Hello, Reddit’s Teeming Hordes! I’m not sure why this blurb on my intro to Dragonfly was worthy of sharing, but never let it be said that I’m a churlish host.

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