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How to Get Started with FreeBSD

Published on October 30, 2018 · Updated on June 15, 2020
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How to Get Started with FreeBSD

Introduction

FreeBSD is a secure, high performance operating system that is suitable for a variety of server roles. In this guide, we will cover some basic information about how to get started with a FreeBSD server.

This guide is intended to provide a general setup for FreeBSD servers, but please be aware that different versions of FreeBSD may have different functionalities. Depending on which version of FreeBSD your server is running, the instructions provided here may not work as described.

Note: As of July 1, 2022, DigitalOcean no longer supports the creation of new FreeBSD Droplets through the Control Panel or API. However, you can still spin up FreeBSD Droplets using a custom image. Learn how to import a custom image to DigitalOcean by following our product documentation.

Logging in with SSH

The first step you need to take to begin configuring your FreeBSD server is to log in.

To log in to your FreeBSD server, use the ssh command. You will need to specify an existing user account along with your server’s public IP address. For the purposes of this tutorial, we’ll assume this user’s name is freebsd:

  1. ssh freebsd@your_server_ip

You should be automatically authenticated and logged in. You will be dropped into a command line interface.

Changing the Default Shell to tcsh (Optional)

At first, you will be presented with a very minimal command prompt that looks like this:

If you’re new to working with FreeBSD, this prompt may look somewhat unfamiliar to you. Let’s get some clarity on what kind of environment we’re working in. Run the following command to see what the default shell for your user is:

  1. echo $SHELL
Output
/bin/sh

In this output, you can see that the default shell for the freebsd user is sh (also known as the Bourne shell). On Linux systems, sh is often an alias for bash, a free software replacement for the Bourne shell that includes a few extra features. In FreeBSD, however, it’s actually the classic sh shell program, rather than an alias.

The default command line shell for FreeBSD is tcsh, but some virtual private servers running FreeBSD use another shell (such as sh) by default. If you’d like to set tcsh as your freebsd user’s default shell, run the following command:

  1. sudo chsh -s /bin/tcsh freebsd

The next time you log in to your server, you will see the tcsh prompt instead of the sh prompt. You can invoke the tcsh shell for the current session by running:

  1. tcsh

Your prompt should immediately change to the following:

If you ever want to return to the Bourne shell you can do so with the sh command.

Although tcsh is typically the default shell for FreeBSD systems, it has a few default settings that users tend to tweak on their own, such as the default pager and editor, as well as the behaviors of certain keys. To illustrate how to change some of these defaults, we will modify the shell’s configuration file.

An example configuration file is already included in the filesystem. Copy it into your home directory so that you can modify it as you wish:

  1. cp /usr/share/skel/dot.cshrc ~/.cshrc

After the file has been copied into your home directory, you can edit it. The vi editor is included on the system by default, but if you want a simpler editor, you can try the ee editor instead:

  1. ee ~/.cshrc

As you go through this file, you can decide what entries you may want to modify. In particular, you may want to change the setenv entries to have specific defaults that you may be more familiar with.

~/.cshrc
. . .

setenv  EDITOR  vi
setenv  PAGER   more

. . .

If you are not familiar with the vi editor and would like a more basic editing environment, you could change the EDITOR environment variable to something like ee. Most users will want to change the PAGER to less instead of more. This will allow you to scroll up and down in man pages without exiting the pager:

~/.cshrc
. . .
setenv  EDITOR  ee
setenv  PAGER   less
. . .

Another thing that you will likely want to add to this configuration file is a block of code that will correctly map some of your keyboard keys inside the tcsh session. At the bottom of the file, add the following code. Without these lines, DELETE and other keys will not work correctly:

~/.cshrc
. . .
if ($term == "xterm" || $term == "vt100" \
            || $term == "vt102" || $term !~ "con*") then
          # bind keypad keys for console, vt100, vt102, xterm
          bindkey "\e[1~" beginning-of-line  # Home
          bindkey "\e[7~" beginning-of-line  # Home rxvt
          bindkey "\e[2~" overwrite-mode     # Ins
          bindkey "\e[3~" delete-char        # Delete
          bindkey "\e[4~" end-of-line        # End
          bindkey "\e[8~" end-of-line        # End rxvt
endif

When you are finished, save and close the file by pressing CTRL+C, typing exit, and then pressing ENTER. If you instead edited the file with vi, save and close the file by pressing ESC, typing :wq, and then pressing ENTER.

To make your current session reflect these changes immediately, source the configuration file:

  1. source ~/.cshrc

It might not be immediately apparent, but the Home, Insert, Delete, and End keys will work as expected now.

One thing to note at this point is that if you are using the tcsh or csh shells, you will need to execute the rehash command whenever any changes are made that may affect the executable path. Common scenarios where this may happen occur when you are installing or uninstalling applications.

After installing programs, you may need to type this in order for the shell to find the new application files:

  1. rehash

With that, the tcsh shell is not only set as your freebsd user’s default, but it is also much more usable.

Setting bash as the Default Shell (Optional)

If you are more familiar with the bash shell and would prefer to use that as your default shell, you can make that adjustment in a few short steps.

Note: bash is not supported on FreeBSD 11.1, and the instructions in this section will not work for that particular version.

First, you need to install the bash shell by typing:

  1. sudo pkg install bash

You will be prompted to confirm that you want to download the package. Do so by pressing y and then ENTER.

After the installation is complete, you can start bash by running:

  1. bash

This will update your shell prompt to look like this:

To change freebsd’s default shell to bash, you can type:

  1. sudo chsh -s /usr/local/bin/bash freebsd

The next time you log in, the bash shell will be started automatically instead of the current default.

If you wish to change the default pager or editor in the bash shell, you can do so in a file called ~/.bash_profile. This will not exist by default, so you will need to create it:

  1. ee ~/.bash_profile

Inside, to change the default pager or editor, add your selections like this:

~/.bash_profile
export PAGER=less
export EDITOR=ee

Save and close the file when you are finished by pressing CTRL+C, typing exit, and then pressing ENTER.

To implement your changes immediately, source the file:

  1. source ~/.bash_profile

If you’d like to make further changes to your shell environment, like setting up special command aliases or setting environment variables, you can reopen that file and add your new changes to it.

Conclusion

By now, you should know how to log into a FreeBSD server and how to set up a bash shell environment. A good next step is to familiarize yourself with some FreeBSD basics as well as what makes it different from Linux-based distributions.

Once you become familiar with FreeBSD and configure it to your needs, you will be able to take greater advantage of its flexibility, security, and performance.


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Manager, Developer Education

Technical Writer @ DigitalOcean


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Developer and author at DigitalOcean.

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