FreeBSD or OpenBSD – which one should you choose? It depends on what you prioritize. The former is known for its exceptional performance, while the latter is for its ultimate security features. Do you wish to learn more? Then read this article – we will explain everything here!

Overview of OpenBSD vs. FreeBSD

Both FreeBSD and OpenBSD are Unix-based operating systems deriving from 386BSD. The former was designed as a general-purpose operating system and comes with advanced networking and storage features, including a quick file system.

OpenBSD, on the other hand, is more about standardization and security. It includes the best practices for firewall building, and its code is constantly audited to improve security even further. Additionally, OpenBSD is also designed with clear, readable code and correct code in mind.

FreeBSD vs. OpenBSD: The Differences

So, in what areas do these two OS differ? Let’s take a look at the key differences between OpenBSD vs. FreeBSD.


Firstly, there is a difference between these two systems in terms of the license. FreeBSD can be used freely (pun intended) – you can do almost anything with the code as it’s based on the BSD license. OpenBSD uses the ISC (MIT/X11) license, which is basically the BSD license written in simple words (thus easier to understand legally).


When it comes to performance, it depends on what you need. Are you looking for a quick, scalable OS? That’s FreeBSD. But if you prefer a secure system that handles data with maximum precision and gives you full freedom to modify it further, choose OpenBSD.

FreeBSD generally outperforms OpenBSD due to its simplicity – it contains only the necessary components (though this has changed since bhyve and ZFS were introduced into it). Nevertheless, if performance is your priority, you should opt for FreeBSD vs. OpenBSD.


For starters, let us underline one thing: no matter whether you choose FreeBSD or OpenBSD, both of these systems are extremely secure. Yet, this does not mean that they are equal – OpenBSD is visibly better. Let’s see why.

  • OpenBSD code is audited several times a year to eliminate any issues and improve its security,
  • both OpenBSD and FreeBSD utilize a one-time password authentication system,
  • FreeBSD can use one of three firewall packages: IPF, IPFW, PF – the firewalls need to be activated by the administrator; OpenBSD utilizes PF to filter TCP/IP, perform network address translation, manage bandwidth and packet prioritization – it has to be activated in the boot configuration file,
  • the OpenBSD project embraces transparency and informs the users about potential security issues in current releases,
  • OpenBSD utilizes cryptographic software from all around the world, selecting software that comes only from legal, reliable, trustworthy sources with good licenses.

Application Support

FreeBSD, being more popular vs. OpenBSD, offers a much wider range of supported applications. The packages available for it go directly into the system, so you don’t need to configure them in any way.

OpenBSD also offers support for some third-party software, but the available range is much lower than for FreeBSD.

Use Cases

You can use either FreeBSD or OpenBSD for embedded systems. Yet, what distinguishes them is that the former is also suitable for general-purpose PCs – all you have to do is install the right packages.

This doesn’t mean that OpenBSD isn’t used for general purposes at all. However, only a few people opt for it, and it’s due to its simplicity.

Among the main users of FreeBSD, you will find major corporations and content providers, like Netflix or Apple. OpenBSD is preferred by financial institutions, especially those concerned about state-sponsored attacks.


Another key difference between OpenBSD and FreeBSD is their scalability. The former works perfectly for smaller to medium systems or those that require maximum security and nothing else. The latter is highly scalable – you may use it for both small embedded systems and large-scale servers, and the performance will still be at an exceptional level.

Ease of Use

Since OpenBSD offers the most simple possible interface, removing any unnecessary customizations, it’s the easiest to use. FreeBSD is also fairly uncomplicated to set up, especially when compared to Linux operating systems, though full customization might require an experienced developer.

Which One to Choose for Your Embedded System: FreeBSD or OpenBSD?

Is OpenBSD better than FreeBSD? No, but it’s not the other way round, either. The truth is that the choice between these two OS depends on the kind of embedded system that you are developing. If you need security, choose OpenBSD – it’s undoubtedly better. If you require high performance, FreeBSD is the obvious choice.

If neither of these two is your priority, you can simply opt for the system that you prefer, though remember – OpenBSD won’t be as efficient for larger systems.

The Takeaway

We hope that we’ve dispelled any doubts you had about OpenBSD vs. FreeBSD. With the knowledge from this article, you are ready to make the right choice – one that your embedded system will benefit from the most. And if you need help with FreeBSD, check our operating systems services and feel free to contact us – we’re your experts in preparing embedded systems based on this (and many other) OS..

Was this article helpful? Then you should definitely read our article on the Zephyr real-time operating system!