Chapter 3. Installation

Table of Contents

3.1. Documentation
3.2. The layout of a NetBSD installation
3.3. Installation
3.3.1. Keyboard
3.3.2. Geometries
3.3.3. Partitions
3.3.4. Hard disk space requirements
3.3.5. Retry

3.1. Documentation

The documentation of NetBSD is mostly in the format for manual pages and makes up an excellent technical reference to the system. I won't deny that it is unsuited as a tutorial (not to mention the fact that you can't read it until you install NetBSD); these are the reasons for the existence of this guide.


As a matter of fact you could read the man pages through the web interface, but I don't think it is a practical way to learn the system.

After installation you will find some BSD manuals in the /usr/share/doc directory. They are divided in three main sections, psd (UNIX Programmer's Supplementary Documents), smm (UNIX System Manager's Manual) and usd (UNIX User's Supplementary Documents). You can read the text on the terminal with, for example:

$ cd /usr/share/doc/smm/09.sendmail
$ nroff -me 09.sendmail/ | more

or you can generate Postscript output using the Makefiles.

It's undeniable that there is a lack of HOWTOs and for this reason you should make the most of the existing ones; the NetBSD release contains some documents in text format and on the NetBSD web site you can find further information and FAQ's.

Original documentation

The NetBSD site contains several pages with documentation and HOWTOs both generic and platform specific. This information is well written and usually easy to understand; for example you can find:

  • how to access a DOS/Windows partition from NetBSD

  • how to start NetBSD from the Windows NT boot loader

  • ...

All the versions of NetBSD contain the following files:


installation notes. This is the most important document and you should read (and reread it) carefully; it contains a description of the NetBSD system, a list of the supported hardware and, most notably, the installation instructions.

The release(7) manpage

describes the structure of the NetBSD release you are installing.

On the NetBSD web site you can find, amongst the others, the following documentation:


general information and pointers to other FAQ.

NetBSD/i386 FAQ

NetBSD/i386 specific FAQ.

Basic NetBSD Networking

Guide to network and PPP configuration.

3.2. The layout of a NetBSD installation

The layout of the files of a NetBSD installation is described in the aforementioned INSTALL.* files. For example, for the i386 platform the system binaries are in the i386/binary/sets directory and the sources are in the source/sets directory. The source/patches directory contains patches to the base release which usually fix bugs or security related problems discovered after the release.

3.3. Installation

The first thing to do before installing NetBSD is to read the release information and installation notes in one of the INSTALL.* files: this is the official description of the installation procedure.

Next you should decide the installation media that you will use; you can choose between:

  • FTP

  • NFS


  • floppy disc

  • unmounted filesystem

  • local directory

3.3.1. Keyboard

The NetBSD install program sysinst will allow you to change the keyboard layout during the installation. If for some reason this does not work for you, you can use the map in the following table.

- ' ß )
/ - - !
= ì ' -
: ç Ö M
; ò ö m
# £ § 3
" ° Ä %
* ( ( 8
( ) ) 9
) = = 0
' à ä ù
` \ ^ @
\ ù # `

If you use a non US keyboard, you will need to change the keyboard layout after installation.

3.3.2. Geometries

The installation program mentions two types of hard disk geometries; you should understand what they mean:

  • real geometry

  • BIOS geometry

real geometry is the real geometry of the hard disk, detected by the system. BIOS geometry is the geometry used by the BIOS and it could be different from the real one (for example, BIOS could remap the disk using LBA).

The disk used in the installation example is an IDE disk with the following geometries:

real:  6232 cyl,   16 heads,  63 sec
BIOS:   779 cyl,  128 heads,  63 sec   (LBA)

As you can see the BIOS remaps the disk using LBA, effectively reducing the number of cylinders and increasing the number of tracks (but the result is the same: 6232 * 16 = 779 * 128 = 99712). A sector contains 512 bytes, which means that the disk size is 6232 * 16 * 63 * 512 = 3 GB. NetBSD does not need to remap the disk geometry (and in fact won't do it). During the installation it is possible to change manually the geometry if sysinst got it wrong.

3.3.3. Partitions

The terminology used by NetBSD for partitioning is different from the typical DOS/Windows terminology; in fact, there are two partitioning schemes. NetBSD installs in one of the four primary BIOS partitions (the partitions defined in the hard disk partition table).

Within its BIOS partition (also called slice) NetBSD defines the BSD partitions using a disklabel: these partitions can be seen only by NetBSD and are identified by lowercase letters (starting with “a”). For example, wd0a refers to the “a” partition of the first IDE disk (wd0) and sd0a refers to the “a” partition of the first SCSI disk. In Figure 3.1, “Partitions” there are two primary BIOS partitions, one used by DOS and the other by NetBSD. NetBSD describes the disk layout through the disklabel.

Figure 3.1. Partitions



The meaning of partitions “c” and “d” is typical of the i386 port. Other ports use different conventions (e.g. “c” represents the whole disk.)


If NetBSD shares the hard disk with another operating system (like in the previous example) you will probably need to install a boot manager, i.e. a program which enables you to choose the OS to start at boot time. sysinst can do this for you and install and configure a simple but effective boot manager.

3.3.4. Hard disk space requirements

The space required by a NetBSD installation depends on the use that you plan to do with it (e.g. server or workstation). For example, consider a home desktop system with a 420 MB hard disk (rather small by today's standards) with X, the kernel sources and some applications (Netscape, ...). The swap partition is 32 MB. df shows the following:

Filesystem  1K-blocks     Used    Avail Capacity  Mounted on
/dev/wd1a       31887    16848    13444    56%    /
/dev/wd1e      363507   173202   172129    50%    /usr

As you can see, NetBSD takes about 225 MB altogether and there are 120 MB left on the /usr file system for your and your users' files.

3.3.5. Retry

When you install an OS for the first time it is seldom a success and NetBSD is no exception. Even if everything goes well, as soon as you start using the system you usually realize that (for example) you could have chosen a better layout for your partitions. It is important not to give up; if you try again you'll realize that what was difficult to understand the first time gradually becomes clearer by virtue of the accumulated experience and numerous rereads of the INSTALL.* document.

During the first installations it is wiser to accept the defaults suggested by sysinst and avoid, for example, changing the disklabel.