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LiveUSB OpenBSD project at sourceforge

© November 2009 Girish Venkatachalam
2009/11/14 Girish Venkatachalam

Girish Venkatachalam is a UNIX hacker with more than a decade of networking and crypto programming experience. His hobbies include yoga,cycling, cooking and he runs his own business. Details here:


It is really easy to create a USB bootable OpenBSD LiveUSB image. With that you can do just about anything you want. Don't believe me?

Then head to https://liveusb-openbsd.sourceforge.net and download the USB image. Boot it and find out!

You can watch videos with mplayer in full screen, you can bask in the glory of mplayer's sexy OSD menu, you can read manual pages in color, you can lookup English words using the dictionary client, you can chat with pidgin, you can browse with Mozilla Firefox, you can use sox to convert audio, you can play any video or audio file with mplayer, you can stream audio from the Internet, you can do whatever you want!

Moreover you can also use the rich repertoire of tiny but incredibly powerful tools like netcat, socat, nmh, mutt, vim, randtype, figlet. After all the man pages tell you how to use these tools and you have examples too. You also have ready access to the perl, python and lua interpreters, you have all the spam control daemons, the routing protocols like BGP or OSP, you have FTP server, HTTP server or you could do image processing with ImageMagick.

There is one detail however.

You have to use DHCP to connect to the Internet if your ADSL MODEM dishes out dynamic IPs or you can configure the IP using the ifconfig command. Usually this will do.

	# dhclient vr0
	(Your ethernet interface could be fxp0, rl0 or something else,
find out with ifconfig)

Give it a whirl and get in touch with me should you have any issues using this. After all it is free and open source.

And oh by the way the fixed write cycles of USB memory drives is largely a myth.

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Sun Nov 15 15:30:40 2009: 7552   JonR

"And oh by the way the fixed write cycles of USB memory drives is largely a myth."

My heart leaped with joy at seeing this note. It seems virtually every article (or forum post) touching on solid-state drives, including USB devices, perpetuates the misinformatiion that these things will wear out pretty quick. (And the word "largely" is well chosen, too, because there is the _possibility_ of wearing out; but today's design and manufacture techniques have probably placed the possibility in the neighborhood of the always-present potential of a mechanical hard drive to self-destroy.) More likely than wearing out, solid-state memory is apt to outlive the average spinning drive, and possibly by a factor of years.

If people are educated to see that reputable manufacturers' solid-state drives are actually an improvement over mechanical ones, the price of them is bound to drop, as it must if they're going to get into truly widespread use. I'd gladly replace my laptop drives with solid-state if I had several thousand dollars to play with.

I'm going to try out the OpenBSD-to-go you describe here. I did make a live CD of the current OpenBSD distro a couple of months ago but was disappointed by the difficulty of getting wireless set up. I understand why the developers chose to do it that way; it's so virtually every chipset in existence will work with OpenBSD. But I wasn't willing to go through all that for a live test-drive, and without wireless I wasn't going to connect to the Internet (via Ethernet cable) due to physical logistics where I live. What I did see, I liked. I use Linux exclusively except in emergencies or dead-end situations where I simply have no choice but to fall back on MS Windows. I'd welcome a distro that's more nimble than the Linux ones are tending to be now with all the Gnome atrocities and other bloat that's dragging them down, sorry to say, steadily to the state of mediocrity -- or worse.

Sun Nov 15 22:31:51 2009: 7553   AndrewSmallshaw

Yes, these days wear on flash drives is pretty much a non-issue. Decent drives now have wear levelling as standard. That may not be true if you but some ultra cheap drives from the local pound shop or wherever but if you care about your data you are hardly likely to trust your data to those anyway.

Still not sure about performance though. USB is a nontrivial protocol and while it has high headline bandwidth too often it does not equate to real performance - it's kind of the same argument that makes people spend hundreds on a decent disk controller rather than the on-motherboard one with a SATA drive.

My most direct SSD experience to date has been with my "new" home server. It's a slightly odd configuration in many ways, and I could probably write a whole article on it, but it uses a compactflash card in an IDE adapter as the root filesystem to keep the main disk spun down as much as possible. It works reasonably well - read speeds are fine after a little tweaking but writes, especially random ones, are absolutely hopeless - unpacking a source code tarball often averages literally floppy disk speeds. It's only the fact that once a system is steady state largeish writes to the root fs are comparatively rare that makes it remotely usable. This affects all SSDs, not just that CF card I bought for 15 on the grounds that if it blew up it would be no trouble to replace.

Yes, moves are afoot to resolve this kind of use - the new ATA TRIM support may help things a lot by erasing empty blocks ahead of time, but that requires support that NetBSD doesn't have yet. I did briefly consider Linux but I decided not to go there for the bloat you mention. Ten years ago the Linux community had a system they were only to keen to point out was so much better than Windows, but then proceeded to try and make it more and more like Windows.

Mon Nov 16 11:49:37 2009: 7557   Stefan

Hello Girish,

while I am very excited over any new way of using OpenBSD, the actual use of this sourceforge project is still unknown to me. As far as I can tell, the user is expected to be able to install a BSD/linux system, use the package manager, download the live boot image and copy it onto the USB thumb drive.
All in all this seems a fairly complex process to me, given the target audience here.

A person, who can do all that, should also be able to read the OpenBSD documentation, that details, how to install the OS onto something different than the builtin harddrive. Especially this section: (link) tells the user exactly, what to do.

If you want the interested user to try OpenBSD over Windows, you may want to include some instruction on how to do all that from a Windows machine.

Beside overriding the installation method and customizing the desktop, is there anything else you do to the installation ? I am wondering, whether you actually fine tune the installation, to run more smoothly from the USB drive.

Mon Nov 16 12:02:07 2009: 7558   Michiel

I recently replaced the prehistoric harddisk in my FreeBSD system with a brand new Intel X25 Solid-state-harddisk (I love the speed and silence). I didn't take any of the usual precautions to make the operating system lighter on the disk, like using tmpfs instead of /tmp, cronjob elimination, disabling logging etc... Instead, I make a periodic full backup and I just wait and see what happens. When it fails, I'll just replace it with a new SSD. My expectation is that nothing eventful will happen anytime soon.

Tue Dec 1 11:57:02 2009: 7703   Girish

Dear Stefan,

I think you got me wrong. There is no need to do anything more than a simple dd(1) to get your USB stick image that you can boot and use OpenBSD. You are free to run this from qemu in case you are not interested in a reboot. On Windows you can use rawrite and copy the image directly to the USB stick.

Please send me mail in case you face any issues.


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