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      How to Get Started with FreeBSD


      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.

      Logging in with SSH

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

      On DigitalOcean, you must provide a public SSH key when creating a FreeBSD server. This key is added to the server instance, allowing you to securely log in from your local machine using the associated private key. To learn more about how to use SSH keys with FreeBSD on DigitalOcean, follow this guide.

      To log in to your server, you will need to know your server’s public IP address. For DigitalOcean Droplets, you can find this information in the control panel. The main user account available on FreeBSD servers created through DigitalOcean is called freebsd. This user account is configured with sudo privileges, allowing you to complete administrative tasks.

      To log in to your FreeBSD server, use the ssh command. You will need to specify the freebsd user account along with your server’s public IP address:

      • 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)

      If you logged into a DigitalOcean Droplet running FreeBSD 11, 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 freebsd user is:



      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 DigitalOcean Droplets running FreeBSD use sh by default. If you'd like to set tcsh as your freebsd user's default shell, run the following command:

      • 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:

      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:

      • 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:

      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.


      . . .
      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:


      . . .
      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:


      . . .
      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

      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:

      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:

      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:

      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:

      This will update your shell prompt to look like this:

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

      • 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:

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


      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:

      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.

      Setting a Root Password (Optional)

      By default, FreeBSD servers do not allow ssh logins for the root account. On DigitalOcean, this policy has been supplemented to tell users to log in with the freebsd account.

      Because the root user account is inaccessible over SSH, it is relatively safe to set a root account password. While you will not be able to use this to log in through SSH, you can use this password to log in as root through the DigitalOcean web console.

      To set a root password, type:

      sudo passwd

      You will be asked to select and confirm a password for the root account. As mentioned above, you still won't be able to use this for SSH authentication (this is a security decision), but you will be able to use it to log in through the DigitalOcean console.

      To do so, click the Console button in the upper-right corner of your Droplet's page to bring up the web console:

      DigitalOcean web console

      If you choose not to set a password and you get locked out of your server (for instance if you accidentally set overly restrictive firewall rules), you can always set one later by booting your Droplet into single user mode. We have a guide that shows you how to do that here.


      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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