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NetBSD install experiences
What is the best way of keeping current users and welcoming new users?
I believe with a well-working install program, including package
install. Or, negating that, poorly a working install program is a god
way of turning people away.
I assume everyone agrees thus far.
I have installed NetBSD hundreds of times, and even used it as a main
platform in production. I moved my Xen virtual machines from NetBSD a
few years ago after serious stability issues. (There are some traces of
those in some NetBSD mailing list, I am sure.)
So, no I am no beginner who does not know his way around NetBSD or its
For unimportant reasons, I today wanted to install amd64 and i386
virtual guest of NetBSD versions 7.2, 8.2, and 9,0. Six installs in
With a completely naive default-everything install, all installs except
9.0-amd64 will misalign the root file system. It will start at sector
63. But 9.0-amd64 actually makes it start at sector 64!
(OK, if one used GPT for NetBSD 9.0, things are better aligned also for
i386. Yes, GPT is perhaps the default for 9.0, so I lied a little bit
ISSUE 1: Poor partition alignment.
ISSUE 2: Inconsistency even within a release.
It must be easy to fix this alignment issue? Well, not that easy as it
The offset can be changed in the summary view, but only the actual file
systems' offset can be changed there. The NetBSD partition itself will
not allow itself to be changed. If one (oh so naively!) edits what can
in fact be edited here, the result is a non-bootable image. :o(
One needs to instead edit the MBR when the installer suggests that.
Here the funny things start. Depending on NetBSD release and on i386 vs
amd64, the default measurement is sectors or "Megabytes". Is Mega =
10^6 or 2^20? Not specified.
If I didn't make a mistake in my notes, NetBSD up to 8.2 will use
Megabytes is the sense of 2^20. Se selecting that for partition
alignment works fine.
But 9.0 is completely wild. One gets crazy values if one selects
Megabytes as input measurement, and not the same for amd64 and i386! I
asked for NetBSD partition start of 1MB and got something greater than
both MB and Mibytes, with alignment of just 2^9.
ISSUE 3: Megabytes/MB is not fully defined in the installer (please use
MiB for clarity of as it is surely what one expects)
ISSUE 4: 9.0 is really inconsistent wrt its interpretations of MB.
I solved this by using sectors as measurement (but only after redoing
the install; it didn't help that in install program segfaults in the
partitioner dialogue a little too often)
I less important issue: Why does the NetBSD install program explicitly
discourage the install NetBSD? Twice during the process does it suggest
that one really should not install NetBSD, and if one does not change
the pre-selected alternative, the install is unceremoniously terminated.
Another less important issue: Do we really need to be bothered by "disk
geometry" in 2020? Having that appear in the install flow is not
helpful. (Yes, I know NetBSD tries to be "real Unix" and thus sticks to
After too many attempts, I finally got all 6 images done with proper
alignment. Now one just needs to manually edit fstab to have ",log" for
the root file system (why is that not on by default, don't you want
NetBSD to have the best possible disk write performance?).
But we're far from done. We want some packages! We could compile them
ourselves, but pkg_add/pkgin is more convenient. Or is it...?
Well, only one system got through our measly little list of desired
packages (devel/gmake shells/bash shells/zsh net/rsync archivers/zstd).
The lucky system is 9.0-i386. All but zsh installed fine on 9.0-amd64.
The error for 9.0-amd64 was this:
datan# pkgin install zsh
1 package to install:
0 to refresh, 0 to upgrade, 1 to install
3059K to download, 9815K to install
proceed ? [Y/n] Y
proceed ? [y/N]
For 8.2 and 7.2 things are worse, while pkgin installs fine (with
pkg_add) pkgin then behaves like this:
bt1nbsd64v82# pkgin -V install bash
SSL support disabled
SSL support disabled
SSL support disabled
pkgin: Could not fetch
There is no mention of SSL in the pkgin manual, in an Internet search
gives little help. Why is SSL disabled? Who disabled it? How do I,
the poor user, enable it? (Why is the message repeated thrice?)
I braved editing /usr/pkg/etc/pkgin/repositories.conf to say
"http://..." instead of the default " "https://...".
Here is a sample what now goes wrong:
bt1nbsd32v82# pkgin install zstd
2 packages to install:
0 to refresh, 0 to upgrade, 2 to install
135K to download, 2317K to install
proceed ? [Y/n]
100% 135KB 135.0KB/s 00:01
download error: lz4-1.9.2 size does not match pkg_summary
ISSUE 5: Installing binary package cannot be said to work properly.
Please consider working on the NetBSD install experience! Now even I,
who is far from a newbie and have tons of patience, consider giving up.
If this had been my first experience with NetBSD, I would have given up
long before I had arrived to ISSUE 5, I'm afraid.
Please encrypt, key id 0xC8601622
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