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FreeBSD vs. Linux: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 19, 2023
FreeBSD is a Unix-like operating system derived from BSD, while Linux is a Unix-like OS based on the Linux kernel.

Key Differences

FreeBSD is a free and open-source operating system derived from the original Unix through the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD). Its development focuses on features, performance, and advanced networking. Linux, on the other hand, refers to an operating system based on the Linux kernel, which was created by Linus Torvalds. While both share Unix roots, their paths diverged in terms of development and licensing.
FreeBSD has its own complete base system, including the kernel and userland utilities, all maintained under a single umbrella. This holistic approach ensures consistency and tight integration. Linux is different in that the kernel and userland tools are often developed separately. Distributions like Ubuntu, Fedora, and Debian bring together the Linux kernel with software mostly from the GNU project to create a complete OS.
FreeBSD uses a different licensing model with the BSD license, which is permissive, allowing for both open and closed source derivatives. Linux primarily uses the General Public License (GPL), which mandates that derivatives remain open source. This fundamental difference impacts the way businesses and developers approach and use these systems.
The package management and port system in FreeBSD offers a unique method of software installation, while Linux distributions typically use package managers like APT, YUM, or Pacman. The FreeBSD Ports collection provides a straightforward way to compile and install third-party applications, whereas Linux distributions often have pre-compiled software repositories.
The community and philosophy around FreeBSD emphasize a complete and consistent base system, while the Linux world often focuses on modularity and a wider range of choices, thanks to its numerous distributions.

Comparison Chart


Derived from BSD
Based on the Linux kernel


Holistic (kernel + userland)
Modular (kernel separate)


BSD License (more permissive)
GPL (requires open source derivatives)

Package Management

Ports collection
Distributions have their own (APT, YUM, etc.)


Consistency and complete system
Modularity and choice

FreeBSD and Linux Definitions


An operating system licensed under the permissive BSD license.
The BSD license of FreeBSD allows businesses to create proprietary software using its codebase.


A Unix-like operating system based on the Linux kernel.
Android, the popular mobile OS, is built on Linux.


An open-source OS known for advanced networking and performance features.
Netflix uses FreeBSD for its content delivery.


An open-source operating system primarily licensed under GPL.
The GPL license requires Linux distributions to be open-source.


An OS with a complete base system, including its own kernel and userland utilities.
Unlike some operating systems, FreeBSD maintains both its kernel and tools under one project.


A modular OS where the kernel and userland utilities can be developed separately.
Ubuntu combines the Linux kernel with GNU utilities to form a complete system.


An OS using Ports for software installation and updates.
To install new software, a FreeBSD user might utilize the Ports collection.


An OS with various distributions like Ubuntu, Fedora, and Debian.
Different Linux distributions cater to different user preferences and needs.


A Unix-like operating system derived from BSD.
Many web servers run on FreeBSD because of its reliability.


An operating system known for its versatility and wide range of applications.
From supercomputers to home PCs, Linux is used everywhere.


(software) Any unix-like operating system that uses the Linux kernel.


An open-source version of the UNIX operating system


Which one is more modular, FreeBSD or Linux?

Linux is typically more modular, separating the kernel from userland utilities.

What is Linux?

Linux is a Unix-like operating system based on the Linux kernel.

How does FreeBSD licensing differ from Linux?

FreeBSD uses the permissive BSD license, while Linux primarily uses the GPL.

What is FreeBSD?

FreeBSD is a Unix-like operating system derived from BSD.

Is FreeBSD open-source like Linux?

Yes, both FreeBSD and Linux are open-source.

Can I run Linux software on FreeBSD?

FreeBSD has a compatibility layer to run some Linux binaries.

Do both FreeBSD and Linux support virtualization?

Yes, both support virtualization with tools like bhyve for FreeBSD and KVM for Linux.

Which one is older, FreeBSD or Linux?

FreeBSD’s lineage traces back to the original BSD from the 1970s, while Linux was first released in 1991.

Do both FreeBSD and Linux support ZFS?

Yes, both support ZFS, though FreeBSD's support is often considered more mature.

Which one has a steeper learning curve, FreeBSD or Linux?

Both have their intricacies, but due to its wider adoption, new users might find more beginner resources for Linux compared to FreeBSD.

Can I run FreeBSD on a desktop like Linux?

Yes, FreeBSD can be used on desktops, but Linux has more desktop-focused distributions.

How does security compare between FreeBSD and Linux?

Both are secure with active development, but they have different security features and philosophies.

Are there different distributions for FreeBSD like Linux?

Linux has various distributions, while FreeBSD remains consistent as one main project with variations like TrueOS.

How is software installation different in FreeBSD compared to Linux?

FreeBSD uses Ports, while Linux distributions use package managers like APT or YUM.

How does system performance compare between FreeBSD and Linux?

Both can be highly performant, but specifics depend on configurations and use cases.

Which companies are known to use FreeBSD?

Companies like Netflix and WhatsApp have utilized FreeBSD.

Which operating system has more distributions, FreeBSD or Linux?

Linux has more distributions compared to FreeBSD.

How does the community support differ for FreeBSD and Linux?

Linux generally has a larger community due to its widespread use, while FreeBSD has a dedicated and tight-knit community.

Are there any popular games available for FreeBSD like there are for Linux?

While Linux has a growing gaming community, FreeBSD's primary focus isn't gaming, but some games can run or be ported.

Can you run a web server on both FreeBSD and Linux?

Absolutely, popular servers like Apache and Nginx run on both.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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