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386BSD Release 0.1 installer ("Tiny 386BSD")
DeveloperWilliam Jolitz
Lynne Jolitz
OS familyUnix
Working stateHistorical
Source modelOpen source
Initial release0.0 March 12, 1992 (1992-03-12)
Latest release2.0 / August 2016 (2016-08)
LicenseBSD license
Succeeded byFreeBSD, NetBSD
Official website386bsd.org

386BSD (also known as "Jolix") is a discontinued operating system based on the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) that was developed by couple Lynne and William Jolitz. Released on March 17, 1992, it was the first fully operational Unix operating system to be completely free and open source.

386BSD ran on PC-compatible computer systems based on the 32-bit Intel 80386 ("i386") microprocessor, thus marking the first Unix on affordable home-class hardware. Its innovations included role-based security, ring buffers, self-ordered configuration and modular kernel design. Although 386BSD was short-lived, it served as the base for FreeBSD and NetBSD which began shortly afterwards.


386BSD was written mainly by Berkeley alumni Lynne Jolitz and William Jolitz. William had considerable experience with prior BSD releases while at the University of California, Berkeley (2.8 and 2.9BSD) and both contributed code developed at Symmetric Computer Systems during the 1980s, to Berkeley. William worked at Berkeley on porting 4.3BSD-Reno and later 4.3BSD Net/2 to the Intel 80386 for the university. 4.3BSD Net/2 was an incomplete non-operational release, with portions withheld by the University of California as encumbered (i.e. subject to an AT&T UNIX source code license).

The port began in 1989 and the first, incomplete traces of the port can be found in 4.3BSD Net/2 of 1991. The port was made possible as Keith Bostic, partly influenced by Richard Stallman, had started to remove proprietary AT&T out of BSD in 1988. The port was first released to the public in March 1992 (version 0.0) - based on portions of the 4.3BSD Net/2 release coupled with additional code (see "Missing Pieces I and II", Dr. Dobb's Journal, May–June 1992) - and in a much more usable version on July 14, 1992 (version 0.1).

386BSD proved popular, with it receiving 250,000 downloads from the FTP server it was hosted on. It was helped partly by the porting process with code being extensively documented in a 17-part series written by Lynne and William in Dr. Dobb's Journal beginning in January 1991.

FreeBSD and NetBSD

After the release of 386BSD 0.1, a group of users began collecting bug fixes and enhancements, releasing them as an unofficial patchkit. Due to differences of opinion between the Jolitzes and the patchkit maintainers over the future direction and release schedule of 386BSD, the maintainers of the patchkit founded the FreeBSD project in 1993 to continue their work. Around the same time, the NetBSD project was founded by a different group of 386BSD users, with the aim of unifying 386BSD with other strands of BSD development into one multi-platform system. Both projects continue to this day.


Due to a lawsuit (UNIX System Laboratories, Inc. v. Berkeley Software Design, Inc.), some potentially so-called encumbered source was agreed to have been distributed within the Berkeley Software Distribution Net/2 from the University of California, and a subsequent release (1993, 4.4BSD-Lite) was made by the university to correct this issue. However, 386BSD, Dr. Dobb's Journal, and the Jolitzes were never parties to these or subsequent lawsuits or settlements arising from this dispute with the University of California, and continued to publish and work on the 386BSD code base before, during, and after these lawsuits without limitation. There has never been any legal filings or claims from the university, USL, or other responsible parties with respect to 386BSD. Finally, no code developed for 386BSD done by William Jolitz and Lynne Jolitz was at issue in any of these lawsuits.

Release 1.0

In late 1994, a finished version 386BSD Release 1.0 was distributed by Dr. Dobb's Journal on CDROM only due to the immense size (600 MB) of the release (the "386BSD Reference CD-ROM") and was a best-selling CDROM for three years (1994–1997). 386BSD Release 1.0 contained a completely new kernel design and implementation, and began the process to incorporate recommendations made by earlier Berkeley designers that had never been attempted in BSD.

Release 2.0

On August 5, 2016, an update was pushed to the 386BSD GitHub repository by developer Ben Jolitz, named version 2.0. According to the official website, Release 2.0 "built upon the modular framework to create self-healing components." However, as of March 16, 2017, almost all of the documentation remains the same as version 1.0, and a changelog was not available.

Copyright and use of the code

All rights with respect to 386BSD and JOLIX are now held exclusively by William and Lynne Jolitz. 386BSD public releases ended in 1997 since code is now available from the many 386BSD-derived operating systems today, along with several derivatives thereof (such as FreeBSD, NetBSD and OpenBSD). Portions of 386BSD may be found in other open systems such as OpenSolaris.

Relationship with BSD/386

386BSD is often confused with BSD/386 which was a different project developed by BSDi, a Berkeley spinout, starting in 1991. BSD/386 used the same 386BSD code contributed to the University of California on 4.3BSD NET/2. Although Jolitz worked briefly for UUNET (which later spun out BSDi) in 1991, the work he did for them diverged from that contributed to the University of California and did not appear in 386BSD. Instead, William Jolitz gave regular code updates to Donn Seeley of BSDi for packaging and testing, and returned all materials when William left the company following fundamental disagreements on company direction and goals.

Further reading


  1. ^ a b "386BSD 0.0 Release Notes".
  2. ^ "386BSD". Free On-line Dictionary of Computing. 2006-06-08. Retrieved 2009-11-17.
  3. ^ Chalmers, Rachel (2000-05-17). "The unknown hackers". Salon. Retrieved 2023-11-24.
  4. ^ "The creators of open-source 386BSD mark 15 year anniversary". The creators of open-source 386BSD mark 15 year anniversary. Retrieved 2023-11-24.
  5. ^ Bentson, Randolph. "The Humble Beginnings of Linux". dl.acm.org. Retrieved 2023-11-24.
  6. ^ Sam Williams, "Free as in Freedom", March 2002, O'Reilly chapter 9 Archived 2022-06-13 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Eric S. Raymond. 2003. Origins and History of Unix, 1969-1995 Archived 2015-06-10 at the Wayback Machine The Art of Unix Programming. Chapter 2. History.
  8. ^ a b "386BSD 0.1 Release Notes".
  9. ^ "History of FreeBSD – Part 2: BSDi and USL Lawsuits". Klara Inc. 2020-10-20. Retrieved 2023-11-24.
  10. ^ "386BSD". www.386bsd.org. Retrieved 2023-11-24.
  11. ^ "386BSD FAQ". William Jolitz, Lynne Jolitz. 2014-01-13. Archived from the original on 2014-01-13. Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  12. ^ About the FreeBSD Project
  13. ^ "After 22 Years, 386BSD Gets An Update - Slashdot". bsd.slashdot.org. 9 October 2016. Retrieved 2017-03-14.
  14. ^ "386bsd/386bsd". GitHub. Retrieved 2017-03-14.
  15. ^ "386BSD Official website". Retrieved 2021-03-13.
  16. ^ "DDJ articles for 386BSD".
  17. ^ "Porting Unix to the 386".

External links