Are there any BSD operating systems that do not include any code under GPL licence?

I see FreeBSD intends not to generally but might.

Is there a 100% bsd only version of freebsd? Or other *BSD variants?

This table on wikipedia indicates "preferred licence". How much does this translate to "BSD/similar non-GPL licence only"?

A search of the FreeBSD source tree for "General Public License Version" gives quite a 234 hits in the FreeBSD repo. There seems to be a mix of GPLv2 and LGPLv3. There was at least one GPLv3 instance, though it may have an exemption. My search was not exhaustive. I also might be mis-understanding the structure of the code (perhaps some is not used).

Is it possible to compile and/or run *BSD without any GPL code?

  • 1
    It's not that unusual for automotive infotainment systems to be Linux plus a GPL-free userland; the same should probably exist for BSD, though I'm no expert. Have you checked the FreeBSD tree for how much GPL is still in there? (*In different important car markets, there's legal requirement that the firmware of the car is not user-modifiable.Modifiable firmware would bar the car from getting type-approved by the respective state agencies. Now, GPLv3 requires that you can replace the firmware. Therefore,car manufacturers abhor GPLv3; GPLv2 later updatable to v3 is a potential poison pill) Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 17:33
  • @MarcusMüller interesting, I did not know that; thanks. I'll search the FreeBSD tree and update the question.
    – Lee
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 18:08
  • wiki.freebsd.org/GPLinBase
    – Lee
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 11:08

2 Answers 2


I think that you'll find that a key property of a BSD-style culture is a kind of laissez-faire attitude. That doesn't really trend towards the kind of absolutist thinking that motivates people to create OSes with nothing besides "BSD-only" licensing.

I'm not saying that it isn't seen as a worthwhile goal. Certainly, the big migration of LLVM/clang was primarily driven by trying to cleanse FreeBSD of GPL code. But, it isn't so much of an ideological imperative to have people working overtime to make sure it is a 100% non-GPL OS.

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    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 8:04
  • Intriguing answer, thanks. Not sure I agree with the petty adjective though; why not salt of the earth fanaticism?
    – Lee
    Commented Feb 7, 2023 at 11:21

I did a very crude comparison through searches for "General Public License Version" on the code mirrors on Github:

Note this is extremely crude (even refreshing the link gives significant variation in the results, the highest result seen was used). I did not look at the relevance of the results within the code, the GPL version, or whether there are exemptions.

Taking the OS with the fewest hits, OpenBSD, I went through the results. Some of the results were from tools that allow a user to reference the GPL license (and therefore do not denote GPL licenced code). I found that the active GPL instances result from the following:

Tool # Description // Notes ~ Alts GPL version
ExtUtils-CBuilder Compiler and linker of C code for Perl modules GPL1
GNU Readline # interactive command line editor ~ NetBSD's Editline ~ replxx ~ linenoise [i] GPL2
texi-docstring-magic.el # used to create documentation strings from texinfo files and source code // an Emacs Lisp library GPL2
CVS kit Version control GPL1
binutils GNU compilers, assemblers, linkers, debuggers, etc GPL2
gcc # C compiler ~ clang [ii] GPL2
libiberty # GNU program subroutines // Now decomissioned GPL2
perl // Also licenced under the Artistic Licence GPL1
mkhybrid # HFS/shared hybrid CD iso creation ~ libisofs GPL1
libstdc++ # Implemention of the ISO 14882 Standard C++ library ~ libc++ GPL2
Texinfo GNU documentation formating ~ Markdown GPL2

Note this is based on a quick scan and may contain errors. Do not rely on this!

A GPL free version of OpenBSD would have to replace these tools, a significant undertaking!

[i] https://stackoverflow.com/questions/2736248/simple-alternative-to-gnu-readline-library-not-gpl

[ii] https://stackoverflow.com/questions/1699495/is-there-any-alternative-to-gcc-to-do-pratical-development-under-nix


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