DragonFlyBSD Desktop!

If you read my last post, you know that I set up a machine (Thinkpad x230) with UEFI and four operating systems on it.  One, I had no experience with – DragonFlyBSD (other than using Matthew Dillon’s C compiler for the Amiga back in the day!) and so it was uncharted territory for me.  After getting the install working, I started playing around inside of DragonFlyBSD and discovered to my delight that it was a great operating system with some really unique features – all with that BSD commitment to good documentation and a solid coupling of kernel and userland that doesn’t exist (by design) in Linux.

So my goal for my DragonFlyBSD desktop experience was to be as BSD as I possibly could.  Given that (and since I’m the maintainer of the port on OpenBSD <grin>), I went with Lumina as the desktop environment and XDM as the graphical login manager.  I have to confess that I really like the xfce terminal application so I wanted to make sure I had that as well.  Toss in Firefox, libreOffice and ownCloud sync client and I’m good to go!

OK.  So where to start.  First, we need to get WiFi and wired networking happening for the console at login.  To do that, I added the following to /etc/rc.conf:

ifconfig_wlan0=”WPA DHCP”

I then edited /etc/wpa_supplicant.conf to put in the details of my WiFi network:


A quick reboot showed that both wired and wireless networking were functional and automatically were assigned IP addresses via DHCP.  Next up is to try getting into X with whatever DragonFlyBSD uses for its default window manager.  A straight up “startx” met with, shall we say, less than stellar results.  Therefore, I used the following command to generate a simple /etc/X11/xorg.conf file:

# Xorg -configure
# cp /root/xorg.conf.new /etc/X11/xorg.conf

With that file in place, I could get into the default window manager, but I had no mouse.  After some searching and pinging folks on the mailing list, I was able to figure out what I needed to do.  I added the following to my /etc/rc.conf file:


I rebooted (I’m sure there is an easier way to get the changes but I don’t know it… yet) and was able to get into a basic X session and have a functional mouse.  Next up, installing and configuring Lumina!  To do that, I went through the incredibly torturous process of installing Lumina:

# pkg install lumina

Wow!  That was really, really hard.  I might need to pause here to catch my breath. 🙂

Next up, jumping into Lumina from the console.  To do that, I created a .xinitrc file in my home directory with the following:

exec start-lumina-desktop

From there, I could “startx” until my heart was content and bounce into Lumina.  That wasn’t good enough though!  I want a graphical login (specifically xdm).  To do that, I had to do a little research.  The trick on DragonFlyBSD is not to add anything to /etc/rc.conf like you do in other BSDs, it’s a bit more old school.  Basically you need to edit the /etc/ttys file and update ttyv8 to turn on the xdm daemon:

ttyv8    “/usr/X11R6/bin/xdm -nodaemon”    xterm    on    secure

The other thing you need to do is set it up to use your desktop environment of choice.  In my case, that’s Lumina.  To do that, I needed to edit /usr/local/lib/X11/xdm/Xsession and change the next to the last line in the file to launch Lumina:

exec /usr/local/bin/start-lumina-desktop

I then crossed my fingers, rebooted and lo and behold had a graphical login that, when I actually didn’t fat finger my password from excitement, put me into the Lumina desktop environment!

Next up – I need a cool desktop wallpaper.  Of course that’s way more important that installing application or other stuff!  After some searching, I found this one that met my needs.  I downloaded it to a local ~/Pictures directory and then used the Lumina wallpaper preference application to add the directory containing the picture and set it to automatic layout.  Voila!  I had a cool DragonFlyBSD wallpaper.

Next I installed the xfce4 terminal program by doing:

# pkg install xfce4-terminal

I then went into the Lumina “All Desktop Settings” preferences, found the applet for the “Menu” under “Interface Configuration” and swapped out “terminal” for “Xfce Terminal”.  I then configured Lumina further to have a 26 pixel thick, 99% length bottom center panel with the following gadgets in it (in this order):

Start Menu
Task Manager (No Groups)
System Tray
Battery Monitor

I then went into my Appearance | Window Manager gadget and set my Window Theme to “bora_blue” (my favorite out of the defaults supplied).  I then installed my remaining applications that I needed in order to have a functioning desktop:

# pkg install owncloudclient qtkeychain evolution evolution-ews firefox libreoffice

After that, I really had a nicely functioning desktop environment!  By the way, the performance of DragonFlyBSD is pretty impressive in terms of its day to day usage.  Keep in mind I’m not doing any official benchmarking or anything, but it sure feels to me to be just as fast (if not faster) than OpenBSD and FreeBSD.  I know that the kernel team has done a lot to unlock things (which FreeBSD has done and we are starting to do on OpenBSD) so perhaps I can attribute the “snappiness” to that?

As you can see, although there isn’t as much documentation on the Internet for this BSD, you can get a really nice, functional desktop out of it with some simple (and intuitive) configuration.  I’m really looking forward to living in this system for a while and learning about it.  Probably the first thing I’ll do is ring up the port maintainer for Lumina and see if we can’t collaborate on getting Lumina 1.3 moved over to it!  Give this one a try – I think you’ll find that its a very nice operating system with some very cool features (the HAMMER filesystem for one!).

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7 Responses to DragonFlyBSD Desktop!

  1. Parker says:

    This is a nice write up. DragonFly is IMO one of the best kept secrets among the BSDs.

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  5. Mark Dawkins says:

    How is DragonFly faring as a daily driver?

  6. Ravnengel says:

    Hey there! Many thanks for this post! I spent the last few days installing and configuring Dragonfly – the very first BSD in my life -, I found your blog really useful. I have a working Lumina on my DragonflyBSD, thanks to you :}

  7. Jiri K. says:

    I know this post is rather aged but neverthless let me share my thought.

    – other DMs are configured via rc.conf, eg SDDM, LightDM…
    – DragonFlyBSD is as fast as OpenBSD? In what terms? OpenBSD is definitely not fast OS. DragonFly managed to unlock much more in terms of performance and it is usable in day to day tasks. Try to open up anything on YouTube in Firefox, one of many examples.
    – Lumina as a desktop? You are joking, aren’t you? No other project sucks more than Lumina. Ergonomy and modern desktop use & feel & design says nothing to Lumina developers.
    – but even though DragonFly is like a fresh air in the BSD world, it’s not perfect and is far behind Linux in terms of performance, usability, stability, software availibility, hardware support etc. But see what any BSD can do, look at number of developers and you see that team around DragonFly makes pretty impressive job.

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