Install FreeBSD alongside Windows and Linux

On my Thinkpad T470, I have Windows 10 and Ubuntu 20.04 installed, partitioning the entire disk between the two operating systems. Here are my notes on installing FreeBSD 13.0, squeezing it in with Windows and Linux.

Set Up

The prep work for the installation is done Windows 10.

At one point we boot into Linux from the bootable Ubuntu memstick to resize the Linux partition on the disk. After FreeBSD installation is complete we will boot into the Linux installation to finish the rest of the work.

I have a Cygwin installation on Windows 10 and I use the bash shell to do some of the smaller tasks quickly.


Make sure the downloaded files are intact. Run sha512sum.exe in Cygwin's shell

sha512sum.exe --ignore-missing -c CHECKSUM.SHA512-FreeBSD-13.0-RELEASE-amd64

and it should report 'OK'

FreeBSD-13.0-RELEASE-amd64-mini-memstick.img: OK

Decompress the FreeBSD memstick image file

xz -dv FreeBSD-13.0-RELEASE-amd64-memstick.img.xz

Now, one by one, plug in the USB sticks and use Rufus to write the OS images to the drives to create bootable disks out of them. Rufus has a simple GUI that is self explanatory.

Resize a partition to create free space for FreeBSD

Boot into Ubuntu from memstick (not your local installation). Open the Disks utility, choose the Ext4 partition in the diagram, hit the button with little gears to pull up options and select 'Resize'. Change it to something reasonable. I created 30 GB free space for my FreeBSD installation.

The image below shows the layout, after the installation was done. The selected block would read 'free space' when you first resize the partition.


At this point, make a note of your disk layout. You can either jot down the layout on paper from the diagram in the Disks utility, or run

sudo fdisk -l

where it prints this out

Device             Start       End   Sectors   Size Type
/dev/nvme0n1p1      2048    206847    204800   100M EFI System
/dev/nvme0n1p2    206848    239615     32768    16M Microsoft reserved
/dev/nvme0n1p3    239616 195721027 195481412  93.2G Microsoft basic data
/dev/nvme0n1p4 499075072 500115455   1040384   508M Windows recovery environment
/dev/nvme0n1p5 195721216 440481791 244760576 116.7G Linux filesystem
/dev/nvme0n1p6 440481792 497104895  56623104    27G FreeBSD UFS
/dev/nvme0n1p7 497104896 499075071   1970176   962M FreeBSD swap

Again, this is output after FreeBSD installation. The last two lines is the FreeBSD UFS and swap partitions, which were unnamed initially after you resized the EXT4 and created 30 GB of free space. You will need this layout later to refer to the partitions when you install FreeBSD or work on fixing the boot loader.

Linux uses the prefix nvme0 to refer to the physical disk on my system. FreeBSD will use the prefix nvd0.

Install FreeBSD

Boot from FreeBSD USB stick and start the installation. Follow prompts, they are mostly routine things. At the disk partitioning step, don't choose the 'manual' option, but the automatic one where you point the tool to the disk where you want to install FreeBSD. Select nvd0 and FreeBSD will pick the free space and lay out the UFS and swap in there. You don't need to decide on the swap size.

Continue and finish the rest of the installation steps.

Reboot your system and FreeBSD will start running. You will not see your Grub interface anymore because FreeBSD wipes it out. The next thing to do is restore Grub.

Restore Grub

Boot your system from the Ubuntu memstick. Ubuntu displays a Grub menu first, type in c to enter Grub's console.

List the devices and partitions using. You will see the partitions numbered the way you found them in the fdisk output. On my system, partition number 5 is the Linux partition, and I run ls to make sure it is so by taking a look at the contents of the Linux root file system. The usual directory layout confirms that.

Note: that at this point, you have your USB memstick plugged in and mounted. That disk become hd0 and my laptop disk is hd1. Later, when the memstick isn't there and you have to write a Grub entry manually for your FreeBSD boot loader, you will refer to your disk as hd0.

ls (hd1,gpt5)/

Next, type in the following commands to boot the Linux at (hd1,gpt5):

linux (hd1,gpt5)/boot/vmlinuz root=/dev/nvme0n1p5
initrd (hd1,gpt5)/boot/initrd.img

This boots Linux.

Once you are in there, reinstall Grub to the MBR. As I have said before, my laptop has only one disk with multiple partitions for multiple operating systems. The disk is identified as /dev/nvme0n1 (look in /dev/) and each partition is labeled nvme0n1px where x is the number of the partition. A boot loader is installed to the MBR of a disk and not a partition, so you drop the px suffix in the following command:

grub-install /dev/nvme0n1

Now reboot your system and you should be at the Grub boot menu. In the list, as usual, you will find Ubuntu and Windows. There is no FreeBSD, which you have to add by hand.

Boot FreeBSD

Here is more than one way I boot FreeBSD on my system.

Enable WiFi in FreeBSD

During installation, FreeBSD fails to set up my wireless drivers. So I had to configure it manually this way:


  1. Rufus
  2. FreeBSD
  3. Ubuntu
  4. FreeBSD Wireless Networking (FreeBSD Documentation)
  5. FreeBSD Setup for Automatic Wireless Connection
  6. Basic vi Commands