Installing Gnome on FreeBSD

Beastie, the BSD daemon

If you want more than the terminal/command prompt view of FreeBSD, installing a desktop environment, such as Gnome is easy to do. The perspective of this post is from a fresh FreeBSD install without Xorg or any previous desktop environment installed. If you want to “practice” I suggest that you use Virtualbox to create a virtual FreeBSD system that runs without rearranging your hard drive or dual booting.

Read the Docs ?

Finding the correct or up-to-date installation instruction for Gnome 3, or the latest Gnome version on the FreeBSD website is not straightforward. As with any “nix” system, you should be ready to read all of the documentation, but it is easy to get lost on the various pages. As of the writing of this post, the FreeBSD Gnome Project page has installation instructions for Gnome 2.32. The FreeBSD Handbook has some of the information that you need. However, they were incomplete so I looked elsewhere. I came up with the following steps which will give you a current and functional Gnome desktop on FreeBSD

To install Gnome 3, first I looked at the FreeBSD Handbook section on Desktop Environments (Section 5.7). The steps listed here led me to an unworking desktop. This is because the information was scattered over the Handbook. For example, the Xorg software is explained at the beginning with steps on how to install and configure it.

The steps in the Gnome section were fine except for the first one:

This command is partially correct and the rest are good, but without all of the software packages needed, Gnome is not complete and will not start. NOTE: Although these steps will provide a working Gnome 3 installation the Handbook suggests you may need to further edit the Xorg.conf to configure the setup properly. Most modern X11 systems no longer rely on the Xorg.conf file and it usually does not exist on a new Xorg installation. See this explanation.

It is always best to first update your complete FreeBSD system before adding any software as substantial as Gnome. To follow these system update steps you must have root privileges, so first:

Update your BSD

# su

Then run these 2 commands one after the other to update the system. The first collects information on available updates and the second installs those that your system requires. If this is the first time you have used the pkg package management tool, you will be asked if you want to download and install it…of course answer yes.

# pkg update
# pkg upgrade

Get Gnome

Next, you will need to install the Gnome software along with the XOrg and GDM packages (if they were not already installed previously.) A full install will include hundreds of packages and use gigabytes of disk space. You will be warned before starting…

# pkg install xorg gnome gnome-desktop gdm dbus

After the installation finishes, the rc.conf file will need to be edited to set some daemons to run when called. I use the nano editor, I find it much less obtuse than vi.

# nano /etc/rc.conf

Once you have the rc.conf file opened for editing either add the following entries or change the existing ones:


Finally, you will need to mount /proc. Both Gnome and KDE require this directory to be available. Do this by adding the following line to the /etc/fstab file (if it doesn’t already exist):

proc           /proc       procfs  rw  0   0

And now you are done…When you reboot FreeBSD you will be greeted with the GDM logon screen…logon to enter Gnome.