Eric Radman : a Journal

Workstation Notes

I first posted my notes on using OpenBSD as my workstation in of 2013, but I probably switched from Arch Linux in 2005. This is a collection of customizations I have used for over the years, as well as some hints for using some of OpenBSD's more modern features.


By default, some terminals render text with a heavier weight than I would like. To solve this select a font with a light or book variation. Here is my invocation for the simple terminal

st -f 'Hermit:light:pixelsize=14:antialias=true:autohint=true'

My st port includes

The really compelling feature of st is that it automatically substitutes glyphs from the default font if the selected font does not contain them. This enables me to use the excellent Hermit font while retaining the extended character set of DejaVu Sans Mono.

utf-8 and colors

Also set a language to enable full Unicode support

export LC_CTYPE

Resource Limits

The default process limits on OpenBSD are not nearly generous enough to run applications such as Gimp or Chromium. Be sure to raise the limits for memory by modifying /etc/login.conf


Terminate the X session with Ctrl+Alt+Backspace to ensure settings have taken effect.

Suspend & Resume

zzz and ZZZ are shortcuts for suspend and hibernate if apmd(8) is running. A threshold can also be set to automatically hibernating. This addition to rc.conf.local reacts to a battery level of 8% or less

apmd_flags="-Z 8"

X Session Configuration

Most minimal window managers that can be customized. I run a loop in the background that read the available battery life (Wh) and updates the window manager's display area. Any sensor data can be included in such output


. /home/eradman/.profile

xsetroot -solid gray40
xidle -ne -delay 1 -timeout 7200 -program /usr/local/bin/slock &
/home/eradman/local/bin/ &

while :
    resolv=$(awk '/^nameserver/ { printf "◢ %s %s ", $2, $5 }' /etc/resolv.conf)
    fan=$(sysctl -n hw.sensors.acpithinkpad0.fan0)
    batt=$(sysctl -n hw.sensors | awk '/remaining capacity/ { printf "%s %s ", $1, $2 }')

    xsetroot -name "$resolv | $fan | $batt"
    sleep 60
done &

exec dwm

Next set the background color and start the window manager

# .xsession
xsetroot -solid gray40
exec dwm

X Scaling

If the x display manager is to run on startup, the initial X display DPI at startup by modifying /etc/X11/xenodm/Xservers

# Xservers
:0 local /usr/X11R6/bin/X :0 vt05 -dpi 144

Or set the DPI in .Xdefaults

Xft.dpi: 144

Switch to an External Monitor

As far as I know, OpenBSD does not have a native mechanism for running a script when a display is connected, but we can use a small script to adjust the display

 xrandr --output DP-1 --auto --primary
 xrandr --output eDP-1 --off
 xrandr --output HDMI-1 --off

Where eDP-1 is the LCD pannel on my laptop.


There's only a few tweaks I make to my terminal multiplexor's configuration. I frequently run entr in a smaller pane on the bottom

bind-key C-t split-window -p 25

I don't know of a terminal color picker, but they can be printed with a shell loop.

for i in `jot 255`; do
    printf "\033[38;5;${i}mcolour${i}\n"

printf "\033[0m"  # reset

Features such as the status bar colors can be set using these names

set -g status-bg colour118
set -g pane-active-border-fg colour118
set -g pane-border-fg colour30

Home Directory Encryption

Devices may be mounted by device name or by disklabel UID which is a random ID generated when the label is created.

$ disklabel /dev/sd1c | grep uid
duid: 5005bf4c398ff7b9

By using this dislabel unique identifier instead of a device letter mount will be sure to find the correct device. A loop in rc.securelevel can be used to mount encrypted device

for attept in 1 2 3 4; do
    bioctl -c C -l 6bce88736e499a49.j softraid0 && break
fsck -y 5005bf4c398ff7b9.a
mount -o nodev,nosuid,wxallowed 5005bf4c398ff7b9.a /home

The wxallowed mount option is required for interpreters such as run Python from a virtualenv in a home directory.

Screen Lock

# .xsession
xidle -ne -delay 1 -timeout 7200 -program /usr/local/bin/slock &

To trigger this action when the system is suspended, create /etc/apm/suspend with an instruction to signal xidle to run the lock program

pkill -USR1 xidle


To customize Firefox, install /usr/local/lib/firefox/browser/defaults/preferences/openbsd.js

pref("browser.startup.homepage", "about:blank");
pref("extensions.pocket.enabled", false);
pref("media.autoplay.enabled", false);
pref("network.dnsCacheExpiration", 0);
pref("network.trr.mode", 5);
pref("security.fileuri.strict_origin_policy", false);

Since the OpenBSD build of Firefox is patched to use unveil(2), add an entry to /etc/firefox/unveil.content for allowing read home directory

# access to web development files
~/www/ rwc


A policy file can be applied for installing the file /etc/chromium/policies/managed/openbsd.json

  "BackgroundModeEnabled": false,
  "NewTabPageLocation": "about:blank"

The OpenBSD build of Chromium is patched to use unveil(2), add an entry to /etc/chromium/unveil.main

# access to web development files
~/www/ rwc

See also: Kerberos and OpenBSD


The magic behind printing is not widely understood or documented. I always opt for a network printer that supports PostScript

# /etc/printcap


Be sure also to create spool directories

install -o root:daemon -m 775 /var/spool/output/office-printer

Wireless and Wired Networks

Since 6.9 dhcpleased(8) handles route updates based on DHCP offers, enabling automatic transition between wired and wireless networks

# /etc/hostname.iwm0
join radnet-guest mode 11g
join Verizon-MiFi8800L wpa wpakey **********
inet autoconf
# /etc/hostname.em0
inet autoconf

Multiple default routes may be installed in this way, but link-layer protocols use the route with the highest priority.

Setting Pointer Speed

The speed of a USB mouse (or any pointer) may be controlled with wsconsctl(8)

wsconsctl mouse2.param                # read
wsconsctl mouse2.param=0:1000,1:1000  # set