Theo de Raadt

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Theo de Raadt
Theo de Raadt 2013.jpg
Theo de Raadt in 2013
Born (1968-05-19) May 19, 1968 (age 48)
Pretoria, South Africa
Residence Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Nationality Canadian
Fields computer scientist, free software developer
Institutions FSA Corporation
Alma mater University of Calgary
Known for NetBSD, OpenBSD, OpenSSH, advocacy
Notable awards Award for the Advancement of Free Software

Theo de Raadt (/ˈθ. dɛˈrɔːt/; Dutch: [ˈteː.joː dəˈraːt]; born May 19, 1968) is a software engineer who lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is the founder and leader of the OpenBSD and OpenSSH projects, and was also a founding member of the NetBSD project.


Theo de Raadt is the eldest of four children to a Dutch father and a South African mother, with two sisters and a brother. Concern over the mandatory two-year armed forces conscription in South Africa led the family to emigrate to Calgary, Alberta, Canada in November 1977. In 1983, the largest recession in Canada since the Great Depression sent the family to the Yukon. Prior to the move De Raadt got his first computer, a Commodore VIC-20, which was soon followed by an Amiga. It is with these computers that he first began to develop software.[1]

In 1992 he obtained a BSc in Computer Science from the University of Calgary.


The NetBSD project was founded in 1993 by Chris Demetriou, Adam Glass, Charles Hannum, and De Raadt, who collectively felt frustration at the speed and quality of Jolix, the standard Berkeley software distribution then, and believed that a more open development model would be of greater benefit to development of an operating system. Jolix, also known as 386BSD, was derived from the original University of California Berkeley's 4.3BSD release, while the new NetBSD project would merge relevant code from the Networking/2 and 386BSD releases. The new project would centre its focus on clean, portable, correct code with the goal being to produce a unified, multi-platform, production-quality, BSD-based operating system.

Because of the importance of networks such as the Internet in the distributed, collaborative nature of its development, De Raadt suggested the name "NetBSD", which the three other founders agreed upon.[citation needed]

The first NetBSD source code repository was established on March 21, 1993 and the initial release, NetBSD 0.8, was made in April 1993. This was derived from 386BSD 0.1 plus the version 0.2.2 unofficial patchkit, with several programs from the Net/2 release missing from 386BSD re-integrated, and various other improvements. In August 1993, NetBSD 0.9 was released, which contained many enhancements and bug fixes. This was still a PC-platform-only release, although by this time work was underway to add support for other architectures.

NetBSD 1.0 was released in October, 1994. This was the first multi-platform release, supporting the IBM PC compatible, HP 9000 Series 300, Amiga, 68k Macintosh, Sun-4c series and PC532. Also in this release, the legally encumbered Net/2-derived source code was replaced with equivalent code from 4.4BSD-lite, in accordance with the USL v BSDi lawsuit settlement. De Raadt played a vital role in the creation of the SPARC port, as together with Chuck Cranor,[2] he implemented much of the initial code.


In December 1994, De Raadt was asked to resign his position as a senior developer and member of the NetBSD core team, and his access to the source code repository was revoked. The reason for this is not wholly clear, although there are claims that it was due to personality clashes within the NetBSD project and on its mailing lists.[3] De Raadt has been criticized for having a somewhat abrasive personality: in his book, Free for All, Peter Wayner claims that De Raadt "began to rub some people the wrong way" before the split from NetBSD;[4] while Linus Torvalds has described him as "difficult".[5] Many have different feelings: the same interviewer describes De Raadt's "transformation" on founding OpenBSD and his "desire to take care of his team," some find his straightforwardness refreshing, and few deny he is a talented hacker[6] and security "guru".[7]

In October 1995, De Raadt founded OpenBSD, a new project forked from NetBSD 1.0. The initial release, OpenBSD 1.2, was made in July 1996, followed in October of the same year by OpenBSD 2.0.[8] Since then, the project has followed a schedule of a release every six months, each of which is maintained and supported for one year.


Jon "maddog" Hall presents De Raadt with daemon horns at FISL8

De Raadt has been a vocal advocate of free software since the inception of OpenBSD, but he is also a strong proponent of free speech, having on occasion had rather public disputes with various groups, from Linux advocates to governments. This outspoken attitude, while sometimes the cause of conflict, has also led him to acclaim; De Raadt has given presentations at open source, free software and security conferences around the world—including FOSDEM in Brussels, Belgium, Usenix in San Antonio, Texas, U.S., AUUG Conference in Melbourne, Australia and FISL in Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil.

DARPA funding cancellation[edit]

After De Raadt stated his disapproval of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq in an April, 2003 interview[9] with Toronto's Globe and Mail, a multi-million-dollar US Department of Defense grant to the University of Pennsylvania's POSSE project was cancelled, effectively ending the project. Funding from the grant had been used in the development of OpenSSH and OpenBSD, as well as many other projects and was to be used to pay for the hackathon planned for May 8, 2003. Despite money from the grant already having been used to secure accommodations for sixty developers for a week, the money was reclaimed by the government at a loss and the hotel was told not to allow the developers to pay the reclaimed money to resecure the rooms.[10] This resulted in criticism among some that the US military held an anti-free speech attitude. The grant termination was, however, not as bad a blow as some portrayed it. The project's supporters rallied to help and the hackathon went on almost as planned. The funding was cut mere months before the end of the grant, further fueling the speculations regarding the situation surrounding the grant's termination.

Free driver advocacy[edit]

De Raadt is also well known for his advocacy of free software drivers. He has long been critical of developers of Linux and other free platforms for their tolerance of non-free drivers and acceptance of non-disclosure agreements.

In particular, De Raadt has worked to convince wireless hardware vendors to allow the firmware images of their products to be freely redistributed. These efforts have been largely successful, particularly in negotiations with Taiwanese companies, leading to many new wireless drivers. De Raadt has commented that "most Taiwanese vendors give us documentation almost immediately", allowing open source drivers to reliably support devices, as opposed to the lack of willingness from US companies like Intel and Broadcom to release firmware images free from licensing restrictions.[11]

For this De Raadt was awarded the Free Software Foundation's 2004 Award for the Advancement of Free Software.[12]

Clash with Linux developers[edit]

In April 2007, De Raadt was involved in a controversy involving the use of GPL code from the Linux bcm43xx driver in the BSD bcw driver.[13][14] Linux developers accused the BSD community of infringing GPL code, but De Raadt denied infringement, arguing that the BSD driver was not "released". He also maintained that the conflict was not about GPL, but the way Linux developer Michael Buesch handled the situation. To Buesch's email, he responded:[15]

It will be resolved in our tree, but it is up to him which way he does it. But when you approach issues like this with comments like "We'd like you to start contacting us to resolve the issue now" and your first mail is cc'd to a couple hundred people.... in the future, please think more carefully, ok?

Because right now, in that mail, you've pretty much done Broadcom's job for them. You've told the entire BSD community who may want to use a driver for this chip later, that because of a few GPL issues you are willing to use very strong words—published very widely—to disrupt the efforts of one guy who is trying to do things for them. And, you are going to do this using the GPL, even. You did not privately mail that developer. No, you basically went public with it.

That is how about half the user and developer community will see it. They will see your widely posted mail as an overly strong position.

Another clash occurred in August 2007, when a group of Linux developers attempted to modify the license of dual-licensed ath5k driver. De Raadt summarized the issue as follows:[16]

GPL fans said the great problem we would face is that companies would take our BSD code, modify it, and not give back. Nope—the great problem we face is that people would wrap the GPL around our code, and lock us out in the same way that these supposed companies would lock us out. Just like the Linux community, we have many companies giving us code back, all the time. But once the code is GPL'd, we cannot get it back.


  1. ^ The Age article: "Staying on the cutting edge". October 8, 2004. Accessed April 5, 2006.
  2. ^ "Chuck Cranor's Home Page". 
  3. ^ Glass, Adam. Message to netbsd-users: Theo De Raadt(sic), December 23, 1994. Visited January 8, 2006.
  4. ^ Wayner, Peter. Free For All: How Linux and the Free Software Movement Undercut the High Tech Titans, 18.3 Flames, Fights, and the Birth of OpenBSD, 2000. Visited January 6, 2006.
  5. ^ Forbes. Is Linux For Losers? June 16, 2005. Visited January 8, 2006.
  6. ^ In this message the NetBSD core team acknowledge De Raadt's "positive contributions" to the project despite their problems with him.
  7. ^ Tux Journal. A good morning with: Theo de Raadt, June 2, 2005. Visited April 21, 2006 (original is 404; please see a cached copy on
  8. ^ Raadt, Theo de. Mail to openbsd-announce: The OpenBSD 2.0 release, October 18, 1996. Visited December 10, 2005.
  9. ^ Globe and Mail article: "U.S. military helps fund Calgary hacker". April 6, 2003. Accessed October 30, 2006.
  10. ^ article: "DARPA Cancels OpenBSD Funding". April 24, 2003. Accessed April 5, 2006.
  11. ^ Andrews, Jeremy (May 2, 2006). "Interview: Theo de Raadt". Archived from the original on April 24, 2013. 
  12. ^ Lee, Matt (February 26, 2005). "Theo de Raadt presented with the 2004 Free Software Award". Free Software Foundation. 
  13. ^ LXer article: Broadcom Driver Dispute Uglier Than Necessary. April 7, 2007. Accessed April 8, 2007.
  14. ^ Thread on gmane.linux.kernel.wireless.general: OpenBSD bcw: Possible GPL license violation issues Various dates beginning April 4, 2007. Accessed April 8, 2007.
  15. ^ Thread on gmane.linux.kernel.wireless.general: Re: OpenBSD bcw: Possible GPL license violation issues. April 4, 2007. Accessed April 15, 2007.
  16. ^ de Raadt, Theo (August 31, 2007). "That whole "Linux stealing our code" thing". 

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