how to install freenas

FreeNAS is an open-source operating system based on FreeBSD that allows you to create your own NAS on a dedicated machine or a virtual machine in a few simple steps. A NAS created with FreeNAS is the fastest and cheapest way to create a network device for file-sharing or backup.

FreeNAS is based on ZFS, which is an open-source file system, a RAID controller and an enterprise-level volume manager, which guarantees perfect data integrity. Eliminates most, if not all, of the deficiencies found in legacy file systems and hardware RAID devices. Among the other basic and advanced features, which make FreeNAS a professional choice, we find a sophisticated web interface, the ability to create SMB / CIFS shares (Windows File shares), NFS (Unix File shares), AFP (Apple File Shares) and iSCSI (block sharing), the ability to connect via FTP and S3 (based on Minio), and data snapshot and replication capabilities.

See also: Backup to NAS with Iperius Backup

In this guide, we will configure a basic system on a Hyper-V virtual machine, with the configuration below:

  • One virtual disk on IDE interface to install the FreeNAS operating system
  • Two identical SCSI virtual disks with which we will then create the RAID system for data storage

Please note: in this tutorial we used a virtual machine only for testing purposes. To get the maximum safety when using a RAID array, please consider using a physical machine, or make sure the virtual disk files used to build the RAID array are saved on different physical drives.

Let’s see the configuration in the image below:



Clearly, the exact same configuration and installation can be done on a physical machine. In this tutorial, the user is considered to be able to configure and start a Hyper-V virtual machine in a basic way.

The first thing to do is to download the FreeNAS installation disc from the official site, in the form of an .ISO file:

Once you have created a new virtual machine in the Hyper-V management console, connect the .ISO file as a virtual machine boot CD, as shown in the images below:



Then proceed starting the virtual machine (the boot from CD should be set by default, as shown in the image above) and the FreeNAS installation:




In the next step, the installer will ask you to select the disk to install. Select the single disk that we have created earlier for this purpose, but leave the other two deselected (we created them to be used as a RAID volume to store data, so we will configure them later):


On the next screen, set the password for the root user. This password will then allow you to access the web interface of the NAS:



On the next screen, select the BIOS boot mode, for a better compatibility:


Then the installation will be completed in a few seconds. Now disconnect the ISO file (the installation CD) and restart the machine:





FreeNAS configuration

Upon restarting, the FreeNAS system will be ready for configuration, showing the following interface:


Here you can see the IP address of the NAS system, which is the one needed also to access the web interface for configuration. You also have the ability to configure different system settings, such as the network parameters and the root user password. From here you can also restart the FreeNAS system or access the shell.

Now let’s see how to access the web interface to configure the FreeNAS system.

The first thing to do is to configure the two SCSI disks we have created as a single RAID volume, which will be used as the main disk for data storage and network shares.

After logging in, proceed with the configuration:



Quit the wizard and check if the disks are correctly detected:


Then proceed to create a RAID volume with the two disks highlighted in the image above.

Let’s go to “Volume Manager” and set everything up as follows:


Give the Volume a name (here we chose “RAID”), click on the “+” button to add the available disks, then set the volume layout to “Mirror” (ie a RAID 1). By default, the maximum available capacity will be selected. Click on “Add Volume” (any data on the disks will be erased). Then check that the RAID volume is created correctly:



Create a user account

Our purpose in configuring this FreeNAS system is to create a network device for data backup, through an SMB share for Windows systems.

The volume /mnt/RAID we have just created is also called a “Dataset“.  As you can see in the menu on the left, you can create additional Datasets, to which you can also assign different SMB shares and different user permissions. In this example, we will use the newly created volume, /mnt/RAID, directly as a Dataset.


Now you need to create a user who must have write and read permissions in the Dataset /mnt/RAID and an SMB share to access the data from Windows systems.

To create the user, go to the appropriate menu and click on “Add user”:


Specify the username, the Full Name, and the password. You can leave all other settings to their default values.

After you added the user account, you must make sure it has all the necessary Dataset permissions. So go into the list of volumes, and under /mnt /RAID, click on “Change Permissions”:


As we can see in the image above, you must select the user you just created, then set “Permission Type” to “Windows” and check the “Set permission recursively” option. Apply the settings by clicking on “Change”.


Create an SMB share

All that remains now is to create the SMB share.

Go into “Services – Control Services” to enable the SMB service, to allow access to the share from Windows:


Click on “Start Now” and select the “Start on boot” option.

Go to the “Windows (SMB) Shares” menu and click on “Add Windows (SMB) Shares”. As you can see in the image below, it will be required to specify the path of the share (in our case always /mnt/RAID) and its name (for the sake of clarity we have called it “RAID”, like the Dataset, but the name, will then be the one visible from Windows and can be any name of your choice).


At this point, the configuration is completed. From any Windows machine on the network you can immediately access the share and copy any files into it.



Backup to NAS

Now that your FreeNAS device is configured and the shared folder accessible by the specific user and password you created (this is very important to avoid data loss due to ransomware viruses), you can use it as a network destination for Windows backup.

To perform backups to FreeNAS of files, drive images, database backups or virtual machines, it is advisable to use Iperius Backup, which, in addition to providing many types of backups, allows you to automatically authenticate by user name and password in network shares, to guarantee a high level of security.

To see how easy it is to back up files on NAS with Iperius, see this tutorial:


(Italian, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese (Brazil))

FreeNAS: how to install and configure it for a NAS backup
Iperius Backup Team

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  1. Witold Granicki

    That is really NOT how ZFS should be used.
    Yes, FreeNAS can be ran in a virtualized environment BUT for ZFS to work properly it requires physical (i.e. passthrough) access to the “RAID” drives.
    ZFS’s strength stems from the way it handles physical data on the disk.
    By using virtual drives to create a ZFS pool (the storage space available for datasets to be created in), you strip it of its key functionality and sacrifice a lot of performace, because “underneath” the virtual drives, it is the host OS that manages that data.
    A simple example – if both virtual SCSI drive’s files are located on the same physical drive of the host system (and it seems they are in this setup), you are creating a false sense of safety (if the physical drive fails, you lose all your data – even though you had it configured as “RAID”). And you are actually getting worse performance than if it was just one virtual drive in the pool, because in mirror configuration ZFS will read data alternatingly from both “drives”, which normally increases read speed but in this case will cause unnecessary “hopping” between different locations on the same drive, slowing read/write speed as a result.
    It would be better in terms of both safety and performance, if the virtual drive’s files were located on different physical drives of the host, but the read/write speeds would still be heavily impacted by the intermediary layer of the host OS handling filesystem operations.

    1. Iperius Backup Team Article Author

      Hello, thank you for writing your considerations. You’re absolutely right, that’s not the way to get the maximum safety, since both the RAID drives are on the same physical drive. However, we decided to use this configuration only for simplicity in writing the tutorial. This is only an example, to show how to configure FreeNAS. Clearly, it’s recommended to use a RAID system with different physical drives.

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