What is Darwin OS? Why is macOS often referred to as Darwin?

Rashmi Bhardwaj | Blog,Programming & Software

Are you a Mac user who is interested in Open source software? Then you must have heard about the name “Darwin” in various places. Are you wondering what this Darwin OS is? And why is it used as the synonym for the macOS? What is the relation between the macOS and Darwin OS?

Hold on. You are in the right place. In this article, all your questions will get cleared and you will get an idea of how Darwin OS can be helpful to you. So, grab a coffee let’s get started. 

What is Darwin OS?

Darwin is an open-source operating system of Apple Inc. which acts as the base for the macOS. Darwin consists of different technologies like Mach 3.0 kernel, an operating system based on BSD 4.4 (Berkeley Software Distribution) which is free and offers many high performance and networking facilities. 


Most of the software that is written on Darwin is able to run on the macOS without any error. Many will say both Darwin and Mac OS are the same but they are not. Though Darwin is the core of macOS it doesn’t include the features like Cocoa, Carbon, or the Aqua Graphical User interface. 

But you can understand the working of the macOS with the Open source Darwin Operating system. Before diving further into Darwin let’s see how it all started. 


History of Darwin

The history of Open Source tools and software in Apple is a little complicated. It all started when Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Inc. left the company and founded NeXT. To revolutionize the personal workstations, NeXT created a modern Operating system called NeXTStep, which is based on the Mach Kernel. 

This operating system had many features like Graphical interface, Kits, Display port Script, etc… Which still can be found in Apple’s Operating systems. At this time Apple, with no more options brought Steve Jobs back into the company by purchasing NeXT. And they started working on the next macOS with their new product OPENSTEP based on Mach 2.5 and 3. Then later they expanded the Mach and integrated it with the free kernel called xnu. 

Later they added many kits like APU-I, Cocoa, Carbon and launched the prototype called Rhapsody. And then rest is history. Here Darwin is the operating system of Apple which is before the integration of underpinnings other kits with the Open STEP. 

First Apple used Darwin as a separate OS with the binaries and installers etc… Now Darwin is more like the UNIX operating system which is used in some micro composers and for macOS application checking. 

Projects based on the Darwin OS

As Darwin is free and open source in nature, there are many volunteer projects all around the globe to enhance the efficiency of the Darwin Operating system. Some of them are –

Open Darwin

It is a Community-led operating system based on the Darwin system founded in 2002 by Apple Inc.  The main objective of this project is to increase the collaboration between and free software developers. 

Both the parties benefited from this project. Apple integrated the development in the Open Darwin in its new releases. And the community gains full control over their Operating system which could be used in free software distributions such as GNU-Darwin. 

However, this project came to an end in July 2006. The reason for the shutdown is that the platform becomes more like a hosting facility for Mac OS, instead of a Standalone Darwin Operating system. 

The lack of interest in the community and difficulty with communicating with Apple representatives are also the other reasons for its closure. The last version released is 7.2.1 in July 2014. 


Pure Darwin

It is the third-party version of Darwin that you can run easily.  It uses Darwin as its base code using the source code provided by Apple. The current goal of Pure Darwin is to create bootable IMG and Virtual of Darwin 10.x. You can shortly call it the informal successor of the Open Darwin. 



Though you can access the macOS for free, the Open-source operating System helps you to do many tasks that can be done using a macOS.  Still, there are many projects in development using Darwin in the modern days. 

If you have any more questions about the Darwin OS please leave them in the comment section below. 

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