Red Hat Linux Administration: A Beginner's Guide
by Mirko Zorz - Wednesday, 17 September 2003.
Authors: Michael Turner and Steve Shah
Pages: 544
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional
ISBN: 0072226315


There are many books dedicated to Linux system administration. The one I'm taking a look at today is written specifically for Red Hat Linux although much of the material can be applied to other Linux distributions. Is it worth reading? Go on and find out.

About the authors

Michael Turner is a system administrator, software engineer, author and all around geek with over twenty years of experience behind a computer keyboard.

Steve Shah is the director of product management at Array Networks where he is responsible for the technical direction of traffic management and security products.

Inside the book

Instead of using chapters, the authors divided this book into modules, grouped into four major parts. At the end of every module you can use several check questions to test your knowledge of the material.

You get into the material by exploring Linux distributions and getting an understanding of the GNU Public License. The authors discuss the advantages of free software and determine the technical differences between Linux and Windows.

Next you learn how to install Linux in a server configuration. Since the authors try to go as in-depth as possible, before the actual installation they dedicate some space to a preinstallation evaluation where they discuss hardware issues and server design. To help you determine the services you really need you can use a number of questions provided by the authors. The installation of Red Hat Linux is covered in great detail and complemented with a plethora of screenshots of the entire process. You will definitely not get lost during the installation, but just in case something goes wrong, you can use a list of resources to help you out.

Since you're probably going to use a window manager, the authors dedicate some space to illustrate the origin of the X Window System and the configuration of KDE and GNOME. What follows is a module dedicated to installing software. Introduced here is the Red Hat Package Manager (RPM) and the locations where software can be downloaded. The authors show you how to install and uninstall a RPM package, compile software by yourself, and more.

The following topic of discussion is user management and the authors start by writing about home directories and passwords. They explain the contents of the /etc/passwd, /etc/shadow and /etc/group files and continue by writing about user management tools. This module ends with a good overview of using Pluggable Authentication Modules (PAM).

As one of the most important topics in a book related to Linux administration is working from the command line, I was happy to see a sizeable module on the subject here. The authors cover a lot of material. Among other things, you learn how to manipulate files, use various command-line tools, work with text files, track processes and terminate them, etc.

If you want to become a good Linux administrator, you have to get a good knowledge of Linux file systems. Besides an understanding of file systems, here you learn how to partition your hard disk, manage quotas, and other related topics.

The next module contains information on the core system services that come with every Linux system. As regards boot managers, you get an understanding of working with GRUB and LILO and then the authors give you all you need on the boot process, the init service and the xinetd process. Also described here is the usage of cron.

Now the authors show you some basic techniques for securing your server and start by describing how to use up2date to keep your system updated. As with every book that deals with security issues, also in this one you find an overview of TCP/IP and network security as well as a helpful list of various online resources. You see how the netstat command works and also briefly described are software titles such as Tripwire and Nessus.

What you encounter next is a few modules dedicated to Internet services. The authors provide details on the Domain Name Service (DNS), show you how to transfer files with FTP, setup your web server with Apache and various e-mail related topics. Probably the most interesting module here for the readers of HNS is the one dedicated to the Secure Shell (SSH) where public key cryptography is discussed and the authors show you how to use SSH. There's enough material here to get you out of the beginner stage and enable you to try out more serious stuff.

The last part of the book is all about Intranet services and kicks off with modules on the Network File System (NFS) and the Network Information Service (NIS). If you want your Windows system to interoperate with a Windows machine on your network, you can use Samba for the job. The authors give you enough details that will enable you to install, administer and troubleshoot Samba. This is, of course, not a comprehensive guide, but it will point you in the right direction.

As every office needs to use a printer, the authors dedicate some space to the subject before moving on to write about host configuration with DHCP. The last module is about one of the most important topics - backups. You learn how to identify your backup needs and perform backups with a variety of tools. The book ends with appendix A that contains the answers to all the check questions provided throughout the book.

My 2 cents

What differentiates this book from other system administration titles is the fact that it doesn't aspire to be a comprehensive guide for the seasoned sysadmin but rather a guide for all of you new Linux users that want to get into system administration right away.

The numerous check questions provided very often throughout the book give you the opportunity to test your knowledge on small parts of the book. This is especially useful for all of you that don't have much time to dedicate to the book in one setting.

The authors managed to put together an excellent guide that makes it easy for anyone to master system administration skills. It's easy to read and straightforward, a truly excellent book.


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