Red Hat Linux Survival Guide
by Mirko Zorz - Friday, 30 May 2003.
Author: Mohammed J. Kabir
Pages: 648
Publisher: Wiley
ISBN: 0764536311


Red Hat Linux is by far the most popular Linux distribution and therefore many books cover it in great detail. This time I went through a book that's not massive in size as others but it still covers a lot of material. Brought to you by the official Red Hat Press, it says to deliver practical advice to get you up and running in no time. Should you get this book? Read on to find out.

About the author

Mohammed J. Kabir is the founder and CEO of Evoknow, Inc., a company specializing in the development of customer relationship management software. His books include "Red Hat Linux 7 Server", "Red Hat Linux Administrator's Handbook", "Red Hat Linux Security and Optimization", and "Apache Server 2 Bible".

An interview with Mohammed J. Kabir is available here.

Inside the book

As expected, the book starts off with information on installation and basic configuration. Aside from the instructions on how to perform the installation of a fresh Linux system, you learn how to upgrade Red Hat Linux, dual boot it with Windows and configure the X Window System.

As regards setting up networking, Kabir teaches you how to configure a network interface card (NIC) manually and using netcfg, provides an understanding of the default gateway and discusses the dividing of a network into subnets. Rather than just pointing out the nifty GUI tools that can be used for configuring many things, the author depicts a myriad of configuration files and shows you how to edit them. This gives you a great insight into what goes on "under the hood".

The second part of the book brings forward the problems associated with user-management. Here you learn how to manage the root account as well as using sudo to allow ordinary users to perform root tasks. Kabir shows you how to create multiple superusers and also provides a script you can use to protect yourself from attacks performed by false superusers.

What follows is a discussion on working with files and directories where you get an understanding of the Linux File Hierarchy Structure and learn how to access files and directories. What's important here is the part dedicated to setting file and directory permissions where the author shows you how to use some command line tools for the job. Kabir also presents a few sample permissions policies that you can customize to fit your needs.

Next you learn how to work with programs. Some of the topics presented here are: starting and stopping programs, changing a program's priority, monitoring and logging. Mentioned in this sections are ps, pstree, top and vmstat. As regards the scheduling programs, Kabir introduces cron and at and shows you how to use them.

The author writes about using the GNOME desktop before moving on to discuss kernel configuration. Here you learn not only how to perform a kernel upgrade but also why a kernel upgrade is necessary. Kernel configuration is a "dark" topic for many Linux users but after reading this part you should be able to compile a custom kernel from the source, patch a kernel's source code and setup the kernel with kernelcfg.

The third part of the book is all about configuring services and kicks off with a chapter dedicated to the Apache web server. Although it's impossible to cover everything here, the author managed to compress a lot of material in around 70 pages. Here you learn how to install and configure Apache as well as how to create virtual websites and authenticate web users. What the security conscious users will be mostly interested is in the part dedicated to monitoring Apache and logging access where you learn more about the mod_auth module. The author shows you how to create a members only section of your website using the mod_auth directives or .htaccess-based authentication.

Moving forward Kabir discusses the configuration of e-mail services and starts by writing about how to setup DNS for Mail Service and then goes on to discuss sendmail. What's very interesting here is a part dedicated to securing sendmail where the author depicts the security of configuration files and shows you how to force sendmail to enforce stricter adherence to the SMTP protocol when clients connect to your server.

The following topic of discussion is the configuration of FTP services where you learn a lot about the wu-ftpd server, setting up an anonymous FTP site, virtual FTP site, and more. You certainly want to know who is connecting to your FTP server, so no surprise the author mentions logging.

What follows is a chapter dedicated to DNS configuration where Kabir provides an understanding of DNS configuration and writes about Bind. To close the chapter there's a part dedicated to securing Bind where you get more information on chrooting the DNS server and using the DNS Security Extension - a public key cryptography-based authentication model.

The last chapter of the book is about sharing files and printers with Windows and discusses Samba. The appendixes introduce commonly used command-line commands, information on IP networking and a list of resources. In case you suffer a system crash, you'll find the last appendix very useful as it shows you how to recover from a system crash using your Red Hat Linux CD.

My 2 cents

This is really an amazing book, very well written and to the point. I can recommend it to anyone that wants a good reference guide with practical information. As I see it, the targeted audiences are serious beginners and intermediate users. The format of the book is very handy as it makes it portable - it will fit in most notebook carrying cases. Go, get it, and take the most out of your Red Hat Linux system.


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