Book Review: Linux System Administration

by on April 14, 2007 · 13 comments· LAST UPDATED June 4, 2013

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Linux System Administration is a book for a seasoned Linux or UNIX administrator. The book attempts to describe day-to-day administration, maintenance and advanced issues commonly faced by Linux system administrator. Book covers wild verity of topics.

Both Tom Adelstein and Bill Lubanovic has done an extraordinary work to put together Linux System Administration. Tom is not just a system administrator but a good technical writer.

So what's unique about this book?

Generally most Linux classes and books cover topics such as user administration, setting up mail and web servers, printers, new hard disk / file system etc. But, very few books or classes deals with scalability and availability issues. The book teaches you how to setup a reverse proxy in front of Apache, setting up a load balancing server, hot backups and running Linux based server 24x7.

The entire book is divided into 11 chapters that cover from practical advice on building everything from SOHO hubs, web servers, and LAN servers to load-balanced clusters and servers consolidated through virtualization.

Chapter 1. Requirements for a Linux System Administrator

The first chapter is all about requirements for a sys admin work and what system managers should know about Linux. To be frank you can skip this chapter.

Chapter 2. Setting Up a Linux Multifunction Server

If you are reading about a Linux sys admin work, you must try the actual configuration and build a server for yourself. Once you build a box you can keep practicing, learning and mastering Linux. You will learn howto deploy Debian Linux box and configure following services:

  • A web server (Apache 2.0.x)
  • A mail server (Postfix)
  • A DNS server (BIND 9)
  • An FTP server (ProFTPD)
  • Mail delivery agents (POP3/POP3s/IMAP/IMAPs)
  • Webalizer for web site statistics

However, setting up a software firewall is not covered via command line. The book covers GUI tool called Firestarter. You will have a firewall up and running in minutes with this tool. But, most production server and load balanced servers are without a GUI to save resources (see comments below for more information).

I think next version of book should include instruction about setting up a firewall using APF or similar scripts/packages.

Chapter 3. The Domain Name System

Now your server is up and running. It is a time to put server in production environment by setting up a DNS system. This chapter covers the basis of DNS and other topics such as:
BIND installation and configuration.
Configuring an authoritative dns server.
Troubleshooting BIND.

Chapter 4. An Initial Internet-Ready Environment

This chapter talks about ISPConfig - an open source hosting control panel for Linux. You will learn how to install and configure ISPConfig to manage your Internet services, such as
Web servers
FTP servers
Database servers
DNS servers
Firewalls
Anti-virus
Users
Email and autoresponders, spam filters, Disk quotas and more.

Chapter 6. Administering Apache

You will learn howto setup and tweak Apache and other features, such as support for dynamic web sites and reporting statistics, and give you some troubleshooting tips. You will also learn about SSL/TLS Encryption, suEXEC Support, Benchmarking a web server, installing & administering Drupal CMS etc.

Chapter 7. Load-Balanced Clusters

A cluster provides speed, reliability, and scalability for a reasonable price. Large internet companies such as Yahoo, Google built their cluster and businesses on thousands of commodity servers in redundant cluster configurations. This chapter show you howto setup load balancing and high availability (HA) using IP Virtual Server (IPVS), a transport-level (TCP) load-balancer and other components.

Chapter 8. Local Network Services

Now you have Internet server up and running. It is a time to learn skills to manage a host behind the firewall or gateway of a company, an organization, or even a home network.

Chapter 9. Virtualization in the Modern Enterprise

Virtualization is the creation of a virtual version of computer hardware, running operating system, network and other things.

Virtualization is nothing but logical partition of hardware to run different operating system (Windows, FreeBSD, Linux) at the same time.

This chapter shows you how to install and configure XEN and VMware software under Linux.

Chapter 10. Scripting

Shell script allows automation and save your fingers from typing same command again and again. It also reduces errors. You will learn useful elements for bash scripts and scripting language tips.

Chapter 11. Backing Up Data

Computers fail's disks break - thats the nature of the beast. In this chapter, you will learn about several tools for backing up data that can be useful in different circumstances.

Summary

Sure you will find most of the information mentioned in this book throughout mailing lists, forums, blogs, and discussion groups but not in one handy guide. Overall, a great book that touches all Linux administrative aspects not covered in many books and classes. This book is highly recommended to all Linux administrators:

  • Pros:
    • + Gain new skills
    • + Enhance knowledge
    • + Practical advice with lost of working examples
  • Cons:
    • - Linux Firewalls (APF) command line and introduction to Perl for sys admin missing
  • Book title: Linux System Administration (Paperback)
  • Author: Tom Adelstein and Bill Lubanovic
  • Publisher: O'Reilly Media, Inc.
  • Pub Date: March 1, 2007
  • ISBN 10: 0-596-00952-6 and ISBN 13: 9780596009526
  • Pages: 296
  • Level of experience needed: Intermediate Linux / UNIX sys admin
  • Who will find useful: Linux sys admin / IDC Tech support staff
  • Additional goodies included (such as CDROM) : No
  • Purchase online @ Amazon

Updated for accuracy.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 gregf April 15, 2007 at 3:06 pm

Sounds like a good book, but already having 3 different books on that specific subject and all being about the same in many ways. I would wait till they hopefully till they add a section in on iptables. Got a question for you though. How much detail do they go into on setting up these services? That is what really makes the difference in the quality of the book.

Reply

2 nixCraft April 15, 2007 at 6:39 pm

Gregf,

As I said earlier they missed iptables (or automated script such as APF) and perl all together.

> How much detail do they go into on setting up these services?

If you are a little experienced admin – On 1-5 scale I will say 3. If you are a new admin – On 1-5 scale, I will say 4.

However Load-Balanced Clusters and ISPConfig (free web cp) chapter is done very well.

If you have 3 different books, it is better you wait for next release.

See Sample Chapter : Load-Balanced Clusters (PDF Format) and book TOC

HTH

Reply

3 arun-mcse April 15, 2007 at 6:44 pm

Look like a good book. I’ve just started to learn Linux and did 5 days RHCE crash course but failed to clear exam :(

Load balancing and other stuff is new to me. So I’ve just ordered my copy :D

Just a question – which distro book covers Debian or Redhat/CentOS?

Fanx.

Reply

4 nixCraft April 15, 2007 at 7:24 pm

arun-mcse,

> which distro book covers Debian or Redhat/CentOS?

Debian but you can apply all the *instructions* to any other disro including CentOS.

Good luck with your RHCE exam!

Reply

5 gregf April 15, 2007 at 8:51 pm

nixcraft, I know you said iptables was not included. I was agreeing with you that it should be. Thanks for the review.

Reply

6 arun-mcse April 15, 2007 at 9:09 pm

nix, thanks

fanx

Reply

7 Ken H April 18, 2007 at 9:22 pm

The book DOES cover firewalls, see chapter 8, pages 174-181, and has a detailed discussion about firestarter starting on page 176.

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8 nixCraft April 19, 2007 at 6:41 am

Ken,

Firestarter and X is not installed on any production and or load balanced server. No wise admin will waste his/her resource on GUI. The book is aimed at experienced admin and I do expect to see an in-depth firewall, DMZ and other anti-dos related configuration. I hope 2nd version will improve.

Appreciate your post.

Reply

9 Ken H April 19, 2007 at 11:48 am

Hold on, the book explains installing Firestarter, which manages firewall activities. That you have decided to discount this because it uses a (gasp!) GUI is not a failing of the book – firewalls are covered.

The merits of installing a GUI-based tool can be debated, but in an instructional book aimed at (among other things) MCSEs from Windows environments – they EXPECT a GUI.

The authors also address the “GUI on the server” question on page 180:
“At this point, you may be wondering why we’ve included an application dependent on GNOME desktop. Recall that when we chose Fedora as the distribution for local networking, we did so because of its extensive tool set. Adding Firestarter fits into our philosophy without removing our ability to use the command-line interface.”

It’s perfectly fine to say “the book does not cover command-line firewall tools, but does cover a GUI-based tool – in my opinion no production server would have a GUI installed to support such a tool, and this chapter should be rewritten to cover a command line-based firewall”, but what you wrote is not accurate, IMHO.

If you want to extend such comments, fine, it should also be noted that it is a bad idea to put a server on the internet before it is hardened – the book discusses installing Debian with a netinstall CD-ROM image, which requires internet access to build the system. In theory a system could be compromised before installation is complete, resulting in a compromised server.

Reply

10 nixCraft April 19, 2007 at 2:10 pm

Hold on, the book explains installing Firestarter, which manages firewall activities. That you have decided to discount this because it uses a (gasp!) GUI is not a failing of the book – firewalls are covered.
Ah, I agree with about this. The post has been updated to reflect the same. But any good book should not use a GUI tool. This tool is good for desktop user, IMPO.

it should also be noted that it is a bad idea to put a server on the internet before it is hardened.
This is another problem. I hope it will get fixed in next revision.

My overall point and experience shows that no one installs GUI / X on a production box. I’m also trying to forward these comments (discussion) to authors. Let us hope so it will get fixed.

HTH

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11 Abe April 20, 2007 at 12:48 am

Prior to the Firestarter section, they show command-line method of setting up a bastion host and how to configure it as a gateway using an internal and external addressing scheme. So, someone hasn’t read Chapter 8 thoroughly. Also, Chapter 8 talks about using the server for LAN functions not as a remote server. Since the treatise in this section aims at MCSE’s and Linux power users, it seems appropriate to me. The rest of the book (10 chapters) is all command line based.

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12 lee April 20, 2007 at 1:41 pm

We have safari booksonline a/c and I’ve got access to this book. Most of the stuff in this book available online at howtoforge, tldp and other places online; I was truly disappointed with LVS chapter and author simply pointed out howtoforget doc for more advanced configuration :(

This book is not at all for experienced UNIX / Linux users. You search online using google.com/linux for most topics; no need to purchase this book.

But I do agree with rest of you about MCSE background. This is a perfect book for any Microsoft admin, wish I had something like this few years back!

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13 arun-mcse April 20, 2007 at 1:52 pm

hi all,

I got my book 2 days ago and I’m currently playing with Debian :)

Just wondering what’s wrong with GUI? Why most of experienced admin here pointing out command line which is hard to use, IMPO.

The GUI tool helped me to set up firewall in just 2 minutes. A great book….

We are a large Microsoft shop and this book is quick start guide for us. Thanks for the review.

Reply

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