The Linux Network

The Linux Network is chock full of networking gems that reflect decades of experience and significantly ease the task of creating a Linux-based network.
  • Authors: Fred Butzen and Christopher Hilton

  • URL: http://www.idg.com/

  • Publisher: IDG Books Worldwide, Inc.

  • Price: $39.99 US

  • ISBN: 1-55828-589-X

  • Reviewer: Duane Hellums

Administrators considering networked Linux servers and workstations can now find almost everything they need in one place and no longer have to rifle through mounds of books and technical articles in numerous magazines. The Linux Network is chock full of networking gems that reflect decades of experience and significantly ease the task of creating a Linux-based network.

This book is a “primer” for individuals or smaller offices and organizations that typically cannot afford solutions offered by consultants and proprietary off-the-shelf UNIX servers. Readers should be aware that the book is specialized for networking, so it covers only adding or modifying networking options to Linux, not basic installation of the Linux operating system and kernel. The book includes Slackware version 3.5 based on Linux kernel release 2.0.29, and as such, does not discuss configuration of other distributions such as Red Hat, Caldera, SuSE or Debian. Of course, other than a few minor exceptions, the underlying technologies are extremely similar and the discussions pertain to most Linux distributions.

The authors provide detailed instructions on how to implement typical server functions such as FTP, TELNET, e-mail, news, NFS and SMB file sharing, web server and browsers, proxy server, “gateway” router and DNS. They also include some cool tools, such as details on how to connect to 3Com's 56Kbps telephone line test system, how to optimize Linux networking for security, how to effectively use the syslog daemon and other network debugging tools, and how to configure the point-to-point protocol (PPP) daemon and dial daemon for “dial-on-demand” connections to the Internet. They include a comprehensive networking primer and share many networking jewels, such as the limitations of the ping tool, the differences between IP masquerading and SOCKS, and scalability estimates in terms of users and available network bandwidth. One thing they do much better than many Linux books is include information on how to configure networking to meet the needs of several different real-world examples. They also show all of the Slackware networking configuration options with detailed descriptions of each choice, whereas most writers include only those items on the “typical” installation decision tree, often without any useful description of the options.

The Linux Network provides almost all of the tools needed for an administrator to create a networked Linux workstation, workgroup server, or gateway in either an intranet or Internet environment. I say almost because it lacks a few small items, such as detailed alternatives to UUCP mail service, how to configure Linux and Windows to provide an RS-232 serial port “terminal” connection to a Linux server, how to configure a Linux server to allow dial-in modem connections for remote users, and details on how to implement a Linux DHCP (dynamic IP allocation) and news server. The latter two items were deemed to be outside the scope of the book. UUCP is quite limiting, and many small businesses may have application needs which require remote dial-in, or call for a simpler “network” of Windows-based text terminals connecting to a Linux server, either through a serial port or a multiport serial card.

The writing style in The Linux Network is straightforward and not overly cute, unlike some contemporary technical writing (with the minor exception of the use of the pronoun she exclusively to denote all users and administrators in the book, taking a needlessly political stand on a moot issue while simultaneously abandoning centuries of practical English language custom). The authors include pertinent, useful and interesting details and elaboration where appropriate. Information is nicely organized in a logical manner, usually as a series of steps which show how to install, configure, activate, test and debug networking software and tools.

Emphasis on heterogeneous networking solutions using Linux and Windows is adequate, especially where it involves file and printer sharing. However, coverage of Windows e-mail and newsreaders is somewhat out-of-date and limited to Microsoft Exchange client software. Administrators of Linux networks that include some Windows desktops in the mix should give serious consideration to using Microsoft Outlook Express, which receives no coverage in this book. As with most Linux books, unfortunately, this one has the usual smattering of Windows-bashing. There seems to be an overall bias towards the Netscape Internet suite (mail, news readers and web publishing tools) over Microsoft's (Explorer, Outlook Express, FrontPage Express), which does make some sense for companies with both Linux and Windows desktops that want to standardize applications across both platforms. There also seems to be a preference for Linux across the enterprise, to include Linux workstations rather than the more likely Windows desktops.

The book emphasizes using the Linux server to handle both local and Internet mail services, primarily through UUCP connections, which the authors admit is generally either prohibitively expensive or not available in the administrator's area. For a typical small office sharing a dial-on-demand Linux Internet gateway among half a dozen or so machines and users, a more affordable and graceful solution might be to use individual Internet e-mail accounts through an Internet Service Provider, and local Intranet e-mail accounts on the Linux server (a solution for which Outlook Express excels).

All in all, The Linux Network is a very useful book for any administrator who has Linux up and running on a PC, but is considering the benefits of networking Linux with other PCs and possibly the Internet. For those people who do not already have Linux installed, this book should be combined with a good general purpose Linux book containing detailed basic installation and configuration instructions. Many people run Microsoft Windows (Workgroups, 95 or 98) on desktop PCs and want to integrate them with a Linux workstation or two, or use a Linux server as an affordable, efficient, “open” alternative to an expensive, proprietary NT server. Those people should supplement this book with a good basic Windows TCP/IP networking book. Actually, Microsoft's Internet site active server pages and application wizards make it fairly simple to download, install, configure and use Microsoft's suite of Internet tools.

Duane Hellums is a program manager, software engineer and IT consultant with a Master of Science in Information Systems degree and nine years of network and system administrator experience. His e-mail address is duane@hellums.com.

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