Linux System Administration Tools

Dee-Ann introduces Linuxconf, Webmin, YaST and COAS.

Linux old-timers revel in reminding newcomers that they used to have to do everything by hand, at the command line, uphill, both ways, with duct tape for shoes. What really gets some of these folks sputtering is today's collection of system administration tools that introduce quite a bit of automation. There's good reason for this, actually; if you don't know how to administer your system by hand then you are sunk if something goes wrong. However, this factor doesn't mean you shouldn't take advantage of available helping hands.

There are four major players in the world of Linux system administration tools: COAS, Linuxconf, Webmin and YaST. One of these, YaST, is tied specifically to SuSE Linux. The other three, COAS, Linuxconf and Webmin, come by default with some distributions but are independently available for download and installation.

Linuxconf

Linuxconf (Figure 1) comes with Mandrake Linux and Red Hat Linux, but is also available for most modern Linux distributions. You've probably encountered this tool before if you use one of these distributions, either as the whole package or in one of its modular components. Multiple interfaces for Linuxconf have been available for years, but now we're up to four: GUI, Web, command-line and ncurses.

Figure 1. The GNOME Version of Linuxconf

Linuxconf has actually been around for years, which means its bugs have had longer to shake out than the other distribution-neutral tools. You can download and find out more about this tool at www.solucorp.qc.ca/linuxconf. Be sure to read through what each portion of the Linuxconf package is used for. There is a base package with the non-GUI components, and then there are various GUI front-end pieces from a more general X Window System version to one specifically built for GNOME.

Whether you stick with the command-line version or add a GUI front end, you run the tool by typing linuxconf. From here you navigate text or point and click menus to access a wide variety of system settings, everything from basic networking details to GRUB configuration. Linuxconf also plays well with people who refuse to use the root account for anything but the most vital tasks. If you try to run it as root, the tool simply asks for the root password--if this fact makes you nervous, then you may want to consider not using this tool, but this practice is fairly standard in modern administration tools. When you consider that anyone could just try to su to the root account at whim, you start to see why it is so important to have a secure root password in place.

Webmin

Webmin (Figure 2) comes with, and was recently acquired by, Caldera Linux. This tool is not only available for most modern Linux distributions, it also runs on most major flavors of UNIX and is available in around twenty languages (though some modules are not available in all of the languages). As you might guess, Webmin is purely a web-based application and a heavily modular one at that.

Figure 2. Webmin in Red Hat Linux 7.2, under GNOME

There is a set of core modules that handle the usual system administration functionality, and then there are the third-party modules available for administering a variety of packages and services. To download and learn more about Webmin, point your web browser to www.webmin.com/webmin. Once again, this package is available in a number of formats specific to different distributions.

Where any user can install Linuxconf, Webmin must be installed by root. After that you can access this tool from any user account as long as you know the root password.

There are three separate rows of icons on this tool's front page. On the upper right, you have a pair of administrative links, one to log you out of the Webmin tool and another that allows you to fill out a feedback form that sends your comments back to the Webmin team. In the same top row on the upper left you can click on the word Webmin and go to the product home page. On the upper bar directly beneath those links, there are a series of menu icons, which are, from left to right:

  • Webmin: takes you back to the main Webmin screen.

  • System: a collection of configuration issues, such as user and group manipulation, disk quotas and cron jobs.

  • Servers: configuration routines for a number of servers you may have installed on your system, such as Apache, WU-FTPD and sendmail.

  • Hardware: configuration utilities for hardware issues such as RAID, printers and disk partitions.

  • Cluster: a collection of cluster maintenance tools.

  • Others: a set of tools that system administrators typically need, such as a command prompt, an alias manager and a file manager.

Finally, there is the Webmin tab, which has a series of Webmin management tools:

  • Webmin Actions Log: if you've enabled Webmin logging, this function allows you to search through the logfiles for what you've utilized this tool to do to your system.

  • Webmin Configuration: takes you to the amazing number of configuration options available for Webmin, everything from strengthening your Webmin authentication requirements to upgrading either the main package or individual modules.

______________________

Comments

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

What is File management in Linux

Anonymous's picture

I would like to know what is file management in Linux please

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Ciberaula's picture

The only thing that is better in Microsoft systems is the easy way of doing anything. When become Linux an easy operating system for everyone the people will choose Linux. I think this is near.

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

Cpanel still does it best IMHO & IMGO
:)

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

cchamb2's picture

I'm just a newcomer to the Linux world and networking, and I would only partially agree with the concept that web-based administrative tools are not yet ready for widespread deployment.

While initial configuration is still best done at command line, the web-based tools will catch on as post-install interfaces through which [remote] tech support people can have the EU (network or system admin) address settings issues.

SABIEN Administration

Anonymous's picture

I agree with the Post Setup GUI idea - this is why I am working on a commercial system

www.sabien.uklinux.net

Though the Gurus will argue this Ive had over a 1000 hits in 2 weeks so the demand for a GUI must be high

info@sabien.uklinux.net

In addition Im going to try and make it clear to a learner what SABIEN is going to do to the config before applying changes and have plently of user friendly context specific help

Thanks,

Steve

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

This author is either out of touch or very unfamilar with configuration tools these days. YaST1 is dead, LinuxConf is not pushed by either RedHat nor Mandrake (and hasn't been for at least a year), and Caldera's COAS isn't really worth mentioning considering it's age and quality.

Additionally, the author forgets Mandrake Control Center (MCC) which is probably the easiest to use control panel.

-Tim

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

To Tim:

What can you do with MCC. For example do you configure dns, mail server,Sql. Or can you use all of servers as integrated for a domain.

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

To the best of my knowledge you can not configure a mail server or MySQL with mcc. MCC, like Mandrake is oriented toward the desktop. However, phpMyAdmin is included with and is an excellent way to handle MySQL stuff.

MCC takes care of things like Bootup configuration, DHCP, Dialup internet, security settings using "msec," package management, X11 config etc. Think something between YaST1 and YaST2-like functionality, and you get a pretty good idea of what MCC is.

-Tim

tournament

 tournament's picture

In your free time, check the sites about betting ...

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

hmm, interesting... so you're advocating that MCC will work on my Slackware setup? Since YaST is indeed dead, can I use MCC on SusE?

Re: Linux System Administration Tools (2)

Anonymous's picture

I believe it very well might run on Slackware. I tested one component (Menudrake) on Debian and it worked fairly well. With a bit of work, you could definately get MCC to work on pretty much any setup. And you are free to do so since it is Free Software.

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

Relax, cut the author some slack ok? The point of the article was show the different configuration tools (old or new) that can be used for system management. True linuxconf is not pushed anymore by RH or MDK but this utility is still very much included in the distros and just not installed on default. In fact, a lot of sysads still use linuxconf particularly on RH setups just because IT IS THERE.

The author did in fact mentioned the outdatedness of COAS and YaST1 being replaced by YaST2. The mere mention of them is just for academic comparison.

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

My point is that one should not write an article claiming to cover the major configuration tools and then basically spend most of the time talking about tools that are no longer of use.

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

What is the replacement for linuxconf in RH 7.3?

Easy and complete solution is Easilix SM!

Anonymous's picture

Why Nothing about the Easilix SM. That is unified, secure, complete, easy and simple Linux server and system admin tool. More than tool, it is complete solution especially for intranet. I tried to use both of them (webmin and linuxconf),but my opion is Easilix much better than all.

Re: Easy and complete solution is Easilix SM!

Anonymous's picture

Yeah it's great. Should it can install on PentiumMMX machine or Vmware just to testing? I have problem with it when in partition disk, I always got error message. Could you help me?If you have some good idea please mailme: olymtang@hotmail.com

Re: Easy and complete solution is Easilix SM!

Anonymous's picture

How can i find it?what is its web page or download url?

Re: Easy and complete solution is Easilix SM!

Anonymous's picture

You can download full ISO from:

http://www.easilix.com

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

First of all I think people should know that the only GUI tools that are alive are Webmin and Yast.

Second, GUI tools can screw you over if you don't know how to do it manually. Webmin asks you to configure the modules before you get to use them. That means you are screwed if you don't know how to configure them manually in the first place.

It may sound like I don't like GUI tools but I do. I just don't want new Linux users to think that GUI tools will save them if they don't know how to do something at the command line.

SABIEN Linux Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

Im currently working on a administration system for Linux that will be commercial

Though the Gurus will argue this Ive had over a 1000 hits in 2 weeks so the demand for a GUI must be high

www.sabien.uklinux.net

In addition Im going to try and make it clear to a learner what SABIEN is going to do to the config before applying changes and have plently of user friendly context specific help

I would really appreciate any feedback

info@sabien.uklinux.net

Thanks,

Steve

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

What about VI, sed, awk and emacs?

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

are you kidding?

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

People seem to forget a very important thing. Computers are very complex. Configuring, installing and troubleshooting a server is a task for a highly qualified professional and a layman will not be able to do it properly weather it is GUI or console. Recent IIS adventures have shown us that. As a professional I would take flexibility over ease of use any day. Desktop systems are different, but a generic desktop user doesn't want to configure his/her computer at all GUI or console. Generic desktop user gets scared of MS control panel let alone console. It would be much easier for a professional to help end-user if directions to reconfigure computer would sound like "type ... press ENTER' then "click here, click there, press OK, click Preferences..." So, I think projects like linuxconf and YAST are very bad for Linux. Webmin in my opinion is a very poor substitute for SSH.

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

Ok well someone here needs to go back to Linux or *Nix school.

Webmin in my opinion is a very poor substitute for SSH.

That's a very uneducated statement. First of all SSH and Webmin are two VERY different things. SSH (secure shell) is a replacement for telnet and many of the r* services.

Webmin is a web-based administrative tool that use Perl/CGI to alter system configuration files. So tell me where is the corelation between the two?

While I am not a HUGE fan of this GUI admin tools Webmin has to be one of the best (if not the best) webbased tool for many of the Unix system administrative tasks that are out there. Webmin is a tool for those seasoned Unix admins out there who want to reduce some typing but otherwise you still have to know what you're doing.

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

All these tools are good, but as long as each app has its own proprietary conf file syntax, a front end tool like webmin will have to know each one of these formats and mess around with regexp. These means hard work and posibility for error. All conf files should be xml-s and posibly also restricted by some standars. This should be the future. Imagine the posibilityes. It would be so much easier to front end an xml.

Come on, you gotto grow up.

Anonymous's picture

Seriously, what was the point in saying 'What can i say?" Did that bit of cuteness add anything of value to this thread?

If you have nothing useful to say, then you have nothing to say, so say nothing.

XML is rubbish

Anonymous's picture

All XML does is call each "proprietary conf file syntax" XML and leaves the poor user to trackdown the definition of this particular XML format. Added to which the vast piles of verbage that XML adds make the file harder for humans to read and understand.
Saying that "All conf files should be xml" is like saying "All conf files should be text, with lots of extra bits to make it hard to read".
TWW

Re: XML is rubbish

Anonymous's picture

XML has its good points. As does SQL? or say HTML? A little knowledge never hurts. Remember BBS systems? and then there was this thing called hypertext. The point is not how XML works but rather how various systems work with XML. After all effenciency is the goal here as is smaller code. Dont you think?

This is not

Anonymous's picture

GUI admin tools do not automate. They do just the opposite. They lock you into a GUI. Linuxconf is a perfect example. The traditional, well documented, human readable, hand editable config files are overlayed with Linuxconf config files - files that are nonstandard, less readable and poorly documented.

This means the GUI becomes your only option. The only way to make config changes is to plant a shaved ape in front of a terminal. "This file is automaically generated - Do not hand edit!" Automation is no longer an option. No scripting allowed. The Windows Way. Lotsa ROI cause your shaved ape doesn't need to know what he's doing. Just point and click. And if it doesn't work... call tech support and curse your own impotence. Just like NT.

Re: This is not

Anonymous's picture

Very lucid.

I would love to talk to you.

310-980-6241

Al

Re: This is not

Anonymous's picture

Absolutely. I find that the only thing I can count on when dealing with various different Unixes (SunOS, HP-UX, Linux) is the text config files and Vi. That's all I need, and thankfully, Debian keeps true to this.

Open COE

Anonymous's picture

Still very immature, there is a project called OpenCOE to implement the DoDs cross platform system management APIs for user and software management. If you are familiar with DII COE, you might want to check out http://rhinohide.cx/opencoe

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

Outdated arcticle: RedHat doesn't deliver linuxconf anymore with RedHat 7.3, yast1 is history with SuSE 8.0.

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

I beg to differ, linuxconf is very much still included in the RH distros. It is included as an option and not installed as default. It may be outdated, But IMHO it still does the job it was originally designed to do.

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

Of course linuxconf is in RH 7.3!!! check the contrib dir!!!

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

what replaces linuxconf in redhat 7.3 ? what replaces yast in suse 8 ?

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

suse dropped yast (the original one) in favor of yast2. one of the big changes in suse 8.0 was the switch from using the /etc/rc.config file to the /etc/sysconfig directory structure (as specified by the LSB). since yast2 is more modular than yast, it was much easier for suse to upgrade yast2 to work with the changes. however, there seem to be a lot of people who are upset over the loss of yast.

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

If your doing an install on a system that is basically not GUI capable (I don't recall the requirements for a GUI install with SuSE, but I've worked on several systems that didn't meet them) yast is much prefered. The "text mode" yast2 is painfully slow on such systems, and a real pain in the ass to navigate without a mouse. Basically, it's only a problem on systems 5 or more years old, but enough people have those lying around that they'd like to throw Linux on that it becomes an issue.

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

DaveCallaghan's picture

I standardized on SuSE because I have Intel and PowerPC-based systems. Configuring an RS/6000 with a terminal and a keyboard using YAST is difficult, but still possible. Barely. The end of YAST may mean the return of AIX for me, depending on how they resolve the text-only YAST2 issues that you mentioned.

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

What is the replacement for linuxconf in RH 7.3?

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

Hmmm, could have used some deeper information than "these tools exist." Linuxconf is famous for goobering up configuration files. Some GUI tools maintain their own configuration databases, rather than simply being a front-end to the existing, standard text configuration files, and are responsible for some serious hose jobs. It would be valuable to know how they work under the hood. I like Webmin very much, I understand it is a Perl frontend to text configuration files. That's how it should work.

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

Why nothing about the Mandrake Control Center ? They provide a feature that should be in every config tool imho: explanations. Each config tool reports what it is doing, what files are modified and what commands are executed.

This helps the user to learn how a config task is done, can also be used to debug by experimented admin and give more confidence in the tool because it eliminates the black box syndrom.

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

Why Nothing about the Easilix SM. That is unified, secure, complete, easy and simple Linux server and system admin tool. More than tool, it is complete solution especially for intranet. I tried to use both of them (webmin and linuxconf). But Easilix much better than all.

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

Easilix isn't Open Source as in Free Software. It's likely that the article discusses administration tools that follow the spirit of the Operating System being managed, and the likelihood of already finding the tools packaged freely with that Free Open Source Operating System.

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

I'm a Mandrake addict.

but seeing how YaST2 runs in KDE (screenshot above) I think that my love for SuSE is starting to shine yet again...

Just another proof that the more time passes on, the more the open source movement is strong... so strong...

Re: Linux System Administration Tools

Anonymous's picture

It's rather amazing... and does a lot of things. It's the easiest I've ever seen on linux (just try to set up your cable modem - Eth card, etc...)

And which is better: it does not overwrites your old configuration files under /etc/sysconfig, but makes rotated backups of these (unlike Webmin).

Apart from this, it interoperates perfectly with Webmin.

Webmin is excellent

Anonymous's picture

Whilst I still prefer to edit configuration files by hand, I was amazed by Webmin's depth when I used it for the first time earlier this year.

Webmin has modules for configuring a huge number of services (including Apache, BIND, DHCPD, NIS, NFS, PAM, sendmail/postfix/qmail, sshd, WUFTP/ProFTP) and performing a large number of tasks (including adding users, scheduling at and cron tasks, modifying disk quotas, killing processes, viewing system logs). There's also several other modules that can be downloaded.

This tool has not caused any problems for me since using it for many mundane system administration tasks (this can not be said of Linuxconf) for the past month, and would be perfect for delegating simple tasks to help desk workers or colleagues.

The other advantage of Webmin is that it imports and uses the existing settings quite well, rather than overwriting settings with another default copy (something YaST does quite badly).

Highly recommended.

None of them, excellent.

Anonymous's picture

Administration tools use different interfaces. They aren't full-featured. Also some tools interfere with manual file editing. As an result, Linux makes everyone to being expert.

Re: Webmin is excellent

Anonymous's picture

I agree. I have been linuconf for *quite* some time now. Even though i personally prefer editing configuration files by hand, i too was amazed at the depth of webmin.

I have found modules for servers like Tomcat, Orion and other application servers. Not to mention the fact that we have come up with our own to let the users tailor their own settings.

Webmin's an excellent software and highly recommended from me too :)

Re: Webmin is excellent

Anonymous's picture

Agreed; the only issue with Webmin is security, and I believe that can be addressed by sending the Webmin-relevant HTTP requests to the target system over an SSH session.

Webinar
One Click, Universal Protection: Implementing Centralized Security Policies on Linux Systems

As Linux continues to play an ever increasing role in corporate data centers and institutions, ensuring the integrity and protection of these systems must be a priority. With 60% of the world's websites and an increasing share of organization's mission-critical workloads running on Linux, failing to stop malware and other advanced threats on Linux can increasingly impact an organization's reputation and bottom line.

Learn More

Sponsored by Bit9

Webinar
Linux Backup and Recovery Webinar

Most companies incorporate backup procedures for critical data, which can be restored quickly if a loss occurs. However, fewer companies are prepared for catastrophic system failures, in which they lose all data, the entire operating system, applications, settings, patches and more, reducing their system(s) to “bare metal.” After all, before data can be restored to a system, there must be a system to restore it to.

In this one hour webinar, learn how to enhance your existing backup strategies for better disaster recovery preparedness using Storix System Backup Administrator (SBAdmin), a highly flexible bare-metal recovery solution for UNIX and Linux systems.

Learn More

Sponsored by Storix