Linux Networking Clearly Explained: A Book Review

Aimed at novices, this books skims over the important stuff and misses the goal.

Title: Linux Networking Clearly ExplainedAuthor: Bryan PfaffenbergerPublisher: Morgan KaufmannISBN: 0125331711

After reading the back cover of the book or its description on major bookseller's web sites, you might be enticed to believe that Linux Networking Clearly Explained will provide the tools to create a Linux-based network--a fairly advanced one, at that. Unfortunately, for most users this would not be the case.

The book is aimed obviously at novices. If the novice happens to be a modem user, it is a stellar resource, if only in the areas of dealing with the installation or configuration of a modem. In most other areas of networking, it falls miserably short.

For instance, approximately 25 pages of Chapter One (including screenshots) consist of step-by-step instructions detailing exactly how to install and configure various types of modems. Network Interface Cards received only five pages; there were no effective step-by-step instructions and no screenshots whatsoever. Disturbingly, this trend continues throughout the book.

Another prime example is Chapter 11, "Sharing High Speed Connections". This chapter is 30 pages long, the first 19 of which describe high-speed Internet connection options (xDSL, Cable, etc.). Four pages provide a cursory overview on configuring the connection (again, no step-by-step instructions), and the remainder of the chapter is spent, inexplicably, on how/why to configure your Netscape cache.

The book is also filled with inaccuracies--some glaring and some, presumably, deliberate in order to ease the novice user into the more technical aspects of networking. Unfortunately, this does the novice no good and harms the author's credibility with more advanced and/or knowledgeable users. Some of the worst errors were:

  • regarding Subnet masking: the author states on p. 124 that the netmask can only contain 0 and 255. This is patently false.

  • regarding Windows networking and the configuration of the Client for Microsoft Networks, specifically regarding the differences between "quick logon" and "Log on and restore network connections": on p. 202 the author states that "Quick Logon does not restore drive mappings." This is absolutely incorrect, as well as misleading. It would be far more accurate to say that the drive mapping isn't restored until the user first tries to access the mapped drive(s) in Windows.

  • regarding DNS configuration: the author states that "this failure will force it to look in the c:\windows\hosts. file..." Correctly stated, the hosts file is used first for Windows DNS lookups, not last as the author suggests.

After the previous inaccuracies, the ability, expertise and authority of the author to write such a text is called seriously into question. After all, the author talks about such topics as the OSI Model of networking, the origin of Ethernet and the difference between Circuit and Packet Switched networks. If time is spent on these topics--arguably superfluous at best to a novice user--then why not be completely accurate in the more useful topics as well?

Despite the numerous failures of the book, mention needs to be made of the areas in which this book was both thorough and useful. The step-by-step modem installation and configuration instructions were top notch. Chapters Six, 14 and 15 were very clear and helpful; they dealt with file permissions, backing up data and network troubleshooting, respectively. Chapter 15, while not overly detailed, provides an excellent overview of basic troubleshooting.

Sadly, these few shining parts do not enhance the worth of the whole. Overall, the book is sadly deficient in several key areas. In others, it is confusing, incomplete and inaccurate. It offers little help in any area other than modem configuration and installation. The author continuously delves into matters that a novice would probably find tedious, if not completely extraneous. Further, the author skims shallowly over areas that need considerable attention, such as how to configure Linux to use a broadband connection, especially considering the reluctance (even outright refusal) of broadband ISPs to provide any technical support whatsoever for Linux users. Certainly, there are far better books available to aid the novice on his way to Linux networking.

Ron Powell has been an IT Professional for over six years. Primarily working with Microsoft base solutions, he has recently discovered and embraced Linux--both on a personal and professional level.



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Re: Linux Networking Clearly Explained: A Book Review

Anonymous's picture

I agree with Ron's assessment on this book.

I've read the book twice. I noticed the DNS controdiction and thank Ron for confirming my suspiciions (As a newbie it can be very unsettling when you find contradictions in the same book.) The book has it's strong points as mentioned, but, it isn't as focused and complete as it should be. I only notice this after reading other books and try to set up my network. It is not GUI or tool oriented but rather more manual command line oriented. I purchased "Linux Networking Clearly Explained" because I thought so highly of his earlier book "Linux Clearly Explained." Although now clearly outdated due to events in the Linux Community "Linux Clearly Explained" was an excellent general starter book.

Most published books are crap - but HOWTOs + mailing lists are g

Anonymous's picture

If you want to learn linux networking, read the HOWTOs available at Join a mailing list and search the archives for all the newbie questions that have already been answered.

Books are going to always be either outdated or low-quality because they were rushed to market. For example, IPTABLES is way too new for anyone to have written a decent book on it. But there are good HOWTOs floating around out there - and they're free.

The computer books worth buying are the classics that teach fundamentals rather than implementation. Everything else is available free online. I would save my money on books and instead buy a high-quality printer, so that I can print out and store all the good HOWTOs in binders.

Binders are easier to use anyway because they lay flat on my table next to the computer.

Re: Linux Networking Clearly Explained: A Book Review

Terry's picture

Does this point to a general problem with computer books?

In the past ten years, I've spent several thousand dollars on computer books and can name only two that were complete and useful. And, unfortunately, both of those are very outdated now.

The reviewer touched on a topic that I've wrestled with recently, xDSL. Several resources I've read state that "one of the most common uses for a linux server is as a gateway for the home user/small office, connecting a small LAN to the internet". A few of those resources then added several more sentences on that topic, but nothing very usefull.

It seems to me one of the biggest problems authors of computer books have is defining the scope of their subject matter, and then staying within that scope. I'm sure that guidance for how/why to configure your netscape cache is very useful to many people, but my recipe for tamales would be too. Does ethier one belong in a book about networking Linux?

I didn't read the book that this review is refering to, I'm just commenting on the review itself and my perceptions of texts in this catagory in a whole.