Book Review -- The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques

by Abhijeet Chavan

Title: The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques

Author: Martin Krafft

Publisher: No Starch Press

ISBN: 1593270690

Price: $44.95

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Martin Krafft's The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques is not a general introduction to GNU/Linux. Instead, the book focuses only on Debian-specific concepts and tools. I found little overlap between the material in this book and several general Linux-related books I already own. From fundamental concepts to advanced techniques, most topics in this book are covered in great depth, so it is likely to have a long shelf-life on most readers' bookshelves.

Given its focus, The Debian System probably is not a book for those completely new to GNU/Linux. Krafft states that the book is intended for administrators who have working knowledge of Linux or UNIX systems and some familiarity with GNU utilities. If you already are familiar with a GNU/Linux distribution, this book will help you evaluate and migrate to Debian. The Debian System also might be useful to those running Debian-based distributions. The book certainly should appeal to seasoned Debian users, who will enjoy exploring the advanced topics.

The Debian System is more than a HOWTO guide for using the software, however. The book also provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how a GNU/Linux distribution is developed. Kraftt's description of the Debian community reveals how the social side of the Debian project works--how developers and users organize, interact and advance the project.

I liked Krafft's precise, straight-to-the-point writing style. He makes basic as well as advanced topics readable without coming across as either condescending or cryptic. The terse footnotes are useful and supplement the text with interesting tips and resources. This is a technical book for sure, without fluff or off-topic detours, and it's packed with information. Still, Krafft manages to impart a personal feel by sharing his observations and balanced opinions. He delivers frank assessments of the strengths, weaknesses and eccentricities of a Debian system. In fact, the book even includes an appendix on how to decide if Debian is the right GNU/Linux distribution for you.

Screenshots are rare in The Debian System and are used only where a visual is required. The book is filled with shell interactions and excerpts from configuration files, however, making this a good book to have around for hands-on experimentation. Krafft's use of diagrams to explain topics such as the structure of the Debian community or the life cycle of a Debian package is effective.

To use The Debian System as a reference book, you need to know if the topic you are looking up is specific to Debian or if it's a general GNU/Linux question that may not be covered by the book. This can be challenging for those completely new to GNU/Linux. And, although the book covers a lot of topics, the index at the back of the book does not list many keywords. It should be expanded for future editions.

I have been using The Debian System as a reference for several months now. Krafft's explanations about the reasoning and motivation behind Debian's design and implementation have been invaluable. With the help of this book, I have discovered utilities I had no idea existed. In short, it has helped me become a more informed Debian user. The Debian System is essential reading for all Debian users.

Abhijeet Chavan is the Chief Technology Officer of Urban Insight, Inc., a Web development consulting firm. He also is the co-founder and co-editor of Planetizen.

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