Book Review: “Essential System Administration”

All you need to know about managing Linux/UNIX/BSD.
At first glance, this book seems like a typical O’Reilly book: a narrow title, rich in material, and is beneficial to a much wider audience than the title reveals. It covers a wide range of system administration subjects and goes way beyond just the essentials.

Over the years, I have administered several multi-user UNIX, Linux, and FreeBSD servers. I believed that I knew the essentials, because if I did not, I would not have been able to do my job all these years. I wanted to see if the things that I learned by experience, often the hard way, are included in “Essential System Administration”. Sure enough, they were all there. Not only that, but they were laid out simply, without much unnecessary technical details, and accompanied by numerous examples and anecdotal encounters by the author. If you read one section, you would be able to apply the knowledge and skills that it describes right away. For instance, you don’t need to read the entire manual of procmail in order to write some effective mail filters; chapter 9 has a section on “Mail Filtering with procmail” that covers the essentials.

One impressive feature of this book is that it covers how to do things on a variety of operating system including various flavours of UNIX, Linux, and BSD. In the past, I often ran into a situation where I knew how to do something on FreeBSD, but did not know how to accomplish the same task on Solaris. With this book by my side, I will not have this problem again.

Another feature of the book is that it covers a very, VERY, very wide variety of administrative topics: from every day system management, to operating system internals, to various devices, to backing up, to scheduling, to rebuilding the kernel. I am yet to find a task, whether typical or atypical, that is not covered in “Essential System Administration”.

But wait, are not most, if not all, of these topics encountered in a user’s daily life? Are mail filters limited only to system administrators? Of course not! Many users organize their email by defining personal mail filters. And what about devices? Every user who uses a Linux-based desktop computer goes through the frustration of configuring devices at some point. “Essential System Administration” is really written to be useful for any UNIX/Linux/BSD user, not only system administrators.

On a second thought, any one who owns a computer running UNIX/Linux/BSD is the administrator of one’s system. Not only that, but anyone who uses one of these system must still manage their own account and perform tasks such as scheduling tasks, emailing, and printing. “Essential System Administration” was not written for system administrators in the traditional sense — someone who is paid to administer an expensive system with hundreds or thousands of users — but for the administrator in the broad sense — any user who wishes to perform some management tasks on their system.

“Essential System Administration” is an invaluable resource for anyone who wishes to become an expert in system administration, and is a useful resource for users of these systems. I give this book 4.5 out of 5.

Book Information:

  • Author: ÆFleen Frisch
  • Third Edition August 2002
  • ISBN 10: 0-596-00343-9 | ISBN 13:9780596003432
  • 1176 pages, $54.95 US, $85.95 CA, £38.95 UK

Essential System Administration” is available from O’Reilly Media, Inc. Sample chapters can be obtained @ The O’Reilly Catalog.

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