Linux Server Hacks

Author: Rob Flickenger

ISBN: 0596004613

Publisher: O'Reilly & Associates

Reviewed by: Dean Wilson

The first time i picked this book up to read i never even made it through the first four pages to the preface, the foreword is provided by Eric Raymond and to be completely honest, does no justice to the rest of the book. While ESR focuses on the abstract details of hackers, in pretty much the same way as all his other writing, the meat of the book is pure, hands on solution. Lucky for O'Reilly that most of us flick through the middle while making our purchasing decisions!

The book itself is broken up into eight separate chapters that are as pleasant to jump around, reading task by task, as they are to work through sequentially. In order, Linux Server Hacks covers:

  • Server Basics
  • Revision Control
  • Backups
  • Networking
  • Monitoring
  • SSH
  • Scripting
  • Information Servers

And except for the Server Basics section (discussed below) the book is targeted at everyone from people comfortable with running their own desktop with some services to people with professional admin skills in large networks. Its hard to choose a chapter and not have at least one item that grabs your attention and gives you a feeling of "I should of thought of that."

A good example of this is the script that shows a system's load average in a console/terms titlebar (tip 59 for those working along.) Its a 20 line perl script but it's too useful to not implement as soon as you've read the tip. Its also a shining example of one of the books oddities, the complete absence of any indentation in any of the sample code contained in the book, a bug that doesn't seem to have bitten the online code archives available from the O'Reilly web site.

If there is a weak section to the book then I'd have to say its Server Basics, however my reasons for disliking this are purely personal. This chapter shows newer admin's a number of useful tips and tricks that experienced Linux people will most likely already know, so while it was less than useful to me and probably most London PMer's, less experienced admin's would still gain enough to make the chapter well worth the read.

The highlight of the book for me is a tough call, the entire revision control section provides a good hands on primer that, if it encourages more admins to store configs in source control, is worth its wait in gold.

The second highlight was the ssh chapter, it's easy to forget how versatile ssh is and get used to having it as no more than a basic telnet replacement. This chapter brings back some of the 'cool' factor for its more intermediate uses.

The real selling point for me has to be the sheer breadth of subject matter in such a slim tome. Within the eight chapters is an amazing amount of not only knowledge and concrete examples but also ingenuity and, while trying not to sound like ESR, some of the spirit of the system. This has to be one of the only books my co-workers have ever leafed through and said "ahh that's why you use 'foo', you never mentioned it could do that as well." and that showing of opportunities in itself justifies its purchase.

Rob Flickenger may be a sysadmin at O'Reilly but the world of Linux books need his skills more than they do. An essential read for anyone with less than a couple of years hands on Linux experience and excellent read for anyone with them. Top notch.