[nycbug-talk] some comments, please
george at sddi.net
Thu Jul 8 12:01:30 EDT 2004
i'm posting this to slashdot book reviews. . .comments appreciated. .
.some rewriting from the soon-to-be-released Daemon News EZine version.
A flurry of BSD UNIX-related (Berkeley Software Distribution) books
have hit the bookstores over the past few years.
From books specific to OpenBSD (Secure Architectures with OpenBSD) to
the reissue of The Design and Implementation of the BSD Operating
System for FreeBSD 5.x expected in August 2004, to Michael Lucas'
series of BSD Books from NoStarch Press, print documentation is
certainly available for those interested in learning about the free,
open source UNIX system which powers operations such as Yahoo! portal
and Sendmail.org website, Verio and Pair hosting, not the mention
Netcraft, the premier web server survey site.
Dru Lavigne's BSD Hacks (O'Reilly and Associates, May 2004), is the
latest book in these releases, and is an enormously useful resource for
systems administrators and end-users alike.
BSD Hacks is the first book that is almost solely focused on hacks for
sysadmins, without boring you with the details for basic operating
system installation and configuration that has been so well documented
elsewhere. For those who find difficulty in BSD installs and other
fundamentals, it's best to start with the FreeBSD Handbook, the NetBSD
Guide or the OpenBSD FAQ.
It's not just for sysadmins though. Intermediate and advanced BSD users
will also find the book an excellent tool.
There's lots of good hacks buried in the various BSD books, around the
internet in different how-to's and tutorials. But BSD hacking is the
sole purpose of BSD Hacks. No need to browse through install screens
and overviews of TCP/IP before getting to the heart of the matter.
With 100 listed hacks, multiplied by an impressive level of detailed
angles for each, Dru provides an array that demands the placement of
this book right in your server room, not in a pile of
The majority of hacks are applicable to all the BSDs, including Darwin
and OS X, although some are specific to one BSD or another.
This review obviously can't list every hack, although you would be
smart to sit and work through the book yourself over a weekend or two.
But it is possible to provide a good flavor of BSD Hacks in brief.
O'Reilly and Associates does give a good glimpse on their Sample Hacks
page. But let's do a quick work through ourselves.
The first chapter is called "Customizing the User Environment," and is
probably best for end-users looking to go beyond their first steps. But
it does include some useful hacks, such as "Use an Interactive Shell"
that certainly fit well into the arsenal of any sysadmin, not to
mention Hack #12 "Use Multiple Screens on One Terminal."
The second chapter, "Dealing with Files and Filesystems" also contains
gems for both end-users and sysadmins. The use of mtree, which maps a
directory hierarchy, is mentioned as a tool for recovery. Later on in
chapter 6, Dru details its use for making a hacked data integrity
checker, thus filling the gap often played by products such as
Another great tool Dru covers in the second chapter is g4u, a free
ghosting program that gives you the ability for quick restores over
ftp. Ghosting a drive image is an incredibly useful tool, whether it's
about replicating servers or doing a quick reinstall and configuration
when a server fails in an emergency.
Chapter 3 is entitled "Boot and Login Environments." It gives some
hacks that aren't just for basic system administration, but also some
useful security ones including changing your /etc/passwd file to
Blowfish encryption and utilizing OPIE for one-time passwords, which is
built into FreeBSD.
"Backup Up" is the focus of Chapter 4. It includes some very creative
methods of dealing with maintaining that necessity, and also includes
an excellent primer on Bacula, which is increasingly gaining prominence
as a cross-platform backup system.
Chapter 5 covers "Network Hacks," and continues on educating a
sysadmin. Included in this chapter is the tcpdump program, a vital tool
for watching traffic flowing by your network interfaces.
There's a strong security focus in Chapter 6, entitled "Securing the
System." While security hacks are sprinkled generously throughout the
book, this chapter works with firewalling with IPF and PF, in addition
to covering SSH and Snort. It also includes the earlier mentioned
intrusion detection light version with mtree.
Chapter 7, "Going Beyond the Basics" explores scripting, analyzing
dreaded buffer overflows and more. She also includes a bit on "Creating
a Trade Show Demo," not something you'd expect documented in print
anywhere, but nevertheless something that is quite useful for anyone
working for the BSDs at a conference.
Dru continues with "Keeping Up-to-Date" in Chapter 8, which includes
useful details on upgrading and downgrading your installed ports.
The final chapter is "Grokking BSD." "Grok," as Dru comments, refers to
the science fiction writer Heinlein's Martian phrase for having a
"thorough understanding." Dru covers creating your own manual pages,
dealing with custom patches, playing with dictionaries and more.
Certainly there's no walls between each chapter, as many of the hacks
could be shifted around. All the more reason to work your way through
the book from beginning to end.
One useful addition for this book could have been somehow denoting
which of the BSDs, or all, the hacks were appropriate to. Certainly not
all are available to Darwin and Apple's OS X, without at least further
knowledge of hacking port source code.
While many of the hacks are found somewhere in the manual pages, on
some useful website, buried in another book or in the minds of some
developer somewhere, but not necessarily in the annals of official
There's no single book or site that provides the depth and breadth that
It's a project that no one individual is capable of doing. Dru managed
to tap into the thoughts of dozens of developers and sysadmins around
the world, greatly enhancing the variety of hacks in this book.
Whether you're a sysadmin managing hundreds of servers, or a power user
ready to go beyond the obvious, BSD Hacks belongs next to your CRT.
Spend a weekend working through this book. You won't regret it.
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