Linux System Administration: A User's Guide

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"Gagne is clearly an insider in the Linux community, familiar with both the technical details and the culture, which sets this book apart from others in the field."

--Joseph Sloan, Lead System Administrator, Mirai Consulting

This comprehensive, hands-on guide to Linux system administration provides you with the deeper understanding of the inner workings of Linux and the pragmatic techniques you need to become an outstanding Linux system administrator--whether you are a career administrator in a corporate environment or simply administering your home system.

Written both for those who are new to Linux and those who are already proficient and wish to hone their skills, Linux System Administration starts with the basics and builds up to more sophisticated material.

You will find complete coverage of all major system administration topics:

  • Linux versus UNIX
  • Installation tips and tricks
  • Working effectively with the Linux command line
  • Organizing and working with system users
  • Disks, file systems, backup, and restore
  • The inner workings of X and the graphical desktop
  • Configuring and using scanners, CD-Recordables, and other devices
  • Internet connectivity
  • Finding, building, and installing software
  • Kernel building and renovation
  • Scripting and automation
  • Network administration, electronic mail, and Web services
  • Integrating Windows with Linux
  • System logs and accounting
  • Security and firewalls
  • Performance monitoring and tuning

Using standard Linux tools (PostgreSQL, Apache, Perl, and more) this book will help you deploy a feature-rich corporate intranet featuring online discussion groups, bulletin boards, a company phone directory, and a document center. You will also learn everything you need to know to install a complete electronic mail and Internet gateway solution for your home or office on a single, shared connection. In addition, numerous anecdotes from the trenches, examples of techniques to try, and plenty of experience-based advice bring important concepts to life.

Written with good humor and enthusiasm for the profession of system administration, as well as a deep appreciation for the power and flexibility of Linux, Linux System Administration will teach you the tricks of the trade, guide your efforts, and serve as a definitive and comprehensive reference.


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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
New (or relatively new) to Linux system administration? We'll bet you've wished the Linux community's enthusiasm was matched by equivalent clarity and patience. Just as it is in Marcel Gagné's Linux System Administration: A User's Guide. Gagné, a regular columnist for both Linux Journal and Sys Admin magazine, obviously loves Linux -- but he also loves explaining it to newcomers, and he has a gift for doing so.

This immensely readable book takes you through all the concepts you need to understand and provides loads of specific commands you can use to actually accomplish things. Like finding files buried in Linux's filesystem. Or giving someone an email-only account. Or configuring an ISP connection. Or finding the latest RPM package for the software package you want to install. Or printing PostScript files to a non-PostScript printer. Or automatically deleting all the junk "core" files that accumulate on Linux systems. Or remotely controlling another Linux desktop, perhaps for support purposes. Or configuring Samba's Windows file and print services. Or squeezing a little more performance out of that old Pentium 60 you're using as an Internet gateway.

We especially appreciated the book's two "Proof of Concept" chapters, which walk you through building a fully functional intranet on a Linux foundation. Here, Gagné stretches beyond the confines of Linux, showing how to set up Apache, PostgreSQL, and Perl DBI and DBD. The really hard work is done for you, all bundled into code you can download from Gagné's web site. (Bill Camarda)

Bill Camarda is a consultant, writer, and web/multimedia content developer with nearly 20 years' experience in helping technology companies deploy and market advanced software, computing, and networking products and services. He served for nearly ten years as vice president of a New Jersey–based marketing company, where he supervised a wide range of graphics and web design projects. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2000 and Upgrading & Fixing Networks For Dummies®, Second Edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780201719345
  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley
  • Publication date: 9/18/2001
  • Pages: 560
  • Product dimensions: 7.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Marcel Gagné is best known as author of the Linux Journal's "Cooking with Linux" series, which has earned the magazine's Readers' Choice award for favorite column four years in a row, and as the regular "Linux Guy" on G4/TechTV Canada. His books include Moving to the Linux Business Desktop and Linux Administration: A User's Guide (both from Addison-Wesley.) He is one of the Linux world's most familiar and respected voices.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 13: Printers and Printing

Printing seems like one those constants of the computer world that should be so simple as to require next to no thought. Of course, you need to print things. Paper output is a part of doing business. Why, then, does printing continue to confound? Over the years, I have seen and read many different estimates regarding system administrators and printers. In particular, I'm interested in the question of how much time the average administrator devotes to this simple thing. One figure (which had a fairly strong argument backing it up) put printer administration at around 25 percent of a system administrator's time. Granted, this information goes back a few years, but I haven't seen much since then to convince me that this figure has changed.

This chapter examines how printing works and what processes are involved at the system level. I want you to walk away with an understanding, not of graphical printer admin tools, but of printing's dirty underbelly. On the subject of tools, I'll also explore some of the alternative tools that are available to make the whole printing experience just that much easier to deal with. The beauty of working with Linux is that you don't have to do things the way they are defined right out of the box. Many other options exist. Armed with the nuts and bolts of printers and printing, you should be able to print just about any type of document to just about any type of printer.

Selecting Printers for Linux (and a Note about “WinPrinters”)


Before you buy any printer to run with your Linux system, make sure you ask your dealer if it will work with Linux. I don't mean to frighten you into thinking that this is an impossible task, by the way. In fact, the “Does it work with Linux?” question is becoming less and less of a problem, but you can still save yourself an awful lot of headaches by asking first. Another way to protect yourself is to check out the hardware compatibility list (see Chapter 4) for Linux systems. This is a great idea for any kind of hardware add-on. For printers, though, you have an additional option that goes one step further.

Even seasoned Linux users like myself occasionally get “stuck” or “caught” with a printer that doesn't work. Some time ago, I bought an HP710C printer, and I just assumed (what do they tell us about assuming) that anything from HP would just work with Linux. After all, they make that great OS, HP-UX. As it turns out, being wrong is extremely easy. This particular printer used something called Printing Performance Architecture (PPA), a closed protocol whose secrets were only available to the Windows platform.

Looking around the Net, I found that an early driver had been put together by a guy named Tim Norman and a group of devoted developers. Unfortunately, at the time, you could only print in black and white, but Tim and his team were working on a color driver. So, I printed in black and white until a color driver finally became available. Had I known about Grant Taylor's printer compatibility list at (http://www., I wouldn't have had to wait because I wouldn't have bought the printer in the first place.

One of the most useful things at is a search engine that lets you select a particular manufacturer and get a report of all printers made by them, what level of support they offer, and what kind of tweaking you might need to do in order to make them work. This is especially good if you already have a particular printer and you want to know what filter or drivers are out there for your Linux system. (I'll delve into filters momentarily.)

If you are feeling less than adventurous (or you haven't already spent money on a printer), you can use the safer reporting option. Simply ask to see which color inkjet printers (or laser printers, or whatever type you are looking for) work perfectly. The resulting report lists printers by manufacturer with appropriate links to detailed descriptions of individual models.

The safest approach of all is to get a PostScript printer. These, unfortunately, don't tend to be inexpensive. I'll talk more about PostScript later.

How Printing Works

Linux offers a number of printing options. You can do text, PostScript, and local printers, as well as lpd remotes. If you want to, you can even create queues that direct printing to your coworkers' Windows 9x printers or provide Windows 9x users with Linux print services (using Samba). One printer is mostly okay, but add a handful and it gets a little bit more interesting. What Linux does is provide you with a wide range of options for dealing with this diversity.

Let's go back to the beginning and see how this whole thing actually works, starting with your old friend, the parallel printer. Basic PC architectures usually have a single parallel port. A printer on that port would actually be connected to /dev/lp0. If your PC has more than one parallel connector (or if you added a printer card), the second and third ports would be /dev/lp1 and /dev/lp2, respectively. Now let's pretend that you have a basic, run-of-the-mill text printer attached to the first parallel port. Printing can be as simple as this:

# echo "This is a test." > /dev/lp0
# echo "Ignore this print job." > /dev/lp0
# echo "This is nonsense." > /dev/lp0
# echo "^L" > /dev/lp0

Note: The last line means “Send a form feed to the printer to eject the page.” The "^L" is actually a Ctrl-L. I inserted that into the text by pressing Ctrl-V (which allows me to then insert control characters) followed by Ctrl-L.

You may notice that something odd has happened. There is a distinct pos-sibility that the output of this simple job looks something like this:

This is a test.
                      Ignore this print job.
                                                        This is nonsense.

This is what my printer configuration tool refers to as “stair stepping of text.” You may also have heard it referred to as the “staircase effect.” What hap-pens is that my printer, a LaserJet 5L in this case, expects either PCL- (its native printer-command language) or DOS-style text. That means carriage returns and line feeds at the end of each line, unlike Linux files, which default to simply line feeds. This classic problem handily brings us to the topic of filters.


Let's take exactly the same lines of (non)information (minus the echo "^L" line) and create a file called “testfile.” I used the Pico editor for this, but you can use whatever editor makes you happy. If you simply cat the file to the printer as before (with cat testfile > /dev/lp0), the results are the same. Building (or coding) a filter can be quite simple. Here's what mine looks like:

#!/bin/bash echo -ne \\033\&k2G cat echo -ne \\f

The first echo line sends the command that tells my LaserJet to convert Linux line feeds to a carriage return followed by a line feed, an escape character followed by the printer control sequence &k2G. This is an HP-specific code, so you may have to check your printer manual for your printer's correct code sequence. The next line simply takes the input it got and passes it through unaltered. The final line sends a form feed to eject the page. I called the file dosfilter, moved it to /usr/local/bin, and made it executable....

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Table of Contents


1. Introduction.

What Is Linux?

Why Linux?

The System Administrator's Job.

About This Book.

The Command Line Rules!

GUIs Rule!


Is There Anything You Can't Do with Linux?

Regrets, I've Had a Few....


2. Linux versus Linux versus UNIX.

The UNIX Question.

The Windows Question

A Question of Distribution.

So Which Linux Distribution Should You Choose?

Red Hat Linux.







Getting Linux.

Getting Others to Try Linux.

Sharing Space with Windows.

How about No Disk Space At All?

A Changing Landscape.


3. Help (and the Truth) Is Out There.

Documentation and Man Pages

What If You Don't Know the Command Name?

Show Me the PATH, man!

Graphical Man Pages.

info (the Command, That Is).

HOWTOs and Distributed DOCs

The Linux Documentation Project

Linux User Groups.

Usenet News.


4. Linux System Installation.

Getting Ready for Your Installation.

Hardware Considerations.

Passing Boot Options

Dual Booting.

The 12 (13, 14, 15...) Steps to Any Installation.

Step 1: Booting.

Step 2: Selecting the Installation Type.

Step 3: Selecting a Language (Parlez-vous Francais?).

Step 4: Choosing a Keyboard Type.

Step 5: Selecting Your Mouse.

Step 6: Selecting a Time Zone.

Step 7: Creating a Partition

Step 8: Formatting the Partitions.

Step 9: To LILO or Not to LILO.

Step 10: Choosing and Installing Software Packages.

Step 11: Configuring the Network.

Step 12: Identifying Yourself.

Step 13: The Dreaded X Window Configuration.

Step 14: The Boot Disk Question.

The (Emergency) Boot Disk.

Starting Linux.

Shutting Down Linux.


5. Taking Command of Linux.

Linux Commands: Love at First Sight.

Working with Files.

File Naming Conventions.

Listing Files with Emotion!

File Permissions: A First Look

Making Your Life Easier with alias

Standard Input and Standard Output


tee: A Very Special Pipe.


The Road to Nowhere

Linux Commands: Working with Directories.

There's No Place Like $HOME

More on File Permissions

User and Group Ownership.

Who Can Do What?

Who Was That Masked User?

The setuid Bit

File Attributes

Finding Anything

grep’ping for Dollars (or Anything Else for That Matter) and Piping.


Forests and Trees.

Interrupting, Suspending, and Restarting Processes.

Killing Processes.

“I Am vi, the Great and Powerful”

:q, :w, :wq, and ZZ

Recovering a VIM Session

Power vi: Start-up Options.

Pico: A kinder, gentler editor.



6. Daemons and Runlevels.

Daemons and Other Not-So-Scary Things.

The inittab File.

The rc.local File and Runlevels.

Switching between Runlevels

The chkconfig Command.

Runlevels the Graphical Way.

The (Not) Last Word.


7. Users and Groups.

Living in a Multiuser World.

When Not to Use the root User.

Managing Users

Managing Groups

Adding Groups.

Modifying Groups.

Removing Groups.

Adding Users

About Home Directories.

Group Participation.

E-mail-Only Accounts

Yet More User-Creation Controls.

Modifying a User Account.

Deleting a User Account

Checking the Password File

User and Group Administration the GUI Way.

Choosing Good Passwords

How Crackers Crack Your Passwords.

Choosing Better Passwords.

What Next?

I Logged In from Where?

How Not to Be a “Sucker”.


8. Disks and File Systems.

Everything Is a File.

Understanding Your File Systems.

The File System Tree.

The Root File System (aka /, or Slash).

The /usr File System.

The /var File System

The /tmp File System

The /proc File System

The /lost+found File System.

fsck: The File System Check and Repair Tool.

Bad Superblock?

How Much Space Have I Got Again?

What's This about Inodes?

Mounting and Unmounting File Systems.

Creating File Systems.

Using the New File System.

Working with Quotas

Getting Ready for Quotas.

Turning Quotas On and Off

Setting Limits.

Back to Grace

Letting the Users Know.


9. X and the Graphical Desktop.

It's Just Window Dressing, Right?

Graphical Login Managers

Working without a Graphical Login Manager.

The World beneath the Surface.

The xinitrc File.

The .xserverrc File

The Xresources File

Specifying Resources on the Command Line.

Look, Ma! I Can Run Multiple Desktops!

Backing Up and Restoring the Desktop

Running X Applications Remotely

Choosing a Window Manager

The Tab Window Manager (twm).

Window Maker.




Tweaking X and Dealing with Problems.

Key Mapping.

Tuning Video Modes with xvidtune.

The “Messed Up” X Session.

Screen Captures


10. Dialing Up to the Internet with PPP.

The Basics.

What You Need from Your ISP.

Where the Information Goes

The Graphical Alternative.

Automagic PPP Connections.




11. Finding, Building, and Installing Software.

Finding Software and Software Review Sites.





Installing and Building Software.

Compiling from Source.

Step 1: Unpacking the Archive.

Step 2: Building Your Programs.

Downloading and Installing Perl Modules.

Package Managers.

Updating or Installing Packages on a Debian System.

Great, but Can You Tell Me What Is Already There?

Finding Out a Package's Current Release Level

What Is That Strange File?

Using apt-get to Install or Update Software.

Educating apt-get.

Graphical Alternatives.

Red Hat Package Manager.

Installing an RPM Package.

Upgrading an RPM Package.

Uninstalling an RPM Package.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about an RPM Package, but Were Afraid to Ask.

RPM: The Graphical Alternatives.

installpkg: Slackware's Lonely Child.


12. Kernel Building and Renovation.

What Is This Kernel, Anyhow?

When Should I Rebuild My Kernel?

Downloading and Building a New Kernel.

Automatic Build and Install

What about the 2.4 Kernel?


13. Printers and Printing.

Selecting Printers for Linux (and a Note about “WinPrinters”)

How Printing Works.


HP JetDirect Adaptors.

Printer Job Control.

Printing Anything to Any Printer.

Tying It Up: Advanced Filters with Ghostscript.

Why PostScript?

A Few PostScript Tricks.

Alternative Print Systems.



Miscellaneous Tips and Tricks.


14. Scripting and Scripting Languages.

Shells As Far As the Eye Can See.

It's Commands All the Way Down.

Passing Parameters.

A First Look at Variables.

More on Variables

Special Characters.

Really Programming the Shell.

Specifying the Shell.


Perl in Action: A Script for Monitoring Disk Space.

Other Languages Worthy of Consideration.


15. Simplified Administration through Automation.

Constructive Laziness.

cron: Punching Linux's Clock.

Testing Your Job.

Editing the crontab.

Could I See an Example?

Running Jobs with at

A Question of Permissions.

Other Tools for Automation.

Automatic Downloads: ncftp.

Automatic Web Fetch: wget.

Scripting for Interactive Sessions: expect.

Automating Interactive Automation.


16. Devices, Devices, and More Devices.

Creating Device Definitions.

Major Minor

SCSI versus IDE

Why Choose One over the Other?

CD-ROMs and CD-RWs

The Graphical Way to Burn


Back Ends.

Front Ends.


Tape Drives.

Other Tape Formats.

Miscellaneous Devices.


17. Backups and Restores.

The Need for Backups

Basic Tools in Every Linux System.

Using cpio.

Working with tar

Backing Up Windows Workstations.

Selecting a Backup Medium.

Backing Up with dump

Restoring with (You Guessed It) restore.

Identity Backups.

Backing Up to a CD-RW

Backups the Graphical Way.

Taper: A Text-Based Backup Utility.

Kdat: Graphical and Free

Commercial Solutions.



Other Considerations.

Final Words


18. Network Administration.

The Light-Speed Introduction to TCP/IP (Act 18, Scene 1).

Protocols and Suites.

Services and Ports

IP Addresses, Networks, and Subnets, Oh My!

What Are Domains?

IP Addresses and Networks

Subnets, Netmasks, and Broadcast Addresses.


Setting Up Your PC Network (Act 18, Scene 2).


Setting the IP Address.


Using netstat

Domain Name Services (Act 18, Scene 3).

The /etc/hosts File

Will the Real DNS Please Stand Up.

Setting Up Your Own Name Server.

Defining Your Domain

The /etc/named.conf File.

Listing of /etc/named.conf.


Your Own Zone File

And Now the Reverse DNS Zone.

Does It Work?

What's All This about “Lame Servers”?

Who Gets to See the Information?

DNS Wrap-up

File Sharing Under Linux (Act 18, Scene 4).

Network File System.

How Does NFS Work?

Making a Remote File System Available.

Mounting an NFS Partition

Specifying Mounts with /etc/fstab

Simplifying Network Mounts with Linux autofs.

Network Information Service (Act 18, Scene 5).

Configuring the NIS Master Server.

Configuring the NIS Client.

The /etc/nsswitch.conf File.

Miscellaneous Network Tricks: Time Synchronization.



Wait! What about the GUIs?


19. Tools, Tools, and More Tools.

The Web Browser Angle.



Graphical Administration Tools.

Tiny but Powerful Tools.

Go-Anywhere Linux



The Tiny Conclusion.

There's No Control Like Remote Control.


20. Proof of Concept, Part 1.

Of Web Servers and Intranets

Building Your Own Corporate Portal.

Building Apache from Source.

Basic Apache Configuration.

Common Changes

The Basics of Web-Connected Databases.

An Introduction to PostgreSQL.

Perl DBI and DBD for Database Access.

Downloading and Installing the Modules.

The CGI Back End

The Face of the Intranet

Protecting Certain Pages.


21. Proof of Concept, Part 2.

The Connected Office, Linux Style

What to Look for in an ISP.

Setting Up Your ISP Dial-up Connection with diald.

Automatic Remote Mail Pickup with fetchmail

IP Forwarding and Masquerading.

DNS Revisited.

Putting It All Together.

Basic Firewall Services.

Setting Up the Mail Server with Linux.

Defining the Network.

The Components

Setting Up the POP3 Server.

Setting Up sendmail.

Stopping and Restarting sendmail.

Your DNS Setup.

Setting Up Users and Aliases.

Setting Up Your Client MUAs.

Let’s Send Some Mail

Not-So-Stupid sendmail Tricks

The Multiple Domain, Similar Address Dilemma.

The Multidrop Domain.

Stop the Spam!


22. Integrating Windows with Linux.

An Introduction to Samba.

Getting and Building Samba.

A Note on Passwords.

Configuring the Server.

The PC Side

Printing with Samba

Printing from the Windows Client.

The GUI Way to Administer Samba.

Backing Up Windows Workstations.

Running Windows on Linux.





23. System Logs and Accounting.

Your System Logs.

Looking at Your Log Files.

What the Names Mean

Cleaning Up and What the Numbers Mean.

syslogd: The Master Logger.

Back to the logger Program.

Automating the Log-Checking Process.


Web Site Log Analysis.


The Webalizer.


24. Secure Computing.

A Brief History of Encryption.

Personal Encryption

An Introduction to the Secure Shell.

What Are Your Options?


Secure Sockets Layer.

OpenSSH (Right Back Where You Started).

Secure File Transfers.

PGP and GnuPG.

Graphical Front Ends to GnuPG.

Building Trust Relationships.

Encrypting Electronic Mail.

Building a Secure Web Server.

Building the SSL-Enabled Apache Server.


25. Security: The Battle for Your System.

What Is a “Script Kiddie”?

The Basics: Your TCP Wrappers.

What Your TCP Wrapper Is Telling You.

“Hey, My Logs Have Nothing in Them!”

Detecting the Cracker.

The Cracker's Not-So-Invisible Footsteps.

More Thoughts If You Have Been Cracked.

Port Scanners, Sniffers, and the Cracker's Tools.


PortSentry: Active Intrusion Detection and Response.

ipchains and Firewalls.

Quick and Easy Firewall Solutions.

Locating the Cracker and Reporting Him or Her.

Keeping Up-to-Date.


26. Performance Monitoring and Tuning.

The Search for the Holy Grail.

Monitoring and Analyzing Performance.

The uptime Command.

The top Command

Graphical tops.

The free Command

Working with vmstat

What about Good Ol' ps?

Performance Enhancing Tweaks.

/proc Revisited.

File System Tweaks.

Improving Disk Drive Performance.

Do-It-Yourself Benchmarks.


Appendix A: The All-Linux Office?

Appendix B: The GNU General Public License.

Index. 0201719347T09242001

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What Is Linux?

My guess is that if you are reading this book, you already know the answer to that question. You already know that Linux is a fully multitasking operating system based on UNIX.

You may even be aware of this now famous (perhaps legendary) Usenet message from Linus Torvalds to the Usenet group comp.os.minix:

From: torvalds@klaava.Helsinki.FI (Linus Benedict Torvalds) Newsgroups: comp.os.minix
Subject: What would you like to see most in minix?
Summary: small poll for my new operating system
Message-ID: <1991Aug25.205708.9541@klaava.Helsinki.FI> Date: 25 Aug 91 20:57:08 GMT Organization: University of Helsinki
Hello everybody out there using minix -

I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready. I'd like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) among other things).

I've currently ported bash(1.08) and gcc(1.40), and things seem to work. This implies that I'll get something practical within a few months, and I'd like to know what features most people would want. Any suggestions are welcome, but I won't promise I'll implement them :-)

Linus (

PS. Yes - it's free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs. It is NOT protable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never will support anything other than AT-hard disks, as that's all I have :-(.

We've come a long way from Linus's original vision of what his little project would and would not accomplish. What he managed to do was capture the imagination of scores of talented programmers around the world. Joined together through the magic of the Internet, they collaborated, coded, tweaked, and gave birth to the operating system that is now revolutionizing the world of computing.

Notice I mentioned "scores of talented programmers." Linux is not the work of one man alone. Linus Torvalds is the original architect of Linux, its father if you will, but he is not the only effort behind it. Perhaps Linus Torvalds' greatest genius lay in knowing when to share the load. For no other pay but satisfaction, he employed people around the world, delegated to them, worked with them, and asked for and accepted feedback in a next generation of the model that began with the GNU project.

GNU, by the way, is a recursive acronym that stands for "GNU's Not Unix," a project of the Free Software Foundation. This project was started in 1984 with the intention of creating a free, UNIX-like operating system. Over the years, many GNU tools were written and widely used by many commercial UNIX vendors and, of course, system administrators trying to get a job done. The appearance of Linus Torvalds' Linux kernel had made the GNU dream of a completely free, UNIX-like operating system a reality at last.

Why Linux?

Because this book is not so much about getting and installing Linux as it is working with Linux, I won't spend a long time answering the question "Why Linux?" Frankly, it would take much less time to answer the question "Why not Linux?" Suffice it to say that Linux is a powerful, reliable (some, including your humble author, might even say it's rock solid), expandable, flexible, configurable, multiuser, multitasking, and completely free operating system that runs on numerous hardware offerings. These hardware offerings include X86 chipsets (your basic, run-of-the-mill Intel PC), DEC Alpha, Macintosh, PowerPC, and a growing number of embedded processors. You can find Linux in PDA organizers, digital watches, golf carts, and cell phones. In fact, Linux has a greater support base (in terms of platforms) than just about any other operating system you can think of. IBM's entire line of hardware runs Linux!

Completely free?

Hmm . . . Maybe I should explain "free." Free, in this case, isn't a question of cost, although you can get a free/gratis copy of Linux and install it on your system without breaking any laws. Of course, because "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch" (to quote Robert A. Heinlein), even a free download costs you connection time on the Internet, disk space, time, and so on.

Linux is distributed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), which in essence says that anyone may copy, distribute, and even sell the program so long as changes to the source are reintroduced back to the community and the terms of the license remain unaltered. Free means that you are free to take Linux, modify it, and create your own version. Free means that you are not at the mercy of a single vendor who forces you into a kind of corporate servitude by making sure that it is extremely costly to convert to another environment. If you are unhappy with your Linux vendor or the support you are getting, you can move to the next vendor without forfeiting your investment in Linux.

The GNU GPL permits a distributor to "charge a fee for the physical act of transferring a copy, and you may at your option offer warranty protection in exchange for a fee." This is further qualified by the statement that the distributor must release "for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code." In other words, the GPL ensures that programs like Linux will at best be free of charge. At worst, you may be asked to pay for the cost of a copy.

Everyone should take some time to read the GNU GPL. You'll find a link to its home in the Resources section at the end of this chapter.

The System Administrator's Job

So, this book is about Linux system administration. Just what the heck is system administration anyway? System (or systems) administration is a strange beast. After many years of administering literally hundreds of computer platforms running different operating systems and varying in complexity, I came to have what some might call a strange idea of this job description.

system administrator n. Part magician, part juggler, part technical support analyst, and part bartender/psychoanalyst, the system administrator performs the impossible job of keeping all members of his or her company satisfied by making sure that everything works. This usually includes things that are completely outside the system administrator’s control, such as telephones, photocopiers, fax machines, heating, air conditioning, and paper shortages in the supply cabinet.

I'm being a little silly, I realize, but system administrators get to their exulted position through the strangest of ways. You will find the career system administrator who actually wanted to do the job and worked his or her way to that goal. Along this path, you will also find secretaries who were unfortunate enough (or foolish enough) to say they knew something about computers and were instantly cast into the role. This latter category of sysadmin (a popular shortening of "system administrator") is more common than you can possibly imagine. Finally, you have the home user, a relative newcomer to this wonderful calling, thanks in large part to Linux.

About This Book

When I first started thinking about how I would lay out this book, I considered a number of approaches and settled on the following. I don't want to bore you, the reader, with chapters of references to HOWTOs on the Internet (although I will give you appropriate resource links when necessary). Nor do I want to give you verbatim listings of command options or man pages.

What I do want to do is give you real-life examples and things that you can try yourself to get the most out of your system. You will get the theory as well, but only so much. I want you to walk away with an understanding that only comes from actually doing things. The most fun I have ever had in the computer biz came from doing things, trying things out, and basically just playing. Computers can be fun, even when you are working instead of playing games. This is cool stuff. Imagine--a machine that does what you tell it to do! When the printer is jammed up and your connection to the Internet is down, you tend to forget how marvelous all this really is. So, saddle up to your keyboard, pour yourself a cup of java (that's coffee, not the programming language), limber up those fingers, and start playing.

An assumption I've decided to make is that you already have a Linux system to work with. What you want to know is how to work with it better. This doesn't mean I intend to skimp on anything. I will compare various installation philosophies and distributions so that you can satisfy your curiosity about other Linuxes. Which provides me with the perfect segue into another assumption I've decided to make.

Linux is an operating system kernel supported and bundled into an operating system distribution, which is then marketed, sold, or given away by many different companies or organizations. What this means is that I will try to cover the quirks related to various distributions that may affect you when you try out the things you read in this book. I can't promise that I'll cover every possible distribution here, but what I will do is give you the tools to discover where your version of a particular configuration file or script fits into your system so that you can at least find it. Suffice it to say that even in cases of "my file was here rather than there," the formats, at least, will tend to be constant.


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