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Essential System Administration, 3rd Edition by Æleen Frisch

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This book is the foundation volume for O’Reilly & Associates’ system administration series. As such, it provides you with the fundamental information needed by everyone who takes care of Unix systems. At the same time, it consciously avoids trying to be all things to all people; the other books in the series treat individual topics in complete detail. Thus, you can expect this book to provide you with the essentials for all major administrative tasks by discussing both the underlying high-level concepts and the details of the procedures needed to carry them out. It will also tell you where to get additional information as your needs become more highly specialized.

These are the major changes in content with respect to the second edition (in addition to updating all material to the most recent versions of the various operating systems):

  • Greatly expanded networking coverage, especially of network server administration, including DHCP, DNS (BIND 8 and 9), NTP, network monitoring with SNMP, and network performance tuning.

  • Comprehensive coverage of email administration, including discussions of sendmail, Postfix, procmail, and setting up POP3 and IMAP.

  • Additional security topics and techniques, including the secure shell (ssh), one-time passwords, role-based access control (RBAC), chroot jails and sandboxing, and techniques for hardening Unix systems.

  • Discussions of important new facilities that have emerged in the time since the second edition. The most important of these are LDAP, PAM, and advanced filesystem features such as logical volume managers and fault tolerance features.

  • Overviews and examples of some new scripting and automation tools, specifically Cfengine and Stem.

  • Information about device types that have become available or common on Unix systems relatively recently, including USB devices and DVD drives.

  • Important open source packages are covered, including the following additions: Samba (for file and printer sharing with Windows systems), the Amanda enterprise backup system, modern printing subsystems (LPRng and CUPS), font management, file and electronic mail encryption and digital signing (PGP and GnuPG), the HylaFAX fax service, network monitoring tools (including RRDTool, Cricket and NetSaint), and the GRUB boot loader.

Chapter Descriptions

The first three chapters of the book provide some essential background material required by different types of readers. The remaining chapters generally focus on a single administrative area of concern and discuss various aspects of everyday system operation and configuration issues.

Chapter 1 describes some general principles of system administration and the root account. By the end of this chapter, you’ll be thinking like a system administrator.

Chapter 2 considers the ways that Unix structure and philosophy affect system administration. It opens with a description of the man online help facility and then goes on to discuss how Unix approaches various operating system functions, including file ownership, privilege, and protection; process creation and control; and device handling. This chapter closes with an overview of the Unix system directory structure and important configuration files.

Chapter 3 discusses the administrative uses of Unix commands and capabilities. It also provides approaches to several common administrative tasks. It concludes with a discussion of the cron and syslog facilities and package management systems.

Chapter 4 describes how to boot up and shut down Unix systems. It also considers Unix boot scripts in detail, including how to modify them for the needs of your system. It closes with information about how to troubleshoot booting problems.

Chapter 5 provides an overview of TCP/IP networking on Unix systems. It focuses on fundamental concepts and configuring TCP/IP client systems, including interface configuration, name resolution, routing, and automatic IP address assignment with DHCP. The chapter concludes with a discussion of network troubleshooting.

Chapter 6 details how to add new users to a Unix system. It also discusses Unix login initialization files and groups. It covers user authentication in detail, including both traditional passwords and newer authentication facilities like PAM. The chapter also contains information about using LDAP for user account data.

Chapter 7 provides an overview of Unix security issues and solutions to common problems, including how to use Unix groups to allow users to share files and other system resources while maintaining a secure environment. It also discusses optional security-related facilities such as dialup passwords and secondary authentication programs. The chapter also covers the more advanced security configuration available by using access control lists (ACLs) and role-based access control (RBAC). It also discusses the process of hardening Unix systems. In reality, though, security is something that is integral to every aspect of system administration, and a good administrator consciously considers the security implications of every action and decision. Thus, expecting to be able to isolate and abstract security into a separate chapter is unrealistic, and so you will find discussion of security-related issues and topics in every chapter of the book.

Chapter 8 returns to the topic of networking. It discusses configuring and managing various networking daemons, including those for DNS, DHCP, routing, and NTP. It also contains a discussion of network monitoring and management tools, including the SNMP protocol and tools, Netsaint, RRDTool, and Cricket.

Chapter 9 covers all aspects of managing the email subsystem. It covers user mail programs, configuring the POP3 and IMAP protocols, the sendmail and Postfix mail transport agents, and the procmail and fetchmail facilities.

Chapter 10 discusses how discrete disk partitions become part of a Unix filesystem. It begins by describing the disk mounting commands and filesystem configuration files. It also considers Unix disk partitioning schemes and describes how to add a new disk to a Unix system. In addition, advanced features such as logical volume managers and software striping and RAID are covered. It also discusses sharing files with remote Unix and Windows systems using NFS and Samba.

Chapter 11 begins by considering several possible backup strategies before going on to discuss the various backup and restore services that Unix provides. It also covers the open source Amanda backup facility.

Chapter 12 discusses Unix handling of serial lines, including how to add and configure new serial devices. It covers both traditional serial lines and USB devices. It also includes a discussion of the HylaFAX fax service.

Chapter 13 covers printing on Unix systems, including both day-to-day operations and configuration issues. Remote printing via a local area network is also discussed. Printing using open source spooling systems is also covered, via Samba, LPRng, and CUPS.

Chapter 14 considers Unix shell scripts, scripts, and programs in other languages and environments such as Perl, C, Expect, and Stem. It provides advice about script design and discusses techniques for testing and debugging them. It also covers the Cfengine facility, which provides high level automation features to system administrators.

Chapter 15 provides an introduction to performance issues on Unix systems. It discusses monitoring and managing use of major system resources: CPU, memory, and disk. It covers controlling process execution, optimizing memory performance and managing system paging space, and tracking and apportioning disk usage. It concludes with a discussion of network performance monitoring and tuning.

Chapter 16 discusses when and how to create a customized kernel, as well as related system configuration issues. It also discusses how to view and modify tunable kernel parameters.

Chapter 17 describes the various Unix accounting services, including printer accounting.

Appendix A covers the most important Bourne shell and bash features.

Afterword contains some final thoughts on system administration and information about the System Administrator’s Guild (SAGE).

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