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Linux in a Nutshell

Sid Wentworth

Issue #38, June 1997

This book is designed as a reference for Linux rather than as a teaching tool.

  • Author: Jessica Perry Hekman

  • Publisher: O'Reilly & Associates

  • Price: $19.95

  • ISBN: 1-56592-167-4

  • Reviewer: Sid Wentworth

Since Unix in a Nutshell was published by O'Reilly years ago, it was only a matter of time before it was followed by Linux in a Nutshell. The appearance of this Linux version in bookstores affirms the growing popularity of Linux.

This book is designed as a reference for Linux rather than as a teaching tool. It contains a minimum of tutorial information. Covered topics include a subset of the Linux user commands, shells (including bash, csh and tcsh), Emacs, vi, ex, sed and gawk. There is a limited amount of information on programming and the programming commands. Finally, there are chapters covering the basics of systems administration and a listing of systems administration commands.

The section on user commands is about 115 pages. While some commands I know were missing from the book, there were many more commands, command options or usage information I learned from it. For example, there are six pages covering every facet of the less command.

Shell coverage is divided into three chapters: A short overview of shells in general is followed by a 30-page chapter on the bash shell and a 40-page chapter on the csh and tcsh shells. My only disappointment was the lack of information on the POSIX-compliant Korn shell available for Linux; ksh could easily have been incorporated into the bash chapter.

The chapters on the Linux editors are designed in the same manner as those devoted to the user commands, and get about equal coverage. That is, they provide a good reference source, while offering a minimum of tutorial information.

The inclusion of a chapter on awk (actually gawk) came as a nice surprise. With Perl becoming the answer for so many problems, it is nice to see coverage of a language that is easier to learn and powerful enough to solve a very large number of problems.

The programming chapter was so brief, I got the feeling O'Reilly included it only so they could publicize the book as covering programming. The best that can be said is that it is weak—you just can't cover programming in 35 pages. The chapter covers the basic commands well enough, but don't expect to find coverage of subjects such as RCS.

I found the chapters on systems administration to be very strong. The overview shows what commands do what in only 12 pages. Grouping commands into logical function areas (managing the kernel, mail, managing file systems, ...) makes it easy to find the one you need. Once you know which command you need, you can get more detail from the command usage section in which the commands are presented in alphabetical order.

Linux in a Nutshell is accurate. This single fact differentiates it from the current on-line or printed man pages. If the choice is between accurate and comprehensive, I'll pick accurate every time. Coverage of many important topics is done in just over 400 pages.

Is this book for you? If you are comfortable with the idea of working from the command line to communicate with your OS, Linux in a Nutshell is probably a good choice for you. It provides a reasonable subset of the available Linux commands plus enough related information (such as that on shells and editors) to turn you into a competent Linux user.

Sid Wentworth lives in Uzbekistan, where he divides his time between UUCP hacking and raising yaks.

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