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Books: A User's Report

Elizabeth Zinkann

This month's reviews range from a Linux and DNS book, to a compact and complete guide to the Internet, a hardware book, and a database manual. Specifically, they include: Linux DNS Server Administration by Craig Hunt, The Craig Hunt Linux Library (Sybex); The Rough Guide to the Internet, Sixth Edition by Angus J. Kennedy (Rough Guides, Ltd., Distributed by the Penguin Group); PC Hardware in a Nutshell by Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson, Foreword by Jerry Pournelle (O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.); and MySQL by Paul DuBois, Foreword by Michael "Monty" Widenius (New Riders).

Linux DNS Server Administration
Craig Hunt
The Craig Hunt Linux Library
ISBN 0-7821-2736-3
423 Pages

Everyone uses the Domain Name System; systems and network administrators (hopefully) understand it. In Linux DNS Server Administration, Craig Hunt discusses and details the related concepts and implementation of DNS within the Linux operating system environment. Hunt addresses this topic through four major sections plus the Appendixes. The divisions include: How Things Work, Essential Configuration, Advanced Configurations, and Maintaining a Healthy System. Part 1, How Things Work, explores The DNS Architecture, The DNS Protocols, and The BIND Software. The author surveys the /etc/hosts file, Internet protocols, the format of the DNS message, the named command and how to enable it within both BSD and System V Linux systems, how to compile new BIND releases, and optional ways to install BIND. The Essential Configuration section analyzes Configuring the Resolver, Caching and Slave Server Configuration, and Creating a Master Server. These chapters discuss default configurations, the basic configuration files (resolv.conf, host.conf, nsswitch.conf, and named.conf) plus the commands and directives used within them. In Advanced Configurations, Hunt describes Creating Subdomains, Special BIND Configuration, Dynamic DNS and their options, advantages, and disadvantages. Maintaining a Healthy System illustrates DNS Security, Testing DNS, and the BIND Log Files. The security chapter includes basic hardware and software security, encryption, authentication, and some aspects of firewalls. The BIND log files reviews the dump, statistics, and trace files, system messages, and configuring logging capabilities. The appendixes comprise: A) BIND 9, B) named.conf Command Reference, C) Resource Record Reference, and D) Configuring Network Information Service.

Linux DNS Server Administration provides administrators with an invaluable and comprehensive reference. Good documentation is often elusive; great explanations are rare. Hunt presents a thorough and knowledgeable explanation of DNS and BIND for the Linux operating system. I used it almost immediately for confirmation, research, and procedures. Hunt's well-written descriptions and examples combined with his extensive expertise make Linux DNS Server Administration an outstanding and dynamic reference for every Linux administrator.

The Rough Guide to the Internet
Sixth Edition
Angus J. Kennedy
Rough Guides, Ltd.
Distributed by the Penguin Group (no relation to Tux)
ISBN 185828-551-8
528 Pages, 4" x 5.75"

In his latest edition, Kennedy once again provides the reader with a remarkable treasure trove of information, references, and procedures. Written in English (as opposed to acronyms, geekspeak, and technobabble), the author describes how a search engine (or MP3 or a newsgroup, etc.) works, what resources you need to access it, and the basic processes to do it. Kennedy presents information through four sections: Basics, The Guide, Contexts, and the ISP Directory.

The first part, Basics, contains most of the book's explanations. The initial section includes chapters on: FAQs, Getting Connected, Connection Software, The Web Browser, Connecting, Surfing the Web, Email, Mailing Lists, Newsgroups, Downloading Software, Finding It, Chat, Shopping, MP3 and Online Radio, Online Gaming, Creating Your Own Web Page, and On the Road. The second section, The Guide, features a bountiful selection of World Wide Web Sites plus a Software Roundup. Contexts, the following section, surveys A Brief History of the Net, Net Language, and a Glossary, while the concluding section, ISP Directory, provides Internet Service Providers and 51 Things To Do. The newest additions to the book are the Shopping and MP3 chapters; the latter also details some distinctions of copyright law and what practices are illegal. Many of the chapters must be read to be thoroughly appreciated. For example, the chapter entitled Internet Service Providers isn't just a listing of ISPs; it also includes questions to ask, basic features to expect, and costs to consider. The "Finding It" chapter demonstrates how to search effectively (and successfully) for a topic and The Guide furnishes over 2000 sites and subjects to explore.

This is an outstanding book on the Internet's features and techniques. Kennedy's direct approach and straightforward analyses enable The Rough Guide to the Internet to be a reference as well as a resource. Its 4-inch by 5.75-inch size makes it an "anywhere reference", ideally suited for both the mobile user and readers in the more traditional desktop computing environment. The number of topics and the amount of accompanying information is amazing. Whether Kennedy used compression, optimization, or just plain magic, the result is a large Internet resource in a small package. Both beginning surfers and experienced navigators will appreciate its compact size and encyclopedic content.

PC Hardware in a Nutshell
Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson
Foreword by Jerry Pournelle
O'Reilly & Associates, Inc.
500 Pages
ISBN 1-56592-599-8

The dynamic technology of PC hardware continues to advance at an amazing speed. A hardware technician barely has time to assemble a system before the next new development is released. With new processors and chipsets, there are different architectures and motherboards to consider. As I write this, there are Socket 7, Socket 8, Slot 1, Slot A, Socket 370, and Socket A, to mention the most popular selections. (Pentium 4 is on the horizon; Crusoe is just debuting in select notebooks.) Implementation is not always easily or smoothly achieved, as the number of newsgroup postings asking for help indicates.

PC Hardware in a Nutshell provides many excellent resources and guidelines. The Thompsons discuss buying considerations, detail installation procedures, and summarize data in easily referenced tables. The authors begin the book with two general chapters: Fundamentals and Working on PCs. These address PC components, upgrading, buying practices, tools, and some basic installation techniques. They feature the characteristics and idiosyncrasies of computer components and peripherals including: Motherboards, Processors, Memory, Floppy Disk Drives, Removable Hard Disk Drives, Tape Drives, CD-R and CD-RW Drives, DVD Drives, Monitors, Sound Cards, Game Controllers, Cases, and Power Supplies. The concluding chapters demonstrate Designing A PC and Building A PC. The authors also present their favorite components at the end of each chapter through a section called Our Picks. They offer updates, current developments, an email address for reader's questions and comments, and book Errata on their Web site:

PC Hardware in a Nutshell is a superb book for anyone upgrading or maintaining a system (and learning how to do it). The Thompsons share favorite tips and techniques, demonstrate how to upgrade (or build) a system, and identify when upgrading just isn't worth it.

The design process is usually the most time consuming part of system assembly; one of the most important sentences in the chapter appears in the introduction:

"When you design a system, the most you can hope for is to choose good components at a good price at that moment in time." (Page 425)

(Usually, everything is less expensive and faster two weeks later, unless you decide to wait two weeks.) The final chapter, Building a PC, shows the reader exactly how to assemble a computer, both through step-by-step descriptions and accompanying photographs. Throughout the book, the authors illustrate their extensive knowledge of computer hardware complexities, identify problems you may encounter, and relate frustration-saving procedures. PC Hardware in a Nutshell is must for anyone upgrading or building a computer system.

Paul DuBois
Foreword by Michael "Monty" Widenius
New Riders
ISBN 0-7357-0921-1
756 Pages

Databases provide an organized way to store information for full or partial retrieval and routine access. Whether your database is a simple collection of names and addresses for a mailing list or a more complex description of inventory that changes daily, it can be maintained through MySQL. Available for both Open Source and Windows platforms, MySQL easily interfaces with Perl, PHP, and Apache. MySQL by Paul DuBois presents a straightforward and interesting way to learn and implement the features of MySQL for your individual databases.

DuBois addresses the concepts and programming constructs of MySQL through four major sections: General MySQL Use, Using MySQL Programming Interfaces, MySQL Administration, and the Appendices. The first section contains an Introduction to MySQL and SQL, Working with Data in MySQL, MySQL SQL Syntax and Use, and Query Optimization. The author presents a MySQL Tutorial and describes two examples (The U.S. Historical League and a Grade-keeping scenario), which he uses throughout the text. He then illustrates the commands to create and use them. In Query Optimization, DuBois demonstrates which query combinations are the most efficient and economize system resources most effectively. The second section, Using MySQL Programming Interfaces, includes: an Introduction to MySQL Programming, The MySQL C API, The Perl DBI API, and the PHP API. In the following part, MySQL Administration, DuBois discusses an Introduction to MySQL Administration, The MySQL Data Directory, General MySQL Administration, Security, and Database Maintenance and Repair. The final section, Appendices, details A) Obtaining and Installing Software, B) Column Type Reference, C) Operator and Function Reference, D) SQL Syntax Reference, E) MySQL Program Reference, F) C API Reference, G) Perl DBI API Reference, H) PHP API Reference, I) Useful Third-Party Tools, and J) Internet Service Providers.

The book MySQL (to differentiate it from the program) describes the uses, processes, whys, and wherefores of database programming with MySQL. DuBois not only demonstrates how to implement an RDBS (relational database system), but also how to do it efficiently. His use of the examples clearly illustrates the programming concepts by showing how to create and achieve the properties within the two databases. This is a superior guide to MySQL creation and use that will simplify MySQL for programmers, Web designers, and administrators.

Elizabeth Zinkann has been involved in the UNIX and C environment for the past 15 years. She is currently a UNIX and C consultant, and one of her specialties is UNIX education. In addition to her computer science background, she also has a degree in English. Her writing has also appeared in Linux Magazine, Performance Computing, and Network Administrator. Elizabeth can be reached at: