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[ale] Back to the Future!

On Sat, Mar 30, 2002 at 11:30:51AM -0500 Alan Bowman <aminus at mindspring.com> wrote:
>  As for FreeBSD docs, go to the FreeBSD homepage <www.freebsd.org> and
> follow the links on the left for Documentation.  I've always found the
> Handbook quite useful.  More useful is _The Complete FreeBSD_ 3rd
> Edition by Greg Lehey. I've seen it recently at the two Border's Books
> I frequent here in Atlanta. I own 5 FreeBSD books, this is the one I
> refer to the most.

I've attached a recent book review on _The Complete FreeBSD_ 3rd
Edition.  I think Greg is currently working on another edition;
I'm not sure.  (It's been a while since I corresponded, but it
was either that book or another he's working on.)

David S. Jackson                        dsj at dsj.net
Showing up is 80% of life.  -- Woody Allen

                        The Complete FreeBSD

   Every now and then you find a book that proves as indispensable for

your day-to-day use as a dictionary or any of a dozen O'Reilly books you

probably have at your fingertips. The Complete FreeBSD is one such book.

This book contains everything you are likely to need to know, both when

you first start using FreeBSD and even after you are a seasoned user. It

helps you understand not just BSD concepts, but UNIX concepts in general.

It's the type of book you'll keep turning back to because you just like the

way author Greg Lehey, one of the core developers for FreeBSD, explains it.

   Greg sent me a copy over a year ago now, and despite the elapsed time,

I find his book even more useful now than browsing the many websites

devoted to FreeBSD. It's the place I look first for my BSD answers. I use it

even before I look at the FreeBSD Handbook


   What I praise most about this book is that it covers topics thoroughly

from the bottom up. For example, rather than simply providing a quick

chapter on connecting to the Internet using PPP, where some books stop,

this book provides 5 chapters covering configuring UNIX network basics,

serial communications with modems, and, four chapters later, explains how

to configure PPP. By the time you read about configuring PPP, you have a

solid foundation on what you're really doing.

   The current edition is the 3rd, printed in 1999. That was about release

3.1 of FreeBSD, and the current released version of FreeBSD is 4.4

(September 2001). So, some of what appears in the book will not be

up-to-date. But, you should know that Greg has fastidiously provided

addendum and errata to the book, which you can download at

http://www.lemis.com/errata-3.html. I must emphasize that Greg's

approach depends on explaining things beneath the surface, as well as on

the surface. If you learn how to do things Greg's way, you'll avoid having to

relearn many things each time a widget or toolkit changes. That's one of

the important differences between Greg's and many such books. If you

understand Greg's book, you won't need a graphical tool to mount or

unmount filesystems or to configure nameserver. You can do it all with vi

(or with Emacs, which is what Greg prefers). You'll also understand the

theory so you can figure out how to do it with new tools when they appear.

   The Complete FreeBSD is 773 pages in length. It has 35 chapters, plus a

collection of man pages, useful appendices, and a helpful index. Not only


are the networking chapters excellent, but there are also very strong

chapters on startup and shutdown, kernel configuration, disks, printers, the

ports system, and synching your system source tree with CTM or CVSup. I

still use some of these chapters frequently.

   Several other books on FreeBSD are on bookshelves in bookstores. The

FreeBSD Handbook is one of the best, and while it is up-to-date (at least

the online version is), it's not as thorough in some respects as Greg's book.

The FreeBSD Corporate Networker's Guide appears to be a solid book,

though I've only flipped through it in the bookstore. FreeBSD Unleashed is

supposed to be out from SAMS. It might be a fine title, but I have been

disappointed by Macmillan's commitment to technical accuracy in the past.

So I have a wait and see approach to that title. The Design and

Implementation of the 4.4BSD Operating System is an excellent book.

4.4BSD is what the open source BSDs are based on. But this book is of

more use to computer scientists than it is to the average person using

FreeBSD to get his or her work done. Of all these books, I choose Greg's

book, along with the online version of the Handbook, to check first for

answering my BSD questions. So far, I haven't been disappointed.

   Some personal caveats about the book:

  1. There is a slight bias to SCSI devices over IDE devices in the book.

     SCSI support has always been excellent in FreeBSD, and the IDE

     support has lagged slightly. The book reflects this. You should read a

     more current source for more details on IDE support in FreeBSD now.

  2. Some kernel configuration options have been added since the release

     of the book. Support for more devices and so on.

  3. More tools for the ports system have been added. You can upgrade

     single ports now, for example, without updating the entire ports tree.

  4. You can now do a "make buildworld" and a "make installworld"

     instead of just a "make world" that Greg talks about in his chapter

     on "Keeping up to date with FreeBSD".

  5. Device nomenclature has changed somewhat. You might be a little

     confused by reading some of Greg's explanations that involve obsolete

     device names.


   Despite these weaknesses, many of Greg's explanations just can't be

topped. The parts of the book where the current state of FreeBSD has

surpassed Greg's documentation can be supplemented by other sources,

such as the Handbook or some of the other tutorial-type websites for

FreeBSD, such as the BSD Vault and the FreeBSD Diary (see bsdvault.net

and www.freebsddiary.org). Go ahead, buy the book: you won't be sorry

you did.


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