2001 06 21

                    LINUX NEWS
             Thursday, June 21, 2001
     Read By Over 6,000 Linux Enthusiasts Weekly!


1) Sean’s Notes

2) Linux News

Red Hat in the Black
GCC 3.0 Released
Linux Firewalls
Linux Comparison...Or is it?

3) Linux Resources

Diary of a Linux Newbie
Setting up PostgreSQL
Linux Newbie Administrator's Guide
System Maintenance Can be Fun
GIMP-PERL Debugging

4) App o’ the week

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1) Sean's Notes
One of the directories you'll find on your Linux box is known
as /dev.  In it are a bunch of strange filenames, lots of
numbers and the like.  If you do an ls -l on one of them,
you'll notice they look different than normal files:

$ ls -l /etc/passwd /dev/hda1
brw-rw----    1 root     disk    3,   1 Mar 23 22:37 /dev/hda1
-rw-r--r--    1 root     root     976 May 29 21:56 /etc/passwd

The first thing you'll notice is the first character of the
line. passwd has a '-', meaning a normal file (you might also
be familiar with 'd' for Directory), while hda1 has a 'b'.
The 'b' means "block device", which is part of something
central to Unix:

Everything is a file.  (well, almost everything)

hda1 happens to be the first partition of the first IDE hard
drive.  Yea, that's a file.  If you have the rights, you can
cat it, vi it, or send it to your speaker.  It's just a file.
But it's got that 'b'.  Unix knows that /dev/hda1 is your
hard drive because of the "3,1" in the fifth column.  Those
numbers make up the major and minor device numbers
respectively.  Numbers are reserved within the kernel, so
when the kernel is doing an operation on a file marked as a
block device with id 3,1, it knows where to look.

A block device is one that reads and writes in blocks, usually
disk drives, RAM disks, and the like.  On a similar vein are
character devices, which read and write a character at a time,
like your keyboard, memory, or serial devices.  Surprisingly
enough, they have a 'c' in the beginning.

Like other files, devices have an owner and a group,
timestamps, and a name.  (That's a Good Thing -- you don't
want anyone to be able to read and write directly to a hard
drive!)  You create devices with the "mknod" command (but the
kernel has to understand the numbers you assign), and delete
them with the "rm" command (but deleting the file doesn't
destroy the device, just your link to it).

Some of the more popular devices are IDE drives: hdXN, where
X is a letter and N is either nothing (meaning the disk itself),
or a non-zero, positive integer (meaning the Nth partition).
SCSI drives look the same, except instead of hd you have sd.
Serial ports are ttySN, so COM1 is ttyS0, COM2 is ttyS1, etc.

One common device is /dev/null, otherwise known as the bit
bucket.  Anything sent there is lost, so if you mv a file
there, say goodbye.  This is a great place to redirect output
that you don't care about, especially in crontabs or scripts:

myprog > /dev/null   # output suppressed

/dev/zero will spit out 0's until the cows come home,
/dev/urandom will do the same thing with pseudo-random numbers,
and /dev/random does much the same thing except that it'll
pause every so often to collect entropy from the computer.

Some devices (things) that aren't devices (files) are your
network cards (eth0), though PPP devices (ppp0) have a
corresponding file (/dev/ppp).  This is nothing to worry
about, as there are ways to do it if you want to be able to
read and write packets to your NIC by a file.

By habit, device files live in /dev (because it would suck
if you accidentally cleaned up your hard drive and lost it
in the process).  So, tread carefully in /dev!

Long Live the Penguin,


Visit the Linux News Board at

2) Linux News

Red Hat in the Black
Even with IT budgets shrinking, Red Hat managed to post a
profit for the first quarter, a sign that Open Source
software is great value. This press release lists some big
customers that even surprised me, someone who likes to
follow what this company is up to.


GCC 3.0 Released
Formerly the GNU C Compiler, now the GNU Compiler Collection,
this ubiquitous piece of software has reached a milestone,
Version 3.0. Look forward to better optimization and more
targets, not to mention a slew of fixes and features.


Linux Firewalls
I found this book to be a solid text on using ipchains in
many different firewalling situations. If you thought that
firewalling meant setting up masquerading and walking away,
you are in for a surprise!


Linux Comparison... Or is it?
I initially thought that this was another benchmark showing
Linux on top, but after a while it turned into a prime
example of how benchmarks can be skewed. The test in
question is a UNIX application that was ported to Windows,
so WIN32 performance suffers off the hop. Add to it some bad
assumptions, and you can make the data look almost any way
you want. Validity of the data aside, there is some good info
on how sockets work, not to mention a couple of nuggets about


3) Linux Resources

Diary of a Linux Newbie
In ten installments, this fellow chronicles his trek from a
Linux newbie to... er... non newbie, I guess. It is pretty
interesting reading, even for folk that have been down this


Setting up PostgreSQL
PostgreSQL is one of the more popular Open Sourced SQL
engines out there. Compared to the ever famous MySQL, it
offers transactions, sub-selects, and a whole whack more
stuff. However, it's not quite as friendly as it's lean and
mean cousin, which is why this article will come in handy.


Linux Newbie Administrator's Guide
This guide is designed to help you out after you've installed
your system. Everything from X, to devices, to networking
seems to be covered here, so you'll want to bookmark this one!


System Maintenance Can be Fun
Are your users sucking up CPU and memory? Blast 'em with the
BFG! Oh yea, I forgot to mention, I'm talking about a version
of Doom where processes are represented by monsters, and you
can kill them (or just knock down their priority) with
various weaponry. Who said UNIX isn't user friendly?


GIMP-PERL Debugging
If you've used the GIMP, an awesome graphics editor, you'll
know that there are a lot of plugins available. If you've
ever wanted to try your hand at writing one, perhaps to
automate a task you regularly perform, you'll need a way to
debug as you go. This tutorial covers the making of a simple
script, and the way to debug it.


4) App o' the week
For those of us who can't live without our Palm Pilots, this
is a pretty handy app to have around. Abacus is a spreadsheet
for the pilot that...here's the Linux connection...syncs up
with Linux. The format you'll see is Lotus 1-2-3, which
should be readable by StarOffice and Gnumeric, so you can
work on those numbers wherever you go!


(C) 2001 BrainBuzz.com. All Rights Reserved.


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