2002 02 21

                    LINUX NEWS
        Resources & Links From CramSession.com
            Thursday, February 21, 2002


1) Sean’s Notes

2) Linux News

Apache Releases 2.0 Beta
OS X on Intel - A Good Thing?
Microsoft Must Open Code
New Software Packages Provide More Cluster Management Options

3) Linux Resources

SNMP Test Suite
Mozilla Customization Hints
Administering Linux IPSec Virtual Private Networks
Advice on Becoming a Kernel Hacker
Build and Release Management

4) App o’ the week

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1) Sean's Notes

One of the questions people tend to ask soon after "How
do I learn Linux?" is "Should I learn how to program?".
My answer to that is an emphatic "YES!".

Programming in the Linux environment can take many forms.
At the most useful, but least powerful, end is shell scripting.
Shell scripting is basically the automation of common shell
tasks.  You've got basic logic, such as if/then, and the
ability to loop.

Say one of your duties as a systems administrator is to check
your users' disk quotas every morning to see if they have
to be notified to cut down on their disk usage.  This could
be done by hand, scanning the output of "repquota" for
violations, and then sending off emails.  In a shell script,
you might call repquota, grep for the "over quota" indicators,
and then fire off a quick email.  Throw it in cron, and you're
done. Shell scripts let you be lazy in the good sense of the

There comes a point in time where you'll outgrow the shell
(likely much before you expected to.)  Don't get me wrong,
you can do some amazing things in a shell script, but if you
want to bring in things like databases, SNMP, or networking,
you probably want to go to the next step.  Enter Perl.  Some
might suggest Python, which is another excellent language, but
I think you'll appreciate the hacker like nature of Perl.

Perl offers extensive text processing features, the ability
to handle complex data structures, and can tie in to almost
anything you want.  Need a tool to give you some simple
statistics on a certain log file?  Maybe a form on the company
intranet?  Perl is what you want.

As you begin to get into Perl, you'll start to get ideas about
the things you can do with this new language, if only you
had some good system to store and catalogue data.  SQL is,
of course, the answer.  Luckily, it's pretty easy to pick
up, and you only have to scratch the surface in order to get
the utility you'll need.  Being able to take your data,
transform it into tables, and then perform your queries,
inserts, and deletes is all you'll need.

In all my experience, there is very little you can't do as
a systems administrator with either the shell or Perl.  The
more you learn about the languages, the more projects you'll
take on.

The next logical progression in languages would be C (or C++),
the language that most applications are written in.  While
you can create GUI tools in Perl, you might have aspirations
of things more complex.  Even if you don't want to code for a
living, a knowledge of C is helpful in debugging problems,
and figuring out how Linux is put together.  You'll be able
to make small tweaks to applications (or the kernel), and if
you ever run into a program that crashes, you might even be
able to fix it or at least help debug it (and usually get a
mention in the credits for the program, in the case of
Open Source tools).  Figuring out why a patch didn't apply,
or a make fails, is made much easier if you can read the code.
Another common duty of a systems administrator
is supporting programmers, so your knowledge of both the
OS and of C/C++ will help you to help them with some problems
(compiler problems and missing include files are common).

I find that books are the best way to learn programming,
outside of taking a few courses, that is.

For shell programming, I'm rarely caught without O'Reilly's
"UNIX in a Nutshell".  My version is a few editions behind,
but the current version looks to have the same content.
The bash man page is surprisingly helpful; a printed copy
is nice to have around.

A great book from which to learn Perl is Osborne's
"Perl: The Complete Reference (2ed)".  It is a great tutorial
and reference book in one.  However, no Perl guru would ever
be caught without the so called "Camel Book", O'Reilly's
"Programming Perl".

I'm afraid I don't have any books to pass along for C
(any reader suggestions will make it to a future newsletter).
If you are a C programmer, though, Richard Steven's
"UNIX Network Programming" (latest edition is in two volumes)
is simply superb, taking the C programmer through the Unix
operating system and explaining sockets, signals, process
control & communication, and much more.  If you're a Unix
newbie, but have a C background, this book will make it
easier to understand why everything is put together the way
it is.

Another language that doesn't get a lot of attention is
TCL, specifically the Expect extensions.  This lets you
script interactive communication (i.e., keystrokes), letting
you do stuff like log in to routers or a remote
system from a script.  O'Reilly's "Exploring Expect" comes
to the rescue, and it doesn't even assume a knowledge of

Unix was originally built by programmers, for programmers.
Though you can get by without knowing what a for loop is,
being able to program at any level will let you automate
routine work, and enhance your value as a systems
administrator. Programming skills are generally transferable
to other flavours of Unix, and even Windows (and beyond)!
In terms of "bang for your buck", you can't do much better
for your systems administration career than learning to

Long live the Penguin,


2) Linux News

Apache Releases 2.0 Beta
I've been watching the progress of Apache from a distance,
and am quite impressed with the new features and enhancements
coming out in 2.0.  This announcement of a beta release means
the code is in a relatively stable state, so I'll start
playing with it right away!


OS X on Intel - A Good Thing?
OS X is Apple's latest OS offering, combining the interface
of the Macintosh, with the stability of a UNIX back end.
What would happen if it was ported to the X86 platform?
Would it give Microsoft a run for its money?  Robert
Cringely gives his take.


Microsoft Must Open Code
Don't get too excited by the headline, but Microsoft has
to open their code up to inspection by the various states
(not to everyone, though).  If they're claiming that the OS
and features are inseparable, then it would only be fair
if the government could have a see for themselves.  Even
though that motion was won, some others that would have
helped the government's case were not.  Time will tell...


New Software Packages Provide More Cluster Management Options
"Linux NetworX, a provider of powerful cluster supercomputing
solutions, announced today the unveiling of ClusterWorX Lite,
an entry-level version of its cluster management software with
limited functionality, designed for cluster systems with 16
nodes or less."


3) Linux Resources

SNMP Test Suite
If you've been reading the news, you'll know that many SNMP
implementations (including the UCD one, popular with Linux
distributions) have some rather serious bugs.  Here is a
comprehensive set of tests that can be used to test out
any SNMP setup.


Mozilla Customization Hints
I'm really starting to get into Mozilla, but there were a
few things that were really getting to me, such as very small
fonts on some web pages.  Mozilla's tweak page really helped
me out -- it has loads of obscure things (turn off pop up
windows!) that you can tune.


Administering Linux IPSec Virtual Private Networks
IPSEC is a popular protocol for setting up VPNs over the
Internet.  It should be no surprise that Linux supports
this protocol.  The project is called Free S/WAN, and
a great article on its use is here.


Advice on Becoming a Kernel Hacker
This interview with a kernel developer starts out being
about one of the major improvements in the 2.5 development,
but finishes off with lots of great advice on becoming
a kernel developer, and how to make your contributions


Build and Release Management
"So, you want to write software? Don't forget that you'll
need to build or package it, test it, fix some stuff, test
it again, and ultimately release it... somehow. The "somehow"
is the art and science of Build and Release Management."


4) App o' the week
Do you bill your users based on their print usage?  This
set of filters can bill based on toner usage (rather than
per page).  An interesting little system, it handles both
black & white and colour, and can run in billing mode or
one that simply produces reports so you can have a more
accurate picture of who your toner-burning users are.


(C) 2002 BrainBuzz.com. All Rights Reserved.


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