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Linux Books Media Software Book Reviews

Review: The Linux Cookbook 126

Craig Maloney writes with this review of The Linux Cookbook, a hope-inspiring entrant in the still too-small category of generalized, readable references for non-programmers, as well as the even-smaller category of books with a complete free version online. Craig's found some flaws as well as bright spots, but it still sounds like a good book to check out for users who aren't sure which FM to R, no matter what their level of experience.
The LinuxCookbook
author Michael Stutz
pages 300
publisher No Starch Press
rating 7
reviewer Craig Maloney
ISBN 1-886411-48-4
summary Hundreds of answers (with a focus on the command-line) to commonand not-so common questions.

Allez Cuisine!

The Linux Cookbook is a collection of "recipes" for doing various tasks with your Linux machine. Where the Cookbook shines, though is the sheer number and variety of these recipes. There are plenty of varied tasks covered in the book, from the simple 'How do I copy a file?' to the more complex 'How do I archive a web site?', Six chapters deal with the various aspects of text: analyzing, searching and replacing, grammar checking, and formatting. There are even chapters dealing with the less-explored topics of customizing X, setting up reminders, and editing sound files.

Recipe Format:

The recipe format is both the book's strongest feature and its weakest point. The recipes make for a well-organized and logical structure to find information. Each point and sub-point is clearly marked, and makes for a very quick and enjoyable read. Unfortunately, topics that could benefit from a different approach are just not covered thoroughly. In the section for listing files, ls is well covered, while Midnight Commander is briefly introduced. This wouldn't bother me as much, except Midnight Commander and Mozilla URLs are given at the beginning of the section. This presentation could also lead people to think the material presented is the only way, or the best way to do these commands. There is only one method mentioned for shutting down a Linux machine; the venerable CTRL-ALT-DEL. No mention is made in the book of the shutdown command. Granted, CTRL-ALT-DEL will get the job done, but I'm not sure I would have presented it as the best, or only way to shut down a Linux machine. [T - Especially when on many distros, CTRL-ALT-DELETE is configured to restart rather than shut down the machine; this behavior, though, is configurable through /etc/inittab.]

Season to taste:

As I've mentioned in the previous section, some of the commands the author chose as his answers are quite curious to me. In the section to find hostnames from IP addresses, the author has chosen to use the command "dig" rather than the command I generally use "nslookup". Granted, "dig" gives other useful information aside from the IP and hostname, but the author doesn't seem to care about the additional information when presenting the output of the command.

This book also concentrates on using GNU and Open Source software for it's solutions. There is no mention of software that is not strictly Open Source. The only package information is for the Debian distribution by providing the apt name for retrieving the package. No other distribution is mentioned as having packages available. The author's reasoning is that Debian is the only "entirely committed to free software by design" distribution. URL's are provided only for packages that are not distributed by default with Debian, which might prove to be a nuisance for people using other distributions. I found myself trying some recipes, only to find my distribution didn't include that command by default.

Linux is a command-line operating system by default, and this book tries to work within those defaults by providing command-line methods rather than GUI methods. This gets around some of the various intricacies of the various distributions, but might prove confusing for the person who boots up the first time and can't find virtual console one because GDM is running. When appropriate, the book will defer to a GUI tool rather than a command-line tool. The GIMP is briefly discussed for several of the recipes, and GUI programs make up less than 10% of the answers to the recipe questions.

So, what's in it for me?:

It's tough for me to fully recommend this book to everyone. For the beginner, I recommend caution when starting off with this book. They may want to make this book their second book along with an installation and getting started tutorial. Beginners will find this book invaluable once they have a firm grasp on their distribution before being able to fully handle this book. For the seasoned Linux user, I recommend reading this book while putting your suppositions aside. There is plenty of good information to be had in these pages, and the author has tried painstakingly to make the answers in it as relevant to every Linux user as he can. The Linux Cookbook is a useful collection for those who don't mind getting comfortable with their shell prompt and a search engine.

There is also an electronic version of this book available at which is a living version of the printed book; for the sake of this review, only the printed book was reviewed.

You can purchase The Linux Cookbook from Fatbrain.

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Review: The Linux Cookbook

Comments Filter:
  • nslookup and dig (Score:3, Informative)

    by bfree ( 113420 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @12:53PM (#2798774)
    Curiously if you install Debian testing/woody (the base has frozen) and try to run nslookup you will be told it is obsolete and that you should use dig. I like nslookup and understand it far better than dig so I do like they say and use the -sil option to get rid of the extra crud it spews to tell me this, but I guess there must be a reason for this so I'll have to learn how to dig properly, anyone know it?
  • by quadcitytj ( 320706 ) <> on Monday January 07, 2002 @12:56PM (#2798786) Homepage
    I think this might be the reason that nlslookup is not mentioned:

    [tj@pheonix tj]$ nslookup
    Note: nslookup is deprecated and may be removed from future releases.
    Consider using the `dig' or `host' programs instead. Run nslookup with
    the `-sil[ent]' option to prevent this message from appearing.
    > exit

    dig is much better, IMHO, once you get used to it.
  • Wonderful! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Tyler Eaves ( 344284 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @12:58PM (#2798804)
    Spent the last few minutes browsing the online version, and I must say I'm quite impressed. Real usable docs for the average user, but they still tell the nuts and bolts too. Bravo!

    (User runs off to order)
  • oh please (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Pancake ( 458864 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @01:01PM (#2798823) Homepage Journal
    What linux user is going to buy a book when there is a free version available online? Probably the same amount of people who actually buy boxed versions of linux.

    And we just have to look at how the distro companies are doing to know the answer to that question.
  • by leastsquares ( 39359 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @01:10PM (#2798876) Homepage
    I have several freely available online books in my bookmarks. They are a great alternative to carrying huge tomes everywhere I go. I have three of the below books on real paper, but I use the online editions far more frequently:

    Numerical Recipies [] - Numerical Recipes in C, 2nd edition is the numerical methods book.

    Autobook [] - GNU Autoconf, Automake and Libtool.

    GGAD [] - GTK+/Gnome Application Development by Havoc Pennington. I'm not sure which is better, the book or the authors name!

    WGA [] - Writing GNOME Applications by John R. Sheets. Not complete, which is a pity. I'm sure that will change though.

    Docbook [] - The definitive guide to SGML.

    CVS book [] - Open Source Development with CVS by Karl Fogel. It is not quite the complete book, but it is the interesting bits.

    FreeBSD Handbook [] - FreeBSD documentation.

    Maximum RPM [] - Documentation for the RedHat package manager.

    Based on that list, can anybody suggest further online books that I may be interested in? (Don't bother telling me about the old O'Reilly books, I know about those)

  • Re:nslookup and dig (Score:2, Informative)

    by Howie ( 4244 ) <> on Monday January 07, 2002 @01:22PM (#2798930) Homepage Journal
    dig's output is typically easier to deal with using awk or grep and the manpage for it says as much, but I don't know why you'd want to actively stop using nslookup (I use dig - I just prefer it).
  • by Howie ( 4244 ) <> on Monday January 07, 2002 @01:26PM (#2798947) Homepage Journal
    Not linux specific (thankfully!), and pretty CLI-oriented, the Unix Power Tools book is something I found really good for learning the neat wrinkles in things like the shell, sed and awk. It's organised as lots of half-page articles which are densely cross-referenced, a little like the Effective C++ series by Scott Meyers or Effective Perl by Joeseph Hall. Published by O'Reilly - it's not an animal book though - it's much bigger. Good for dipping.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2002 @01:32PM (#2798979)
    I own about a dozen Linux books now, but this is the best one for actually doing the basic things you need to do to get familiar with using Unix/Linux. I found the formulas for tarring and zipping and untarring and unzipping to be very nice. Just what I needed to know, nothing more, nothing less.

    I highly recommend this book to people who have been dual-booting Linux for awhile but are still having a hard time installing software and configuring the environment - stuff too simple for the guys who know what they are doing to even talk about.
  • by twilight30 ( 84644 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @01:33PM (#2798989) Homepage
    Should be here [] - you reversed the first two parts of the address by mistake.

    I think InformIT [] still do free online books -- they purchased Macmillan Press' old stuff and used to have many titles online.

  • by Mozz Alimoz ( 245834 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @01:43PM (#2799029)
    The Perl Cookbook [] published by O'Reilly [] was my most referenced book last year. Very common questions and all the right answers (there is often more than one right way.) I guess O'Reilly doesn't have rights to the "Cookbook" brand. No big deal, but I hope this book follows the same high standard.

    PS:The "Programming Perl" was my previous favourite reference book, but the online "perldoc" documentation replaces that now.

  • by LeftHanded ( 160472 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @01:46PM (#2799041) Homepage Journal
    A regular Linux Journal [] columnist, Marcel Gagné writes about system administration using a French Chef theme. He has written a book: Linux System Administration: A User's Guide. Look for it at Barnes and Noble []
  • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @01:49PM (#2799051) Homepage
    The Assayer is a site I run for user-submitted book reviews, with an emphasis on reviews of free books. Look here [] for a a database of free books, and here [] is a listing by subject. (The site includes some non-free books as well -- free ones have a bud or flower icon.)
  • by Tet ( 2721 ) <slashdot@a s t r a> on Monday January 07, 2002 @01:52PM (#2799067) Homepage Journal
    dig is much better

    No, dig is an apalling tool. While it may well be far more powerful than nslookup, the interface it presents to the end user is awful. It highlights perfectly everything that is wrong with letting the average geek design a user interface. Remember, it's not just DNS administrators that want to do DNS queries. Plus, of course, not all the world uses BIND any more. Naturally, I firmly believe that I'm the exception -- a geek that can design a user interface for the rest of the world. Perhaps that's the problem, though, and we're all naïve (or is that arrogant?) enough to overestimate our abilities, and believe we can accurately guage (and allow for) the stupidity of the average end user. But for now, I'll continue living in my sheltered world, believing myself superior. I prefer it that way :-)

  • Numerical Recipes (Score:3, Informative)

    by KjetilK ( 186133 ) <kjetil@kjernsm[ ]et ['o.n' in gap]> on Monday January 07, 2002 @02:05PM (#2799150) Homepage Journal

    Numerical Recipes in C, 2nd edition is the numerical methods book.

    I can't really agree with that [].

  • by zoward ( 188110 ) <> on Monday January 07, 2002 @02:29PM (#2799288) Homepage
    For those who don't know about it: O'Reilly keeps a web page of free, open, and/or out-of-print books available online for your edification at [].
  • use "host" (Score:3, Informative)

    by mattdm ( 1931 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @02:59PM (#2799483) Homepage
    99% of the time, I find that dig is overkill (and ugly), and instead I use the "host" program (also included with the bind-utils).
  • Re:ease of use (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:27PM (#2799620)
    Click to download Cookbook.PDF []

    You must have downloaded the sources. There are a couple HTML versions on the web or try "apt-get linuxcookbook" (for info version on Debian).

    Then again, just buy a copy of the book...

  • dig vs. nslookup (Score:3, Informative)

    by macdaddy ( 38372 ) on Monday January 07, 2002 @03:33PM (#2799655) Homepage Journal
    Personally I still use nslookup. I simply haven't taken the time to learn dig or I'd probably use it. IIRC however, the later versions of Bind include a warning at each use that says:
    Note: nslookup is deprecated and may be removed from future releases. Consider using the `dig' or `host' programs instead. Run nslookup with the `-sil[ent]' option to prevent this message from appearing.
    That said teaching dig instead of nslookup was probably wise. Both should have been thaught though. For the record, I keep an old copy of nslookup in my ~/bin so I don't have to put up with the warning. Yes I know about -sil. It seems like I also ran into something that the new version wouldn't do that the old one would. I think....

Statistics are no substitute for judgement. -- Henry Clay