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24 February, 2006
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Review of The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques

. . . this book will have something new in store for all but the most advanced Debian users.

Aric Campling -- 24 February 2006 (C) -- Page 1

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Article Index

Introduction

Executive Summary

About Debian GNU-Linux

Is The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques for You?

A Book for Reading and for Reference

What's on the Included Debian CD

Contents of The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques

Debian's package management tools

About the review author

Resources

Executive Summary

The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques by Martin F. Krafft is a book that can serve either as a manual or a reference guide to the Debian GNU-Linux operating system. It addresses the conceptual and philosophical framework of the Debian project (concepts) and takes a very focused look at Debian-specific tools and methods for system management (techniques).

Much attention is given to the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG), which detail how software can be included in the project, and how this software must be licensed. The social contract is an important focus of the book, describing how members of the Debian community relate to each other and what users can expect from their Debian OS.

When a user hears "Debian" he might think of its unique brand of package management, with features that other Linux distributions only recently have been implementing. The system of tools that allow Debian users to install, configure, manage, and remove packages is amazingly robust, intricate, and extensive. A quarter of this book addresses package management.

The Debian System also explains concepts and practices related to operating system installation, system administration, security, and several very useful advanced concepts.

This book goes into the detail needed for a Debian user to maintain a streamlined, well-functioning, Debian system. Also, it gives additional tools to the moderately advanced user to get the most out of what Debian has to offer.

About Debian Linux

The Linux kernel, combined with the GNU user-space utilities, forms the basis of several of the best and most popular open-source operating system distributions currently available. Because of the free and open nature of these projects, various communities and companies dedicate time and effort into maintaining these distributions and making them accessible to all, usually for free (as in beer).

One of these distributions is known as Debian, so named by Ian Murdock after himself and his wife, Debra. In 1994, Murdock penned the Debian Linux Manifesto; a document that outlined a proposal for distributed development of an entire, Linux-based, operating system built on the GNU and Linux kernel development models.

Debian doesn't refer just to the operating system; it refers as well to the community of users, package maintainers, and administrators that contribute to Debian's ongoing success. A social contract spells out the central understanding between Debian maintainers, users, and the general community. The Debian Free Software Guidelines describe what software is allowed in the project, and how the software must be licensed and used.

Debian does not get much mention as a beginner's Linux, but its influences are far-reaching. You might have read the recent articles in MozillaQuest Magazine about the Knoppix Live CD/DVD family of Linux distributions, or you may have heard of, or even used, other variations such as Ubuntu, Gnoppix, or MEPIS. These Live-CD distributions are all based on the Debian operating system, and in fact can be used to install a pure Debian system with the right know-how. The Mandriva package manager, urpmi, was heavily influenced by Debian's APT family of package management tools.

Debian users, Linux and Unix administrators, and even Debian beginners who otherwise have GNU-Linux experience can find useful knowledge at their fingertips in Martin F. Krafft's book,The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques. To that end, this book serves both as a user manual and as an encyclopedia of Debian knowledge.

The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques is not, however, for the Linux beginner. It does not serve as an introduction to Linux, or to the multitude of GNU tools and other applications commonly found across the gamut of Linux distributions.

It can be a valuable reference for the Debian GNU-Linux OS alongside a true Linux beginner's manual, but it is not a step-by-step walkthrough for a true Linux beginner. In The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques, Krafft provides recommendations for Linux beginners who wish to use his book in tandem with a more general Linux reference.

Many books have been written about the Debian Linux system. The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques by Martin F. Krafft (No Starch Press, ISBN 1-593270-69-0. $44.95) is one of the most recent. (Link in the Resources section at the end of this article on Page 3.)

Author, Martin Krafft, was a Ph.D. student at the University of Zurich's Artificial Intelligence Lab at the time The Debian System was published. Currently he is a Ph.D. student at the University of Limerick, Ireland, where he researches workflow in global volunteer projects.

Martin Krafft is a Debian maintainer and he has invested lots of time and effort into compiling a book about Debian GNU-Linux. That book, The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques, should satisfy the needs of many different users.

One challenge with releasing this book near the end of 2005 was that the sarge release of Debian GNU-Linux had remained in testing status for the past few years. Sarge at any time could have been promoted to stable.

This is precisely what happened shortly after The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques hit the streets. However, Krafft planned for this since he knew it would happen eventually. None of the information in this book is rendered obsolete by the promotion of the code from testing to stable status.

At times, Martin Krafft (for whom English is not a native language) had to use some clunky language to explain this promoting the code situation. However, his wording does not harm the reader's ability to understand the book. The promoting the code situation itself may be only slightly more confusing, but the mindful reader should have no trouble understanding this concept once it's familiar. Chapter 4 of The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques discusses code promotion.

Is The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques for You?

I read this book from both the standpoint of a Debian user and from the standpoint of a Debian administrator. As an experienced Linux user and as a moderately experienced Debian user (so I thought), I figured I would be reviewing this book mostly for accuracy -- and to determine if it would be a good book for a person who is not now using Debian, but is thinking about using Debian, and/or currently is using Debian.

However, I discovered this book will have something new in store for all but the most advanced Debian users. While reading The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques, I was surprised to find out how much I did not know about Debian GNU-Linux, the very operating system (OS) I use. This was so, especially about Debian's community orientation and about some powerful Debian tools that I never knew existed. Read on to learn about these Debian tools.

Martin F. Krafft approaches The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques from a very practical stance. He writes with a very down-to-earth methodology that neither condescends to nor speaks over the heads of its intended readers. Moreover, Krafft breaks the ice at the beginning of every chapter with a witty quote from a Debian user, contributor, or maintainer.

Just about every page has footnotes that contain URLs to relevant Web sites where readers can go on-line to find more information about the point or topic being discussed. In some instances Krafft is honest about his biases towards Debian since he is a Debian developer. In other instances, which might elicit a chuckle or two, he reminds us that he also is human.

A Book for Reading and for Reference

The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques is divided into ten chapters and six appendices. The information is provided in a roughly logical progression along the continuum of a Linux system implementation from conceptualization, installation, management, administration, security, advanced concepts, through resources for further knowledge.

The flow of information through the book lends itself to being read front-to-back, if one so chooses. However, because of the wealth of knowledge contained in the book, it also serves well as a reference manual. You can look up material and jump right to the info that you need at that moment. In fact, Krafft advises his readers to skip around the book as they see fit.

For example, Chapter 2, The Debian project in a nutshell (all about the Debian project) starts off with a suggestion that readers can jump ahead if the material does not interest them. However, I personally found the chapter quite interesting because it details the underlying philosophies and structure of the Debian project.


  • See What's on the Included Debian CD on Page 2 ----->

  • Article Index

    Introduction

    Executive Summary

    About Debian GNU-Linux

    Is The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques for You?

    A Book for Reading and for Reference

    What's on the Included Debian CD

    Contents of The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques

    Debian's package management tools

    About the review author

    Resources

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