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LPI Linux Certification in a Nutshell, 2nd Edition

Steven Pritchard, Bruno Gomes Pessanha and Nicolai Langfeldt
Published by O'Reilly Media
978 pages
£ 42.50
Published: 4th August 2006
reviewed by Greg Matthews
   in the December 2006 issue (pdf), (html)

The Linux Professional Institute (LPI) is a non profit organisation set up in 1999 to advocate and assist in the professional use of Linux, Open Source and Free Software. It develops certification for the GNU/Linux operating system, independent of software vendors or training providers. The Institute is sponsored by IBM, Novell, SGI, Turbolinux, Linux Magazine and Linux Journal among others.

This book is a weighty tome consisting of almost 1000 pages. There was much criticism of the last edition for being out of date and out of step with the exams so it is a relief to find that the second edition has been extensively updated and reworked.

It is of course impossible to give you a full flavour of all 43 chapters but most of you will be familiar with the Nutshell series; they are designed as a desktop reference books. This one is divided into 4 parts: General Linux Exam 101, General Linux Exam 102, General Linux Exam 201 and unsurprisingly General Linux Exam 202. The first part starts off with a very brief introduction to the LPI exams and a study guide, the rest of part 1 and 2 are devoted to fairly basic topics on x86 hardware and GNU/Linux installations such as file systems and the FHS, booting and run levels, printing, networking etc. Each chapter is split up into clear Objectives and the information is delivered in a clear and direct manner. There are what look like cut down man pages for summarising commands and their frequently used options. I found this quite refreshing as it provides the tersely accurate information of a man page without having to wade through pages of obscure options. There are plenty of examples in many areas of the book but some might complain that they are not provided for everything.

Parts 2 and 3 start to explore more interesting topics such as patching and compiling the kernel, LVM, setting up network services such as Email, Web and DNS.

At the end of each part of the book are a review chapter and a practice test. The first two parts also include a Highlighters Index which is a bit like ready-made revision notes.

Obviously, the primary audience for this book is those intending to take the LPI exams. I found a news article from February this year that claims more than 27000 LPIC-1 and almost 5000 LPIC-2 certifications had been awarded. In November last year, the total number of exams delivered was over 100,000. This pass rate suggests that the exams are not a doddle.

The main problem with books of this kind is keeping the information accurate and up to date. For instance, whilst the objective on Sendmail covers most of the bases, it is centred on an already outdated version and contains at least one technical error (errata submitted). Unfortunately, the LPIC exam topics have changed as of mid 2006. For instance there is more emphasis on MTAs other than Sendmail. Chapter 28 deals with configuring RAID but makes no mention of mdadm which will now be required on the exam. Unfortunately, these problems occur throughout the book, anyone seriously considering taking the exams is strongly advised to visit the LPI website for an up to date version of the exam objectives.

These criticisms aside, this book is a creditable attempt to provide a reference guide to the LPI exam objectives and in itself, is a useful desktop reference. Haven't set up DNS for a while? turn to chapter 37 for a refresh, for example. However, it is difficult to recommend this book as a generic system administration reference as it spreads itself too thinly. It provides enough rope to hang an inexperienced sysadmin but not enough to act as a lifeline for an experienced one. Buy this book if you are studying for the LPI exams, it covers many of the objectives in enough detail and has good review sections and practice questions. But remember to check the LPI web site to make sure you are covering the current curriculum. Note that my criticisms of the book are not shared by the editor of Linux Journal (one of the LPI sponsors) who awarded it Editor's Choice 2006.

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