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Python for Unix and Linux System Administration

Jeremy Jones and Noah Gift
Published by O'Reilly Media
ISBN: 978-0-596-51582-9
456 pages
£ 38.50
Published: 2nd September 2008
reviewed by Roger Whittaker
   in the June 2009 issue (pdf), (html)

The aim of this book is to encourage people to use a better scripting language for general tasks in the area of system administration. This is an aim with which I have full sympathy.

The first two chapters describe the philosophy of the book and then launch into an introduction to Python using the IPython interactive Python shell throughout, and going into rather a lot of detail about the specific features of IPython. The authors themselves state that this is unusual, and I personally did not see the point of concentrating so heavily on IPython rather than just discussing general language features and using the standard interactive Python prompt.

The book emphasises practical examples, and in many sections offers simple enough examples to get the reader started easily, which is a good test of the usefulness of a book like this. I personally learned how to use both the xml.etree (ElementTree) and subprocess modules (both of which are relatively new in the standard library, and which I hadn't used before) by playing with the examples in the book.

Some of the types of tasks that the book covers are: writing log file parsers and analysers, writing networking clients, using Python to automate backups and similar tasks, using Python with SNMP for systems monitoring, and using Python in cross platform environments.

There is a large chapter devoted to Python package management, and brief introductions to building GUIs with PyGTK and creating web applications with Django. There are also sections on using python with LDAP and on persisting data with shelve, pickle, yaml, ZODB and sqlite.

A nice feature of the book is that dotted about in it there are occasional little boxed “celebrity profiles” with photos and brief profiles of prominent Python contributors and community members.

As I have already indicated, what I like best about the book is the accessibility of the examples and the practical approach. I would recommend it, but not as your only Python book.

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