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Unix Books Media Operating Systems Software Book Reviews

Solaris 8 Essential Reference 101

Slashdot reader Adam Jenkins contributed the review below of John P. Mulligan's Solaris 8 Essential Reference. If you operate a Solaris box for fun or profit, this book may prove be a useful reference, though Adam has some reservations about the book's completeness, especially regarding the new features you'd expect a book updated for Solaris 8 to cover.

Solaris 8 Essential Reference
author John P. Mulligan
pages 346
publisher New Riders Publishing
rating 6.5
reviewer Adam Jenkins
ISBN 0-7357-1007-4
summary An update to the Solaris 7 Essential Reference

A New Book for a New Release

John Mulligan is known for his Web site and the first Solaris Essential Reference. This is the second edition, updated for the Solaris 8 release. The technical reviewers of the book were Solaris administrators Jeffrey Meltzer and Nojan Moshiri.


In the Introduction we are told that the book emphasizes the essentials of SunOS 5.x rather than Open Windows since 'anything that can be done from a GUI can also be done from a command line.' While this old adage is true, and the command line is certainly a very powerful and standard way to use Unix, many of the recent additions to Solaris are designed to make administration easier by using GUI tools.

What's in it for me?

There are three main parts to the text. There is the General Use Reference, which covers text utilities, shell scripting, process control and network clients and utilities. Part II is a Developer Reference, covering compilers/interpreters, programming utilities and debugging. Part III is the Administration and Maintenance Task Reference, with sections on startup and shutdown, user management, network administration, filesystems, security, and system configuration and tuning.

The Appendices list Solaris version changes, common startup problems and solutions, Linux compatibility, the GNU Public License, list of Web resources, signals list, and a TCP/UDP port list. The Web resources list is well organized into sites covering administration, CDE, developer resources, hardware, lists of sources, magazines, online documentation (including SolarisGuide's RTFM documentation), security, software, Solaris x86 and Solaris PPP/NAT. The resources chosen seem to be tried and tested, as those that I tried were all still at the addresses given.

The port list only covers fairly standard ports, listing them both by service and by port number. The services list includes a note next to each with recommendations like disable or log for those known to have security issues.

What's good?

The security section includes information on the new Role Based Access Control (RBAC) as well as how to enable the Basic Security Module although more information on what the BSM does would've been helpful. There is a section on the LDAP utilities that come with Solaris 8 and how to use them.

What's bad?

Some of the examples are spaced out over two lines awkwardly. The ftp sites given in the Security section are no longer working since the directory structure at Purdue's COAST was re-arranged as CERIAS. This is not the fault of the author or publisher; it's just the nature of the Internet to be dynamic.

There is no coverage of IP Filters or firewalls, patch analyzer, Network Cache and Accelerator, the Sun Management Center, VPNs or the extra software that comes with Solaris 8 (Oracle, StarOffice, the Palm HotSync utilities, Forte, Apache and iPlanet). The Linux compatibility section was disappointing: it consists of just one page describing the utility called lxrun that lets you run Linux binaries under Solaris x86. There is also a glaring typo on the contents page: 'Admininstration.'


The title Solaris 8 Essential Reference is a fairly tough promise to live up to. The book is good as a Solaris reference, giving general coverage of the Solaris operating system for users, developers and administrators. However, it misses a lot of the main features of Solaris 8, which are probably the reasons most people would buy version 8 in the first place.

You can purchase this book at Fatbrain.

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Solaris 8 Essential Reference

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  • by SquadBoy ( 167263 ) on Tuesday August 28, 2001 @12:13PM (#2225673) Homepage Journal
    an O'Reilly book. I really wish Tim would make a Sun book that would be *good*
  • A good review.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bowie J. Poag ( 16898 ) on Tuesday August 28, 2001 @12:14PM (#2225679) Homepage

    A good review. I bought this book a while back to prepare for an upcoming Solaris certification test I was taking, and it helped out immensely. The good measure of a good reference book isn't its width -- Its wether or not you can open it up, and follow whats being discussed almost immediately without having to skip back 2 or 3 chapters to see what the heck theyre talking about. This is a well laid out book, and makes a comfortable amount of assumptions about the level of expertise the typical reader already has, and builds on it. Theres nothing I hate more than technical references that don't address the inconsistancies in how the OS presents a particular function to the user. It makes the learning process that much easier, without simply beating the reader over the head with "Here's what you do. Forget everything else, just do it like this and dont ask any questions".

    Leave that crap for the math teachers. :)


    • Leave that crap for the math teachers. :)
      Why do you and other people think that way? As a Pure Mathematician I always seem to run into this attitude. The level of Math you know, which is enough to get a Solaris Certification, you don't need to know exactly how Math works. You just need to learn it's applications and outcomes. When you program, do you need to know exactly how the electrons in the silicon in the CPU are colliding on the Qauntum level? If you are so concerned Math teachers are hiding something from you, go to a 4 year college and take a courses in Proofs and Theorems. The 2 classes you will need to take are Comtemporary Abstract Algebra (Modern Algebra) and Advanced Calculus (Proofs and Theorems). With these 2 courses you will understand where everything from 1+1=2 to proving everything from the definition of an integral to topology (look it up). Computer Science professors hide a lot more by teaching you to code (without asking any questions) than Math teachers do by teaching you Mathematics.
      If you think Computer Science is so much greater of an approach to teaching science and math, then why doesn't everyone program in Machine Language during their first ever course in college? Doesn't make sense, does it? The same is for Mathematics. If you don't need to know Mathematics on the same level as Machine Language, then why teach it to you?
  • especially regarding the new features you'd a book updated for Solaris 8 to cover.

    Like verbs?

  • Bit short, isn't it ?

  • I've got a copy of this one, and I highly recommend it.

    If you are a solaris admin, definitely keep this book on hand, it is invaluable as a reference and general guide book. It does miss a few of the new features found in solaris 8, but more then makes up for it with it's broad coverage of general knowledge.

  • by ragnar ( 3268 ) on Tuesday August 28, 2001 @12:20PM (#2225701) Homepage
    I have this book and it has been helpful, however I don't know if I would call it essential. It is good reading and handy. It saved me some time once, and that makes it worth the money. As far as the negatives the reviewer points out, this calls upon the definition of "essential" instead of "complete". The author I believe tries to document the basic and common aspects of the system, not every possible use, like firewalling and clustering.
  • Does it speak of how to install 8 (x86) onto a hard drive with other OS' on it?

    I've tried to install 8 10/00 onto my UDMA drive with Linux residing at hda2 and a blank partition where hda1 should be. It chokes, nothing I've tried yet works, besides having the whole drive completely zeroed out. SCO Unixware 7.1.1 is the same deal.

    I see different challenges of getting various OS' to install in the presence of another partition, but none seem to be as stuborn as these two. OS/2 Warp4 and NT 4 are easier, and stuff like Linux, the free BSD's, QNX and BeOS are dead easy.

    Seems strange, are they trying to dominate a machine or is the installed simply brain dead?

    • From my experience with Solaris/Linux on a same drive I can tell you that you should start from scratch, installing Solaris first (in the space you have empty in hda1), then reinstalling Linux after that.

      I just finished installing Solaris 8 x86 on a middle of the road PC, (EFA Viking 3:VIA MVP3 Chipset, UDMA33 with AMD K6-2 450, 256MB RAM, Matrox G220 AGP, Intel EEPro/100) on an empty 10 GB drive and it was such an ordeal that I am planning to put Linux back on it. Hardware recognition (and conflict resolution) was nonexistent, and the whole installation dreadfully slow - it took me over 2 hours to install Binaries 1 and 2 and an additional 45 minutes for the Companion CD.

      Everything has settled now, but the system is rather slow. I know that I am running it on not-so cutting edge hardware, but this box used to fly with pretty much any Linux distribution I would throw on it.
  • Quoth Timothy:
    especially regarding the new features you'd a book updated for Solaris 8 to cover.

    Did anyone else understand what he was trying to say?

  • They've been losing market share to NT for years already, and now even comitted UNIX houses are switching from Solaris to Linux. Just look at the recent decision by SIAC to switch their mission-critical systems from Solaris to Linux. A combination of slow, overpriced hardware and an inability to compete on the software front has done them in. Even with the Java strategy, they have little hope of survival.

    Why would anyone buy a Sun? Historically, they have offered excellent workstation-class machines. Now, their best single and dual processor ultrasparc based workstations are easily outclassed in every way by much cheaper boxes based on Intel and AMD processors. Performance that was once reserved for the most affluent corporate power users can now be found on the desk of the lowly janitor or student. The only place that Sun still distinguishes itself is in the large enterprise server with many processors and multiple layers of redundancy. Even there, solutions based on x86-64 and ia64 are arriving, and promise to offer all the same features at a much lower price.

    On the software side, Sun makes an OS that is noted as being slow but scalable. With fast PC's, scalability on a single system is becoming less of a concern. Also, Windows 2000 already has many of the scalability features, and Linux is closing the gap quickly. Even five years ago, it made perfect sense to buy a Sun workstation for a developer. Now Linux fills that position, and a Sun machine is a waste of money. How long can it be before the same is true of high end workstations, clusters, and even enterprise big iron? IBM is putting their massive resources behind mainframe Linux. With Sun's proven inability to compete with Linux in any market that it has entered, they should be very afraid.

    Sun's one bright spot is Java. With the massive adoption of J2EE for the middle tier in web infrastructure it is a powerful reminder of what Sun once was, and what they still can do when they get it right. Still, further analysis shows that Java is not a trump card for Sun. Far more than Solaris, two other operating systems are positioning themselves as "the best platform for Java." One is MacOS X, another proprietary UNIX by a more innovative vendor. The other threat to Sun is once again from Linux. With the failure of Java to catch on to the desktop, and the failure in the embedded market, Sun will have great difficulty leveraging Java to improve their financial situation.

    The future does not look bright for Sun. Facing cheap hardware from Intel and AMD, and software competition from Linux and Microsoft, they have utterly failed to put together a competitive offering. With the failure of their Java technology to improve the outlook, they have all but curled up and died.
    • I wish Linux was as scalable as Solaris..
    • Well, most of that may be true for the lower end stuff, but I see little competition in enterprise class boxes. We run three major platforms where I work. AIX, Solaris, and NT. We use a lot of enterprise class Sun hardware. Hardware that really has no competition from Intel or AMD.

      For smaller, more workstation type servers that don't demand an enterprise class solution, we're beginning to put in the odd Linux system. But we're not always succesful. I was on the sidelines of an attempt to meld Red Hat 7.1, Coldfusion, and Oracle. It failed. I don't know the exact details, but it had to do with Oracle and Coldfusion not being able to talk, and support only for RH 6.X. The project got moved to Solaris, where it now flourishes.

      The point being that while Linux can be used in a lot of applications, there are still problems with saying that it can overshadow Sun. Linux is still not as well supported by enterprise class applications as is Solaris, and currently Linux doesn't run the larger, faster, more stable enterprise class boxes like you can get from Sun.

      I do think Sun is getting complacent and is due for a fall, but I don't think they're in much danger from Linux. Not yet anyway. If IBM releases an enterprise class version of Linux, then who knows?


    • Solaris is an entreprise quality OS with excellent support and Linux is not there yet.

      I will take Solaris over Linux any day.

      Yes, Sun hardware costs bite. But the Sun's platform also is much cleaner and plain more fun to use than the PCs. I don't need to deal with the Limitations of a 20-year old BIOS and I can manage a Sun server via serial console. Scalability reliability and vendor support are excellent.

      • As long as you plug a term server into that serial connection otherwise you'll be screwed if the box you are using to control the Sun box crashes for some reason. However.. I like it too.. Sun should really try and sell their desktops though.. I want one and as soon as I'm able to buy one I will..

    • Since Sun is essentially giving away Solaris away these days, I can't see why using Linux over Solaris would concern them.

      This whole "Intel versus Sun" thing comes up again and again. As is repeatedly pointed out, an Intel machine with the strength and reliability of an equivalent Sun box costs effectively the same, and even those machines have to fight against the "cheap x86 crap" stigma that follows them up from the desktop.

      Sun has always been about the datacentre. Yes, they're suffering on the desktop, but the few cases I've heard of of "admins" trying to replace a Solaris server farm with their favored Linux have always ended in disaster (and pink slips).

    • Everything you have said is correct. I'm
      a solaris and linux sysadmin and I know
      what you are talking about.

      The only thing that keeps sun profitable is
      the enterprise market where they have a strong

      Keep that away and they are dead. Hope sun
      realizes this and they better innovate and
      keep the ante on technology... be it hardware
      or software.
    • So true...

      Recently we installed SUSE Linux for SPARC on one of our Dual Processor UltraSparc II 400MHZ boxen.

      We were pleasantly surprised in the speed increase that a none-combursome OS running on some very good hardware could give. We tried RedHat and Mandrake versions, which were even faster than the SUSE version.

      In effect, our SPARC hardware got a new lease on life with the software change. Try it, you might like it!
    • still the cheapest stable 64-bit box I've seen yet .. also keep in mind they bought Cobalt (stays linux + does a lot with the Chilisoft tools), and Solaris 9 starts closing the *nix gap with a lot more common linux sorts of interfaces and tools - also the only large scale commercial O/S I know of that pretty much gives away their source.

      You part of the IBM technical advisory board? I'm sure you think Websphere is the greatest thing you've ever seen .. oh and like SAIC (assuming your typo) is a good example of house that makes wise decisions :)

      It looks like you subscribe to hype more than you actually take time to investigate what companies are doing what and for what motivations ..
    • > Facing cheap hardware from Intel and AMD

      Who wants to run their business on *cheap* hardware? Cheap hardware is great for Linux weenies to play with in their bedrooms but I don't want my insurance details stored on it.
  • by SirSlud ( 67381 ) on Tuesday August 28, 2001 @12:37PM (#2225758) Homepage
    The book is no good until you apply patches:


    Um .. yeah.
    • 106542-12 Solaris 7 x86 kernel patch
      102534-06 Solaris 2.4 syslog patch
      104234-04 Solaris 2.5 routed patch
      107555-10 Solaris 7 ldap patch
      102432-02 Obsolete Solaris 2.4 Sparc Storage Array patch
      103423-08 Invalid patch id....

      It would have been immensly funny if the patch id's were all for Solaris 8.... IMHO.

  • These categories are especially apt for solaris books. First are the ones that are rushed to press, full of screen shots and man pages (Sams, Que, etc). Of these books in my library, I've found them most useful for holding up monitors. However, they can't be completely disreguarded. Sometimes it's nice to read a large man page on paper (csh, cvs, etc). Thus, IMHO, these two inch thick volumes should look *great* to the eye and be easy to read and STAY OPEN sitting on a desk. Alas, most of these books don't fit their niche. Their main assest is that they are cheap and first to market. I've also noticed that these books age quicker than milk left out on blacktop on a hot summers day. At least these books are made by using the product. There was a great thread [] about "Solaris 8: The Complete Reference" in comp.unix.solaris recently that shows both sides (and expresses what a waste of time and money the book was for me).

    The second type of books are the ones produced by or in association with the producer of the software. Think M$ press, Oracle Press and the God-aweful Janice Winsor books on Solaris. These seem to be produced by asking people about the product and then writing down their answers. Thus, you never seem to get the best answer to questions, but you get the correct answer for the Sun, or Cisco or Oracle point of view. This is vitial for the lame certification tests out there. The correct answer isn't the right answer, it's the Cisco right answer. Thus, the best books from this group are the test prep books. These books (which can be even bigger than the first category) are also useful for reference material that you may need once a month or so. I use these books as book-ends for the books I actually read and use.

    Third, as you may have guessed, are the *good* books that you actually read, use and learn from. I am always impressed with the readabilty and content of O'Reilly [] books. There have been so few bad books from them. It also seems their books age quite well. An impressive feat for their market. Text books also end up in their category. Most texts are bad and overpriced. However, with time, the diamonds start to show from adison-wesley (tcp/ip books) and prentice-hall (unix systems administrator's handbook - THE must read for solaris and all unix).

    The point of this rant is to look for the third type of books that you may *like* to read and that will age well. Try going to a college book store and look around; they have great book ideas there. Of course, you would NEVER buy anything there (try a local used bookstore or I am currently reading those type two books, and I can say that "Solaris Internals: Core Kernel Architecture" seems to be a good book so far. It's certianly better than most of "reference" books out there.
  • I have been trying to post articles on Slashdot for a month now, but they are insistant on publishing other articles. I just posted an article on Quantum Computing. I think you will all enjoy it quite a bit. For those of you who do not know what Quantum computing is, the article explains it quite well. Here is the link [] . You can post comments on the article below it. Please tell me what you think.
    • Sounds to me like a lame attempt to get some recognition for your website by posting off-topic in the forums. If /. didn't post the story, they probably didn't find it interesting or informative.

      I'm quite surte that if your articles were worthy of appearing here, they would be suggested by someone who doesn't have the domain name in his e-mail addy.

      Then there's the fact that Quantum computing has been beaten to death over the years by /. But you might know that if your member # wasn't greater than the national debt.

      If you would like to submit to a site that doesn't care how bogus a link is, try the search engines. If you want to whore yourself on slashdot, post on-topic. If the topic does not lend itself to your post, people reading that post will probably not be interested, and more than likely quite annoyed. I know that I will be skeptical of any links to designtechnica in the future, and I hopefully will never visit your site.

  • If you operate a Solaris box for fun or profit...

    Arrg! why on earth would you run a Solaris box for fun! We all know that we run Linux for fun.
  • and this should not be marked as "Informative" not "Funny": Solaris [] by Stanislav Lem (1961)
  • I own Linux Essential Reference by Ed Petron, also published by New Riders. The book is mostly man pages with a little clarity added to them, and a few detailed tables on complicated commands. I'm not sure what Solaris 8's book is like, but "chain books" like these tend to follow the same format. So if you already understand manpages pretty well, you don't need one of these books from what I've gathered.
  • I think I agree with the review. I bought my copy of the book (from Bookpool []) few months ago when I had to start using a Solaris workstation (was using linux at home and work on some jobs, NT on others previously).

    I know my Linux-box reasonably well, and although I was able to use the ultra-10 I have (with Solaris 8) ok, I knew there are lots of things that would make life easier. Unfortunately, the book was bit light on details. There were useful stuff in there (some of which may have been available on Linux too), but all in all it just left a stale taste.

    The specific problems I had with the book that I can remember were:

    • I can use man-pages (or foobar -h) to get listing of command switches, I don't need the book. It would be more useful to explain the actual operation of the command bit more (instead of 2-liners), than to give command line switches with equally brief descriptions.
    • The author apparently has never heard of ssh? Even though he did warn about telnet's problems, it's a crying shame no secure alternative was presented. Especially since ssh appears to be installed on Solaris 8 by default?
    • Related to previous; there was no mention of the fact that ftp is equally dangerous as telnet.
      Scp fixes this nicely, too, but at least book should definitely warn about using ftp for file transfer (minus public ftp-sites with anon. login), so that people wouldn't have mistaken feel of safety ("it asks for password... how can it be totally insecure?")

    I still have the book nearby, and occasionally do reference it. It's not completely useless... But I think it doesn't really live up to its title. Anyone have any suggestions for a better book? :-)

panic: kernel trap (ignored)