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Sun Microsystems Books Media Operating Systems Software Unix Book Reviews

Solaris Systems Programming 181

Ben Rockwood writes "UNIX, in all its many forms, was developed by developers for developers. This is evident in the connection between UNIX and C. In many ways, you can't truly understand one without the other. Certainly, there are plenty of UNIX users and admins who understand semaphores but have never written a threaded application, and C programmers who have never left the Windows world, but nevertheless at some point you'll encounter the symbiotic relationship the two share. Often, though, we find system administration books that discuss programming topics but not programming itself -- and conversely, C programming books that don't address the essence of UNIX. When we combine the two topics we get a systems programming book, an epic guide that clarifies relationships essential to understanding both entities in a truly holistic manner." Read on for Rockwood's review of Solaris Systems Programming, a book he describes as reaching this ideal.
Solaris Systems Programming
author Rich Teer
pages 1248
publisher Prentice Hall PTR
rating 10
reviewer Ben Rockwood
ISBN 0201750392
summary Guide to systems programming using C on UNIX systems, not limited to Solaris

Several such guides have popped up over the years, such as The UNIX Programming Environment (Kernighan & Pike 84), Advanced UNIX Programming (Rochkind 85), The Magic Garden Explained (Goodheart & Cox 94), Advanced UNIX Programming (Gay 00) (that's not a typo, there really are two books with the same name), UNIX Systems Programming (Robbins & Robbins 03), UNIX Systems Programming for SVR4 (Curry 96), and the undisputed heavyweight champ, Advanced Programming in the UNIX Environment (Stevens 92).

Each of these books is distinctive, yet they share a number of topics. Essential topics include low- and high-level IO, signal handling, processes, IPC, and basic file system mechanics. In the more modern books, we see the inclusion of popular topics such as threading. Discussion directed toward broader topics of UNIX vary widely, namely due to the OS agnostic nature of such guides, despite the fact that until recently many books tended to slant toward SunOS/Solaris. Regardless of how many systems programming texts have appear, however, most programmers will agree that Stevens' guide is the only truly definitive choice. Since its release, there has been little challenge to its prominence, despite the emergence of Linux as a major UNIX implementation, despite several newer systems programming books, and even the 2nd edition of Rochkind's guide. But all of this now changes thanks to the release of Rich Teer's Solaris Systems Programming.

At a whopping 1248 pages, this volume dwarfs just about every systems programming book available by over 500 pages. It avoids the distractions of OS ambivalence by being tailored to Solaris, but is applicable to any UNIX platform available including Linux. Its layout is similar to that of Stevens' or Curry's books but builds significantly on each topic.

New systems programmers will immediately appreciate Teer's completeness, both in topic coverage and in his example code. Almost every code example is complete and runnable, unlike many of the other guides that demonstrate a topic only in an abstract function rather than complete program. Essential topics for completeness which have remained surprisingly absent from nearly every guide available (such as memory, code security and 64-bit topics) are thoroughly covered. A striking example is coverage of memory topics. When I pulled volume after volume off the shelf of my local bookstore and looked up "memory" in the index of each, I found surprisingly few even cover the topic beyond explaining the difference between stack and heap. In fact, many don't even include the malloc() function. Solaris Systems Programming is the only book I've ever found so complete in its memory discussion that it not only covered stack and heap, all the available memory management functions, but even discusses such important topics as memory alignment!

A complete chapter on secure C programming is provided, thoroughly discussing such important topics as buffer overflows, chroot jails, and program environment. A good number of tips are provided to help you immediately incorporate better security into your app whether it's a real concern (for now) or not. Combine this with a complete chapter on resource control and limits, including discussions on system information, the /proc file system, and some Solaris-specific resource control facilities, you can write more intelligent, less obtrusive, and better-tuned applications.

The coverage of advanced IO topics (including STREAMS) and file system coverage are superior to that in any other text I've seen. System admins will appreciate the in-depth coverage of file system topics that have only seen this sort of detail in books such as Solaris Internals (Mauro & McDougall, 00). This level of discussion allows not only a better understanding of file system and IO techniques, but also the clarity to immediately start building your own tools that allow you to interact with file system with far greater precision than ever before. Other topics, such as memory mapped IO, have rarely seen such detailed coverage.

A full treatment of IPC topics are handled, but like Stevens', these techniques are discussed using conventional concurrency techniques such as fork(). A discussion of POSIX threading is absent and regarded as too large a topic to address properly in a systems programming book and the reader is urged to consult a complete guide to the topic such as Programming with POSIX Threads (Butenhof, 97). While some readers might be put off by this, you'll appreciate how this keeps IPC discussions unencumbered. POSIX threading is mentioned where applicable, so it's not at all ignored, but readers of Rochkind's 2nd Edition or Robbins' books will notice that introduction of a PThreads overview can quickly overwhelm the rest of the text. Unique to any other text with which I am familiar is the inclusion of a section on Solaris Doors (also applicable to the Linux implementation), which is the fastest IPC method in Solaris, introduced with Solaris 2.6.

Something that both new and seasoned programmers will appreciate is the inclusion of a chapter on utility functions, and another on localization. The utility chapter provides great a discussion of (and reference to) the often-used functions that many other books ignore, such as string handling and manipulation functions, memory management, byte arrays, temporary files, error reporting, command-line argument parsing, character classes and more. While it's true that these aren't strictly systems programming topics, they are inevitably going to be topics of interest to most programmers. It is the inclusion of such topics that allows you to take your pile of reference books and replace it with this single volume.

A major topic to systems programmers today is 64-bit programming. Naturally, Solaris is a robust 64-bit environment, and is well handled in this book. programmers new to 64-bit environments, whether on Linux, Solaris, or other UNIX platforms, will greatly appreciate the gentle introduction to 64-bit coding, as well as best-practice techniques and sprinkled 64-bit wisdom throughout the text.

Like it or not, Solaris is the dominant commercial UNIX platform in the market today and will be for the foreseeable future. This guide doesn't pull any punches in giving you the best information available to exploit that environment to its full potential. If you're a programmer, this book gives you a single reference to consolidate your library and give you a new appreciation for familiar topics and entry point to things that you might have never leveraged before (Doors, 64-bit optimization, etc). If you're a system admin, you'll find a whole new appreciation for Solaris and UNIX in general with unparalleled understanding of how they really work under the covers, especially if you've already read Solaris Internals. Everyone will love the detail and completeness, combined with with the hundreds of tips (not to mention nifty Solaris trivia) scattered throughout the book. Rich's style is compelling and relaxed, very readable in front of your keyboard or with a cup of coffee on the porch. And readers will enjoy his sense of humor, which is admittedly subtle; experienced programmers and system admins, though, will enjoy the book's wit.

Finally, given the impending release of Solaris 10, yet another aspect of this book needs to be considered: it's an essential companion for DTrace users! Rich couldn't have possibly foreseen this need when he started writing the book, but it is extremely important today. Solaris 10 provides more visibility and debugging tools than any other UNIX system in existence today, the most popular of which is DTrace. But all of these tools expect the user to have a certain level of understanding of the system itself. This book should be standard issue for any sysadmin that ever plays with Solaris 10. When doing system root-cause analysis with DTrace, this book becomes an essential reference, especially if you are allergic to system headers. If you have been using DTrace and getting lost, or feel that you just don't know Solaris the way you need to, buy this book and you'll find the confidence and skills to get you back on track.

You can learn more about Solaris Systems Programming on Rich Teer's home page for the book. On that page the full contents and index are available, including a sample chapter (Ch 8 "System Information and Resource Limits," 62 pages!). You can also visit Teer's personal home page to learn more about him and his work. You can purchase Solaris Systems Programming from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Solaris Systems Programming

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 12, 2004 @05:39PM (#10507796)
    Am I the only one that can't read the word holistic without thinking about electric monks on horses?
  • Certainly, there are plenty of UNIX users and admins who understand semaphores but have never written a threaded application, and C programmers who have never left the Windows world,

    Newsflash: Windows implements IPC mechanisms. You know, like all modern multitasking OSes?

    Other newsflash: C programmers can be found under Windows, Unix, MacOS10, BeOS, GEM, ThingamabobOS... In fact, real professional programmers can program in anything under any environment, they just happen to be a bit more proficient unde
  • by thammoud ( 193905 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2004 @05:41PM (#10507819)
    Amzon has a great deal on a new book released by O'Reilly. Programming the 8080 in assembler.
  • So much cheaper here (Score:2, Informative)

    by cloudkj ( 685320 )
    You can save a lot of money if you buy it at amazon.com [amazon.com].
  • by Realistic_Dragon ( 655151 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2004 @05:49PM (#10507902) Homepage
    ...is like the relationship between Petrol and a Car.

    You can put a monkey in a car and they might dent it, pee on it, scratch it... but it'll carry on (mostly) working. Let the monkey lose with Petrol and the whole damn thing is going to blow and some poor sod will lose their eyebrows.
  • by UrgleHoth ( 50415 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2004 @05:51PM (#10507921) Homepage
    Who is this guy really, Robert Jordan?
    • by johannesg ( 664142 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2004 @06:52PM (#10508552)
      Well, I don't know. Let's look at the introduction shall we?

      "The system runs, and programs come and pass, leaving data that becomes files. Files are deleted, and even the inodes are long forgotten when the program that gave it birth comes again. In one program, called the Compiler by some, a program yet to come, a program long past, an error rose in mountains_of_mist.c. The error was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the running of the system. But it was a beginning."

      Yep. Jordan alright.

  • by levl289 ( 72277 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2004 @05:53PM (#10507945) Homepage
    I'm almost at the end of The C/Unix Programmer's Guide [amazon.com] by Jason W. Bacon.

    It's one of the most generalized C/UNIX programming books I've been able to find; it doesn't pidgeon-hole itself into a particular *nix. After all, C in one Unix should ideally be portable to another Unix.

    • why a C book on just Solaris?

      While Solaris implements all the standard stuff, like POSIX, it also has many things specific to itself. Solaris offers an alternative threading API, several IPC mechanisms, System V and BSD personalities, various process scheduling routines, etc. Mostly, people would use the non-standard stuff only if they had to for performance or scalability, which most people don't really need (even if they think they need it). Otherwise, everyone really should just stick to the standar
    • Maybe because that's the point? This is a book about system programming on Solaris, not on Linux, or HP-UX, or even Windoze. If you're looking at this as a generic guide for systems programming, then you have a faulty assumption to start with.
  • I was in a discussion recently and someone asserted that the source for solaris 8 was open, and freely available. Is there any truth to this, or were they thinking of the rumour that solaris 10 is supposedly going to be OSS?
    • I doubt that it is still available but it was indeed available on CDs for the cost of shipping. I ordered it for x86 in 2001 and was going to run it on a pII 350...never got that bored ;)
    • What do you mean by open? Solaris is not open source, nor its source code is freely available. However, a couple years ago, for a limited amount of time, much of Solaris 8 source code was available for download from Sun. It had many limitations: 1. some parts were shipped as object files since those parts of sourcer contained code that sun doesn't own. 2. The source code was provided only for the original version of Solaris 8 (so, it didn't include any updates and improvements since Solaris 8 was released).
      • Open Source Solaris (Score:3, Informative)

        by Tpenta ( 197089 )

        Keep your eyes out, Solaris is being open sourced. The pilot has been underway now for a few weeks. I'm sure that there will be a big announcement and press release when it happens, and you can bet that Jonathon [sun.com] will certainly mention it.

        Before the license flames start, there is a commitment that the license will be OSI compliant. There would be little point to the exercise otherwise.


  • by Anonymous Coward
    /cynicism on

    Do they have SCOs approval to print this?
    /cynicism off

    Ok this joke has been beat to death.
  • Just different (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ADRA ( 37398 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2004 @05:59PM (#10508004)
    By the author's description, I'd say that the topics braches in this book cover two university level courses, Computer Architecture which entails registers, alignment, buses (Structured Computer Organization Tanenbaum) as well as Operating systems internals (APUE, Stevens or Modern Operating Systems, Tanenbaum)

    The problem being that both instructors need to agree on the book to get the benefit over the diverging information.

    In an academic standpoint, the book's too large to serve as a workable text, and too specific to be used for multi-course uses. Of course I've never actually seen the book, so its all speculation based on the review.

    For personal uses, I'm sure the added insights would be nice for those who haven't been beaten over the head with alginment and register offsets from schooling.. (*arg*).

    • > for those who haven't been beaten over the head
      > with alginment and register offsets from schooling

      Or by SIGBUS when porting sloppy x86 code to Sparc.

      An intermediary port to Alpha/Linux was actually useful, since you could make the application *RUN* and it *syslogs* alignment problems. Way cool. Then you just have "lucky" alignment problems to find (argh) and endianness-foo.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 12, 2004 @06:06PM (#10508080)
    that it's not even considered as something worth mentioning in programming job ads? I mean it's automatically assumed that you know it. Or maybe it's not needed. When was the last time you were asked by a recruiter whether you knew unix IPC?
    • I haven't been asked about Unix programming at all in quite a long time.
      A lot of that work has gone over to Windows and/or Java.
      Similarly, I don't see a lot of X Windows programming jobs either.

      I learned Unix IPC with M. Rochkind, "Advanced Unix Programming."
      But I haven't done it for about 10 years.

      I've used threads in Windows and Java since then but not a lot of IPC.
      IPC is fun stuff, but just try and get some one to pay you to do it.
      • Here in the world of investment banking there is still a huge demand for experienced C and C++ programmers with Unix (usually Solaris and/or Linux) experience. So much of a demand that where I'm based in London, we had serious problems filling even a junior role.

        Neither myself, or any of my C++ coding co-workers have ever had a problem finding a job that pays more than the last one. Even during the job market crunch at the turn of century.

    • The last job couple of jobs I applied for. The problem was not that the recruiter asked me about it. The EMPLOYER asked for it. Of course the skill has almost nothing to do with the position I was applying for (TCL programmer).
  • I'm Feeling Cynical (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2004 @06:07PM (#10508104) Homepage Journal
    I'd be surprised if three of the score or so of programmers I've worked with in assorted corporate settings over the past 5 years could tell you what a semaphore was, much less how to create and use one in a C program. In fact, in 15 years of programming in the "real world" I could count on one hand the number of times I've ever seen another programmer use "fork" in their code, even when forking off another process and establishing communication between the two processes would have made the job much easier. And don't get me started on the IPC blunders I've seen over the years from "professional" programmers. And as bad as those are, they pale in comparason to the code I've seen some Java programmers squat and shit. Er... you get the idea...
    • > And don't get me started on the IPC blunders I've
      > seen over the years from "professional" programmers

      Ask some of those programmers how to portably pass a file descriptor between processes, when one isn't a child of the other.

      That's always good for a laugh.

      (In case you care, IIRC the answer is in Stevens:UNP1)
      • Ask some of those programmers how to portably pass a file descriptor between processes, when one isn't a child of the other. That's always good for a laugh. (In case you care, IIRC the answer is in Stevens:UNP1)

        And is perhaps the ugliest interface I have ever seen, which is saying something.
      • "Ask some of those programmers how to portably pass a file descriptor between processes, when one isn't a child of the other."

        I've never yet seen anyone use that in real code mainly because A) Its not that useful anyway B) Different unixes use different methods and C) The code to do it is a long ugly kludge which is impossible to remember.

        If you could write code to do it off the cuff (as you imply with your comment) without reference to Stevens then you're either a genius with a photographic memory or a
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I know what you're trying to say. However, it doesn't quite help your argument when you throw around things like 'knowing how to create and use a semaphore in a C program'. Of course, you can't do it in a C program, except through an external API. Or with inline assembler and a SWAP instruction or somesuch, but that's cheating. :)

      Unless there's some new C standard that has synchronization primitives built in?
  • by stevey ( 64018 ) on Tuesday October 12, 2004 @06:17PM (#10508211) Homepage
    A good number of tips are provided to help you immediately incorporate better security into your app whether it's a real concern (for now) or not

    Security should always be important whether you're providing a network server, a setuid application, or neither of these things.

    In many cases security issues arise from having malicious input cause an exploit, even in non-security-sensitive applications if you're not careful unexpected input can cause a crash which might be just as painful from a user point of view.

    Too many people forget that security is a process, and not an addon.

    Many good tips on secure programming can be found in David Wheeler's Secure Programming For Linux and Unix HOWto [dwheeler.com].

    Read it, even if you dont think security is important for you yet. It's only a matter of time until it will be.

  • great book review (Score:2, Interesting)

    by xspatz ( 106693 )
    Despite this thread being conducted with typical /., unrelated comments, I actually thought this was a great book review. I know this book has been a big help for my husband with his work and I'm glad to see there is a review of it for the /. crowd, so maybe it can be of similar assistance for others.
  • UNIX, in all its many forms, was developed by developers for developers

    It starts badly and goes downhill from there. Unix was developed by bored research scientists who were frustrated by the bureaucracy of their MULTICS system (even the name is a play on it) and its first real use was for typesetting. They used C because it was the best compromise at the time between portability and fine-grained control of the machine.

    Then he goes on to talk about semaphores and threads and a bunch of stuff he thinks ma

"We don't care. We don't have to. We're the Phone Company."