|UNIX in a Nutshell|
|summary||One of the most comprehensive UNIX handbooks on the market, and certainly one of the favorite. The ultimate reference, although not recommended for learning UNIX.|
Greetings, all. This week I'll be "reviewing" one of the books that made the O'Reilly name, UNIX in a Nutshell, although I admit to feeling a little silly passing judgement on a book that has already been judged quite well by the community at large. The first edition of this book was published in December 1986, and has been a mainstay ever since. This particular version is dated June 1998, and professes to include typographical fixes and a new index. For reference, in December 1986 I was working on an IBM PCjr expanded to 640k of RAM and dual 360k floppy drives. My favorite games were Karateka, Flight Simulator II and F-15 Strike Eagle (the first one). How far we've come....
What's the book about?
Simply put, this book is a dictionary of UNIX. It lists every command
available with a standard System V, Release 4 or Solaris 2.0 UNIX. This
included everything from grep to ed to cc to troff. If you know a command
exists, it's listed here along with all its options. That, however, is but a
small part of the book. In addition, there are various specific sections
covering shells (including sh, ksh and csh), EMACS, vi, ex, awk, sed,
nroff/troff, mm/ms/me, various nroff/troff preprocessors, RCS/SCCS, make,
sdb/dbx, plus a small beginner's list of important commands. In other words,
this is the jack of all trades reference for UNIX (and by extension, the
master of none, although I'll cover that later). There is also a transition
guide (or at least a small blub) for those used to BSD instead of SysV (of
which Linux is a decendent of the later). Many BSD commands included in
/usr/ucb on Solaris are listed in the guide as well. In short,
if it's standard UNIX (and then some), it's here.
If you want a kitchen-sink reference to UNIX, this is it. Any command that you have a question about is in here. Anytime you have a question about which vi command is needed, it's in here. Shell scripting is covered. Regular expressions are covered, for when you forget when to use "?" and when to use "*" (or "^" or "$"). Want a quick overview to RCS for your web files? It's right here. This is the short, short version of all your man pages that you can put under your pillow at night.
If you don't know much or anything about UNIX, don't buy this book. Or at least buy an introductory one along with it. Trying to learn UNIX from this book is like trying to learn English by reading the dictionary. Not only is there not much context, you can't do a reverse lookup. If you can't guess at the command you want, you won't be able to find it. That's not necessarily a flaw, this book just wasn't designed to do that. You don't buy the OED for a Spanish speaker, and you don't buy UNIX in a Nutshell for a newbie. In addition, don't buy this book just for its EMACS or vi or RCS section. Those sections are nice, but they are more command lists than guides. O'Reilly has an excellent selection of books dedicated to helping you with one of the above programs. They're great, and I recommend them.
What's In It For Us?
Long-time UNIX fans will love this book, and probably already own a copy. Same with sysadmins. If you've been around enough to know what you're doing, but still have to look up commands, this is also a great book for you. I know I can never remember half the EMACS or vi commands when I need them. The community has voted, and this reference is it. If you need it, buy it.Buy the book at Amazon.