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FreeBSD: The Complete Reference 153

Just Some Guy writes "I recently received a promotional copy of Roderick W. Smith's "FreeBSD: The Complete Reference". I was pretty skeptical at first - it's my nature - but was pleasantly surprised at the range and depth of information presented in a very accessible format. While not ready to supplant Greg Lehey's "The Complete FreeBSD", it's certainly a worthwhile read for new and moderately-experienced users." Read on for Just Some Guy's full review.
FreeBSD: The Complete Reference
author Roderick W. Smith
pages 869
publisher The McGraw-Hill Companies
rating 9 out of 10
reviewer Kirk Strauser (Just Some Guy)
ISBN 0072224096
summary (Most) everything you need to know about FreeBSD


This is a large book. At 869 pages, not including copies of the GPL and BSD License, it packs some serious heft (it weighs slightly more than three pounds).

It is divided into six main parts, which are further divided into 32 (!) chapters. The sections are:

  1. FreeBSD Installation: Hardware requirements, installation instructions, and a general overview.

  2. Basic System Administration: Partitioning, startup procedure, file management, printer setup, user management, software installation, kernel configuration, and X.

  3. Network Configuration: Introduction to networking, dial-ups, client/server principles, basic firewalling.

  4. Servers: In-depth explanation of file, mail, web, and shell servers, plus an overview of DNS, NTP, DHCP, and other random services.

  5. Common User Programs: Introduction to KDE and GNOME. An overview of various network clients and office software. A short tutorial on The GIMP. The state of multimedia and games on FreeBSD.

  6. System Maintenance: The basics of system monitoring. How to upgrade the OS and installed software. An overview of system security. How to compile software. Basic scripting. Troubleshooting and how to get help.

The Good

This book is an excellent starting point for people new to FreeBSD, or even to Unix-like systems in general. Each of the wide range of topics is covered in a reasonable amount of detail. Mr. Smith claims to have been working in the field for quite a few years, and it shows in the way each part of the OS is presented as a component of the whole. This isn't a "cookbook"; readers are introduced to each subject in a way that encourages them to make their own configuration decisions.

I was unable to find any factual errors, and I certainly looked for them. The author and proofreaders did a good job of checking their information before going to print. Since my copy was from the first printing, I'm especially impressed.

New users, in particular, will appreciate the hand-holding approach of the earlier chapters on installation and basic configuration. More experience administrators should be able to find enough new information about rather routine subjects to keep them interested.

Of particular interest was the almost complete lack of FreeBSD advocacy in the book. The introduction features a remarkably even-handed discussion of its relative strengths and weaknesses compared to other Unix and non-Unix operating systems. I greatly respect the author's decision to weigh the alternatives fairly and let the reader form his own opinion.

The Bad

FreeBSD: The Complete Reference is, unsurprisingly, a new entry in Osborne's "Complete Reference" series. As such, it's fairly comparable in size, layout, and scope to other books in the series such as Herbert Schildt's C++: The Complete Reference (my favorite C++ text). That's a pretty high standard to live up to, and I began my first pass through the book with a very critical eye.

My only real complaint is that, despite the title, this is not a "complete reference." Although The GIMP enjoys its own sub-chapter, the book makes no mention of certain high-profile features such as Vinum (FreeBSD's logical volume manager) or jails (chroot on steroids). It's obviously not possible to document every single component of the entire OS, but the name would seem to claim exactly that. Of course, even though FreeBSD: The Desktop Reference or FreeBSD: Reference For Users might be more appropriate, those would violate the series' naming convention. Still, don't be fooled by the title.

Although less important, every user has their own idiosyncratic ways of accomplishing certain tasks, and I tend to get distracted by recommendations that are counter to my preferred methods. Having said that, Mr. Smith makes some strange recommendations, such as editing the passwd file and compiling the password database afterward by hand rather than using vipw. His system certainly works, but I can imagine a new user scratching their head in puzzlement at the amount of work necessary to change their name.

The Ugly

Any book of this size and scope will have a few minor quirks, and this is no exception. For instance, the author needed to use several domain names as examples throughout the book. Rather than using the traditional "," he decided to use his own creations. That in itself is no problem, except that he and his publishers have not registered those domains for their own use. I can only imagine the surprise when a curious newbie tries to access one of the hostnames in a web browser and finds that a prankster has register the domain and used it to mirror

A more serious lapse, in my opinion, was the decision to include an installable copy of FreeBSD 5.0 on the CD that comes with the book. Unfortunately, refers to that version as a "new technology release," and it suffers from a rather long list of installation and stability problems. Some day in the future, the 5.x series will be considered stable and ready for use on production systems, but that's still a while off. I sincerely hope that no would-be new users become disillusioned with their newly-installed systems and give up on FreeBSD as a slow and unstable OS. Despite the drawbacks, though, I can understand the author's desire to focus on the new 5.x series instead of the more stable but older 4.x line. This book was published in 2003, and I doubt that he wanted to have to publish a second edition detailing the new release less than one year after initial release.


This is a good book with a lot of solid information for new and experienced users. It may have a few minor problems, but it is a well-written and approachable reference that should make a valuable addition to any FreeBSD administrator's bookshelf. I would recommend it highly to anyone migrating from other Unix-like systems, finding themselves in charge of a small network, or wanting to see what the fuss is all about. If you're a new user, though, do yourself a favor: download and install FreeBSD version 4.8 from instead of installing the copy on the book's CD.

You can purchase FreeBSD: the Complete Reference from 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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FreeBSD: The Complete Reference

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  • FP! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Why do I need a kernel? The new grub bootloader is actaully a operating system in it's own right!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 13, 2003 @12:32PM (#5945879)
    Was the last line in the book:

    "*BSD is dying."

    It just seemed so out of place.
  • but ... but ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by B3ryllium ( 571199 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2003 @12:36PM (#5945932) Homepage
    If the book is half-decent, it will show users how to make buildworld; make buildkernel; make installkernel; make installworld - with whatever the latest codebase might be.

    Therefore, the argument that the 5.0 CD will be out of date is moot - at least for people who have internet connections. :)
    • Re:but ... but ... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Tuesday May 13, 2003 @12:39PM (#5945955) Homepage Journal
      True, but you have to get it installed in the first place. 5.0 simply won't boot on some systems. An expert could probably work around the problems, but that's not the target audience of the book.
      • The trueness. I have recently acquired a free Pentium 2 computer. So I've been attempting to install all kinds of oses on it. I tried FreeBSD 5.0 on a reccomendation. It hung up while it was booting off the CD. In my journal I tell a more detailed story.

        All in all I realized that installed most operating systems and linux distros sucks ass. Mandrake. Red Hat, Knoppix(doesn't really count), Suse, and windows95+ are the only ones with decent installation. Everything else blows, from what I've tried, and I'v
        • so maybe that's what that was

          just finished installing freebsd 5 on an old pentium 200, it borks and reboots if i try to even boot off the cd, works fine if i do a floppy install(blech) with some help from ftp

          which was weird because in testing to make sure it could actually boot cds i had tried win2k3 server(free 180-day eval) and that booted fine
    • See here [] for this and more. Recommended reading.
    • Someday everyone will have fast connections. That isn't today.
    • I am glad calls it a "technology" release. I was confused when it was labeled originally as "release" and I assumed it was stable.

      On my system FreeBSD 5 booted fine with my old motherboard which became fried from a powersurge. After I blew hundreds on a UPS and new asus motherboard, FreeBSD would not work with my USB keyboard. I sucessfully got it to respond to my ancient AT style one without a problem.

      Also the ports are broken. In gods name do not do a "cd /usr/src/misc/instant-workstation;"
      • I'm sure there are people out there far better qualified to contribute to the discussion than I am, but I'll take one stab:

        Ports are not located in /usr/src, they are located in /usr/ports. It sounds like you tried to "convert" your already installed box to a "freebsd workstation" installation of some sort; that has nothing to do with ports, that's a world-level change.
  • The GIMP? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lerxst Pratt ( 618277 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2003 @12:36PM (#5945934)
    What is the GIMP doing in a BSD Reference book?!? Seems like fluff to me. Especially when you can download [] a pretty comprehensive GIMP manual online.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Wait until you read the section about the screensavers...
  • Skeptical (Score:5, Funny)

    by dfn5 ( 524972 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2003 @12:38PM (#5945946) Journal
    I was pretty skeptical at first -

    But then I thought "Hey, the book was free, what the hell do I care?"

  • more like from the compleat-misspellings dept. ;)
    • Compleat vs complete (Score:2, Informative)

      by stardeep ( 66237 )
      > more like from the compleat-misspellings dept. ;)

      Actually, "compleat" for "complete" in the titles of guidebooks is an ancient and revered practice, going back to this book [].

      I guess you learn something every day, huh?
      • by swb ( 14022 )
        Actually, "compleat" for "complete" in the titles of guidebooks is an ancient and revered practice, going back to this book.

        Bah, it's just an attempt to upgrade it into something it is not.

        It's not much different than the irritating practice of the local strip mall being referred to "The Shoppes of Glen Woode" or the local convention hall being called "River Centre".

        They all just appear to be copping Olde British Spellings to grant status.
        • You, Sir, are irony-deficient!
        • --old famous book, "The Compleat Angler" by Izaac Walton

          I have a pet name for cookie cutter subdivisions like that, and for all I know there's probably a real one or three out there. I call them all (in my silly mind) "creekwoode pointe estates" with the olde englishe extra e. Those are the larger ones, smaller ones I call "ridgeview". That seems to cover most of them anyway. It's like they are taught that as an example at real estate/developer school or something and it just sticks.

          Another favorite of m
  • The review I originally posted had links to my referral:
    The book is available from the usual sources. If you want to be nice to me, you can buy it through my
    Barnes&Noble referral link []. If you find those offensive or otherwise objectionable, you can go straight to it [].

    I didn't write the review to make money, but it still seems kind of sneaky to replace my referral with Slashdot's own.

  • Bullschildt (Score:5, Informative)

    by AltControlsDelete ( 642641 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2003 @12:53PM (#5946109)
    I question the credibility of any reviewer who refers to something written by Herb Schildt as his favorite C++ text. Good grief.

    From the alt.comp.lang.learn.c-c++ faq []:
    16: Why do many experts not think very highly of Herbert Schildt's

    A good answer to this question could fill a book by itself. While no book is perfect, Schildt's books, in the opinion of many gurus, seem to positively aim to mislead learners and encourage bad habits. Schildt's beautifully clear writing style only makes things worse by causing many "satisfied" learners to recommend his books to other learners.

    Do take a look at the following scathing articles before deciding to buy a Schildt text.

    T he above reviews are admittedly based on two of Schildt's older books. However, the language they describe has not changed in the intervening period, and several books written at around the same time remain highly regarded.

    The following humorous post also illustrates the general feeling towards Schildt and his books.

    Th ere is exactly one and ONLY one C book bearing Schildt's name on its cover that is at all recommended by many C experts - see Q 25.
    • Re:Bullschildt (Score:2, Informative)

      by Just Some Guy ( 3352 )
      Schildt's beautifully clear writing style only makes things worse by causing many "satisfied" learners to recommend his books to other learners.

      Well, that's certainly a contrasting opinion. I happened to like the C++ book (which isn't mentioned in the links you gave). Note that the link to is dead; if it had a criticism at one time, it's been removed.

    • Interesting...
      I have an overused copy of the "C/C++ Programmer's Reference" that I find fairly indespensible. Not quite a "Perl in a Nutshell" for C and C++, but easy to use as a desktop reference.

      You have suggestions for a better Nutshell type book (function listings with a little commentary) for C AND C++?
    • Yup, that was my first though, too. If the book is as wrong about BSD as Schildt is about C++, I'd strongly suggest another book. At the very least, I'd find another review of the same book - believing Schildt's pupils aren't good guides IMHO...
      • Re:Bullschildt (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Just Some Guy ( 3352 )
        Another possibility: the reviewer (me, in this case) learned C++ in school and hasn't touched it since then. To someone at my knowledge level in that arena, Schildt seems like a good author.

        On the other hand, I used FreeBSD every single day, and run quite a few production servers for various clients. I don't claim to be expert but I do know a thing or two about the subject. If I had written a review on a C++ book, I think your criticism would be reasonable. However, I didn't, and I know a lot more abo

        • I don't question your BSD knowledge - which is an OS I know nearly nothing about (I'm a Linux guy) - or your review. It's just Schildt that scared me :-)
          • At the very least, I'd find another review of the same book - believing Schildt's pupils aren't good guides IMHO...

            OK, so maybe just a little questioning. ;-)

            Anyway, thanks for the link in another post.. If I ever find myself writing C++ again, I'll keep that in mind.

  • by ascii ( 70907 ) <.kd.erocorcim. .ta. .iicsa.> on Tuesday May 13, 2003 @01:16PM (#5946359) Homepage
    Forgive me if this is a dumb*ss question, but can anyone tell me how well it applies to Mac OS X?

  • by LastCa_ ( 247483 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2003 @01:21PM (#5946431) Homepage Journal
    I've seen a lot of cool stuff to do with FreeBSD (like tweaking the kernel) that was only documented directly into the system (like in the source or man pages) and in some newsgroups.

    My point is, I would be happy if someday, a real "complete reference" book on FreeBSD is created, will all the tweaks and tricks (aka not only a beginner oriented book). No more search in the news and printed-two-years-ago-obscure-documentation for me.

    This is the kind of book I'm looking forward to.
  • For the author not to know about vipw and not to mention vinum is rather lame IMHO. That's just too bad, because I love FreeBSD.
  • by Lew Payne ( 592648 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2003 @01:46PM (#5946720) Journal
    "...the book makes no mention of certain high-profile features such as Vinum (FreeBSD's logical volume manager)..."

    Why should it make mention of something that is being phased out of FreeBSD? Anyone who has followed the developers' thread knows that the code for vinum is unmanageable and horribly inefficient, and is being replaced. Why should the book's author teach you about something you should not use and that will be deprecated? Why didn't the reviewer research his comments a bit more before being critical of a positive feature of the book?
    • Anyone who has followed the developers' thread knows that the code for vinum is unmanageable and horribly inefficient, and is being replaced.

      My memory and Google turn up no such rumor. Do you have any links?

      • Murray Stokely, John Baldwin, Robert Watson, Bruce Mah and Scott Long of the FreeBSD development team.

        As far as I know, google does not yet archive the private email communications and telephone conversations of others. All "research" does not equal "Google."
        • As far as I know, google does not yet archive the private email communications and telephone conversations of others.

          ...and neither do I. If something's being planned, but only via private email and telephone, how would you expect anybody other than the people involved to know about it? You made a remarkable claim; please provide remarkable proof so that we may believe you.

  • by BigJimSlade ( 139096 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2003 @02:14PM (#5947101) Homepage
    First off: This Is Not A Troll!

    Never having used any *BSD and only having a passing knowledge of Linux in its various flavors, where might one learn about the differences (dare I say Pros & Cons?) of FreeBSD and a Linux distribution? Maybe this is an Ask Slashdot question (I couldn't find a previous one, and a quick Google [] turned up only performance comparisons, not feature comparisons)
    • I am by no means a FreeBSD expert, and would barely be considered average by many in here.

      I switched to FreeBSD because frankly I found it easier.

      I was dealing with RedHat and it's pump command, I don't remember the details but I had to upgrade it, I found the rpm but then I had to update the rpm installer, I but I could update the rpm installer but the rpm installer was too old.
      I am sure I missed something obvious but I was too green and frustrated to see.

      I also didn't care for the documentation for lin
      • linux a better workstation(better hardware/games some apps).

        I know you're trying to be polite here, but that's one virtue I lack. There is so very little that seperates the end user functionality for the desktop as to not be relevant here.

        FreeBSD fully supports the very latest desktop enviroments at all times. Like with the server software, upgrading desktop applications is FAR easier. There's no waiting around for the next RedHat or Suse release because they've so brain damaged the process of upgradi
    • I am going to be lazy and copy&paste a similar response I posted to USENET recently...

      I've been a FreeBSD user since my first exploration into non-MS OSes many years ago, so my Linux knowledge is second-hand (and may not be 100% accurate or up-to-date) but here are tidbits I think I know:

      - The licenses are fundamentally different. This doesn't matter so much to me but may to you. I'll therefore skip that, but understand that BSD vs. GPL is somewhat of a Holy War.

      - Linux seems to me to be more disorga
      • - The FreeBSD ports system is awesome. As far as I know, most Linux distributions don't have anything like it. I think one has something that is close but is based upon precompiled binaries. FreeBSD's ports you compile yourself, which takes longer but has benefits that I like. I think the various Linuxes are trying to "catch up" to FreeBSD in this regard but I could be wrong about the current state of affairs. Keeping apps (and the OS itself) up-to-date with tools like CVSup and portupgrade is sickeningly e
        • Choice is a wonderful thing. I actually like the piece-of-mind that comes with compiling. You never know when "CPUTYPE=686" is going to help you out, plus I have a bunch of stuff in my make.conf that isn't compiled by default into the package builds (AA fonts in OO come to mind, as well as a bunch of mplayer options).

          I have a decently fast machine (Athlon 1.2GHz). If I had a very slow system and time was an issue, I might consider using the packages.
        • If you want the benefits of ports with what you like from Linux some people say Gentoo is the way to go.

          I don't use Gentoo
          I don't use Linux beyond what I use Linux compatiblity mode in FreeBSD for(Folding@Home is the only thing i'm using right now)
    • Well...

      One comparison can be found in the essay BSD: Linux With a Twist []. The FreeBSD Manual [] also has a section on the differences primarily focused on the development model.

      But just as a summary


      Linux has more users, more books, more groups, more mailing lists and more newsgroups. Whether this is good or bad depends on your point of view. I find comp.unix.freebsd.misc to have generally very good advice.

      What you get

      Most Linux distros seem to be headed towards a "complete desktop in a box"
    • I'd like to see a *real* "ask slashdot" of all the differences, too. Of course it might de-evolve into a flamefest, but I'd still like to see the attempt made.
    • Laptop support used to be a little poor with FreeBSD. I had trouble getting power managment and sound running on my thinkpad. RedCrap seemed to do this a little better. This info might be a little out of date though. I haven't followed up on it since my old laptop caught fire last year and the new one I got came with OS X.
  • For the true BSD afficionado, you'll be able to have your name sandblasted on to it and use it as a tombstone.

    With cool geek (oxymoron?) epitaphs like "Kill -9 JohnDoe" :)
  • by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Tuesday May 13, 2003 @02:58PM (#5947614) Homepage Journal

    The first thing I want to know when anybody talks about BSD is this: why precisely should I learn yet another OS? What do I get that I don't already get from Linux or Windows or QNX or Inferno or... I'm not suggesting that nobody needs to know BSD. But any review of a BSD book -- and the ensuing discussion -- should touch on the question of who should be interested in the topic.

    Enough about Herb Schildt.

    The review is painfully padded. All JSG seems to have to say is, "Looked for factual errors, couldn't find any. Liked the book, even though I disagreed with some of the advice." Throwing in a lengthy outline and a lot of useless trivia (imaginary domain names, forsooth!) to bring it up to a proper length is just lame.

    Linking to Barnes & Noble's web site hurts your credibility. I assume people do it because they give better referral rates than Amazon, and/or you're pissed about Jeff's patent hunger. Well, forget it -- I don't want to deal with B&N's cruddy web site, abysmal customer service, and absurd inventory problems.

    • But any review of a BSD book -- and the ensuing discussion -- should touch on the question of who should be interested in the topic.

      Implicit in the subject is that it would be interesting for people who want a reference for FreeBSD.

      As for the padding, I don't know what to tell you. I did look for errors without any luck; I considered that to be a good thing. I do think that using imaginary-but-unregistered domains is a bad idea, especially when some twit with less than $20 can buy one and set up a wil

    • The poster has a valid question that a good review should have covered.

      Why would one be interested in learning/using FreeBSD over Linux?

  • Cheaper (Score:2, Informative) [] has this book for $30.95. (Hint: search for 'FreeBSD'). It's $49.99 at Do the math.
  • I literally ordered my copy of the fourth edition of The Complete FreeBSD [] this morning from While I'm passing on Roderick's FreeBSD book, his Multi-Boot Configuration Handbook [] is good, albeit a few years old.

    An excellent FreeBSD book is Michael Lucas' Absolute BSD []. His Absolute OpenBSD [] book arrives soon.



  • So, finally the development of freeBSD is complete and it even has its reference.

    Now, is it dead at last?

  • Some day in the future, the 5.x series will be considered stable and ready for use on production systems, but that's still a while off.

    I'm actually running FreeBSD on a production system already. Not a mission critical box I admit, but it's still a production system.

    I know FreeBSD 5.0 is not rated for this sort of use, but I really wanted to try out SMPng and UFS2. Can't give any benchmarks, but my subjective opinion is that the dual PIII 400 wipes the floor with the single PIII 800 box it replaced.

  • For those looking for kickstart their collection, here are the FreeBSD books I own:

    Absolute BSD: The Ultimate Guide to FreeBSD
    by Michael Lucas
    ISBN: 1886411743

    FreeBSD: The Complete Reference
    by Roderick W. Smith
    ISBN: 0072224096

    The Complete FreeBSD, Fourth Edition
    by Greg Lehey
    ISBN: 0596005164

    FreeBSD Unleashed (2nd Edition)
    by Brian Tiemann, Michael Urban
    ISBN: 0672324563
  • One thing I'd really like to know is how up to date it is. I've just recently installed FreeBSD on two machines, and am running into a lot of problems getting sufficiently up to date information. For instance, the FreeBSD Handbook describes how to set up the KDM graphical login manager with DKE 2.0, with a cryptic note saying that if you're using KDE 2.2, you should refer to the KDE 2.2 documentation. But the CD set that came with the book is KDE 3.0... I also have FreeBSD Unleashed, which also has some of
    • "One thing I'd really like to know is how up to date it is".

      Ports! They are your friend.

      Keep in mind your Fbsd 5.0 cd has and some of the ports are broken so beware. This is because its only a technical release so be warned with them!

      Anyway, cd /usr/ports/x11-wm/kde-base3.1. As root in the directory type make install clean. Your done! I am using Win2k right now so I do not have the exact directory names. If you can not find kde 3.1 in the ports you can download [] a new ports tree. Unzip it at /usr so it wi
  • Those who can *BSD, those that cant Linux.

    - Linux is for the clueless -

"my terminal is a lethal teaspoon." -- Patricia O Tuama