|Professional Linux Programming|
|author||Neil Matthew, Richard Stones, et. al.|
|summary||A brilliant book for anyone wanting to gain new Linux programming skills.|
Large programming books have a special sort of gravitational pull to them. It's a sort of siren's song for us techie types, with lyrics promising an endless fountain of information, more than you could ever possibly hope to use, superfluous only in the same way that you don't plan on reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica cover-to-cover anytime soon, either.
Unfortunately, this branch of the publishing industry responsible for these books is well aware of this, and as such there's a veritable critical mass of crap in that corner of the bookstore, some of it reading like blood being squeezed from a stone, with any number of useless chapters thrown in there just to meet some predefined page quota. Which is why it's such a relief to get a book like Professional Linux Programming that's 1155 pages long and contains a ton of material, with very little of it page-filler. Unless you already know it all, there is something valuable in this book for just about every Linux developer out there.
This book is loaded. Go straight to the table of contents if you need to see what I mean. The book's sheer ambition almost makes it worth picking up a copy. We need more like this -- not just for Linux, not just for programming, but for computer references in general.
If you've thought about developing for Linux, you've probably rubbed up against the impression that Linux and C go together like a wink and a smile. This book delivers on that impression, and it delivers huge. There are chapters on how to use C with PostgreSQL and MySQL databases, LDAP services, GTK+/Gnome/libglade and Qt/KDE, Flex and Bison, XML, sockets, RPC and CORBA (using ORBit). There are also sections on applied professional development theory, like design, debugging, security, deployment, and encryption.
If C isn't your bag, you might not find as much to get out of this book, but there are still sections on PHP, Python, documentation, package deployment, internationalization and shell database manipulation. Ever wondered how CVS or patching worked? It's in there. There's even material on device drivers and Beowulf clusters. By the end of this book you'll have more than just proof-of-concept familiarity with just about all the topics. For all but the more exotic subjects, you start at the simplest example, and the complexity gets increased with subsequent scenario, until the point where the chapter gets applied to the book's ongoing case study, which is the development of a hypothetical system to track a DVD store's business operations.
To give you an idea about what sort of depth to expect from this book, I'll talk about what it does with PostgreSQL. It shows you how to install it and maintain it from the command line; walks you through how to create basic databases; gets you comfortable with running SQL queries from the command line or scripts from a file; shows you how to interface with it using C (using both libpq functions and embedded techniques); shows you how to handle different kinds of transactions and cursors; talks about bringing it into PHP; and uses PostgreSQL for the core engine for the case study. Now, database work is obviously going to be getting special treatment when it comes to commerce development, but that's still only one of many subjects that this book tackles, most of which are designed to get you on the ground running before needing to resort to supplementary material.
As an aside, from a coordinating standpoint, this book is a marvel. Content was contributed from 15 separate authors and yet continuity is practically a non-issue.
Typos. Oy vey. It's like getting a buddy to lend you his Ferrari, only to discover that there's a little bit of bird crap on the windshield that nobody can wipe off. Nice car, shame about the bird crap. Now, this book isn't horribly bad for it, but you shouldn't be surprised to find the odd error at the rate of one or two per chapter, usually in the form of an incorrect diagram symbol here or there or a formatting character that didn't quite translate into a code listing. Not too bad, but it's enough to be a mentionable problem. The Wrox people were good about putting up an errata page, but, unfortunately, it's empty. This may speak to the fact that the intended audience are hackers who can probably figure out the problem for themselves anyway.
Then there's the timeliness factor. This is a review of the first edition, which came out in September 2000, and it's unfortunate that with all the new technologies coming out (Bonobo, KParts, Mono, etc.) there isn't a second edition in the works as of yet. As such, people hoping to find useful information on programming with the more volatile APIs (specifically the GUI stuff) might want to look elsewhere. The information in this area isn't completely obsolete, just not as cutting edge as it was when the book first came out. Most of the other chapters are still current, and had this review been done near the publication date, the rating would easily be a 9 out of 10. That it still merits a review at this point, after being out for almost a year and a half, hopefully says something.
There's also the fact that even though this book contains so much, it doesn't really act as a definitive reference in any area that it describes. For instance, I was toying with the idea of making a code mangler for an XML-type language, so the chapter on Flex and Bison had me drooling. It wasn't long after reading it, though, that I found myself needing to go to GNU's Flex website just to get a better listing of all the regular expressions I'd need to use. That's symptomatic of pretty much all the chapters here -- it doesn't take long to outgrow the material when you need to apply it to your personal project. In this sense the title seems misleading; if you wanted to program in some of these areas at a professional level, this book would only be a starting point to another, deeper reference.
The huge breadth of knowledge also makes some omissions seem glaring. There is nothing on Perl or some of the other popular shell languages. Outside of two chapters, C++ is avoided like the plague. The section on deployment using automake is tiny enough that it's practically not there, which is surprising given the amount of time a reader spends churning out source code throughout the rest of the book. There's also a brief section on multimedia that, given the context of the rest of the topics, just feels out of place. Some of these shortcomings are made up in the intended predecessor to this book, Beginning Linux Programming , so you might want to give that book a whirl as well (TCL, BASH, and Perl all get treatment there).
And just to leave no superficial stone unturned, the cover is just awful -- it looks like a police lineup. Although I suspect there's a focus group somewhere that needs to answer for this, maybe it bodes well knowing that, considering the slightly expensive nature of this book, none of that money went into its outer design.
There are some people who aren't going to want to buy this book. Specialists, or people who want to specialize, likely won't get enough of what they want on any of the subjects here. Also, this isn't so much a learning guide that will give you exercises and quizzes, so if you're still at the stage where you need that sort of thing, this book might be a bit rich. If you're hoping for bleeding-edge stuff, wait for a second edition.
Also, it's taken for granted that the reader understands C pretty well, so if you don't, invest some time in that area first.
However, if you've got the fundamentals of Linux programming down pat but don't know where you want to go next, buy this book. If you're a seasoned developer and just need to get the basics of a new area in order to apply it to your ongoing projects, buy this book. If you're a generalist or a hobbyist, buy this book. If you need to design application prototypes for the Linux platform, buy this book. If you want to compare different APIs without having to commit to buying different textbooks, buy this book. If you get off on knowing you can do more Hello Worlds than any of your friends, buy this book. And if you like your references so big and fat that they bend light, buy this book.
Table of ContentsIntroduction
Chapter 1: Application Design
Chapter 2: Concurrent Versions System (CVS)
Chapter 3: Databases
Chapter 4: PostgreSQL interfacing
Chapter 5: MySQL
Chapter 6: Tackling Bugs
Chapter 7: LDAP Directory Services
Chapter 8: GUI programming with GNOME/GTK+
Chapter 9: GUI Building with Glade and GTK+/GNOME
Chapter 10: Flex and Bison
Chapter 11: Testing Tools
Chapter 12: Secure Programming
Chapter 13: GUI programming with KDE/Qt
Chapter 14: Writing the dvdstore GUI using KDE/Qt
Chapter 15: Python
Chapter 16: Creating Web interfaces with PHP
Chapter 17: Embedding and extending Python with C/C++
Chapter 18: Remote Procedure Calls
Chapter 19: Multi-media and Linux
Chapter 20: CORBA.
Chapter 21: Implementing CORBA with ORBit
Chapter 22: Diskless systems
Chapter 23: XML and libxml
Chapter 24: Beowulf Clusters
Chapter 25: Documentation
Chapter 26: Device Drivers
Chapter 27: Distributing the application
Chapter 28: Internationalization
Appendix A: GTK+/GNOME Object Reference
Appendix B: DVD RPC Protocol Definition
Appendix C: Open Source Licenses
Appendix D: Support, Errata & P2P.Wrox.Com
- Wrox website
- Sample chapter from the book
- Wrox's P2P page for this book
- Linux Journal's Review of this book
- ACCU's Review of this book
You can purchase Professional Linux Programming at Fatbrain.