In many smaller organisations, developers often end up doing some system administration work (for obvious reasons). A lot of the time, they have great developer skills, but few system administration skills (perhaps all self-taught), and so have to learn as they go, which is fairly inefficient.

Are there canonical (or simply great) books that would help in this situation? More advanced than just using a shell (presumably a developer can do that), but not aimed at someone that hopes to spend many years doing this work.

Ideally, something fairly generic (although specific to a distribution would be OK), covering databases, networking, general maintenance, etc, not just one specific task.

For the most part, I'm interested in shell-based work (i.e. no GUI installed), although if there's something outstanding I'm missing, please point it out.

(As an analogy, replace "system administration" with C, and I'd want K&R, with C++ and I'd want Meyers' "Effective C++").

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12 Answers 12


limoncelli http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/512gcuc0aWL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_.jpg

Practice of System and Network Administration is the only one you need in my opinion. You can find specific information about how to solve technical problems online. What this book gives you is a set of best practices and it makes it easier to adjust to the sysadmin point of view.

  • 2
    Everywhere I see this book, I will up vote it. – Joseph Kern Jun 14 '09 at 0:50

Some books that helped me learn how to become a better system administrator over the years, in order that I'd recommend reading them today.

You didn't say which language you develop in (though you allude to C/C++ with your analogy). A lot of system administrators focus their tool development on scripting languages like Ruby, Perl, Python or plain ol' Shell. Personally I like Ruby.

  • Python and C/C++ mostly, although I'm more interested in things outside of what I'd do in Python. – Tony Meyer Aug 27 '09 at 11:10

Linux in a nutshell

Linux System Administration

There are some other good ones from O'Reilly too, but those two will cover most of the day to day Linux administrator things.

  • 944 page "in a nutshell" eh... :) – Neil McGuigan Dec 13 '12 at 3:35

I used to go to HowtoForge and Gentoo Wiki Tutorials for help on setting up some configurations - easy, concise, to the point.

Ubuntu server guide and Gentoo handbook however helped in getting a better grasp on how linux works.

At least these are the main resources I've used as a developer by day, sysadmin at night.


RUTE is available online, and presents a decent introduction to both Linux usage and Linux sysadmining:

http://rute.2038bug.com/rute.html.gz [that's not a typo; it ends in .gz, but can be viewed in a browser]

You can buy a hardcopy if you want, or just read the whole thing online.


Some of the Linux distros provide very complete and readable online documentation. For example:

Unfortunately, some distros don't provide good docs, but you can often use the other distros' docs. In such cases, it is good to know which distros are similar to one another. For example, Ubuntu is derived from Debian, so the docs are almost interchangeable; and the same goes for CentOS and RHEL.


I for myself use

Unix Power Tools


There are as far as I know no canonical tomes.

Assuming you understand the basic Unix paradigm, and wish to remain a part time sys admin and not transition over to become a full time one, i.e. you are looking for a syntax guide and some basic good practise then:

  • <distro|linux|unix> in a nutshell (as appropriate),
  • Essential System Administration

Both published by O'Reillys.

If you were only looking or one, I'd take the former.

I think the Limocelli's that a lot of people are recommending are great if you want to be a fulltime sysadmin, but I'm assuming by your analogies you're looking more for a syntax guide/someting you can flick through to find out what tools/facilities exist and what those tools can do. Using the K&R C anaolgy, Limocelli is more a design patterns book than rather than a language reference, which is what K&R's The C Prog Lang is.

Essential Syatem Adminsitration is getting on and is closer to being a Data Structures and Algorthms intro book, than a K&R C type book, but is still useful for basic intro to the technical process of sys admining.


I'd check out O'Reilly's Linux Network Cookbook. It's a practical guide to setting up a small business network using Linux to run most common network services.


Linux Bible ist a good start if you want to cover different distributions.


Get a Safari books online account and you'll be able to read most of the books listed in this thread. Access to 10 books a month is $30 and unlimited books a month is $43. Prices given were rounded and were monthly rates, there is a discount if you purchase yearly. In addition you get about 5 tokens a month with each token allowing you to download one chapter from a book of your choosing (or on your bookshelf depending on account type) which you can then read on a device of your choosing later, or even print out on a dead tree. Also you get access to a wide variety of programming books, so it becomes quite useful over time, and it's open at 2am when you feel a desire to look through some computer books....

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