Network Administration with FreeBSD 7

We have all heard that the vast majority of computer users still associate working with UNIX-like operating systems with some kind of black art. Others know the basics, but are afraid to endeavor into areas that look tremendously advanced. Today we are going to review the book Network Administration with FreeBSD 7. It’s all about building, securing, and maintaining networks with the FreeBSD operating system.

Babak Farrokhi, the author of this book, has an extensive background related to UNIX operating systems. He has been a network engineer in the IT industry for more than 12 years. Since 1997, he has used FreeBSD on a daily basis. He has experience in system administration and networking (TCP/IP) on UNIX-like operating systems, including FreeBSD and Solaris.

The book seems to target an audience of network administrators that have a deep interest in (or are required to know) robust and solid FreeBSD system administration. The book covers building a system/server that runs on FreeBSD from scratch, optimizing the OS to gain the most performance, and most importantly, how to maintain the heightened overall security of the system.

At first, glance the book looks like a printed manual. Nobody should expect to read this 280 page guide in a day or two. Granted, it’s possible, but I’d advocate skimming through the book first to gain a sense of what it’s about and which topics are covered in great detail. Then read it again while working on a FreeBSD OS to practice the knowledge learned.

The listed cover price of the book is US$39.99, UK£24.99, and EU€28.99. However, do yourself a favor and try to look around for certain discounts that are available from specific bookstores. For example, at the time of this writing, there’s a 10 percent discount if you order a copy directly from PACKT Publishing. This means you can get it at £22.49, $35.99, and €27.89. Amazon also offers this ten percent discount.

The purpose of this review is to present the main qualities of the book while summarizing each chapter as briefly as possible. After these distillations, we can go over a few key points regarding the book. In the end, you can expect to find out my subjective opinion and whether or not I’d recommend this book.

{mospagebreak title=General Overview}

As I mentioned earlier, the book is exactly 280 pages. It is starts out with a nifty preface that is followed by six chapters focusing on system configurations, then another six chapters related exclusively to network configurations, and two more derived from the latter six, since they cover network services in great detail (again, configuration!).

Please check out the attached table of contents below. As you can see, the title of each chapter is followed by one or more words that explain the “main theme” of that particular chapter. This is to be appreciated, because you may be pretty interested in IPv6 network configurations right away.

Table of Contents:


Chapter 1: System Configuration—Disks

Chapter 2: System Configuration—Keeping it Updated

Chapter 3: System Configuration—Software Package Management

Chapter 4: System Configuration—System Management

Chapter 5: System Configuration—Jails

Chapter 6: System Configuration—Tuning Performance

Chapter 7: Network Configuration—Basics

Chapter 8: Network Configuration—Tunneling

Chapter 9: Network Configuration—PPP

Chapter 10: Network Configuration—Routing and Bridging

Chapter 11: Network Configuration—IPv6

Chapter 12: Network Configuration—Firewalls

Chapter 13: Network Services—Internet Servers

Chapter 14: Network Services—Local Network Services

The author himself also divides the book into the aforementioned three segments. Throughout the system configuration chapters, we are given general pointers that should be respected when configuring and managing a FreeBSD OS, especially if tweaking performance is important to us. We are also presented with some “unique” characteristics of FreeBSD that are useful for those that aren’t familiar with it yet.

The second segment centers around how to set up and configure numerous network interfaces, protocols, PPP over Ethernet and/or serial, IPv6, and firewalls (neither routing nor bridging, since these are key requisites in network infrastructures). This segment will show you real-world applicable examples of how to set up a solid, robust, and secure network.

Nowadays it shouldn’t surprise anyone that network services are a must, especially with servers. It’s a no-brainer that web services such as Web, Mail, DNS, FTP, and NTP are critical. The same goes for local network services, like the DHCP, SMB, TFTP, and NFS. The third section is split into two chapters: one for Internet servers and another for local network services that mentions everything you need to know about daemons!

If you have read some of my earlier book reviews, then you know that I always pay attention to and analyze the correlation between the book’s subtitle and what it delivers in reality. Some books promise much more than they deliver.  Others target a particular audience and yet deliver general content that’s “good” for everybody, not only those in that niche.

In this case, the book delivers exactly what it promises. The subtitle goes like this: “Building, securing, and maintaining networks with the FreeBSD operating systems.” Needless to say, this is what the book is all about. Now all that’s left to tackle is whether its style is easy to follow and how the author explains and approaches those topics. That’s what you’re going to find out from the next section.

{mospagebreak title=Continued Analysis}

First of all, the book follows a set of conventions. There are clear distinctions between blocks of code, code words, or just bold highlighting whenever the author wants to draw attention to a specific part or line within a code snippet. Screenshots are also attached in order to visually exemplify the output of some application or utility. This is useful because you know what to expect beforehand.

The average paragraph length is around four or five lines. This is one of those parts that should always be taken into consideration when reviewing a book. This is the ideal amount. Usually when there are more lines within a paragraph (imagine eight or more), the reader’s attention span drops drastically. And no, that doesn’t mean we don’t care about the content, or that it is boring to us; it’s entirely psychological.

The appropriate line spacing is also respected. Reading the book will not tire your eyes. I myself have the printed edition of this book, so I can also say that the contrast of the black/white (text color/background—paper) is acceptable. The font is either Garamond or some other particular copyrighted font that resembles it.

Additionally, there are quite a few diagrams and sketches that are pretty simplistic, but offer a great deal of help when you need to imagine a specific scenario. For example, the following diagram can be found on the bottom of page 166. It is a sample network that is coupled with its configuration file. It is crucial to let the reader fully visualize the network so that the structure of the config file will make sense.

In terms of content validity and accuracy, I must admit that I did not try each and every code sample, suggestion, or tip that was presented in the book. I wish I could have, but there are hundreds of them, so it was quite impossible, especially considering everything in my hectic schedule. However, I’ve tried quite a few, mostly those that are important to my specific setup and to my infrastructure. Needless to say, they all worked like a charm.

As a result, I drew the conclusion that the content presented in this book is very accurate and valid. It applies to FreeBSD 7, as its title suggests, but not just that. You will find that most of the things that you can learn from Babak Farrokhi are applicable pretty much anywhere in the real world, including all flavors of UNIX-like operating systems; FreeBSD is just an open source and free variation of BSD.

Furthermore, the fact that the author totally focuses on open source and free solutions should be appreciated. For example, for both OSPFD and BGPD protocols, there are OpenOSPFD and OpenBGPD, and they are both covered in the book. These are daemons that you can set up and configure to run on your server. All free solutions are readily available to anyone free of charge. Many of today’s businesses opt for open source platforms.

This means that you can apply anything that you are able to learn from this book right away without having to shell out hundreds of dollars on various software licenses. That is, as long as you are willing to invest the necessary amount of energy (time and mental capability) and practice. Practice as much as you can.

(Back cover of the book)

In short, let’s sum it all up again:

Ø        Monitor system performance and security;

Ø        Virtualization with FreeBSD Jails;

Ø        Tweak parameters to overcome bottlenecks;

Ø        Configure interfaces with ifconfig;

Ø        Keep your installation up-to-date;

Ø        Configure PPP networking;

Ø        Control IP and IPv6 routing with routed and route6d;

Ø        Run OSPF and BGP with OpenOSPFD and OpenBGPD;

Ø        Configure an IPFW firewall and PF packet filtering;

Ø        Set up Internet services on your FreeBSD server;

Ø        Configuring IPSec and Tunneling, and much, much more.

{mospagebreak title=Conclusions}

I think my conclusion and thoughts regarding this book shouldn’t surprise anyone. I, for one, consider the book, Network Administration with FreeBSD 7, by Babak Farrokhi, to be an amazing resource that is written in a concise and straightforward manner. It teaches the reader how to become an exceptional system and network administrator by building knowledge gradually from the ground up.

It is an easy read and the language isn’t complex. You can pretty much walk through the sentences without feeling a need to have another go at them. Nevertheless, the book is very technical; it covers the “inner workings” of an UNIX system, especially how to turn it into your slave.

As a result, I consider this book a great read and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anybody that has the slightest interest in UNIX systems and network administration, as well as those willing to endeavor into areas that were untapped until now. It’s important to understand that this book is not a general how-to manual that covers FreeBSD installation and basic configuration. It is much more advanced.

Even the author himself says that the book targets an audience that is looking for skills beyond installation and configuration. Don’t be confused. If you have zero experience and practically no idea with what Unix operating systems are all about, then unfortunately, this book isn’t for you. If that’s the case, then you should read this book some time in the future, when you already know the drill.

For those of you that want a numerical rating, here it goes: 5/5 for this book. It definitely meets my expectations and satisfies the factors that I am looking for when reviewing a book. Its language is clear, the content is valid and accurate, it delivers what it promises, and most importantly, it is very up to date (at the time of writing).

Come to think of it, FreeBSD 7 was officially released on Feb 27, 2008, while the book was published on March 17, 2008. At the moment, lots of companies and multinational corporations are migrating (or simply just updating) to FreeBSD 7 (from older versions, perhaps). So reading a highly technical and informative reference book like this would give you the winning edge in order to become the very best sys admin!

Lastly, before we finish, please bear with me as I’d like to thank everyone over at PACKT Publishing for giving me the opportunity to review this book. I’ve had the good fortune to be in touch with Duane Moraes from their team and he has shown a great deal of professionalism and business expertise.

As a finale, I’d like to congratulate Babak Farrokhi for taking the initiative to write this book. Be sure to also check out his personal site at I personally would like more content like this and I certainly hope that this is just the beginning of his writing career. We can surely learn a lot from him. Great work, Babak!

Furthermore, please don’t miss the sample article that is an excerpt from the book: Network Configuration—Tunneling with Free BSD. And if you feel like being part of the right audience, then don’t hesitate to grab a copy of this book (PACKT, Amazon, B&N). You may want to check out some relevant information about the book below:

ISBN-10: 1847192645

ISBN-13: 978-1847192646

Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds

Product Dimensions: 9 x 7.4 x 0.7 inches

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