Networking Reference

Posted On 2005-11-1 by FortyPoundHead
Keywords: Networking Reference
Tags: Networking Tutorial 
Views: 1563

Paper is not an obsolete medium for information on networking technology, in spite of the theoretical pronouncements of Internet ideologues, but you can't always find the information you need in a vendor's technical manual, on the Internet, or even in the pages of Network Magazine. Sometimes your best alternative is a reference book.

Over the years I've come across a handful of indispensable works. One interesting feature of all the following books is that they are valuable to readers with almost any level of expertise, even though they generally provide deep, advanced discussions of their subjects. These books are the places I go, or send my colleagues to, when I need a deeper background or richer understanding of a subject.

Computer Networks (third edition), by Andrew S. Tanenbaum is the fundamental resource for explanations of general networking topics. You can learn the basic physics of optical fiber and microwave transmission and get basic explanations of the common modulation schemes, such as T1 and SONET. A full treatment of the different types of switching adds a dimension to the discussion of ATM. The book's basic strategy is to navigate through the seven layers of the OSI stack, providing deep explanations of each one. All the common technologies of local- and wide-area networks, the telephone system, and wireless systems are dealt with.

The book isn't loaded down with page after page of differential equations, though Tanenbaum is not reluctant to use appropriate math to explain such things as Shannon's law or an error correction algorithm. Some of the explanations of protocols include pseudocode examples and state diagrams. Overall, the book makes effective use of hundreds of diagrams, and a simulator for example protocols is available on the Web.

While Tanenbaum's book contains an abundance of serious information, it is a joy to read. He puts technology in its historical context, and you're never very far from a pungent anecdote or joke. People who are serious about understanding networking and protocols can work out the problems at the end of each chapter, just like the engineering students who use the book as their text. This is the book to have if you're ever stranded on a desert island with a network.

Data Communications Networking Devices: Operation, Utilization and LAN and WAN Internetworking (fourth edition), by Gilbert Held. While Tanenbaum is terrific at explaining basic principles and technologies, Held is terrific at explaining the specific operations of equipment and software. Particularly for the Physical and Data-link layers, as well as for wide area networking components, this book is packed with valuable explanations and examples. Much of this kind of information is locked up in telephone company manuals and esoteric textbooks; Held makes it possible for the rest of us to understand WAN devices and operations.

You can often find examples of Held's work in the pages of Network Magazine.

Interconnections, Second Edition: Bridges, Routers, Switches, and Internetworking Protocols, by Radia Perlman. Radia Perlman is something of a legend in the networking industry. She was the original developer of the Spanning Tree protocol for Digital Equipment; she developed DECnet Phase 5 and the OSI IS-IS routing protocol, and she worked on Novell's NetWare Link Services Protocol, which is another link-state routing protocol. In her time at Novell, she worked on security issues that affect routing. She is now a Sun Microsystems Distinguished Engineer. Along with all the remarkable engineering credentials, Perlman writes informative, easy-to-digest, amusing books. It's hard to imagine topics with more boredom potential than routing protocols and encryption algorithms, but just as she and her co-authors did with Network Security: Private Communication in a Public World, Perlman manages to hold your interest.

This book examines the OSI and TCP/IP routing protocols from the point of view of a protocol designer or perhaps a software developer, and not so much from a network administrator's perspective. It's a great place to start if you want to understand how these protocols behave and why.

Network Security: Private Communication in a Public World, by Charlie Kaufman, Radia Perlman, and Mike Speciner. Network Security isn't a comprehensive look at every subject affecting security (firewalls and viruses aren't discussed much, for example). But for easy-to-understand, yet thorough and rigorous, presentations of the principles of cryptography and authentication (which relies on cryptography), this book is hard to beat. It doesn't shrink from discussing the underlying math (number theory), but the heavy sledding is pulled out into its own chapter, and you can learn plenty without it. The book is lively and opinionated, despite its usefulness as a textbook, with problems at the end of each chapter. This is the place to get a firm grounding in public key and secret key cryptography, hashing, message digests, digital signatures, and the other core concepts of security systems.

Charlie Kaufman works for Iris Associates (Westford, MA) as security architect for Lotus Notes. Mike Speciner is chief architect for ColorAge of Billerica, MA, a maker of high-end color printing software.

TCP/IP Illustrated, Volume 1: The Protocols, by W. Richard Stevens. The TCP/IP Illustrated series is probably the best reference for network administrators and programmers who want to understand the details and implementations of the world's most famous networking protocols. Volume 1 provides an overview of all the usual suspects, including IP itself, Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP), Address Resolution Protocol (ARP), TCP, UDP, SNMP, FTP, TFTP, BOOTP; routing information protocols such as RIP and OSPF; and DNS. The protocols and the basic programs, including ping , traceroute, and telnet, are covered in detail. And if you can get ahold of the common Unix utility named tcpdump (which prints out the headers of selected packets on a network), you can dynamically recreate the conditions illustrated in the book-a useful way to enhance your learning, even if you don't have a protocol analyzer at hand.

SNMP, SNMPv2, SNMPv3, and RMON 1 and 2 (third edition), by William Stallings. As is the case with other TCP/IP protocols, it's possible to go to one of the many request-for-proposal repositories and look up the details of the SNMP specification. But this process is not efficient, because later versions of the specification supersede early ones; the Management Information Base (MIB) specifications are spelled out in a number of separate documents; and you can't always find a full or clear explanation of why these protocols work as they do. Stallings has saved those who need to program with or perform their management tasks with SNMP- or RMON-based systems a great deal of trouble by collecting the relevant information in one place and wrapping it up with clear explanations of how the technology functions.

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