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 (fourth 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 , (second edition), 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 IBM, where he is chief security architect for Lotus Notes and Domino. Mike Speciner is a senior consulting engineer for ThinkEngine Networks.
Hacking Exposed: Network Security Secrets and Solutions , (third edition), by Stuart McClure, Joel Scambray, and George Kurtz. Hacking Exposed provides a blow-by-blow listing of the security vulnerabilities of computers and networks. Each exploit or vulnerability is rated by popularity, simplicity, and impact, which helps provide a context for these issues. Such information is very difficult to come by elsewhere. Anyone with responsibility for network security, or anyone with a degree of curiosity about just how systems can be attacked , will find a great deal of useful information here.
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 a hold 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 booka 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.
The first edition of this book covered CMIP rather than RMON; that the onetime heir apparent to the management crown is no longer mentioned in the book is an indicator of how soundly TCP/IP and SNMP whipped the OSI protocols and CMIP in the marketplace . Meanwhile, SNMPv2 has gone down for the third time, perhaps to be resuscitated as SNMPv3, and RMON-2 has come to hold many of the keys to the future of management. This is the best place to get a deep understanding of the major management protocols and related issues.
The Essential Guide to Wireless Communications Applications (2nd edition) , by Andy Dornan. Andy Dornan covers a wide variety of wireless topics in his role as senior editor for Network Magazine . The book's title is overly modestin fact, it comprehensively presents the technical underpinnings, the advantages and disadvantages, and the likely futures of practically every variety of wireless technology: voice as well as data; fixed wireless as well as mobile; packet-based as well as TDM-based. While the discussion of wireless applications is thorough and insightful, there is a great deal of valuable reference and tutorial material on wireless communications in general.
Microsoft Windows 98 Resource Kit, Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional Resource Kit , and Microsoft Windows 2000 Server Resource Kit . Most people install Windows 95/98 or NT/2000 without reading any manuals, or they get the operating system with their hardware. Both of these big, bumptious OSs are deep and complicated, but fortunately Microsoft makes available better than 1,700 pages of in-depth explanations for each one. (The Windows 2000 Server Resource Kit is a whole library, with 7296 pages total.) Do you need to know how to work with Banyan VINES or DEC Pathworks? Do you want to administer aspects of the operating system centrally , or perform automated installs over the network? Do you want to understand why Winsock, or the Registry, works the way it does? Do you simply need a list of the files that ought to be in a particular system directory? These books provide answers to all these questions, and few other sources do.
These aren't dumbbell books that use up a lot of trees by saying, "Now left-click once on the File Menu (see Figure such and such). Then left-click on the Save item (see Figure blah blah)." The Microsoft teams that assembled these books respect your expertise and your time, yet these books are consistently understandable as well as comprehensive. Each book comes with supplemental executable files on floppy disks or CD, which focus on providing policy-based administration for large numbers of clients .
Peter Norton's New Inside the PC , by Peter Norton and Scott H. A. Clark. Peter Norton is probably responsible for more people successfully understanding PCs and their operating systems and peripherals than anyone in the world. Between his Inside the PC books and the various versions of Norton Utilities, enlightenment is within anyone's reach. He is a graceful , efficient writer with something illuminating to say about a vast number of technical subjects.
If you're unfamiliar with the memory model of Intel-based PCs, or you want to get a better grip on interrupt-level conflicts, you will find thorough explanations here. All the components inside the PC are discussed in detail, but Norton also explains operating systems and common PC peripherals. I can't think of a better book to give an intelligent beginner an understanding of how PCs work, though, like the other books on this list, this one has reference depth for those in the know.
Newton's Telecom Dictionary (18th edition) , by Harry Newton with Ray Horak. If Harry Newton's dictionary doesn't list the weird acronym or obfuscating term you've come across, there's a high probability that the term does not exist. The legacy telephone companies use an incredible volume of jargon and counterintuitive terminology, and Newton decodes it for you. The mainframe and minicomputer worlds have their own languages, and Newton translates . The Internet crowd , the PC contingent, the computer telephony circleyou will be better able to understand any of these constituencies with Newton's Telecom Dictionary . Newton doesn't stop with raw definitions or mere spell outs of acronyms, either. He puts you on the trail of a full understanding. Some technical dictionaries are apparently done by people who see engineering or programming as their main calling in life. Newton is highly literate and extremely accuratequalities I greatly value in dictionaries.
Newton updates this dictionary a couple times a year. Obviously, new terms must be defined daily in our volatile world. You'll come to rely on Newton for comprehensive and correct definitions of high-tech terms.
In the interest of complete disclosure, I should mention that Harry Newton was the founder of LAN Magazine , which became Network Magazine in 1997. Furthermore, Miller Freeman/CMP bought Flatiron Publishing as well as a number of magazines and trade shows from Newton and his company in 1997.
Computer Networks (fourth edition), by Andrew S. Tanenbaum (Prentice Hall, 2002, ISBN: 0130661023)
Data Communications Networking Devices (fourth edition), by Gilbert Held (Wiley, 1998, ISBN: 047197515X)
Interconnections, Second Edition : Bridges, Routers, Switches, and Internetworking Protocols , by Radia Perlman (Addison Wesley, 1999, ISBN: 0201634481)
Network Security: Private Communication in a Public World , (second edition), by Charlie Kaufman, Radia Perlman, and Mike Speciner (Prentice Hall, 2002, ISBN: 0130460192)
Hacking Exposed: Network Security Secrets and Solutions , (third edition), by Stuart McClure, Joel Scambray, and George Kurtz (McGraw-Hill Osborne Media, 2001 ISBN: 0072193816).
TCP/IP Illustrated, Volume 1: The Protocols , by W. Richard Stevens (Addison Wesley, 1994, ISBN: 0201633469)
SNMP, SNMPv2, SNMPv3, and RMON 1 and 2 (third edition) , by William Stallings (Addison Wesley, 1999, ISBN: 0201485346)
The Essential Guide to Wireless Communications Applications (2nd edition) , by Andy Dornan (Prentice Hall, 2002; ISBN: 0130097187)
Microsoft Windows 98 Resource Kit (Microsoft Press, 1998, ISBN: 1572316446)
Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional Resource Kit (Microsoft Press, 2000, ISBN: 1572318082)
Microsoft Windows 2000 Server Resource Kit (Microsoft Press, 2000, ISBN: 1572318058)
Peter Norton's New Inside the PC , by Peter Norton and Scott H. A. Clark (Sams Publishing, 2002, ISBN: 0672322897)
Newton's Telecom Dictionary (18th edition), by Harry Newton (CMP Books, 2002, ISBN: 1578201047)
This tutorial, number 116, by Steve Steinke, was originally published in the March 1998 issue of Network Magazine.