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on July 9, 2004
"BSD Hacks" is the book I hoped to read. I've been using FreeBSD in production and test environments for about four years (since 4.1 REL), and I've played with OpenBSD and NetBSD for about a year each. I was looking for a book that would explore the nooks and crannies of BSD without covering the introductory issues often found elsewhere. By hack 10 I had already learned enough to justify purchasing "BSD Hacks." Unless you're a member of the core team, you'll find enough tricks and tips to make "BSD Hacks" a welcome addition to your system administration library.
In the first chapter on customizing the user environment, I learned multiple ways to make using BSD easier. Simple hints proved especially helpful, like ctrl-a and ctrl-e for moving around on the command line, or 'cd -' for changing to the last directory, or 'set autolist' to bring tab completion with lists to the tcsh shell. I wondered how I managed to navigate the command line without this keystroke-saving advice.
Author Dru Lavigne demonstrated a wonderful talent for finding useful tools in the BSD ports tree. Applications like Unison, Ghost for UNIX, and ClusterIT are all waiting to be used, and "BSD Hacks" brings them to life in an easy-to-read manner. There's also plenty of sound administration recommendations, like creating an emergency repair kit, automating installs, and creating scponly-based shells. I like the tuning suggestions in hack 69 and would have liked more information on that subject. These sorts of hacks leverage existing capabilities in the OS to enhance the administrator's ability to meet user needs. I would probably have not considered them (even with the BSD's thorough man pages) without reading "BSD Hacks."
My only concern with the book involves coverage of material best done elsewhere. For example, hack 46 covers Tcpdump. Since this is not a networking book, I didn't think Tcpdump needed its own section. The author also needed to clarify the octet counting section for the TCP header. By the time the TCP flags are reached in octet 13, we've already moved through 13 octets (numbered 0 to 12), not 12 as implied by the book. Hack 59 addresses Snort, perhaps the most well-worn topic in network security. With a half dozen books on Snort alone and another half dozen with chapters on the open source IDS, I didn't need to read more instructions on installing it.
Overall, I was very happy to read "BSD Hacks." It's an absolute must-buy, with its informational content easily justifying its low cover price. I recommend readers submit hacks of their own to O'Reilly for future editions. For example, hack 81 could have mentioned using "make package-recursive" to create packages of a port and its dependencies. Hack 80 should probably have used the "RELENG_5_1" tag to track the security release of FreeBSD 5.1, not "RELENG_5_1_0", which would make no changes whatsoever to a system already running 5.1 REL. Hack 82 could have mentioned the portcheckout tool to build a port without access to the whole tree. Books like "BSD Hacks" are an excellent way to demonstrate the power and elegance of BSD, and expand its influence to those looking for alternatives to Windows and Linux.
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on September 26, 2004
Originally reviewied for the Lower East Side Mac Unix Users Group:

There is a type of information that I consider to be a gem, a kind of information that doesn't really fit anywhere formally. It's too small, or perhaps too esoteric, to fit in most places.
This makes it hard to find- though these info-gems can often can be the source of wild hacking inspiration, or solve my un-solvable problems in some elegant manner.

This kind of information sometimes gets collected and recorded, Some of us at LESMUUG have really enjoyed the Mac OSX Hints book, spawned from website,


BUT, after plowing repeatedly it's one UNIX chapter in Mac OS X Hints, I found myself craving more...

A Problem with BSD books:
One of the quietly great things about the BSD family of UNIX Operating Systems, is the terrific documentation. The quality and consistency of the man pages, across every BSD I've ever touched, I painfully appreciate when I use man pages on other non-BSD systems.
The FreeBSD world has the FreeBSD Handbook project, a printed and free online resource which sets the bar for every fat FreeBSD book out there. OpenBSD and NetBSD both have amazing online tutorials and documentation projects as well. Even the fledgling DragonFly BSD project has a full-blown Handbook, modeled after its FreeBSD lineage.
In the OpenDarwin and OSX world we enjoy the legacy of solid man pages and solid HowTo's online from our BSD heritage, and of course free registrations to to boot.

With all that great documentation, it's really tough to find a BSD book that's really valuable, especially for experienced users, and Dru Lavigne has made a valuable and fun resource with BSD Hacks. The book is an impressive compilation of BSD gems, and as it's written for newbies and hardcore hackers alike.

Dru is a Canadian BSD Rockstar, well known in the BSD world for her articles with O'Reilly online, including the FreeBSD Basics column for ONLamp,


so who better to write a book that doesn't fit into traditional documentation?! Someone who KNOWS BSD.

The Book is comprised of so many disparate yet complete ideas, It's hard to sum up exactly what's in there. From networking, to gems on system maintenance, and gems about basics that really get lost in man pages. There's information about things like keeping up-to-date, giving a tutorial-level big picture of what can be done to keep your UNIX system running smoothly, boot and Login gems, some good Security Hacks and hacks about system customization and shell tricks. There's even a tutorial for how to create YOUR OWN man pages.

For Mac/Darwin users, the majority of the book applies directly to Darwin UNIX! A section which by its nature is OS-specific, would be the hacks about various port and application-distribution systems. This includes a good how-to for DarwinPorts, right along with the usual ports systems for other platforms. The section on filesystems doesn't have anything on hfs+, but that can be excused, insomuch as many mac-centric texts do it the same injustice.

Check out the TOC online for a full description of the book contents:

If you are a UNIX user who loves info-gems like I do, or you're a Mac UNIX user who digs, (and the books published from it), I feel BSD Hacks will provide many weekends, and workdays worth of BSD gems- all written by a great technical author. This book now sits next to my printed FreeBSD Handbook, and since much of these gems are fairly timeless, I believe it will stay with me for a long time to come.
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on June 4, 2004
I have been a fan of Dru's articles on O'Reilly's ONLamp website for some time, so purchasing this book was a no-brainer for me. After just 30 minutes of thumbing through this book, my impression was that it would be a 'steal' at twice the price. After spending an entire evening reading and applying some of her 'hacks' this book has earned a spot of honor on my shelf right next to "Absolute BSD" by Michael W. Lucas.
The writing is straight-forward with a minumum of 'fluff', so an intermediate to experienced sysadmin can apply the tips and tricks offered in a very short period of time. If you want to save yourself hours/days/weeks of trolling 'PowerUser' forums, and archived mailing lists I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
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on June 23, 2015
Dru Lavigne is the Brian Kernighan of the BSD world. All things she has written are eminently readable, and this small book is no exception. Most of the tips are for FreeBSD and assume you're using csh/tcsh (hopefully tcsh!!), but most of the tips can be applied to other BSDs with relative ease. The BSDs have diverged from each other considerably, but the base system of each has most of the tools needed to do the things listed in this book. Some are fairly obvious, some are not, but all are written in Dru Lavigne's breezy and fun style which makes reading through this book such a joy. Highly recommended, especially if you're a Linux person thinking about dipping your toes into the BSD world (come on over, we have cake on the dark side!) and are slightly confounded at the minor but significant differences in the feel of the BSDs versus X or Y or Z Linux.
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on August 9, 2004
The Hacks series has been great for O'Reiily. There has only been one so far that has not lived up to the series potential of presenting unique and practical content in a tight form. This book follows the lead of those that preceded it. I found helpful new content for myself, like maintaining configuration on multiple machines, and those that I have learned from the best, like using 'screen'.

I think any BSD user, end user, engineer, or systems administrator will find something to like in this book. And the great thing about the Hacks books are how they present you with a recipe, which gets you to learn something new, which then expands into whole new areas of understanding. I recommend this book to anyone using BSD.
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Before linux gained prominence, unix hackers often preferred those unixes derived from BSD. These unixes tended to be the most open for you to contribute applications to. So over time, a lot of hackers grew familiar with BSD.
This book offers you the fruits of some of that roughly two decades of tinkering. The author has grouped the hacks into a rough order. But, frankly, you may be better served by scanning the contents pages and then following your whims.
Perhaps the most useful advice is on the first page, preceding any of the hacks. Namely that you can try many hacks on any other open source operating system. In practice, the only such one you are realistically likely to encounter is a unix/linux variant. But I would go further than what the author says, and make a stronger suggestion to you. Even in a closed, proprietary unix, there is a good likelihood that a hack from this book might work. Maybe not as literally presented. You might have to modify some of the steps. But the upside is that it is a good test of your facility in that operating system and of how well you can follow the text of this book.
Thus, the title "BSD Hacks" is true, but overly conservative to an experienced hacker. So how good are you?
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on November 21, 2008
Delving into BSD, I could not find the amount of print material I was hoping for... but instead found online (internet and CDROM) materiel of man pages, command listings, etc... I don't mind the "RTFM" response, but I cannot stand when folks push man (1) pages as the center of teaching BSD. I hate to push against the un*x mentality, but I work better with printed books... and Dru's book of BSD Hacks helped fill a big gap of knowledge I had.

I'm amending this review just based on time; some of the hacks within don't work anymore (CVSup, anyone?) based on deprecated programs/commands. Not the fault of the writer... partially the fault of the publisher, since there probably won't be an update.

I'd seen it in a local book store, but didn't want to pay full price. Amazon's listing of a used copy was snatched up by me very quickly, and has a prized place in my BSD network laboratory...

Until (if ever) an O'reilly "BSD in a Nutshell" book comes out, this one will fill in the gaps of "hidden" and "prized" knowledge. Get a copy soon...
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on January 9, 2015
Even though it is 10 years old, I'm happy to have this book and learn some neat tricks about the cli and OS.
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on February 28, 2016
Why aren't there more books like this? I wish the authors who created these types of books would start a kickstarter project. I have no doubt they would meet their quota.
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on May 29, 2009
excellent book, lots of great commands to get you used to the command line. Only downfall is Amazon is not packaging their books well anymore, I ordered $100 worth of books that were all thrown in a box and arrived all banged up! This is the 2nd order in a row, I will think twice about ordering again as I dont care for my books being all banged up! They used to use a cellofane wrapper to hold them all together but guess it was a cost cutting measure, sad to see damaged books that could be prevented with a little care!
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