Customer Review

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great in some respects but disappointing in others; wait for the second edition, December 31, 2007
This review is from: The Book of PF: A No-Nonsense Guide to the OpenBSD Firewall (Paperback)
I was excited to see a new book on Pf on the market. Three years ago I read and reviewed Building Firewalls with OpenBSD and PF (BFWOAP) by Jacek Artymiak and gave it five stars. I hoped The Book of Pf (TBOP) would acknowledge the best ideas in BFWOAP and expand into Pf developments of the last three years. TBOP is strong when it addresses how to install or use Pf on operating systems other than OpenBSD. Elsewhere, the book is too weak to merit more than three stars.

Let me start with the positive aspects of TBOP. First, it appears to be technically correct. I am not a Pf expert, but the recommendations made sense. The technical editor is an OpenBSD expert and Pf developer, so I am confident the text is accurate! Second, the author did an excellent job explaining how to install and use Pf on OpenBSD, FreeBSD, and NetBSD. I use FreeBSD extensively on servers, and I did not feel left out at all. The author was quick to point out quirks affecting Pf on non-OpenBSD platforms. Third, I liked the chapter on Pf monitoring (Ch 8) but thought it was way too brief.

Turning to the negative side, the first problem involves introducing technical concepts. One of the major rules governing book-writing is to properly explain technical items before including them. For example, p 39 includes the term "static-port" in a configuration. This is not explained anywhere. On p 43 we see "OS = OpenBSD", again with no explanation. On p 65 "set skip" is used, but at least there is some mention of it again on p 123. If you tell me to read the man pages to figure out what these terms mean, why should anyone read this book? The author should examine how Michael Lucas or Mike Rash describe technical details. Both know how to describe the minute details of configuration syntax so the reader understands each element.

Second, the book is way too short because it fails to properly explain many of the issues it mentions. After reading the book I do not expect the average reader to have a good understanding of anchors, tags, and tables. I think the major problem here is the devotion to brevity. I wanted to learn more about Pf's scrubbing features, but guess how much ink was spent talking about it? One paragraph, on p 128. There's more about scrubbing in the books I've written that there is in a book on Pf. That is disappointing. Another manifestation of the book's length is the failure to properly discuss some of the tools in Ch 8. I liked Ch 8, but the chapter needs to be expanded. How about more than a mention of pfflowd or using Pf with SNMP?

Third, I think it would be very helpful for TBOP to include a comparative chapter. The author should explain how Pf stacks up against other firewalls, especially open source alternatives like Linux's IPTables and FreeBSD's IPFW. The author appears to be a Pf advocate, but explaining how Pf compares to programs used by other people would help sell this book.

Earlier I wrote a five start review of a No Starch book called Linux Firewalls, so I know what a great firewall book looks like. I also thought Jacek Artymiak's BFWOAP was a five star book. I think the best course of action is to wait for a second edition of TBOP. Pf is a well-supported program, so you can expect to see plenty of additional features in the coming years. If the author addresses the shortcomings in this book I would recommend it.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 24, 2008 2:51:03 AM PST
How PF stacks up against other firewalls? There is only one that matters ;-)
Seriously the details you are missing are clearly explained in the PF User's Guide which Peter gives links to, likewise with other details. Duplicating information is a waste of dead trees and useless to me at least.

Posted on Mar 31, 2011 5:06:47 AM PDT
Amazon won't allow me to write a review of the second edition of this book, so I'm adding this comment. I'm pleased to say that I believe the author accepted much of the feedback in my first review as well as feedback from other reviewers. He's improved the book so much that I think it warrants 4 out of 5 stars. He spends more time explaining key concepts rather than simply including them in the text. For example, the author introduces features like macros (p 18) whereas in the first edition he just started using them. The book is also fairly up-to-date, with coverage of OpenBSD 4.8, FreeBSD 8.1, and NetBSD 5.0. Reading how to use Pf on all three platforms was very helpful. One request for a future edition is to include more "tips and tricks" that an experienced firewall administrator is sure to have. For example, when working remotely on a firewall ruleset, what methods does the author use to test configurations and ensure that if he makes a mistake he isn't locked out of the system? Finally, I think this book is a fine companion to PfSense: The Definitive Guide by Buechler and Pingle.
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