Book Review: Networking Bible

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Networking BibleBy Barrie Sosinsky

Networking can be a difficult topic to wrap your head around: there’s a great deal of information and history that goes into current networking protocols, and quite often even someone with a very good practical handle on how to get networks up and running will be in the dark when it comes to the theoreticals behind these networks. Unfortunately, practical application will only get you so far- planning and implementing large, complex networks does require some theoretical background and grounding in the implementation and history of networking practices and protocols.

True to its name, the Networking Bible aims to be a comprehensive tome on the history and theoretical aspects of networking. The book is quite sizable, and at first glance it looks like it might be a dauntingly large volume to open and digest. Barrie Sosinsky, however, clearly has at least a little bit of writer’s flair in him: from the moment you crack open the book, his style is clear and easy. In fact, I was a bit surprised at how easy the book is to read considering the extraordinary density of what’s being discussed: even when Sosinsky is discussing various architectures, topologies, and implementations, the book is easy to understand and doesn’t become too dry and unreadable.

That’s a very good thing indeed, because this book covers everything: when it calls itself the Networking Bible, it’s certainly not kidding! The book is roughly divided into three parts: the first part is networking theory, the second part is hardware, and the third part talks about different system types. Each of the sections is quite in-depth, and the different topics that Sosinsky covers in them is impressive. An example of the breadth of the knowledge involved is a chapter on modern routing: Sosinsky goes heavily into the theories of routing including things like sampling, multiplexing, and signaling theory. Not only does he do that, however, he also removes himself a little from the theory and shows how current industry practices implement these theories in everyday use.

While this chapter is just one specific example, it’s pretty typical of the way Sosinsky operates: he doesn’t shy away from the tough theory and some application of it. Another great example of his method is when he talks about hardware: he brings the hardware discussion in on a historic, more practical plane, and then he ties in the theory with the hardware to give the reader a fuller understanding of the actual process of theory and hardware working together. No matter whether he’s talking about network discovery or bandwidth and throughput, he approaches the topic with a great angle and easy style that leaves the reader with a better holistic understanding of the topics at hand.

The book is extremely large, but of course networking in and of itself is a very large topic: as a result, some of the topics get perhaps a shorter shrift than they deserve. The section on gateways, for example, is extremely short, and the TCP/IP section is perhaps a bit more general than many readers would be comfortable with. This generality, however, isn’t absurd: the reader is still given enough information to be more than capable of understanding the TCP/IP networking protocol, and there are no glaring omissions in the section that would leave someone new to the area at a disadvantage.

This generality is, perhaps, both the book’s greatest weakness and its greatest strength. The book does not (and probably, in reality, cannot) purport to be the most detailed, specific work on networking currently available today. It is instead a compendium of general knowledge about the entire networking field. Even a general overview of the subject clocks in at an impressive 900 pages, and so it’s understandable that Sosinsky doesn’t go into every nitty-gritty detail. At the same time, however, the book may be a little too generic for the kind of experienced IT person that would gain the most from it, and so not every part of this book will be helpful to the majority of its likely readers.

That said, however, that’s not its point: it’s quite likely that you’re picking up this book not as a specific guide for learning specific, detailed parts of a particular networking concept. It’s intended more as a big picture work, and it’s for readers who don’t have a strong general grasp on different subjects. If you didn’t know about TCP/IP, telephony, or VoIP solutions before you’ve read this book, odds are you’re going to be very much up to speed on general theory and implementations concerning them by the time you’ve finished the relevant section of the book.

The final minor quibble with the book is that it does lean a bit more towards the theory part of the networking equation than the practical side. While Sosinsky does put in practical application and advice where he can, some of the sections are a bit sparse when it comes to applying the theory and history to a practical, working implementation. The book’s aim towards generality, however, doesn’t make this as much of a problem: it’s clear that should you want to know more about a particular implementation scenario, you should look at a book that explores that topic more in-depth, as this one is a book designed to get you up to speed but not, in some cases, to go any further.

These issues with the book, however, are fairly minor ones, and most of them are related to the fact that the book isn’t aiming to be a specific primer on any one networking subject. As a book that covers general networking topics and theory, it performs extremely admirably: in fact, as a general book, it goes more in-depth on many subjects than you’d expect. If you’re looking to shore up your knowledge on any networking topic that you’re currently unfamiliar with, then the Networking Bible most definitely is up your alley. As it is, it deserves a spot on anybody’s tech shelf as a quick, easy reference to broader networking theory, history, and practices!

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