Book review: The Art of UNIX Programming
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original in es Edgar Hernández
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This bibliographic review intends to provide a clear and
concise perspective of the key topics included in the book
which will probably be offered for sale at the time you read
This review is based on version 0.87 of the book, a text that
we received just for evaluation before its publication.
While I was writing this article I realized that the subject
of the book was so wide and the way it is presented was so
valuable that perhaps we should include another article to
provide an in deepth evaluation of the topics of this book.
||The Art of UNIX Programming.
||Eric S. Raymond.
||Thompson, Kernighan, McIlroy, Arnold, Bellovin, Korn,
Gettys, Packard, Lesk, Feldman, McKusick, Spencer.
||550 in this version.
||Addison Wesley ( http://www.awprofessional.com )
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Eric S. Raymond, widely known by The Cathedral and the Bazaar,
did an exceptional work. This book will be published soon but
it is also possible to find it on line. In fact, this great
compilation based on many hours of research and processes lets
us have a general idea about the many different technologies
and elements related to Unix systems as well as some of their
Eric S. Raymonds work is supported by the contribution of many
important co-workers, such as Ken Thompson, Brian Kernighan and
Dennis Ritchie. Remarkably the author admits that the first one
and the latter one encouraged him to do this work.
The book is divided in four main parts:
Each part contains different topics that include from
Basics of the Unix philosophy, under the chapter
Context, to Best Practices for Working with Open-Source
developers, as well as concepts of Modularity, Design
protocols for Applications, Transparency, Minilanguages and
Complexity under the chapter Design, and Languages and
Tools under Implementation. Furthermore illustrative,
practical examples are included whenever they are necessary
to provide the reader a better comprehension.
To my regret, as I prefer offering meaningful reviews of
books rather than mentioning their contents and adding just
some brief comments, I decided to include the general index
of this book. I thought that the readers would find it
Table of contents
Culture? What culture?
The Unix philosophy in one lesson.
The durability of Unix.
The case against learning Unix culture.
What Unix gets wrong.
What Unix gets right.
Basics of the Unix philosophy.
Applying the Unix philosophy.
Attitude matters too.
Origins and history of Unix, 1969-1995.
Origins and history of the hackers, 1961-1995.
The open-source movement: 1998 and onward.
The lessons of Unix history.
The elements of operating-system style.
What goes around, comes around.
Encapsulation and optimal module size.
Compactness and orthogonality.
Unix and object-oriented languages.
Coding for modularity.
The Importance of Being Textual.
Data file metaformats.
Application protocol design.
Application protocol metaformats.
Some case studies.
Designing for transparency and discoverability.
Designing for maintainability.
Separating complexity control from performance tuning.
Taxonomy of Unix IPC methods.
Problems and methods to avoid.
Process partitioning at the design level.
Taxonomy of languages.
Ad-hoc code generation.
What should be configurable?
Where configurations live.
How to choose among configuration-setting methods.
On breaking these rules.
Applying the Rule of Least Surprise.
History of interface design on Unix.
Evaluating interface designs.
Tradeoffs between CLI and visual interfaces.
Transparency, expressiveness, and configurability.
Unix interface design patterns.
Applying Unix interface-design patterns.
The Web browser as universal front end.
Silence is golden.
Don't just do something, stand there!
Measure before optimizing.
Non-locality considered harmful.
Throughput vs. latency.
Speaking of complexity.
A Tale of Five Editors.
The right size for an editor.
The right size of software.
Unix's Cornucopia of Languages.
Why Not C?
Interpreted Languages and Mixed Strategies.
Trends for the Future.
Choosing an X toolkit.
A developer-friendly operating system.
Choosing an editor.
Special-purpose code generators.
Make in non-C/C++ Development.
Emacs as the universal front end.
The tale of J. Random Newbie.
Transparency as the key to re-use.
From re-use to open source.
The best things in life are open.
Where should I look?
What are the issues in using open-source software?
Evolution of C.
Specifications as DNA, code as RNA.
Programming for Portability.
Portability, open standards and open source.
The Unix style.
The zoo of Unix documentation formats.
The present chaos and a possible way out.
The DocBook toolchain.
How to write Unix documentation.
19. Open Source.
Unix and open source.
Best practices for working with open-source
The logic of licenses: how to pick one.
Why you should use a standard license.
Varieties of Open-Source Licensing.
Essence and accident in Unix tradition.
Problems in the design of Unix.
Problems in the environment of Unix.
Problems in the culture of Unix.
Reasons to believe.
A. Glossary of Abbreviations.
Unix Culture and Philosophy
As I mentioned before, apart from giving a personal opinion
on this book, I think that it is also advantageous considering
a systematic analysis that lets us provide not only the
contents of this book but also a clear idea about it for those
readers who will not be able to read it all.
For those readers who have already gone through the Unix world
as well as some operating systems related to it, the expression
Philosophy will not be odd. Unix is not only a
philosophy but a culture, a life style and a way of doing
things. It is, for instance, an approach to a completely
different method of programming.
Unix is based on a powerful philosophy of design which, from
its starting point in 1969, let it be a reference for the
creation of further operating systems.
Basics of Unix Philosophy
Unix philosophy, undoubtly first brought into existence by Ken
Thompson, who was interested in creating a simple but also
highly competent operating system, and its lessons learned and
provided by different sources, cannot be considered a formal
method of design but a philosophy based on experience.
This book will provide the reader with great topics to study.
One of its most advantageous parts is that one where we are
encouraged to leave our thoughts aside and just keep in mind
the following basic ideas which are part of Unix philosophy:
- Modularity: Write simple parts connected by clean
- Composition: Design programs to be connected to
- Economy: Programmer time is expensive; conserve it
an preference to machine time.
- Optimization: Prototype before polishing. Get in
working before you optimize it.
- Extensibility: Design for the future, because it
will be here soones than you think.
Conclusion and recommendations
Undoubtly, this is an excellent book. Eric Steven Raymond has
done a great compilation in a truly good style added to the
references acknowledged, such as Unix Programming Environment
by Kernighan and Pike, Unix Philosophy by Gancarz and The
Pragmatic Programmer by Hunt and Thomas, among others. All this
makes its reading necessary.
The book intends to help those programmers who are just
beginners to acquire the necessary experience to improve
themselves but will also be useful for programmers who are not
familiar with Unix but have fair knowledge of languages such as
C, C++ and Java.
The book includes an extensive bibliography for those readers
who might be interested in gaining more skills. I personally
enjoyed reading the topic about standards for the creation of
documentation and version control systems.
Hopefully I will be able to write an article that allows us to
know much more about this book. For the time being, I hope you
have enjoyed this brief introduction.