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Net Gains: A Linux Networking Overview

Introducing Our Networking Series

May 10, 2000

In addition to being a very robust client, Linux makes a great network server, and is also a great platform for a small home or office network. Because networking is such an integral part of what Linux is and how it is used, we've come up with a series of articles explaining the basics of networking and how you can fully exploit Linux's networking capabilities in your small office/home office. The series will introduce the terminology and technology for those unfamiliar with networking. The articles in the series include:

  • Home Networking Overview
  • Network Adapters
  • File Sharing With Samba
  • Linking A Network To The Internet
  • Dial-up Connections
  • Security And The Internet
  • File Sharing With NFS
  • File Sharing With Netware

This first article presents an overview of things to come. It also presents an overview of networking features available with Linux. Linux can actually do more with networks than is covered in this series of articles. The topics chosen were ones that would apply to most home and small- to medium-size offices. For example, File Sharing With Samba tends to be the most common way to share files among Windows-based workstations. It allows Linux to provide file-sharing services as well as access shared file services on Windows workstations and servers. Samba works equally well in a homogeneous Linux environment.

First we take a look at things to come. Next we present an overview of Linux networking features, including an introduction in Internet Protocol (IP) addressing. For those interested in basic file sharing, the first three articles, including this one, should be all that you need to read. Linking A Network To The Internet concentrates on a network connection such as a cable or DSL modem. Those interested in a dial-up modem connection will have to check out one more article on Dial-up Connections.

We recommend that everyone connecting to the Internet take a look at Security And The Internet, as even small networks can be targets of attacks. (Indeed, as regular readers of LinuxPlanet will note, security is an important issue these days for all computer users.) Simply placing Linux between a network and the Internet does not guarantee security, even though Linux tends to be one of the more solid firewall platforms around.

Linux can handle quite a bit of network software at one time if the computer has enough memory. Just take a look at the accompanying figure for a hint.

We use Red Hat Linux as a basis for our examples and try to mention details regarding other Linux distributions when possible. Unfortunately, networking remains one of the more arcane aspects of Linux due to differences between Linux distributions. Most configuration files are similar between distributions but often they are found in different directories or have different filenames. Likewise, the Linux startup scripts, which are often distribution-specific, must be modified to enable certain networking features.

Linux installation and setup programs have been steadily improving, and this includes networking support. Most installations currently recognize a network adapter and will set up Linux to handle local network support. Eventually, all the features addressed in this series of articles may be simply a matter of selecting the proper options during the installation process. Still, it doesn't hurt to understand what is going on behind the scenes.

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