The TCP/IP Guide: A comprehensive illustrated Internet Protocols Reference, by Charles M. Kozierok, ISBN: 1-59327-047-X

Reviewed by: Robert Boardman, January 2006
Published by: No Starch Press
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$79.95, CAN$107.95

As a reviewer I should not admit this, however, I did not read all of The TCP/IP Guide. The book is what the subtitle says it is: comprehensive—although encyclopedic might be a better word. Including the introductory material The TCP/IP Guide contains more than 1,600 hundred pages of information, and as with encyclopedias, it should be read in small portions. The TCP/IP Guide is written so it is easy to dip into for a few chapters, either as needed or as desired. This is one of the few technical manuals I have read that I suggest IT people pick up, open somewhere (pick a page, any page) and read.

Author Charles M. Kozierok writes with a relaxed style and subtle humor. He laughs at himself as well as at the some of the absurdities of working in computer communication. His style clarifies the concepts he is describing. Kozierok's description of Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) addressing is probably the clearest I have ever read. And his chapters about IP subnetting and classless addressing are masterful. If I ever teach communication protocols again, my lecture notes will owe a great deal to this book.

Each chapter starts with a short description of what the chapter is about. If necessary, the author suggests which chapters should be read or reviewed beforehand. Since this is a book that will probably be read in chunks rather than from beginning to end, these suggestions are valuable. There are eighty-eight chapters, each between fifteen and twenty pages long. Kozierok starts with the basics of packet switching and the OSI Model. About half the book focuses on the lower-layer core protocols, including SLIP, PPP, ARP, ICMP, gateway and routing protocols. There are four chapters which discuss the reasons for IPv6, as well as its implementation. In relevant chapters he points out the changes IPv6 brings to existing protocols such as ICMP. The other division of the book focuses on application layer protocols including DNS, DHCP, and network (LAN) protocols including SNMP. Several chapters are devoted to electronic mail and HTTP. He even takes time to explore NNTP and Gopher. The final two chapters are about administering and troubleshooting communications on a typical network.

Throughout the book the author makes suggestions and strong arguments for appropriate best practices and often lists or recommends software that is used with the TCP/IP suite, either for administration or troubleshooting. When discussing tools and administration Kozierok is forced to discuss Windows and Unix systems separately. Some tools used in both systems function identically but have different names—traceroute and tracert for example. Other tools like netstat have the same name but different sets of options or different functions (ifconfig and ipconfig) and are described separately. Otherwise the book is operating system neutral. Kozierok is neither an evangelist nor an apologist for either Windows or Unix.

As with many technical manuals there is both a brief and a detailed table of contents. The brief one contains only the titles of the various chapters and occupies five pages. The Contents in Detail could almost serve as an index because it's about forty pages long. So the book is extremely well organized; topics flow from one to another easily. It is simple and painless to locate a major area of interest in the Brief List of Contents, then move into the Contents in Detail and find exactly the right page where exactly the right information is recorded. There are plenty of graphics and tables which serve to reinforce and illustrate without interfering with the text. The List of Figures and the List of Tables are alphabetical, which makes it easy to find an appropriate graphic. There is also a three page index by number of the Request For Comments (RFC: a series of Internet standards and Internet protocols). This index will be useful to those who are quite familiar with RFCs, but not much use to anyone else. But it's the last bit of content in the book so it does not intrude.

I have had this book for a little while. I continue to read parts of it regularly. While I may not always learn some new facts, I usually learn a new and better way to explain the what or why of Internet protocols. The sections about IPv6 mean this book will not go out of date for at least several years. I continue to be astounded that this much information, presented in a clear and entertaining fashion, is available for so little. Even an ordinary Internet user can learn a great deal about what happens and why it happens online and throughout networks. This is truly a comprehensive well-written guide to the whole suite of TCP/IP protocols. Highly recommended for everyone who works with networks or teaches computer networking or communication protocols.

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