Review: Linux Appliance Design Author: s1axter
Written: April 18th 2007, 9:26 pm PST
Linux Appliance Design


Bob Smith, John Hardin, Graham
No Starch Press

4 / 5
A week and a half ago I received Linux Appliance Design by Bob Smith, John Hardin, Graham Phillips and Bill Pierce, published by No Starch Press. This is one of No Starch’s latest titles and was released in the beginning of April. As a hardware/embedded systems guy I was really eager to get my hands on the book. For those who don’t know what the book is about, it’s about making an application specific utility, an electronic tool or “appliance” that can be used for a specific task. The book defines an appliance as “A device designed to primarily perform a single function” and that’s exactly what they do. The book revolves around Laddie, an example alarm system for a building. The book includes a complete explanation of the system, what design features it uses, and a LiveCD with the final application for your hacking pleasure.

I have to say, Linux Appliance Design is well written and very, very thorough. This is not a beginner text, the authors focus on Linux programmers who understand C and Linux systems and want to take it a step further than conventional software. If you think this is a book for you, you ought to better be a C/Linux guru, or dust off those old textbooks and brush up on your stuff before you pick it up.

When a friend asked me what was in the book I gave him the response, “Everything you need to make a sweet daemon with any interface you want”. This is exactly what Linux Appliance Design is, a library in a book. has a chapter list for the text ( so you can see what I mean.

The layout for the text is well organized and starts where every project should, architecture and design. Personally I felt the authors were beating the dead horse after a couple of pages when everything kept coming back to separating interface from implementation, but hey, it’s an important point that a lot of people seem to miss.

An interesting chapter is the explanation of the Run-time-access library the authors developed. Modeled from PostgreSQL, the RTA lib is an impressive solution that allows for daemon communication and configuration from any language that can talk to a database. This library is released under the GPL and can be downloaded from the companion site of the book The RTA is also used for the rest of the book, so don’t skip it or you’ll have no idea what they are talking about.

The text is not only an explanation of the Laddie system using the RTA, it is an all encompassing design text, which I really like. There are chapters dedicated to building different frontend UIs for the system and communication protocol discussion. This is what transforms the text from book into library. Each chapter can almost stand on its own as an application of that language or program. I was quite impressed with the web interface chapter and how the authors compared web servers and designed a system, and also with the framebuffer chapter on how to make a cool graphical interface.

A common theme for all the chapters is the structure. The authors discuss and design each element they use in the system before looking at one program or daemon. For anyone who has written or read development reports the format is very similar; explain what you designed, why you chose those components, why you passed on others, how the systems works and finally what you would do different next time. This format kind of reminded me lab reports in school, cover all question you think your professor audience might ask.

Overall Linux Appliance Design is a well written, detailed and through book with a lot of information. I would recommend this title mainly to someone who is interested in daemon development or server design however it can be read by anyone who wants to see a full project develop cycle.

UPDATE: This review was posted on, take a look
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