Book review: Sudo Mastery

If you’ve seen my previous two reviews of Michael W. Lucas’s ‘Mastery’ books – DNSSEC Mastery and SSH Mastery – then you can guess what this will be: his newest book, focusing on a single software topic.  This time it’s sudo.


The one downside of reading this book: I now am aware I’m using sudo wrong.  Perhaps not wrong, but not anywhere near its potential.  Sudo – and I’m not the only person who has experienced this – is used as a “Let’s install sudo so we don’t have to tell anyone the root password”.  Sudo works for that sort of thing, but there’s a lot more possibilities.

Sudo is designed to be deployable across multiple systems, as part of a security policy.  It’s an easy way to create purpose-shaped roles with different users, especially with users that have specialized skills and tasks, like database maintenance.

Obviously I think better of sudo after reading the book; there’s a lot of program capabilities of which I was unaware, but it’s the book that sells them.  Michael W. Lucas’s humor is on display again, to break up some very technical material.  Here’s some bits, pulled out.

Remember that “syntactically valid” is not the same as “does what you want.”

Pressing Q tells visudo to break sudo until you log in as root and fix it. Do not press this button. You won’t like it.

Here I create the TAPEMONKEYS alias for the people who manage backups.

And if Carl tries to configure Oracle on the PostgreSQL server, senior sysadmin Thea needs to have sharp words with him. Probably involving a tire iron.

The book is in-depth enough to cover more complex topics like using sudo and Active Directory, and sudo as an intrusion detection tool, of all things.

The usual reasons to buy a Mastery book are all still there: it specifically mentions working on BSD systems instead of pretending Linux is the only system out there.  It’s available through a DRM-free seller (Smashwords) in addition to Amazon.  It’s a self-published effort, not shovelware.  It’s available now as an ebook, and in physical form soon.  Lucas talks about it on BSDNow 010, too.

I have one last nontechnical note.  Since these Mastery books are working into a series, I’d like to see a whole printed run of visually matching books.  Something with the equivalent of the O’Reilly animals or the Pelican or even Little Blue Books common look and feel.

You know the look even if you don't know the publisher

The takeaway: You should be reading this book if you plan to use sudo in any sort of multiuser environment.  It’s available as an e-book direct from the author, via Amazon, via Smashwords, and possibly Barnes & Noble at some point in the near future.  Physical books are available, and you can buy both forms together, apparently.

And of course this sudo joke.