7 Reasons Why You Should Learn Networking on Linux
If you’re considering a career in IT, knowing about networking is essential. While most desktop PCs run Windows, you may wonder what the benefits of learning about Linux on top of networking would mean. It turns out that there are a lot of practical reasons for learning networking on Linux.
1. Many Servers Run on Linux
The main reason for learning Linux networking is that many servers run Linux. This ranges from simple, small office/home office servers and cloud servers to massive data centers. Linux dominates all of these systems.
This is because it’s cheaper to run Linux servers than Windows servers. Most smaller organizations can get by on in-house support because they have simpler needs than larger ones. And even when companies spring for support contracts from companies like Canonical or Red Hat, it’s less expensive than the licensing costs for Windows.
Like the main OS, the server software itself is also free of charge and open source. This includes the Apache and NGINX web servers, MariaDB and the PostgreSQL database, the Samba file server, and the Squid proxy server. A lot of networking devices like switches and routers also run embedded Linux distributions.
All of this means that you’ll have an advantage in learning how to set up and administer Linux systems.
2. New Networking Software Is Written for Linux
Including all of the server software programs that were previously mentioned, Linux builds on the legacy of Unix as the main platform for computer science research and development. This is doubly true for Linux networking development.
The protocols that underlie the modern internet were developed and incubated on historical Unix systems as well as early Linux systems as they became available. That tradition continues today. With the growth of the cloud, many data centers are moving toward containerization using tools like Docker to deploy new servers quickly.
If you know Linux, you can be ahead of the curve when new networking technologies become available.
3. Linux Is Open Source
Linux has spread widely through the enterprise because its source code is available. Anyone can download a tarball or peruse an online repository and see how a program works. This includes complex programs like the Linux kernel and network servers.
With proprietary software, customers can only hope that a program works the way a vendor says it does in the documentation.
Open-source programs contain bugs, as all programs do. With the source code, developers can spot and fix them quickly. This is important with networked software because security bugs affect everyone. If a proprietary developer has a security issue, it might not be disclosed until there’s a breach.
4. Linux Is Free of Charge
Another advantage of Linux is that Linux distros are free to download by themselves. This makes it easy to get hands-on experience with an enterprise-level platform for a minimal investment. Unlike expensive Windows Server and proprietary Unix installations, it became practical for developers and sysadmins to make use of Linux.
It’s no accident that Linux drove tech booms of the late ’90s and the 2000s. Cash-strapped startups could build their own data centers powered by Linux.
You can also try out a Linux distribution on your PC by downloading an ISO and extracting it to your media. You’ll have access to the full range of networking tools available on Linux immediately. You won’t have to shell out for a special server version.
5. It’s Easy to Set Up a Home Lab
One hurdle in learning how to maintain networks and servers is access to hardware for multiple machines. You’ll need servers, switches, and cables to connect them. Reading documentation is one thing, but hands-on experience is essential for effective system and network administration.
Fortunately, since Linux runs well on less powerful hardware, you can set up your own “home lab.” You can turn an old laptop or desktop PC lying around into a server. They don’t have to be fancy servers. You don’t need to run a GUI on them, so performance is less of an issue. All you need to do is plug in a few cables, pop in a Linux distro, boot them, and you’re in business.
Or you could buy some actual servers and switches second-hand. You could learn to set up and maintain Linux and any server application you like for minimal hardware investment.
6. Linux Has Lots of Networking Utilities
There are a lot of networking utilities available on the Linux command line. This gives you one incentive for becoming comfortable using the shell.
You can use the basic ping and tracepath commands, or you can learn to use more sophisticated tools like nmap to examine devices on your network. You can log in to remote machines with SSH and Mosh. You can also drill deep into network traffic with tcpdump and Wireshark.
Linux will give you a wealth of networking utilities. Many of them are included in the system. Sure, you can do some of this stuff on Windows, but Unix-like systems popularized TCP/IP connections and Linux carries on that tradition. Many powerful tools are written with Linux in mind.
7. Lots of Info Available on Linux Networking
One reason Linux dominates enterprise networking is that there’s a lot of info available to budding administrators.
There are many books available in your local bookstore. Online learning platforms like O’Reilly also offer e-books, video lectures, and hands-on cloud servers. Apart from official channels, there are also places like Stack Overflow where you can get help from other users.
All of these build on the tradition of Unix in networking. W. Richard Stevens’ famous book “TCP/IP Illustrated” is a good example. The book demonstrates TCP/IP concepts using standard Unix networking utilities that come with most Linux distributions.
This might be due to Linux’s open-source nature. Technical authors can see how the system works, and they can give more detail in their work in turn. This means you can develop an extensive knowledge of networking behavior in Linux.
Linux Is the Ideal Platform for Learning Networking
There are plenty of reasons that Linux is the best platform to learn on when you’re serious about networking. Many servers run it, it’s easy to get started, and you can find help when needed.
Linux is a favorite not just of networking professionals, but techies of all stripes. There are a lot of historical reasons for that.