Essential reading on TCP/IP networking

While working in the ISP industry in Vancouver I’ve often been in situations where quickly diagnosing a problem depends on a solid understanding of the network protocols in use.  Over the years I’ve come across a few resources that have really proved to be invaluable for my understanding of network protocols.  Perhaps the most important and the one that carries my strongest recommendation would be TCP/IP Illustrated, Volume 1: The Protocols by W. Richard Stevens.

“The Stevens Book”, as it’s often been called by fans, documents in depth each of the protocols that we use and test with every day.  All of the same information is available right from the fountainhead, the RFC pages at the IETF… but learning the ins and outs of TCP/IP directly from the RFC’s can be a pretty hard slog.  The Stevens book is structured as a visual tutorial with frequent figures and diagrams that allow you to visualize the actual contents of the packets on the wire.  It’s been my go-to book since 1995 for understanding the finer points of networking from a network administrator’s point of view.  Volumes 2 and 3 of the series are also terrific, but they’re aimed more towards a network software developers’ perspective.

Unfortunately Mr. Stevens passed away in 1999 without updating his books to include the latest protocols and updates.  But I’ve just learned that an authorized 2nd edition is due to be released this October 2011 with changes by Kevin Fall , so I’m looking forward to retiring my dog-eared copy of the 1st edition and spending some happy time reading the new edition from cover to cover all over again.