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The Linux Professional

Linux Professional Institute Certification, Part II


Welcome to the fifth article of The Linux Professional. In my April article, I described the Linux Professional Institute's Exam 101. This month I'll give an overview of the LPI's second release, Exam 102. Together, this pair of exams makes up Level 1 of the Linux Professional Institute Certification program.

LPI Exam 101 out of "beta" period

Before getting into Exam 102, recent news on Exam 101 deserves mention. The long-awaited maturation of Exam 101 out of its "beta period" occurred in mid June, 2000. This means that the wait is over for those of us who have been awaiting our test results. (I passed). However, results are not available on either the LPI or Virtual University Enterprises web sites, but were sent by postal mail on paper. This is significant, because no verification system is available to employers to check validity of examinees' certifications. The LPI plans on sending printed certificates to those who pass all of the exams for one of the three defined certification levels.

Perhaps more important than the delayed results, candidates taking Exam 101 will no longer have to wait for their results. Instead, scores will be presented immediately after the exam is complete, as we've come to expect from other certification programs. The LPI required the long delay in getting Exam 101 fully deployed in order to properly assess incoming results, adjust exam questions, and set a pass/fail point.

Exam 102 topics

Like Exam 101, this LPI exam costs $100 and is delivered at VUE affiliated testing centers worldwide. It consists of 72 questions to be answered in 90 minutes (in contrast to 60 questions in the same 90 minutes for Exam 101). Also like Exam 101, the numbers assigned to exam topics aren't sequential. For example, the first topic is 1.1, which is lower than the number assigned to the first topic of Exam 101. The scramble is due to organizational changes made by the LPI as their program developed. The numbering from their original setup remains to avoid a confusing migration. For examinees, the topic numbers should be used only as references. They do not relate to exam numbers or certification levels.

Exam 102 tests nine Linux administration topics, each containing a series of objectives:

  • Topic 1.1, Hardware and Architecture. This topic covers PC basics.
    1. Configure Fundamental System Hardware. IRQs, I/O addresses, serial ports, and parallel ports. Also mentioned are drives with more than 1024 cylinders, which cause problems with older versions of LILO.
    2. Set Up SCSI and NIC Devices. This objective requires a general understanding of PC SCSI interfaces, including their on-board firmware. For network interfaces (NICs), the one-time requirement of configuring the cards using DOS-based tools is mentioned.
    3. Configure Modem and Sound Cards. More IRQs, I/O addresses, and DMA channels, as well as Plug-n-Play sound cards configured using sndconfig and isapnp. Also included is the configuration of outbound PPP connections.
  • Topic 2.2, Linux Installation and Package Management. This topic is a general overview of installation facts and managing packaged software.
    Note that objectives 5 & 6, covering Debian and Red Hat package management, respectively, were added late, after the LPI decided to eliminate distribution-specific exams. These are heavily weighted objectives, with a surprising number of corresponding exam questions.
    1. Design Hard Disk Layout. Partitioning schemes. Note that DOS/Windows PC users may find some of this information to be unfamiliar, because the Linux filesystem offers more flexibility in system customization.
    2. Install a Boot Manager (LILO, that is). Boot sector vs. root partition installation, boot floppies, and the lilo map installer.
    3. Make and Install Programs from Source. Unpacking, compiling, and installing tarballed open source software.
    4. Manage Shared Libraries. Shared library info and utilities such as ldd and ldconfig.
    5. Use Debian Package Management. This covers the use of dpkg and other utilities on Debian systems. Don't ignore this objective, particularly if you're not a Debian user, because it is a significant portion of the exam.
    6. Use Red Hat Package Management. Like objective 5, this objective on rpm is a biggie.
  • Topic 1.5, Kernel. Kernel and library info.
    1. Manage Kernel Modules at Runtime. Loadable kernel modules and associated utilities such as lsmod.
    2. Reconfigure, Build, and Install a Custom Kernel and Modules. This objective requires the understanding of the full cycle of building and installing a kernel. It isn't specific to the issues surrounding getting new kernel versions, just custom compilations of the installed kernel source.
  • Topic 1.7, Text Editing, Processing, and Printing. Basically, vi and lpd.
    1. Perform Basic File Editing Operations using vi. Every administrator needs to be able to edit and should at the very least be able to escape from vi. This objective includes vi basics.
    2. Manage Printers and Print Queues. This is coverage of the utilies associated with lpd, such as lpc.
    3. Print files. lpr for text and PostScript files.
    4. Install and Configure Local and Remote Printers. This more substantive objective involves creating print queues and using print filters.
  • Topic 1.9, Shells, Scripting, Programming, and Compiling. Basic shell use and scripting. Compiling isn't really mentioned, except in the topic title.
    1. Customize and Use the Shell Environment. This objective covers only the bash shell, along with its configuration files. For tcshers out there, you'll need to read up on bash.
    2. Customize or Write Simple Scripts. Basic bash programming, SUID, and executable ownership and permissions.
  • Topic 2.10, X. XFree86, based on v3.x. Changes in v4.x aren't (yet) covered.
    1. Install and Configure XFree86. This objective covers the big X question for new users: "Is my hardware supported and can I configure it?" Includes configuring XF86Config using v3.x tools.
    2. Set Up XDM. General coverage of using xdm on the console and Xterms.
    3. Identify and Terminate Runaway X Applications. You've got me. Don't spend much time pondering this one... Using kill is covered elsewhere, anyway.
    4. Install and Customize a Window Manager Environment. This is the selection of a desktop environment or other window manager, and its configuration.
  • Topic 1.12, Networking Fundamentals. Basic TCP/IP and use of PPP.
    1. Fundamentals of TCP/IP. This objective specifically looks for a few details on TCP/IP but leaves out a lot. In particular, it covers netmasks and common ports, as well as some user-level tools like ftp.
    2. Superseded. Not used but still hanging around.
    3. TCP/IP Troubleshooting and Configuration. A general understanding of network interfaces and their configuration (using ifconfig), in addition to DHCP client setup, resolver setup, and debugging programs like ping and traceroute.
    4. Configure and Use PPP. PPP setup including custom chat scripts.
  • Topic 1.13, Networking Services. An overview of server daemon stuff.
    1. Configure and Manage inetd and Related Services. Configure inetd.conf as well as TCP wrappers.
    2. Operate and Perform Basic Configuration of Sendmail. Basic sendmail stuff including forwarding, aliases, and queued mail. Nothing advanced like address rewriting rules is included.
    3. Operate and Perform Basic Configuration of Apache. Basic Apache configuration and some of the simpler parameters in Apache config files.
    4. Properly Manage the NFS, smb, and nmb daemons. An overview of NFS and Samba file and printer sharing and WINS client setup.
    5. Setup and Configure Basic DNS Services. More on the resolver configuration, and also the caching-only name server.
  • Topic 1.14, Security. Basic security tasks and concepts.
    1. Perform Security Admin Tasks. More on TCP wrappers, SUID files, corrupt packages, SGID for group projects, ssh setup, and account expiration.
    2. Set Up Host Security. Shadow passwords, elimination of unnecessary services, and keeping up with security advisories.
    3. Set Up User Level Security. useradd, usermod, etc.

Like Exam 101, the topics above comprise a wide range of information, some of which may be new to you. More detail on these topics is available from the LPI list of objectives and their Program Objective Management System (POMS).

I found Exam 102 to be a bit more substantial than Exam 101. Some of the questions appeared to be looking for more depth or more specific information. The questions didn't try to mislead or trick you, though, and I found nothing ambiguous or poorly worded. It's clear that the LPI put a lot of effort into refining the exam questions.

Preparing for Exam 102

If you're a Unix administrator without direct exposure to Linux-related items such as the Debian and Red Hat package managers and perhaps XFree86, I suggest some study before taking Exam 102. Such preparation should soon become easier as books on LPI Level 1 preparation are coming to market this year, including my offering from O'Reilly and Associates.

The LPI has posted sample questions for Exam 102 that will help you get a feel for the nature of the exam questions you'll be facing (sample questions for Exam 101 are also available).

After the exam

Though Virtual University Enterprises does post exam results on their website, as I write, their information is stale, so don't look to VUE for your status until those problems are corrected. As mentioned earlier, the LPI will not mail your results to you until Exam 102 is past its "beta" period, after which results will be available immediately after completing the exam.

If you pass both Exams 101 and 102, you'll be awarded the LPIC Level 1 certificate, and can advertise yourself as certified.

Next Month: We'll take a look at Brainbench, a skills testing company with a twist.

Jeff Dean is an engineering and IT professional currently writing a Linux certification handbook for O'Reilly Media, Inc..

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