Linux Networking

As it is the result of a concerted effort of programmers around the world, Linux wouldn't have been possible without the global network. So it's not surprising that in the early stages of development, several people started to work on providing it with network capabilities. A UUCP implementation was running on Linux almost from the very beginning, and work on TCP/IP-based networking started around autumn 1992, when Ross Biro and others created what has now become known as Net-1.

After Ross quit active development in May 1993, Fred van Kempen began to work on a new implementation, rewriting major parts of the code. This project was known as Net-2. The first public release, Net-2d, was made in the summer of 1993 (as part of the 0.99.10 kernel), and has since been maintained and expanded by several people, most notably Alan Cox.[1] Alan's original work was known as Net-2Debugged. After heavy debugging and numerous improvements to the code, he changed its name to Net-3 after Linux 1.0 was released. The Net-3 code was further developed for Linux 1.2 and Linux 2.0. The 2.2 and later kernels use the Net-4 version network support, which remains the standard official offering today.

The Net-4 Linux Network code offers a wide variety of device drivers and advanced features. Standard Net-4 protocols include SLIP and PPP (for sending network traffic over serial lines), PLIP (for parallel lines), IPX (for Novell compatible networks, which we'll discuss in Chapter 15), Appletalk (for Apple networks) and AX.25, NetRom, and Rose (for amateur radio networks). Other standard Net-4 features include IP firewalling, IP accounting (discussed later in Chapter 9 and Chapter 10), and IP Masquerade (discussed later in Chapter 11. IP tunnelling in a couple of different flavors and advanced policy routing are supported. A very large variety of Ethernet devices is supported, in addition to support for some FDDI, Token Ring, Frame Relay, and ISDN, and ATM cards.

Additionally, there are a number of other features that greatly enhance the flexibility of Linux. These features include an implementation of the SMB filesystem, which interoperates with applications like lanmanager and Microsoft Windows, called Samba, written by Andrew Tridgell, and an implementation of the Novell NCP (NetWare Core Protocol).[2]

Different Streaks of Development

There have been, at various times, varying network development efforts active for Linux.

Fred continued development after Net-2Debugged was made the official network implementation. This development led to the Net-2e, which featured a much revised design of the networking layer. Fred was working toward a standardized Device Driver Interface (DDI), but the Net-2e work has ended now.

Yet another implementation of TCP/IP networking came from Matthias Urlichs, who wrote an ISDN driver for Linux and FreeBSD. For this driver, he integrated some of the BSD networking code in the Linux kernel. That project, too is no longer being worked on.

There has been a lot of rapid change in the Linux kernel networking implementation, and change is still the watchword as development continues. Sometimes this means that changes also have to occur in other software, such as the network configuration tools. While this is no longer as large a problem as it once was, you may still find that upgrading your kernel to a later version means that you must upgrade your network configuration tools, too. Fortunately, with the large number of Linux distributions available today, this is a quite simple task.

The Net-4 network implementation is now quite mature and is in use at a very large number of sites around the world. Much work has been done on improving the performance of the Net-4 implementation, and it now competes with the best implementations available for the same hardware platforms. Linux is proliferating in the Internet Service Provider environment, and is often used to build cheap and reliable World Wide Web servers, mail servers, and news servers for these sorts of organizations. There is now sufficient development interest in Linux that it is managing to keep abreast of networking technology as it changes, and current releases of the Linux kernel offer the next generation of the IP protocol, IPv6, as a standard offering.

Where to Get the Code

It seems odd now to remember that in the early days of the Linux network code development, the standard kernel required a huge patch kit to add the networking support to it. Today, network development occurs as part of the mainstream Linux kernel development process. The latest stable Linux kernels can be found on in /pub/linux/kernel/v2.x/, where x is an even number. The latest experimental Linux kernels can be found on in /pub/linux/kernel/v2.y/, where y is an odd number. There are Linux kernel source mirrors all over the world. It is now hard to imagine Linux without standard network support.



Alan can be reached at


NCP is the protocol on which Novell file and print services are based.