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Customer Review

on 27 February 2003
Computer Networks are a wide and fastly growing subject. Finding a textbook that covers all of the topics in a detailed way is simply impossible. Perhaps for this reason good textbook authors have, in a probably implicit way, established two possible approaches: the Engineers' and the (mostly Software) Developers'. Once again Tanenbaum has done a great job with this book (and its updated-more-than-revised 4th edition), which takes the former approach.
The book presents general issues and impacts (on technology as well on the society) of Computer Networks in the first chapter, and then move in a detailed exposition of the lower layers of a general network architecture (similar to the OSI one). The great value of the books stems from the clarity and thoroughness of the exposition. Indeed, it presents all of the most known technologies and algorithms (both today's and historical) from physical mediums to algorithms for routing, congestion and flow control and so on. Plenty of details are provided at the level of mathematical performance analysis for some algorithms like those presented in the Medium Access Sublayer chapter (e.g. ALOHA and CSMAs).
The "tone" of prof. Tanenbaum is an added values as well. He rarely becomes boring and sometimes results hilarious in his comments of famous anecdotes that led to the born of this technology or that algorithm (have you ever heard how automatic phone calls switching was born ?). I never underestimate the value of an easy exposition, as sometimes studying is already hard enough to cope also with a overwhelmingly boring book.
Enough for the lower layers/protocols so far. About the upper ones the book actually does not spend too much emphasis on network applications nor on the high level tools for building network applications (e.g. there are a very few pages for sockets, but no more). Indeed, this area is more properly in the competence of the second kind of books (Developer's) as noted at the beginning of the review. However, there's one (unsurprising but happy) exception: as already done in his "Modern Operating Systems, 2e", Tanenbaum has put a detailed and rigorous treatment of the Security issue (Network Security in this case).
About editions, the third was already a very good book. Reasons for considering the fourth edition are the inclusion of updated technologies like ADSL, Bluetooth, Gigabit Ethernet, JavaScript, XHTML or XML, etc. More than this, however, technologies like fiber optic were on the wave of great improvements in 1996 when the third edition was published (and deformation due to day-night thermal excursions were not cited) so that now the treatment is more reliable (in terms of updates, not in technicalities).
All in all, given that imho there's no serious "complete bible" (or the like) book on computer networks, this book is a full five-stars one if the Engineers' perspective is that of interest. If one is more interested in the Developers' perspective (take again the sockets example), then a good choice would be Douglas Comer's "Computer Networks". For TCP/IP fans, my best choices would be the more focused Comer's "Internetworking with TCP/IP, vol. I" (1/3 Engineer's, 2/3 Developers') or Stevens' "TCP/IP Illustrated. vol I" (1/5 Engineer's, 4/5 Developers').
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