10 Essential Tools for Linux System Administrators

The job of a Linux system administrator includes installing the operating system, upgrading, and monitoring system performance by continuously validating essential software and features. Even though everyone has their favorites, it is necessary to have a set of proven tools to help you manage your Linux systems as a system administrator.

Whether you’re an experienced system administrator or just getting started exploring Linux, the following tools will give you practical solutions without incurring a steep learning curve.

Zenmap is the GUI version of the official Nmap security scanner with compatibility with multiple operating systems (Windows, Linux, BSD, macOS). Zenmap is a free downloadable tool that allows a new user to easily understand Nmap while providing a host of advanced features for experienced users. The open-source, no-fuss architecture makes the tool a favorite among most Linux system administrators.

Zenmap is useful when you need to identify system network problems. While it’s not something you’ll need on a regular basis, Zenmap can save your day when you need to run network scans and troubleshooting.

Not only that, but you can also use this tool for penetration testing and port scanning, which is an added benefit. It is possible to save profiles in Zenmap for future scanning needs.

Related: Get hands-on experience with port scanning with Nmap

It is a versatile system management tool with a user-friendly web interface for Linux and other Unix servers. A system administrator can configure and modify various internal parts of a system. These include disk quotas, users, configuration files or services, Apache web server management, BIND DNS server, and various databases such as PHP MySQL.

There is a wide range of third-party extensions that you can add to increase the functionality of this tool if certain required features are missing.

Cockpit is usually every system administrator’s favorite tool for regular server administration tasks, given its easy-to-use features. Beginners who are still getting their feet wet with Linux concepts will appreciate Cockpit’s simple, lightweight yet engaging functionalities, each delivered through an easy-to-use web GUI.

Cockpit assists with essential tasks such as starting or stopping services, journal inspection and storage, multi-server installation, and configuration management. While this tool is best suited for Red Hat OS, users can still run it on several other Linux server distributions such as Arch Linux, Fedora, CentOS, Ubuntu, and more.

Related: Getting Started with Cockpit, a Web-Based Linux Server Administration Tool

Graphical ping or gping is an excellent server management tool that can generate a detailed visual graph by pinging more than one host simultaneously for a predefined period of time. With plenty of useful options, gping proves to be an essential part of the application for both beginners and advanced network administrators.

Setting up and configuring firewalls in Linux servers can be daunting, especially for beginners with less experience with the iptables utility. Fortunately, Shorewall comes to the rescue with its user-centric solutions.

To achieve a high-level Netfilter configuration, this tool allows users to add an abstraction layer. Using TC, IP, iptables and iptables-restore commands, Shorewall can read configuration files and then configure Netfilter in the Linux kernel.

In addition, it can divide interfaces into multiple zones and assign a different access level to each zone. Because the tool allows administrators to work on different systems connected to the interface, they can quickly implement individual policies for different zones.

Nagios (formerly NetSaint), introduced in 2002, is a powerful open source tool that has come a long way. Over the years, it has built an excellent reputation as one of the network’s leading pieces of server monitoring.

Nagios works well when it monitors a specific environment consisting of network devices and servers with different protocols. It also provides basic support with other monitoring tools such as Icinga, OP5 and Naemon. The application comes with detailed documentation for beginners to get started with the basics of Nagios.

When it comes to database maintenance, no one can deny the usefulness of an old but reliable tool like phpMyAdmin. The reason behind the huge popularity of this tool is its portable architecture and user-friendly features.

Since phpMyAdmin only needs a web browser to function, any system with a browser, such as smartphones, is enough to use this tool. Then even those who can’t write SQL queries can use phpMyAdmin to perform all the necessary functions related to database management.

When a Linux system administrator is responsible for the configuration, orchestration and management of a growing number of servers on an extensive corporate network, it is crucial to have the best tools for the job. Puppet is a versatile yet complete tool that offers loads of modules and actions through its user-friendly interface.

Installing Puppet is quite easy; it gives you a general view of the Linux server. It includes all devices running different operating systems within the same network, giving the system administrators a deeper understanding of the entire ecosystem.

If MySQL database management is the need of the hour, but you somehow don’t like working with a web-based GUI, then Workbench should be your tool of choice. Apart from a beginner-friendly interface and easy installation process, you can perform all MySQL tasks efficiently.

MySQL Workbench is equipped with functionalities such as multiple MySQL connections, unlimited undo/redo, and visual modeling of schema and data. You can also automate scripts and extend functionalities via various plug-ins.

However, a disadvantage of this tool is that you cannot fully use it without having a thorough knowledge of SQL, which is not a requirement for phpMyAdmin.

There are many options for monitoring apps that allow a network administrator to perform basic tasks such as port scanning and network mapping. Nmap has become a standard among its competitors as its versatile features make the tool extremely practical for real world situations.

Most network administrators choose Nmap as their default network discovery and vulnerability detection tool. Nmap specializes in scanning available hosts and creating a comprehensive list of accessible services for the end users.

It becomes easier to find open ports and take appropriate measures to mitigate security risks. That said, Nmap is not beginner friendly and only proficient users can understand the output accordingly.

There is no denying that Linux is growing in popularity among enthusiasts and regular users alike. The main credit goes to the open source design and robust community of gifted coders/developers who have burned the midnight oil to bring a brand new tool to the end users.

This list is in no way conclusive as there are many other devices with the same or even better functionalities. Nevertheless, these tools make your life easier by providing some groundbreaking functionalities to help you continue your daily work routine.

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