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Exam Profile: CompTIA Linux+ (LX0-103 and LX0-104) and LPIC-1 (101-400 and 102-400)

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Sean Walberg, co-author of CompTIA Linux+ / LPIC-1 Cert Guide, provides important details you need to know to prepare for taking the Linux exams: CompTIA Linux+ (powered by LPI) LX0-103 and LX0-104, or the LPIC-1 101-400 and 102-400 exams.
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The Linux Professional Institute Certification (LPIC) has been around since 1999 and is the oldest available vendor-neutral Linux certification. It has always been targeted at the junior Linux user with about a year of experience, and it covers a variety of basic topics from planning an installation to basic service configuration.

The main advantage of LPIC over other certifications is that it's vendor-neutral. You're expected to have a breadth of knowledge about various Linux systems, and you're not tested on the intricacies of one system or another. This approach keeps your options open when presenting the certification to a potential employer.

Successful completion of both LPIC-1 exams (101 and 102) is required to obtain the LPIC level 1 certification. The topics for these exams have been updated recently, with the latest version released in February 2015. This version of the exam introduces new topics such as databases and email server basics.

These exams are also offered as CompTIA's Linux+ certification. Linux+ has been “powered by LPI” (the Linux Professional Institute) since 2010, with the CompTIA and LPI exams being taken from the same pool of LPI questions. This partnership allows you to take the same exam through CompTIA under the LX0-103 and LX0-104 names to obtain Linux+ certification. Passing either LPIC level 1 or Linux+ will also earn you a SUSE Certified Linux Administrator certification, if you want to claim it.

The first exam focuses on basic Linux concepts such as package management, commands, and devices. Although this is a Linux test, it covers hardware concepts, especially pertaining to the way systems boot. For package management, you're expected to know about both the Red Hat and Debian style of packages and associated command-line tools. The Linux Filesystem Hierarchy Standard also features heavily in this exam.

The second exam gets more specifically into applications, scripting, and security. You should know all about the different files that the shell uses and how to customize the shell. You should know about user management, writing scripts, and scheduling those scripts to run unattended. You also need to know very basic information about email servers, logging, time servers, and printing.

Exam Details

  • Number of questions: 60 per exam.
  • Types of questions: Multiple choice with 4–5 options (single or multiple answers) and fill-in-the-blank questions. Mostly straightforward questions, but expect items that ask you to read an exhibit and answer a question.
  • Passing score: 500 (from a scale of 200–800).
  • Time limit: 90 minutes.
  • How to register: For LPI exams, start at lpi.org to get a member ID and a link to pearsonvue.com/lpi to schedule an exam. For the Linux+ variant, buy directly from CompTIA.

Trouble Spots

Whether you take them via Linux+ (103/104) or LPIC-1 (101/102), some aspects of these two exams cause problems for candidates: First is the breadth of the material, and second is the format of some of the questions.

The Linux+ / LPIC level 1 certification covers a great deal of material and at times expects you to remember specific details. For example, you know that the ls command lists files and directories, but the question might ask which flag shows the files in order of last modification. This type of question greatly expands the information you need to know. Most of the questions can be considered fair game for an exam at this level, so it's reasonable to expect someone to know this. The trouble comes when you're under the pressure of an exam rather than in the context of a work situation, where you have system documentation at your fingertips.

These exams cover both Debian and Red Hat package management, and some of the questions are quite detailed. If you normally use one style and not the other, spend some extra time getting familiar with the one you use less frequently.

The other trouble spot is the questions themselves. The fill-in-the-blank questions are difficult because you don't have some possible answers to jog your memory. Fortunately, there aren't too many of these questions.

Pay careful attention to the wording of each question. For example, the fill-in-the-blank questions specify whether the answer includes the path, and missing that could mean the difference between a correct answer and an incorrect answer. The multiple-choice questions and answers also need careful parsing. Many Linux flags are named after what they do, and questions often describe the feature in a different way than expected. You might expect “Which flag to ls shows the output in long format?” (-l is the correct answer.) Instead, you might get a question like “Which flag to ls outputs files including their size and directory permissions?”

Preparation Hints

With the variety of topics on this exam, the best way to study is to practice on real Linux systems—two, at least, one using RPM packages and one using DEB packages. You need to be familiar with the basic commands and how the system starts up and shuts down, all the way from BIOS to the initialization scripts.

Ideally, you would gain this experience on the job, but if that's not possible you can install Linux on spare hardware at home, or use virtualization technology such as VirtualBox. Set up a system that has different users and practice managing files—learn how to share files between users, and how to keep users separate. Install, configure, and remove software. At this level, the focus is on the commands to manage software packages, so the exact software doesn't matter.

It's also important that you have a good guide to lead you through the material, such as a study guide, and the official topic list. You could be learning thousands of commands; make sure you spend your time learning the right ones.

Recommended Study Resources

A study guide written for the new exam objectives is your best resource for passing the Linux+ or LPIC level 1 exams. One excellent book is the CompTIA Linux+ / LPIC-1 Cert Guide, written and reviewed by experienced trainers and experts in the field.

Another option by Pearson IT Certification is the CompTIA Linux+ / LPIC-1 video courses by Sander van Vugt, sold as separate LiveLessons:

Yet another possibility is to purchase the combined and augmented CompTIA Linux+ (LX0-103 and LX0-104) and LPIC-1 (101-400 and 102-400) Complete Video Course, which is a Complete Video Course for the whole certification.

Use various Linux distributions on your computer. Fedora Linux and CentOS are good choices for the Red Hat package management objectives, and you can choose either Debian or Ubuntu for Debian package management. All of these distributions are suitable for the objectives that are not distribution-specific. As distributions constantly come out with new releases, the distribution's website will have links to the latest version.

Rather than dedicate a computer to this project, you might save some time with virtualization technology such as VirtualBox or Hyper-V. Virtualization lets you run multiple computers inside another computer, save them for later, and turn them back on when you need them. Thus, you could have four different “machines,” each running a different distribution available for studying, and even have multiple machines running at the same time to practice the networking component.

Exam Topics for CompTIA Linux+ (LX0-103) and LPIC-1 (101-400)

Topic 101: System Architecture

Topic No.

Description

101.1

Determine and configure hardware settings.

101.2

Boot the system.

101.3

Change runlevels / boot targets and shutdown or reboot system.

Topic 102: Linux Installation and Package Management

Topic No.

Description

102.1

Design hard disk layout.

102.2

Install a boot manager.

102.3

Manage shared libraries.

102.4

Use Debian package management.

102.5

Use RPM and YUM package management.

Topic 103: GNU and Unix Commands

Topic No.

Description

103.1

Work on the command line.

103.2

Process text streams using filters.

103.3

Perform basic file management.

103.4

Use streams, pipes, and redirects.

103.5

Create, monitor, and kill processes.

103.6

Modify process-execution priorities.

103.7

Search text files using regular expressions.

103.8

Perform basic file-editing operations using vi.

Topic 104: Devices, Linux Filesystems, Filesystem Hierarchy Standard

Topic No.

Description

104.1

Create partitions and filesystems.

104.2

Maintain the integrity of filesystems.

104.3

Control mounting and unmounting of filesystems.

104.4

Manage disk quotas.

104.5

Manage file permissions and ownership.

104.6

Create and change hard and symbolic links.

104.7

Find system files and place files in the correct location.

Exam Topics for CompTIA Linux+ (LX0-104) and LPIC-1 (102-400)

Topic 105: Shells, Scripting, and Data Management

Topic No.

Description

105.1

Customize and use the shell environment.

105.2

Customize or write simple scripts.

105.3

SQL data management.

Topic 106: User Interfaces and Desktops

Topic No.

Description

106.1

Install and configure X11.

106.2

Set up a display manager.

106.3

Accessibility.

Topic 107: Administrative Tasks

Topic No.

Description

107.1

Manage user and group accounts and related system files.

107.2

Automate system administration tasks by scheduling jobs.

107.3

Localization and internationalization.

Topic 108: Essential System Services

Topic No.

Description

108.1

Maintain system time.

108.2

System logging.

108.3

Mail Transfer Agent (MTA) basics.

108.4

Manage printers and printing.

Topic 109: Networking Fundamentals

Topic No.

Description

109.1

Fundamentals of Internet protocols.

109.2

Basic network configuration.

109.3

Basic network troubleshooting.

109.4

Configure client-side DNS.

Topic 110: Security

Topic No.

Description

110.1

Perform security administration tasks.

110.2

Set up host security.

110.3

Securing data with encryption.

Where to Go from Here

After passing the Linux+ or LPIC level 1 exams, you have some options:

  1. Sign up for the reciprocal certifications you're already entitled to receive. If you passed the Linux+ exam, you can apply to get your LPIC level 1 and SUSE CLA. If you passed LPIC level 1, you're only eligible for the SUSE CLA.
  2. After getting your level 1 certification, go after the LPIC level 2 certification. It requires two more exams on material similar to that in level 1, but at greater depth.
  3. The LPIC level 3 certifications are more focused. Each of the three exams can get you a level 3 designation:

    • 300: Mixed environments (Linux and Windows integration).
    • 303: Security.
    • 304: Virtualization and high availability.
  4. Use your new certification and knowledge to advance your career. Each certification, plus your on-the-job experience, will help you to get more responsibility.
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