Review of FDDI Handbook

FDDI Handbook, High-Speed Networking Using Fiber and Other Media
Raj Jain
Addison Wesley

Reviewed by Nick Christenson,

April 1, 1998

When someone unfamiliar with FDDI (Fiber Distributed Data Interface) networking asks me a question about this topic, the conversation almost always ends with my recommendation that they read FDDI Handbook by Raj Jain. This book is the most thorough and comprehensive description of how FDDI works that I've read. Although informative, it is also relatively easy to read, and demands only the most basic understanding of networking. I recommend it highly.

The book begins with an overview of FDDI along with other network technologies that is fairly comprehensive and serves to get a less experienced reader up to speed quickly and efficiently. For many people who just want to understand their FDDI networks, it's very possible that these 26 pages are all they'll need. Jain is certainly a proponent of the FDDI protocol, but the philosophical arguments are reasonably well balanced.

Chapters two and three discuss what the OSI model would refer to as level 2 issues. We are told how token passing works, about FDDI framing, and line encoding. The pages on coding are especially good, probably the best single explanation of this topic I'm aware of.

Chapters four through eight cover physical layer issues. Chapter four is a basic description of optical communication. This is quite good. The next four chapters cover the specifics of Multimode, Single-Mode, Low-Cost Fiber, and and FDDI over twisted pair copper wiring. These chapters contain a lot of useful advice on such things as using optical bypasses, cable keying, etc.. A network administrator who works a lot with FDDI will definitely want to read this information carefully.

Chapter nine covers running FDDI over SONET (Synchronous Optical Network). It doesn't appear that this interesting idea is going to go anywhere, so it's probably just of academic interest to most people these days.

Chapters ten through twelve cover management issues. The protocol's own monitoring and diagnostic capabilities are thoroughly explored from the viewpoint of an individual station, and of the ring as a whole. Chapter twelve briefly discusses the SNMP FDDI MIB. Chapters thirteen through seventeen delve into some of the deeper issues involving FDDI and consider the now apparently defunct FDDI-II and FDDI Follow-On projects. Most of this isn't relevant any more. Chapter eighteen covers running TCP/IP and OSI over FDDI. Unless one is writing a networking stack for a FDDI device, this section is unlikely to be terribly important, but can be interesting to understand what's really going on.

Chapters nineteen through twenty one cover recommendations for purchasing, and handling of fiber optic cabling. This is another section every network administrator should read. All of this information is well considered and very relevant even if the glass pipes won't be passing FDDI packets. Quality recommendations regarding cable plant issues are also presented here.

The remaining five chapters cover performance, error analysis and conformance testing. Some of this information is useful, but probably only to a few readers. Few folks will get a significant advantage by extensive parameter tuning of their FDDI networks, and only those who are building FDDI devices will really need to understand conformance testing issues. Nonetheless, I appreciate Jain's thoroughness. Even if I don't want to read about this now, if I ever do, I know where to look.

I really like that each chapter ends with a set of exercises that the reader can use to test their understanding of the material. Additionally, the book and its appendices are littered with very good references for additional reading on topics the book does not cover in full. The structure of FDDI Handbook is very well though out.

Despite the fact that interest in FDDI as a networking protocol seems to be in decline, there are still many networking situations for which FDDI is the best solution. In any case, FDDI Handbook is overall the best work on this subject that I've read. I recommend it to all network administrators and interested system administrators working with fiber optic cabling, whether they run FDDI or not. Developers of FDDI drivers may find this book useful as an introduction and reference, but it is not a substitute for the standards documents.


If there is going to be only one book on FDDI in a library, I recommend that it be FDDI Handbook. It's thorough enough for almost every need, while demanding only a minimum of background on the part of the reader. It's a very good book, and I sincerely wish that works of this quality were available for many other networking protocols.