My feedback about the LFCS certification

A few weeks ago, I passed the LFCS certification (Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator).
I want to share my experience in this blog post because the LFCS certification is quite young and it’s difficult to find a feedback about it.

Copy of my LFCS certification

My LFCS certification !

I want to pass the LFCE (Linux Foundation Certified Engineer) too, I will make another article when I’m finished with it.

What is the LFCS certification ?

The LFCS certification is a performance based exam that control the basics of system administration.
It’s the first level of certification offered by the Linux Foundation and it’s comparable to the RHCSA from RedHat.
In my research, I found out that the RHCSA seems a bit more complex than the LFCS.

This certification is managed by The Linux Foundation which is a well known non-profit organization that hosts the Linux Project.
You may known some of the project directed by the organization, for instance Let’s Encrypt or nodeJS.

The certification is valid for two years but if you pass another Linux Foundation certification, the previous one are renewed automatically.

What are the advantages of the LFCS certification ?

In my personal opinion, the advantages are the following :

  • The organization that provides the certification is well known and established : it host the Linux Project, you take the exam at the source! However, I think the RedHat certifications are more reputed but it’s more expensive, only valid for one distribution and the LFCS is quite young so it will be more recognized in the futur !
  • The exam is 100% online, you can take it at home. You don’t need to go out at a certification center.
  • It’s not expensive, the exam cost 300$, 500$ with the training but they offer discount quite regularly! For instance, my certification + the training cost me 179$ and the LFCE cost me 300$ (instead of 500$). I recommend you to subscribe to their newsletter and monitor their social network account too. On top of that,
    you have one retake possible with every exam they provides.
  • It’s not limited to a particular Linux distribution. At this time, you can choose between : Centos 7, openSUSE 13.1 and Ubuntu 14.04.
  • The exam is updated regularly. I purchased the exam in 2015 and in February 2016 they updated the exam. In my case the update was about CentOS 7 and the main change was the use of systemd instead of init.d.
  • The exam is performance based, time limited and test practical skills. You have to perform day to day sysadmin tasks and solve real problem.

What skills are tested ?

The exhaustive list of skills tested can be found here. To summarize quickly, the following skills are required :

  • Every competencies specific to files management and manipulation. For instance, navigate in the file system using the command line, create and edit files,
    search for files (and file content), make backup, compare files, use input and output redirection (<, >, >>, etc…). In short, the basics to work properly.
  • Management of services, you need to know how to start or stop a service, how to create a service, make the service start on boot etc…
  • Packages Management, you need to be comfortable with the package manager of your distro. For instance, you need to know how to install a package, list installed package on the system, list the files contain in a package, verify the integrity of a package etc… For the CentOS distribution, this means you have to master the RPM and YUM commands.
  • Everything related to boot : boot system into different runlevel, change the kernel parameter at boot, install, configure and troubleshoot the bootloader (grub)
  • User and group management : how to create an user, a group, add user to group, modify user shell, password expiration, account locking etc…
  • Network management : for instance, how to list the network interface, ip addresses, how to add an IP address, make this kind of changes persistent,
    how to create a static route and how to create filter rules (firewall)
  • Everything related to the file system, for example : create a partition, format a partition, mount a partition, create a LVM volume, manage raid using mdadm.
  • And finally, you need to be comfortable with some services : apache, postfix, dovecot, bind (named), squid and it’s great if all of this works with SELinux or AppArmor policies.

How the exam works ?

The LFCS exam is online and you only need a web browser. The browser is imposed, it must be Google Chrome or the free version of it (chromium).
Google is required because of the screencasting technologies used, all of your monitors will be recorded and casted. In order to do this, you will need to install a plugin and accept third party cookie temporarily.

You also need a webcam and your environment must be cleaned of all notes and useless object (pen, paper, beverage, food).
The quality of the webcam must be correct, to test it you need to check if your national ID card (or driver license) is readable in front of it.

A proctor will monitor you and your screen. At the beginning, you need to show your ID card to the proctor (using the webcam so the quality is important).
You also need to show the proctor that your environment is suitable for the exam (clean of all notes, you need to be alone etc…)

The exam last two hours and contains around twenty series of questions.
A series of questions test a domain of competencies, it usually follow a logical order and it represent an objective to achieve.
A series of questions can have 1 or more questions (maybe 4-5 at most).

You browser will be split in two :
– on the left, you have the questions and objectives
– on the right, you have a shell. It’s not possible to have multiple shell but you can install a shell multiplexer like tmux.

For instance, here a screenshot that you can find on the LFCS documentation, it’s not up to date but it’s really close the the real exam :

The exam shell on Google Chrome

The LFCS Exam shell on Chrome

Some advice

Here some advice  if you wish to pass the LFCS certfication :

  • If possible, take the exam online courses, it will prepare you for the exam and give you a bullet point plan to follow.
    The Linux Foundation gives a lot of discount, just wait a little and take the exam + courses at an affordable price.
  • Be aware that it’s not simple to copy and paste things in the chrome shell. The CTRL+C and CTRL+V shortcut will not work, in my cast the right clic “copy and paste” didn’t work either.
    On Windows, you can familiarize yourself with the “CTRL+INSERT” and “SHIFT+INSERT” shortcut. I recommend you to pass this exam on a Linux Desktop in order to have the “select” and “middle click” copy and paste. You will save a lot of time.
  • Do not copy and paste large amount of data, it will cause the shell to freeze
  • Get used to not have google on hand, when you train for the exam, use the man page and /usr/share/doc files to get information about something you forgot.
    You can’t memorize all the things but the key is to know how to retrieve forgotten information using man page and /usr/share/doc/*. You only need to know that some information is explained in the man page instead of memorizing all of it.
  • Read all the docs that the Linux Foundation give you (all the PDF and prep guide)
  • Make sure your national ID card (or driver license) is readable in front of your webcam before taking the exam
  • And finally, be careful with time. If a question bother you, don’t lose too much time, skip it, make a note and at the end, if you have time, come back to the problematic questions.

Conclusion

I’am happy about this LFCS exam, I wasn’t sure what to expect so I trained a lot, maybe too much. I found the exam easy but I have years of experiences with Linux and I trained a lot before.

I will take the LFCE exam, it will be more challenging. If you have some experience, you will probably find the exam easy too but I recommend you to train before. For me, it was easy but some questions got me in trouble. The exam is a “confidence booster” for the next level exam.

Many thanks to the Linux Foundation who did a wonderful work with this LFCS certification and the online courses associated with it.

Quick note : Do not ask me question about the content of the LFCS exam, I can’t and wont talk about it. Just take the competencies PDF and check if you know
everything listed as I did before taking the exam.