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LPI Certifications Guide: Overview and Career Paths

LPI Certifications Guide: Overview and Career Paths
Credit: LPI

The Linux Professional Institute (LPI) is a nonprofit organization based in Toronto, Canada, that promotes the use of Linux, open source and free software. One way in which the organization furthers its mission is to provide vendor-neutral Linux certifications to IT professionals around the globe. With "more than 500,000 exams delivered" to candidates and 400 training partners, LPI stakes a claim as “the world’s first and largest vendor-neutral Linux and open source certification body” (LPI Our Purpose page).

With input from private industry, academia and individuals, Linux experts provide input on exam questions to ensure that they're rigorous, accurate and apply to any standard Linux system.

The LPI certification program is simple. It includes three certifications that build on one another:

  • LPIC-1: Linux Administrator — Entry-level certification that recognizes individuals who can install and configure a workstation running Linux, maintain the system from the command line and configure a basic network
  • LPIC-2: Linux Engineer — Mid-level certification designed for professionals who administer small- to medium-sized mixed networks
  • LPIC-3: Linux Enterprise Professional — Senior-level certification that identifies Linux professionals who plan, conceptualize, design, implement and troubleshoot Linux installations in enterprise environments

Each LPIC certification requires you to pass one or two multiple-choice exams, each of which costs $188 and all of which are administered by Pearson VUE. All LPIC certifications are valid for five years.

In addition, LPI offers two other credentials. First, those just starting with Linux may find the Linux Essentials certification a good foundation before jumping into the more advanced LPIC certifications. Second, the LPI DevOps Tools Engineer credential offers those interested in DevOp topics and tools an opportunity to establish and burnish such skills in Linux-based environments. Both of these certs are covered the sections that follow details on LPIC-1, -2, and -3 below.

In the LPI certification program, the LPIC-1: Linux Administrator is considered a junior-level Linux certification that requires you to pass two exams: 101-400 and 102-400. There are no prerequisites.

The LPIC-1 101-400 exam covers system architecture, the nuts and bolts of Linux installation, basic package management, GNU and Unix commands, devices and file systems.

The LPIC-1 102-400 exam tests you on customizing the shell environment, writing and running scripts, and managing databases and running SQL commands. You must also know how to configure settings for user interfaces and the desktop, perform administrative tasks and manage system services, create network connections and secure Linux systems.

LPI and CompTIA have a 2-in-1 Linux certification program, which lets candidates acquire LPIC-1 certification after achieving the CompTIA Linux+ Powered by LPI. (This program formerly included the SUSE Certified Linux Administrator (CLA) certification – a 3-in-1 offer – but the third leg of that tripod expired in 2016.)

You must first get an LPI ID by registering at the LPI website. Next, take the CompTIA Linux+ Powered by LPI exams and indicate that you want your exam scores sent to LPI upon successful completion. You'll soon receive notification of your LPIC-1 certification from LPI.

The LPIC-2: Linux Engineer is an advanced-level Linux credential that requires a current LPIC-1 certification as a prerequisite. To achieve the LPIC-2, you must pass exams 201-450 and 202-450:

The LPIC-2 201-450 exam dives into capacity planning, manipulating the Linux kernel, configuring system startup services and boot loaders, and configuring and maintaining file systems and devices. You will also be tested on advanced storage device administration, networking configuration and system maintenance.

The LPIC-2 202-450 exam focuses mainly on networking-related topics, such as Domain Name Server (DNS), web services, file sharing, network client management, e-mail services and router configuration. The exam also covers security topics like secure shell (SSH), port testing and configuring OpenVPN.

The LPIC-3: Linux Enterprise Professional is the pinnacle of the LPI certification program and is considered expert level. Therefore, you should have several years of hands-on experience installing, managing, integrating, networking and troubleshooting Linux in an enterprise environment.

To earn your LPIC-3 credential, you must achieve LPIC-2 certification as a prerequisite and pass one of these 300-series exams:

Mixed Environment (exam 300): This exam focuses on OpenLDAP configuration, OpenLDAP as an authentication backend, and highly advanced levels of Samba administration, among other topics.

Security (exam 303): To pursue this exam, be sure you're well versed in access controls and cryptography, as well as application, operations and network security.

Virtualization and High Availability (exam 304): This exam covers virtualization (of course), along with load balancing, cluster management and cluster storage.

You can take the LPIC-2 exams and an LPIC-3 exam in any order. That means you can knock out the LPIC-3 exam of your choice, then circle back and sit for the LPIC-2 exams.

The Linux Essentials Professional Development Certificate (PDC) is LPI's entry-level certification. It doesn't serve as a prerequisite for the LPIC-1, but it's a great way for people who are relatively new to Linux to begin validating their skills. The certificate is beneficial for many different industry professionals, from developers, to administrators and engineers, and data analysts. By studying for and taking the exam, you also gain certification prep experience, which will be a benefit if you choose to pursue other LPIC certs.

Achieving the Linux Essentials PDC indicates you are familiar with open source applications versus closed source, know the basics of the Linux operating system, and can run commands on the command line, manage files, perform backup and restore operations and write basic scripts.

Passing a single exam (LPI 010-150) is required to earn the certificate, which doesn't expire. By today's standards, the fee is quite affordable, coming in at a mere $110, making it attractive to those interested in exploring Linux certifications.

The Linux Professional Institute DevOps Tools Engineer credential verifies the skills necessary to use tools to enable and enhance collaboration in workflows through the software development and systems administration lifecycle. To create this new credential (introduced in late 2017), LPI surveyed the DevOps “tools landscape” to define what they call “a set of essential tools when applying DevOps.” This means that the exam zeroes in on practical, day-to-day DevOps skills at the nexus of operations and development.

Candidates should possess working knowledge of DevOps domain including container and machine deployment, software engineering and architecture, configuration management and monitoring. They should also be proficient in such free and open source utilities as Ansible, Docker, Git, Jenkins, Puppet and Vagrant.

Passing a single exam (LPI 701-100) is required to earn the certification which, like other LPI credentials, lasts 5 years. This 90-minute exam includes 60 multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank questions, and costs $200.

Considering the focus of LPI Linux certifications, the vast majority of related positions are along the lines of system administrators, network administrators, system engineers and technical support specialist. But you will occasionally stumble across job listings seeking LPI certification for cloud administrator, cybersecurity engineer and technical education specialist.

Some positions specifically look for Linux engineers with programming skills. For example, one employer was looking for Puppet/Linux engineers to streamline Puppet workflow and assist with implementation and post-implementation support. Another position called for an operating systems programmer who can design, develop and implement new system tools, and write scripts in BASH and Python or other administrative scripting languages.

Linux certification courses are available through many channels, although LPI recommends that you take courses through one of its approved training partners (see the Partner Search page for more details). The LPI Certification Marketplace is an online store chock-full of Linux references, certification study guides, practice exams, courseware, video training and practice labs.

Ed Tittel

Ed is a 30-year-plus veteran of the computing industry, who has worked as a programmer, a technical manager, a classroom instructor, a network consultant and a technical evangelist for companies that include Burroughs, Schlumberger, Novell, IBM/Tivoli and NetQoS. He has written for numerous publications, including Tom's IT Pro, and is the author of more than 140 computing books on information security, web markup languages and development tools, and Windows operating systems.