Linux Guide/Getting Help

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How to get help properly[edit]

This guide is going to give you a good start in the world of Linux, but I'm sure you will have questions along the way. Don't be afraid to ask questions but be sure to ask them right.

  1. Try searching around for the answer first.
    You can imagine that help forums get asked the same questions many times over so see if someone else has run into the same problem as you. You'll save time and effort for both yourself, and whoever you might ask.
  2. Go ahead and ask your question.
    Especially on IRC, you should not ask to ask your question ("Does anyone here know about linux?") -- just ask.
  3. Try to be concise and comprehensive with background information.
    You’re more likely to get an answer if people don't have to read large chunks of possibly irrelevant information they could have deduced from hearing your problem or asked at a later date.

If you're getting help on IRC, read a tutorial like [1] or [2] if you aren't familiar with getting help on IRC.

Built-In[edit]

help[edit]

Help for built-in commands are available from the help command. For example

help logout

Provides help on the logout command. Help just prints a few lines of text to the console. You may need to be in a shell for this to work.

Note that even common commands like cp and mv are not built-in. In addition, most built-in commands have man and info pages (see below) - so it is generally more useful to look in man or info first.

If you have no idea about what command you should use, but you have a vague idea about some keywords that may be related to the topic you want (e.g., you want to print something), you can use the apropos command, like this:

 apropos print

that will display a lot of things related to print.

man[edit]

See also: Guide to Unix

Man pages are a flexible format of help page: they can be viewed in the console, and can be viewed as HTML in a web browser. For example, to view the man page for cp, type

man cp

If you don't know the name of the command, you can search by using -k

man -k "copy"

Man is split into sections

  1. Executable programs or shell commands
  2. System calls (functions provided by the kernel)
  3. Library calls (functions within program libraries)
  4. Special files (usually found in /dev)
  5. File formats and conventions eg /etc/passwd
  6. Games
  7. Miscellaneous (including macro packages and conventions), e.g. man(7), groff(7)
  8. System administration commands (usually only for root)
  9. Kernel routines [Non standard]

If a page with the same name is in more than one section, the correct one can be accessed by specifying the section number:

man 1 cp

alternatively, specify -a to walk through all the sections

man -a cp

Man pages can also be viewed in web browsers. Some web browsers, such as Konqueror allow you to use man: like a protocol - for example, typing

man:cp

into the location bar shows the man page for cp. More generally, however, the man command can generate an HTML file, and then display it in a browser by using the -H command with the browser of your choice - in this example, firefox:

man cp -Hfirefox

info[edit]

See also: Guide to Unix

Info pages are another type of help page. Pages here are sometimes duplicates of man pages - and sometimes are more complete. To view an info page, type

info cp

Yelp[edit]

Yelp is a graphical program to display help documentation on GNOME systems. Run the command 'yelp' to begin.

Online[edit]

Web pages[edit]

Mailing lists[edit]

Most distributions will provide several public mailing lists for support issues. For example, lists.ubuntu.com shows a plethora of mailing lists for specific types of support. ubuntu-users is probably your best option if you use Ubuntu.

IRC[edit]

Find more

LUGs[edit]

Linux Users' Groups are a great resource for getting help. They're typically local organizations, or perhaps specific to a university. They may have a website with helpful information, or a mailing list or IRC channel where you can get personal assistance. Depending on the area served by the LUG, you might be able to meet face-to-face with fellow users who may offer to help you.

Commercial support[edit]