Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Linux : Self help is the best possible help !

Man, Help! How To?

Self help is the best help. If you look around, self help is the only help that is always available with you. You do not need to hunt elsewhere for helping hands if you believe in yourself that nearly all kinds of Linux problems can be solved through self help. Every standard Linux distribution comes with detailed help files that can be referred any time. There are Detailed, highly technical and bit harsh Manual pages for most of the commands and utilities available in Linux. Similarly, there are 'Help' files, Guides, FAQs, Mini How to do and elaborate 'How To Do’ files available for your self help. All these files help you in using and configuring Linux applications and performing Linux administration. When you get stuck somewhere, before asking to someone’s helping hand, feel free to get help from these files since they are available to you a few mouse clicks or a few commands away. Here is a brief tutorial for you to brush up and shine on your self help skills.

Manual Pages:

Before you start to learn to use Manual pages, you must ascertain that your installation has Man package installed. If you have installed default or everything from a popular Linux distribution such as RedHat, man pages are installed by default and are ready to serve you. Start terminal and give following command followed by enter.

# man man

After a brief lull, if you see some output in terminal, feel lucky that your self help manual files are installed in your Linux installation. If you do not see the output and get message that Manual pages not found, you will have to install it first. You will find installation file as *.RPM or *.Gz file as Man* and Man-Pages* files in distribution media. For example, in RedHat installation CD, you will find it in First installation CD in RedHat/RPMS directory. Alternately, you can download these installation files from Internet at http://www.redhat.com

The Man pages are stored as compressed files and when you run command to see a certain Man page, it temporary decompress it, format it and produce the output to you in readable, printable format. There are different authors for Man pages of different applications or tools, hence you may find slight variation in their approach, and however, the style remains the same. You may find thousands of Manual entries in man pages and there also are Language specific man pages. Now, to use manual pages of say, bash command, you have to give following command:

# man bash

Depending on your system configuration, you may find Man pages for some or all of theses: User Commands, System calls, Functions and library routines, Special files, Device drivers and Hardware, Configuration files and file formats, Games, System administration commands, Kernel internals, Tcl/Tk commands, and Miscellaneous etc. A man page generally consists of following section:

Name: Gives you name of command / utility / application for which this Manual is written.

Synopsis: Gives you brief way to how to use commands with arguments / options

Copyright: This section contains information about copyright etc.

Description: Brief description about commands / application and the way they can be used.

Option: This important section provides you details about various option when invoked.

Authors: Gives details and their contact address about the Authors of the Manual.

In addition to that, you may find some more relevant section on the man pages depending upon the command. Though authors honestly try to cover nearly all aspect of the object for which manual is written, sometime it become too technical and for an average user, it may look too harsh and hard to understand. Man pages are Technical Documentation and are not meant for Tutorial. Still, at the most of the time, you can bell yourself out with the help of Man pages when you find one appropriate for you.

Man pages are scrolled one line at a time with arrow keys, and one page at a time with Page Up – Page Down keys. Any time it can be closed within terminal by pressing Ctrl + z key combination simultaneously. Similarly, man pages can be viewed through info reader utility called 'info' if you have installed on your Linux Machine. For example, to read man pages of Bash commands through info, give following command in terminal:

# info vi

Like man pages, there are some info pages that can also be viewed with these commands. Man / Info pages are viewed better in graphical environment. Using man pages in graphical environment will be discussed later in this article.


If you have stuck somewhere and do not able to think what to do, then simply give following command in your terminal for a possible clue:


You will instantaneously find some basic clue looking similar as shown below to help you move a bit ahead.

As you notice, the help command has been given in bash shell, and this command displays the available internal shell commands, options and arguments in Bash shell. For details about a particular internal command, give following command:

#help name

Here, ‘name’ is the name of internal command of shell. For example, if you want to know more about internal command ‘history’ of bash shell, give command “help history” in bash shell and you get following:

As you can see here, you can get fairly enough information about things you can go ahead with.

How to?

Linux Documentation Project (LDP) has detailed HOWTOs, mini HOWTOs, Guides, FAQs in various kinds of subject from installation to administrative to maintenance procedures. It is available in Online HTML format, Download able compressed HTML file in tar format, Plain text format, PDF format and PluckerDB (to view in Palm Device) format. You can get these self help tutorial files from http://www.tldp.org

However, if you have installed documentation in your RedHat Linux machine, you can find compressed ASCII version of HOWTOs in /usr/doc/HOWTO directory. Since HOWTOs are written with approach to describe you how to do tasks, they are friendlier than Man pages. Multi page HTML versions of HOWTOs are better in referring things.

Window Specific Help

You can always use Window specific Help in your Linux Machine. For example, in KDE desktop environment, you can get help of KDE Help Center.

With KDE Help Center, not only you can get KDE specific Help but other Help, FAQ, Manual etc. In fact, Man pages are better viewed in KDE Help Center Window. Similarly, you can find help in Gnome environment also.

Gnome has excellent Help browser that lets you dynamically and instantaneously search help topics with keywords. Now, keep one thing in mind, if you solve your problem and make yourself expert with these self help, do not hesitate to extend your helping hands to the needy.

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