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1.1. Introduction

Documentation for Linux programs is abundant. Finding it can be a bit challenging, though. You're not going to find lots of sleek, glossy printed manuals, because most Linux software is distributed online, rather than in shiny boxed sets.

There's another difficulty, too: Linux follows the grand Unix tradition of small, specialized programs working cooperatively, so any Linux distribution contains a large number of individual programs. For example, Tom's Root Boot, "The most GNU/Linux on one floppy disk," contains over 230 separate, individual programs on a single 3.5" diskette. A general-purpose distribution such as Mandrake or SuSE contains several thousand programs and there are over 12,000 packages in the Debian repositories. While organizing and maintaining a printed library presents some difficulties, the good news is that all of these things are documented. Whatever you want to know, there is a way to find it.

1.1.1 man and info: The Universal Linux Manuals

Almost every program written for Linux has a man page. They're usually not the best teaching tool for newbies. Their purpose is to document the command syntax and every command option, and to be universally available. No matter what kind of strange desert-island scenario you may find yourself in, there will always be man pages. And because man pages are incorporated into the programs to which they belong, you'll find that only installed programs have man pages and that the versions of those pages are pertinent to your system.

info pages tend to be more verbose than man pages and are hyperlinked. The hyperlinks navigate to the various nodes, or chapters, inside the document and to cross-references in other info pages. Many info pages are simply reformatted man pages. But in some instances—primarily the GNU project programs—the info pages are more detailed, containing tutorials and extensive examples.

1.1.2 Other Documentation

A large number of README, CHANGELOGS, RELEASE NOTES, COPYRIGHT, INSTALL, integrated Help systems, and HTML docs are going to be squirreled away in various locations on your system. Yes, it's a jumble. Don't worry, you'll learn easy ways to find all these things in this chapter, including a nice Python script to do the finding for you.

There are many web sites that host complete archives of man and info pages, which comes in handy if your system is missing the ones you want, or you want to read them without having to download and install new programs. A Google search will find them quickly.

The commercial Linux distributions—for example, Red Hat, SuSE, Mandrake, Xandros, and Linspire—supply excellent user manuals. Every major Linux distribution provides a feast of online resources. Search engines, user mailing lists, Usenet, and all sorts of Linux web sites also supply a wealth of help and information.

1.1.3 Graphical Viewers

There are several good graphical man and info page viewers:


The web and file browser in KDE also contains an excellent man and info page viewer. Simply type man:foo or info:/foo in the address bar. It is easy to print from Konqueror, and easy to select individual man or info pages for printing.


The Gnome viewer. Displays man and info pages, and Gnome's help documents. It is indexed and searchable.


A nice ncurses-based info and man viewer for the console. Users can add new documents to it, and it supports regexp searches.

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