Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?
Education Software Linux

Looking for Linux Help When You've Lost Your Way? 85

ChesireKat asks: "I'm interested in knowing where people go for their Linux help/questions/needs. It seems that most IRC users will laugh at you, kick you, or just make you feel stupid because you're not quite as smart as they are ( is pretty good, they are usually willing to help). Forums are nicer about it, but most of the time, no one quite knows. Man pages always work, but it so time consuming, and sometimes after hours of searching, your still just as clueless as when you started. I'm interesting in knowing where other people find answers to the questions you just can't seem to figure out."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Looking for Linux Help When You've Lost Your Way?

Comments Filter:
  • Mailing lists (Score:3, Informative)

    by rf0 ( 159958 ) <> on Monday April 14, 2003 @06:34PM (#5731772) Homepage
    Most distributions have mailing lists that you can subscribe to ask questions. You will normally get a reply of a pointer to somewhere better to get help. Some lists allow you to post even if you don't join. Just asked to be CC'd


  • by Naerbnic ( 123002 ) on Monday April 14, 2003 @06:35PM (#5731781)
    The Linux Documentation Project is one of the best sources for general Linux help. It has a list of tutorials, called HOWTO's, which explain how do to almost anything, from setting up a web server, to getting a mouse wheel to work under X windows. If you're having a problem, chances are many other people have had the same problem, and at least one of them have written a HOWTO for your particular situation. Their website is here []
  • Is it really so bad? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Otter ( 3800 ) on Monday April 14, 2003 @06:36PM (#5731787) Journal
    It seems that most IRC users will laugh at you, kick you, or just make you feel stupid because you're not quite as smart as they are...

    Is it really so bad? I'm on OPN (or whatever it's called now, freenode?) generally, and while questions frequently don't get answered, I rarely see abuse. Same for mailing lists or Usenet. Usenet is a frequently overlooked resource that has the added bonus of being easily searchable for future people with the same issue.

    Frankly, the highest percentage of stupid, abusive people I see is here.

    • It may be better now, but back around 1997 - 1998 I used to hang out on a linux related irc channel and would sometimes answer peoples questions about how to set up httpd or configure the system, etc.

      On at least half a dozen occasions, some newbie would ask "how do i do foo", and invariably the answer would come back from someone or other

      "su to root, cd to / and do rm -rf *"

      The first few times I saw this, I thought it was just a joke, and that everyone knew better than to do this but after a few minutes,
    • "Is it [IRC] really so bad?"

      Unfortunately, yes, it's still that bad. My girlfriend needed some help with grub on Red Hat 7.3 that I couldn't answer. Together we figured out what she needed to ask, got a rough idea of what she was looking for, and then she asked on IRC.

      The answers she got -- on several servers -- were laughable. The alpha geeks told her to uninstall Windows, stop using Red Hat, go back to Windows, switch to Slackware, and (my favorite) RTFM.

      She eventually got the answer -- from an old fr
      • IRC was worse than useless to her, and apparently to any newbie that pops in.

        I dunno about that -- #linuxhelp on freenode is pretty decent, as is #freeswan, #kernelnewbies, #perl and #openembedded (for ipsec, kernel-specific stuff, Perl and anything OpenZaurus, respectively). I think that by far the problem is the attitude of the people asking. I hang out in those channels semi-frequently and over and over again I see people come in and ask questions that could have been answered by practically puttin

  • Have never failled to save the day when I've run out of non-interactive resources.
  • (Score:2, Informative)

    by aspjunkie ( 265714 )
    I've had pretty good experience with []. Turn on reply notification and you'll get an email as soon as someone replies to your topic. I was amazed on several occasions where someone would post an answer, or at least suggestions within a couple minutes.. works great for anything i've asked about.

    *i have no affiliation with, i just find them very useful for questions when i'm at my wits end looking through man pages and a hefty googling.
  • 4 things I do. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 4of12 ( 97621 ) on Monday April 14, 2003 @06:42PM (#5731820) Homepage Journal

    general Google searching.

    focussed Usenet group searching via Google groups especially (eg,: Has anyone gotten oddball video card X to work?).

    LDP. Howto's, mini-howto's. Often the general category has specific mention of caveats and gotchas that commonly plague people.

    User manuals that came with your distro.

    Bleat to a more knowledgeable local user, if they exist. Don't worry too much about imposing because sooner or later someone else will come to you asking for help. But, as with the newsgroups, it looks better to your local guru if you have a concise question and researched the problem fully, showing your wounds proving that you've already crawled over the broken glass of the TFM.

    • Amen on Google. It really helps one do focused problem-solving.

      There's no substitute for reading the LDP materials, howtos and readmes, along with building a library of good books.

      The Web sites maintained by organizations supporting various pieces of software are also essential.

      Google is at its strongest in troubleshooting a specific error. I just key in the error message (or selected portions) along with my distribution name and version. Almost invariably I find several mailing list posts addressing

    • Good points, but I'd try them in a different (reversed) order.. You'd be surprised how informative some Fine (that's what the F in RTFM is for, by the way) manuals are. If you don't buy boxed distros or don't download the documantation cd's, you can still browse most manuals at the website of your favourite distributions. As many have pointed out, LDP [] is a fine resource as well.

      Just my 0.02 of course...
  • I do not trust Linux man pages or HOWTOs. I have had bad luck with them, in several Linux distributions. For correct (and correctly spelled) documentation, look at OpenBSD []. Once you've had high-quality documentation, you won't want to go back.

    What you have to do is find yourself a good community. A good community is not free; you have to help build it by making contributions of your own.

    If you need help with a specific application, try the mailing list(s) dedicated to that particular application. I have

    • Except that if I want to learn how to use, say, iptables, OpenBSD documentation isn't going to help. If the same software works on both OpenBSD and Linux, chances are the documentation for it is identical anyway.

      If you find Linux documentation that's misspelled (it can't be worse than what's typical for Slashdot), contact the maintainer and let them know.

      A good community isn't free? In what sense?
  • by handsomepete ( 561396 ) on Monday April 14, 2003 @06:45PM (#5731841) Journal
    #gentoo on freenode
    Gentoo Forums []

    Not dicks. Helpful. Usually you'll get your question answered in no time flat.
    • Absolutely. The Gentoo forums and channel have the best ratio of real help to "read the fscking man page you fscking idiot" that I've seen in any Linux group. Also worth mentioning is alt.os.linux.gentoo.
      • That's probably because they have smarter users.
        The dumb rude questions I've seem in other channels sometimes... jeez. Us helpers have no problem with people not knowing - but for christ sake don't demand and get rude, and then wonder why irc seems to be full of only people who are rude back.

        • I disagree, i've seen some newbie questions asked in the gentoo forums, the people who answer are always polite.

          I've gotten the impression that when someone asks a question in #linux on a random network its usually the debian users who answer in an elitist tone (I'm not saying all debian users are that way, maybe its just the assholes that go on irc).
    • I've always found the Gentoo folks to be really helpful. I wouldn't crapflood them though, the signal to noise ratio is pretty low, so let's keep it that way. But those are nice folks, very knowledgeable in general, and helpful. Of course if your problem is specific to Gentoo you might have better luck.
    • Gentoo Forums []

      I was about to post exactly that. Whether or not you run Gentoo, the people who do generally know their stuff, and there is probably little that you can run into that they haven't already. Search for what you're looking for, and it's probably already been discussed and solved. If not, ask about it, and you're likely to get a bunch of helpful replies in less than an hour.

      I've solved many, many a problem on those boards, and gotten many an idea on how to approach other problems. Highly re

  • by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Monday April 14, 2003 @06:46PM (#5731849) Homepage Journal
    .. and ask from them, if they know that you're not ignorant idiot, or feel like they shouldnt yell it to you, they'll help. especially if you're trying to do something meaningful like installing linux, instead of asking where you could warez the latest windows and office.

    _before_ you ask anything, USE GOOGLE! learn to look for information with google, if you got a problem chances are that 20+ people have had it before and looked for help already.

    read howto's, they explained everything needed already 5 years ago so i find it hard to believe they wouldnt have enought information today for solving all common 'problems'.

    the reason why people can get very pissed fast on irc is that they get very frustated when very many people come to ask simple things they could have gotten the answer with simple google search, and, often the best answer you can give them is to point them at a page you get with simple google search(person z comes to channel and asks how to set finnish characters on linux, you do a quick search and point them to finnish-howto, you get quite fast pissed off thinking that why didnt mr. z type it into google and save both his and your time).
    • True, which like i said, that IRC does help out a lot usually. But what happens when you've googled, man page'd and checked howto's? Yeah, that that another user posted does help though I've heard good things
  • Where to look (Score:2, Insightful)

    by wpc4 ( 169892 )
    The first place I look is There is so much information there that normally can fix whatever I have broken. As for IRC, check out a very friendly helpful network.
  • usenet (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MrResistor ( 120588 ) < minus poet> on Monday April 14, 2003 @06:55PM (#5731910) Homepage
    comp.os.linux is a good place to start for general Linux questions. alt.linux.suse is a good if you happen to be a SuSE user. If your question is about a specific app, there's likely a group dedicated to it, like comp.protocols.smb for samba.

    The Linux Documentation Project is sometimes good, But I often find the info I get there to be either out of date or too specific to a setup that isn't mine.

    If I really want to know an app/language/whatever I pony up for the relevant O'Reilly book(s).

  • brute force (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    on most things I just play with it until I figure
    it out. I must've spent nearly 3 weeks working with openldap when I first started trying to learn it a little over a year ago.

    I've never gone to irc for linux help(though I'm on irc everyday). I have participated on mailing lists for several years but in my early days most of what I learned I learned the old fashioned way, brute force.

    At times it was painful, and sometimes frustrating but I always figured it out. Start out small, I wouldn't reccomend attack
  • As in all things Ask Slashdot related, once again google is your friend. In this case more specificaly google groups: []

    I've always had good luck there, most of the questions you're likely to have will have already been answered, you just have to sift the newsgroups a little.
  • by Eneff ( 96967 )
    They're often thought of as old fashioned, but O'Reilly's (and other) books are what I will turn to first.

    Most of the time, I don't get good answers from the traditional help channels because if I'm asking it, it's probably not obvious.

    The bigger problem, as I see it, is that intermediate users run up against limitations in the tools we use, and don't know quite how to chain the tools together just yet.
    • Part of the appeal of NetBSD for me is that it more closely follows the arrangement documented in the O'Reilly manuals. In particular, X configuration (I have all eight volumes of the O'Reilly X set). I am old fashioned that way, but I have all the docs for what I want to do. I even scraped up a full BSD 4.3 Manual set on eBay awhile back.

  • If you're into Linux, but you're not a self-contained guru, then it would behoove you to make some local connections. Attend users' groups, find people through networks of office-mates, whatever works (try local 2600 meetings even, although they're filled with losers you might stumble on some rare diamonds in the rough there). Find and befreind some local gurus - they probably won't mind you taking em out for a beer to discuss a technical problem with them.
  • Find a LUG. (Score:4, Informative)

    by reaper20 ( 23396 ) on Monday April 14, 2003 @07:06PM (#5731972) Homepage
    Find a LUG, you can learn more listening to experienced admins than from sitting in IRC all day or pouring over tons of lists. Plus its nice to know a group of people locally that can always save your ass in case you do something stupid. IRC and lists are horrible to get _detailed_ help with. You'll spend 60 minutes explaining your problem over IRC and then you'll get a half dozen opinions. Having real people troubleshoot your system and teaching how it all works is the best way to learn. Sure they'll have a half dozen opinions too but at least in person people can show you things they can't over IRC.

    Our LUG has regular installfests and it's not uncommon for people to bring their machines in if they want to do something complicated. Plus LUGs are good places to network professionally, trade hardware, and meet new people.

    Btw, MDLUG [] if you're in the Detroit area, stop by our table during Penguicon [] in May.
  • Check the manpages first, they answer a lot of questions

    Next check /usr/share/doc/programname or wherever your distribution stores the documentation for installed programs.

    Then check the website of the program, most have at least some sort of online documentation and if you are lucky you will find a web accessible mailing list archive.

    If you still have no answer try searching Usenet from Google. If you happen to run into a strange error message you should probably skip the other steps and try this one fi
  • I'll probably get shot for this, but if you go to their comments section and ask intellegently you'll usually get an answer. Also you can get a few laughs reading the comments.
  • Google baby!! (Score:2, Informative)

    by BFedRec ( 257522 )
    I hit google, I've been on a contract for the last two years that has really let my skills fall. So I google, when I need help, or when friends need help. Tis very easy to just throw in your basic info, be it sound card model numbers and linux or modules.conf, or video drivers or whatnot, and it will almost always pull up enough info to get you going. Combine google with Tabbed browsing... just right click and open in tab the first 5-8 entries that look promising, and you've usually got an answer prett
  • by mcgroarty ( 633843 ) <brian.mcgroarty@gmail . c om> on Monday April 14, 2003 @07:36PM (#5732192) Homepage
    Most of the users who seem to take a lot of abuse come in for quick answers without having done any of their own research.

    Ask an intelligent question and include a little about what you've tried or where you've looked thus far. If you're utterly lost and don't even know where to begin, ask for pointers to things you can read, don't ask for the quick answer.

    Any geek worth his DSL line respects and likes helping a body who's making a good and honest effort. But if you come in wanting others to do more work than you've already done on your own, then it's good, honest fun to toy with you a little.

    As a bonus: if you take a little abuse without going all non-linear and share a laugh with folks after, you'll probably still get your help in the end. :-)

  • Well, OK - Google did buy [], but I find the newsgroups to be packed with info. If I'm stumped, I'll usually find many others have asked the same question. Once in a while you might even get an answer (grin). is great for website info, but don't forget about the newsgroups - even if all you have at work is a browser!

  • I taught myself linux by reading everything I possibly could whether or not it related to my current project at the time. The best place to start is with all of the major HOWTOs and man pages. After that, start buying oreilley books on relevant subjects and read them cover to cover. You shouldn't look for easy answers from IRC/forums because you'll never learn anything except how to solve one specific problem that way.
  • by Phroggy ( 441 )
    When I'm looking for technical help, I usually try (formerly As long as you aren't obnoxious, people will generally help you.

    Don't ask, "can I ask a question?" Don't assume that people are obligated to help you. Don't assume that people are deliberately ignoring you if you don't get an answer - it could mean that nobody there at the moment knows, so they're all just waiting for someone who does know to give an answer. If you know what you're doing and someone tre
  • contains a archive of lots of common problems and the fix. This is where I go, but I use Debian GNU/Linux.

    I for some reason have better luck restricting my search to the mailing list of my prefered distribution. Your mileage may vary.


  • LUGs (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jtnix ( 173853 )
    Someone already mentioned a Detroit Linux Users Group, there are hundreds throughout the US and the World. Do a search on Google with your state and locality and LUG in the search bar and you will likely come up with something. I found the one here in Maine to be very professional, enlightening and friendly with zero troll factor and some excellent monthly meeting topics and presentations (even though I have yet to hit a meeting, I've read the ace notes posted online)

    Here's a starter link: Linux User Gro []
  • Go onto a linux channel on IRC, and....

    Pretend you're a girl.

    After they get over their shock, you'll have half a dozen acne-face geeks knocking over their Mountain Dew, pot-bellies a-jiggling to write you your own kernel.

    especially if you say that guys who live in their mothers' basements are "way cool".
  • The people who actually know how to find the answers to most Linux questions have spent literally thousands of hours looking at man pages, reading source code, searching the net for documentation, pouring through mailing lists, reading big thick books cover to cover, and lots of other tedious and boring shit that noone with a life would ever bother to do.

    But the real problem is that Linux gurus are not gurus because they know how to answer questions. Linux gurus are gurus because they know how to ask ques

    • The people who actually know how to find the answers to most Linux questions have spent literally thousands of hours looking at man pages

      Sigh, sadly, it's true.

      A long time ago I spent more hours than some felons serve behind bars, reading the fscking man pages to some 4.2BSD flavor.

      man -k somestring

      It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it.

    • I will answer peoples questions (not specifically linux ones) but i do get angry when i tell someone how to find an answer and they say "oh just tell me how to do it" . Often reading through things i find out new things, ie reading through man shutdown to find out how to shutdown and reboot and also happend to find out how to shutdown at a specific time.
  • I think its time 'Ask Slashdot' was renamed 'Too lazy to Ask Google'
  • by MaggieL ( 10193 ) on Monday April 14, 2003 @08:52PM (#5732671)
    ...on this phenomenon at How To Ask Questions The Smart Way [] by ESR and Rick Moen
  • My 2c (Score:3, Informative)

    by Isomer ( 48061 ) on Monday April 14, 2003 @08:53PM (#5732677) Homepage
    IRC's good if you can find a small channel. The larger the channel, the more people they get abusing the channel and the more harsh the rules and the more likely you are to get kicked. The trick is finding a small channel full of people that are interested in the area you are having trouble with. Also, when asking questions, state the full question in as few lines as possible. Saying "is it all right to ask a question?" just adds to the noise in a channel.

    I find the local LUG lists a great place to start when asking for help. They often have very experienced people that are around for helping you. In particular, if you screw it up beyond all recognition, they're close enough that you can ask if they can come and fix the problem.

    Google for your problem. Learning how to use google effectively to find answers to your problems is great time saver. Searching for "apache won't work" doesn't get you very far but "apache: can not bind to port 80" is likely to get a much better response out of google.

    Look for documentation projects that try and help people out. My personal favourite is the Waikato Linux Users Group wiki [] which tries to encampus as much information about linux as it can. It's an excellent place to go and create a page asking a question and have several knowledgable people wiki'ing the answer, and then having it available for everyone else to find when *they* have the same issue.

  • Where else?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I just post an Ask Slashdot asking where I can find help, then I sneak my questions into the comments by posting AC.

    Works every time!

    PS: Anybody know how I can set up a static host route on my usb0 connection that comes up whenever I plug in my zaurus? Thanks!
  • On Asking Questions (Score:2, Informative)

    by Euro ( 40585 )
    Okay, some of the following might sound blatantly obvious, but I just thought it might be worthwhile to mention some things that should be kept in mind when asking things from geeks.

    First of all: most of the time the trouble isn't that people aren't willing to help. Instead, the problem lies in the fact that people asking things are not asking the right questions (which is most of the time because they have been lazy and not done the basic stuff like reading the tutorials or FAQs). People do not like to ac
  • But I think all my suggestions were already posted:

    1: Find your local LUG
    2: I don't care if it's tedious, RTF Man pages!
    3: Google.
    4: Forums like JustLinux (formerly LinuxNewbie)
    5: IRC isn't all that bad. Change servers and find a decent channel filled with helpful people.
  • I post on and usually have my first reply within an hour. Greap first and you'll almost always come up with something. Assuming you are using Gentooo....why arent you? (;

    Works every time. Not running Debian? Well, you should be. ;-)
  • A lot of people state that you should use google, but the problem is not in using google, but using it correctly.

    Firstly... I'd recommend linux google [] for linux specific questions.

    Next, what are searching for? For example, if it's a samba-related error message:
    +Samba +"snippet of error message"
    will usually get you along the right track. If you find a discussion thread, note the name of the thread, back out to the main discussion, and follow the thread from the beginning.

    If it's a more generalized
  • I'm not a newbie. I've been around the linux scene for a while, no I'm not a seasoned veteran. I do have my set of 'battle scars'. But what infuriates me more than anything is when I get into an IRC channel and ask a smart question, is that everyone treats you like your dumb. I'm sorry I'm currently running 2.4.20 kernel with (hacked version of ..) linux ABI running SCO binaries and preemptive patch, I also upped my HZ in "param.h" to 1000 for that added kick.

    I currently have a server in my bedroom ru

Given its constituency, the only thing I expect to be "open" about [the Open Software Foundation] is its mouth. -- John Gilmore