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Using the Linux Documentation

This chapter will take a brief look at the documentation that is available to you from the Linux CD-ROM, as well as alternative sources. You will see:

  • What documentation is available on the CD-ROM

  • Where to go on the Internet for more information

  • Linux newsgroups you should check for help

Hopefully, this guide will provide most of the information you need to get going with Linux, but you may need to investigate other sources of information for a number of reasons (such as hardware support, troubleshooting, and so on).

The Linux Documentation Project

The first exposure most people get to Linux is a guide like the one you are now reading or the Linux INFO-SHEET, a relatively short ASCII document that is available from Usenet, BBSes (bulletin board systems), and many user groups. The INFO-SHEET is a quick summary of Linux posted at regular intervals to the Linux newsgroups on Usenet.

As Linux was developed, several programmers started writing brief guides to their contributions, as well as wider areas of the operating system. These documents, while usually terse and awkward to read, did provide others with enough information to continue their own use of Linux. Over a short span, the documentation for Linux began growing rapidly, and a central organizing body became necessary to help keep it on track and avoid unnecessary duplication.

The Linux Documentation Project was created to provide a complete set of public domain documentation for Linux. From a few rough installation notes a couple of years ago, the documentation has expanded to include almost a thousand pages, some very good, some not. The following primary documents are currently available or soon to be released:

  • Linux Installation explains how to install and configure Linux.

  • The Linux User's Guide is a guide for first-time users.

  • The Linux System Administrator's Guide is a guide to various aspects of system adminis-tration.

  • The Linux Network Administration Guide explains how to set up and use networks.

  • The Linux Kernel Hacker's Guide is a guide to modifying the Linux kernel.

In addition to these primary documents, there are about a dozen smaller guides to specific or esoteric aspects of Linux. These smaller guides are called How To documents. Together they form a growing document suite that covers practically every aspect of Linux. These documents are available with most distributions of the software. Not all the documents are up to date, as changes to the operating system have occurred since they were first written. Several different people wrote the Linux documents, so the styles and layout are not consistent. A perfect-bound printed copy of the Linux Documentation Project is available from Linux Systems Labs and some guidestores.

You can contact the Linux Systems Labs at 49884 Miller Court, Chesterfield, MI 48047. Their telephone number is (810) 716-1700, and their fax machine is at (810) 716-1703. You can get information about LSL from their e-mail address: [begmailto:info@lsl.com">info@lsl.com.

CD-ROM Documentation

The Red Hat CD-ROM that accompanies this guide has a lot of documentation supplied. The primary location of information is the /doc directory of the CD-ROM, which contains several types of files. A directory listing of the /doc/HOWTO directory shows the following contents:

bash# ls /cdrom/doc/HOWTO/


Bootdisk-HOWTO Installation-HOWTO Printing-Usage-HOWTO



Commercial-HOWTO Java-HOWTO Serial-HOWTO

Cyrillic-HOWTO Kernel-HOWTO Shadow-Password-HOWTO


Danish-HOWTO Keystroke-HOWTO Sound-Playing-HOWTO









Hebrew-HOWTO Portuguese-HOWTO

Most of these files are extracted to your Linux hard drive if you select the documentation options when installing Linux through setup. The setup routine lets you choose which types of documentation will be moved from the installation CD-ROM to your hard drive, but you can't select individual entries in the sets. If you are limited in disk space, you should consider leaving most of the document on the CD-ROM and viewing it only on an as-needed basis.

A directory listing of this area shows a wealth of files:

bash# ls /usr/doc

ElectricFence-2.0.5-2 libc-5.2.18-1 sh-utils-1.12-4

FAQ libelf-0.5.2-2 slang-devel-0.99.24-2

HOWTO lilo-0.17-3 sliplogin-2.0.2-2

HTML linuxdoc-sgml-1.4 svgalib-1.2.9-3

SysVinit-2.58-2 m4-1.4-4 sysklogd-1.3-1

XFree86-3.1.1-1 make-3.74-5 taper-6.0-2

bash-1.14.6-2 maplay-1.2-2 tcp_wrappers-7.3-1

bm2font-3.0-3 mawk-1.2.2-3 tcsh-6.06-7

bootpc-045-2 mb-5.0-5 tetex-0.3.3

cpio-2.4.1-3 mh-6.8.3-5 textutils-1.14-1

diffutils-2.7-3 multimedia-2.0-3 time-1.6-3

dosemu-0.60.4-3 mxp-1.0-2 tin-1.22-4

emacs-19.30-2 ncurses-1.9.6-6 tksysv-0.9-1

exmh-1.6.4-3 nfs-server-2.2beta4-6 umsdos_progs-0.8-4

fileutils-3.12-3 nslookup.help uucp-1.06.1-4

findutils-4.1-5 nvi-1.49-4 words-2-2

fwhois-1.00-4 patch-2.1-3 wu-ftpd-2.4.2b9-1

gawk-2.15.6-3 pcmcia-cs-2.8.8-1 xfm-1.3.2-2

gcc-2.7.2-2 pdksh-5.2.3-2 xmailbox-2.2-2

getty_ps-2.0.7h-1 pidentd-2.5.1-4 xsysinfo-1.2-3

grep-2.0-3 playmidi-2.3-2 xv-3.10a-3

gzip-1.2.4-3 ppp-2.1.2d-4 yp-clients-2.2-2

inn-1.4unoff3-5 rcs-5.7-3 ypserv-0.15-2

ipfwadm-1.1-2 rdist-1.0-2 zoneinfo-95e-3

ispell-3.1.18-2 samba-1.9.15p8-2

less.hlp sed-2.05-4

Each subdirectory in the preceding list contains more specific information about each tool. For example, if you want more specific information about the tape tool, look in the /usr/doc/mt-st directory for a README file for a listing of the contents.

HOWTO Documents

Let's face it. This one chapter (or text for that matter) cannot possibly hope to cover all the scenarios that you will encounter as you work with Linux. The number of combinations of hardware devices, software interfaces, and versions of Linux make it impossible to list them all here. That one specific CD-ROM or Ethernet card in your PC may not be listed here in this guide, but may very well be supported under Linux. To get more specific information about specific topics, you have to read the HOWTO files for that topic.

Basically, a HOWTO file is compiled by someone who has tracked problems related to a specific issue. Topics include booting, printing, tape support, and so on. There are a number of HOWTO files included with the CD-ROM (and installed to the hard drive with most installations of Linux). If your mount point is /cdrom, the HOWTO files are found in /cdrom/doc. The files are in text format in that directory, so you can use any text editor to view them. A partial description of the files in the /cdrom/doc/HOWTO directory is shown here to help you get an idea of where to look for more information:

Bootdisk-HOWTO This is the file you would read to get more information about creating boot and root disks for your machine.
Busmouse-HOWTO This file contains information on installing and using a bus mouse with your Linux system.
CDROM-HOWTO Linux supports a variety of CD-ROM drives. Unfortunately, not all the CD-ROM drives on the market are supported. Look in this file for more information about CD-ROM drive devices and Linux drivers.
This file contains the Copy restrictions and information about Linux.
Commercial-HOWTO Looking for commercial software available for Linux? Check out this file, which contains lists of companies and products for Linux.
DOSEMU-HOWTO Linux has a DOS emulator called DOSemu. This HOWTO contains information about the Linux MS-DOS emulator.
Danish-HOWTO How to configure Linux for use with the Danish character set.
Distribution-HOWTO A general list of mail order distributions and other commercial services.
ELF-HOWTO In the future, Linux binaries will be distributed in the Information on ELF binaries for Linux.
Ethernet-HOWTO Information on Ethernet hardware compatibility for Linux.
Firewall-HOWTO How to set up a firewall using Linux.
Ftape-HOWTO Information on ftape drive compatibility with Linux.
German-HOWTO Information on using Linux with German-specific features.
HAM-HOWTO How to configure amateur radio software for Linux.
HOWTO-INDEX Index of HOWTO documents about Linux.
Hardware-HOWTO A list of hardware known to work with Linux.
INFO-SHEET Generic introduction to the Linux operating system.
Installation-HOWTO How to obtain and install the Linux software.
JE-HOWTO Information on JE, a set of Japanese language extensions for Linux.
Kernel-HOWTO Upgrading and compiling the Linux kernel.
META-FAQ A listing of Linux sources of information.
MGR-HOWTO Information on the MGR graphics interface for Linux.
Mail-HOWTO Information on Linux-based mail servers and clients.
NET-2-HOWTO How to configure TCP/IP networking, SLIP, PLIP, and PPP under Linux.
NIS-HOWTO Linux NIS (Network Information Service) and YP (Yellow Pages).
News-HOWTO Information on Usenet news server and client software for Linux.
PCI-HOWTO Information on PCI-architecture compatibility with Linux.
PCMCIA-HOWTO How to install and use PCMCIA Card Services.
PPP-HOWTO Information on using PPP networking with Linux.
Printing-HOWTO Information on how to set up printing under Linux.
Printing-Usage-HOWTO How to use the printing system for a variety of file types and options.
SCSI-Programming-HOWTO Information on programming the generic Linux SCSI interface.
Serial-HOWTO Information on use of serial devices and communications software.
Sound-HOWTO Sound hardware and software for the Linux operating system.
Term-HOWTO How to use the term communications package on Linux systems.
Tips-HOWTO HOWTO on miscellaneous tips and tricks for Linux.
UMSDOS-HOWTO How to install and use the UMSDOS file system.
UPS-HOWTO Using Linux on a PC without a UPS will leave you vulnerable to the mercy of your electrical power company. Killing the power on a running Linux system can ruin your Linux box.
UUCP-HOWTO Information on how to install and use the Taylor UUCP software for Linux.
WRITING Check this file out if you are interested in writing your own HOWTO file.
XFree86-HOWTO How to obtain, install, and configure XFree86 3.1.2 (X11R6).
mini/ Directory containing informal mini-HOWTOs.
other-formats/ Directory containing other formats of the HOWTOs.

Look at the preceding list carefully. If you see the topic of your interest here, you are in luck. The HOWTO file will be the best source for you to get more specific information. If you want to confirm that you have the latest HOWTO files, you can check the official repository of documents in the tsx-11.mit.edu site in the /pub/linux/docs/HOWTO directory for any updates.

Usenet Newsgroups

Usenet is a collection of discussion groups (called newsgroups) available to Internet users. The more than 13,000 newsgroups generate over 100MB of traffic every day. Of all these newsgroups (which cover every conceivable topic), several are dedicated to Linux. These newsgroups are a useful forum for information and answers to questions about Linux.

You can read Usenet newsgroups through newsreader software that accesses either the Internet or a local site that offers Usenet service (called a newsfeed). Many online services, such as CompuServe and Delphi, provide access to the newsgroups (sometimes at an additional cost), and some have their own forums for Linux users. BBSes dedicated to Linux in whole or in part are also appearing, and many excerpt the Usenet conversations for the BBS users who do not have access to Usenet.

Usenet newsgroups are divided into three categories: primary newsgroups that are readily available to all users, local newsgroups with a limited distribution (usually based on geography), and alternate newsgroups that may not be handled by all news servers due to the relaxed rules of etiquette on them. The primary newsgroups of interest to Linux users when this guide was written are the following:

These primary newsgroups should be available at all Usenet sites, unless the system administrator filters them out for some reason. The other Linux newsgroups tend to change frequently, primarily because they are either regional or populated with highly opinionated users. The alt. (alternate) newsgroups are the ones most likely to contain such users. One alt. newsgroup in operation when this guide was written is


To find the several different newsgroups about Linux, use your newsreader software to search for all newsgroups with the word linux in the title. If you have access to Usenet, regularly scan the newsgroup additions and deletions to check for new Linux newsgroups or existing groups that have folded. Notices about newsgroup changes are usually posted to all existing groups, but every now and again one gets through without fanfare. Online services that provide access to Usenet usually maintain lists of all active newsgroups that can be searched quickly.

The traffic on most of these Linux newsgroups deals with problems and issues people have when installing, configuring, administering, or using the operating system. A lot of valuable information passes through the newsgroups quickly, so check them regularly. The most interesting messages that deal with a specific subject (called a thread) are often collected and stored as an archive for access through an FTP site.

World Wide Web Sites

Not surprisingly, Linux has a good presence on the World Wide Web. There are several sites that have Linux information, and a few home pages are specifically dedicated for Linux business. Two of the more popular Linux Web sites are http://sunsite.unc.edu/mdw/mdw.asp and http://www.ssc.com/linux/linux.asp.

From the Linux home page at www.ssc.com you can link to other Linux sites, including those of commercial vendors of Linux products. These links are updated frequently, so they are a good place to start when navigating through the Web. One of the key utilities the www.ssc.com home page offers is access to the Linux Software Map (LSM), as complete an index to Linux software as you will find anywhere. The Linux Software Map includes all the software packages that were developed specifically for Linux, as well as utilities and applications that have been ported to Linux. The Linux Software Map window lets you search for keywords in online documents and indexes, and then displays the results to provide a fast, easy method of finding software and documents.

Another way to look for infomation about Linux is to use the WebCrawler through the Web site at http://www.webcrawler.com and search for the word Linux. You will be rewarded with a list of names which contain information about Linux. (WebCrawler is a trademark owned by America Online, Inc.)

Also don't forget to check the Web site www.yahoo.com in the directory Computers/Operating_Systems/Unix/Linux.

Linux Journal

The Linux Journal is a commercial publication dedicated to Linux. It covers the entire gamut of Linux topics, ranging from material suitable for newcomers to the operating system to very complex programming. The Linux Journal has a home page, accessible through www.ssc.com. Some previously printed articles in electronic form are also found on the Web site.

If you want more information about the Linux Journal, send e-mail to subs@ssc.com. You can also write to the publisher at P.O. Box 85867, Seattle, WA 98145, or telephone them at (206) 782-7733. Subscriptions cost $22 per year in the United States.

Another online publication for more Linux information is the Linux Gazette at http://www.redhat.com/lg. It's a personal magazine in its infancy, but contains very good information for newbies and experts alike.


Because of the popularity of Linux, you are not left alone with a strange operating system and no support. If the files on the CD-ROM don't give you the answers you need, a visit to a Web site, Usenet newsgroup, or other Linux support vehicle should help get you straightened out. Every time you upgrade Linux or get a new CD-ROM, you should check the documentation files included to see if there have been any new additions that may interest you.

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