1.11. Getting Help
You will undoubtedly require some degree of assistance during your
adventures in the Linux world. Even the most wizardly of
Unix wizards is occasionally stumped by some quirk
or feature of Linux, and it's important to know how and where to find
help when you need it.
The primary means of getting help in the Linux world are Internet
mailing lists and Usenet newsgroups. If you don't have online access
to these sources, you might be able to find comparable Linux
discussion forums on other online services, such as on local
BBSes, CompuServe, and so on.
A number of businesses provide commercial support for Linux.
A "subscription fee" allows you to call
consultants for help with your Linux problems.
Several vendors provide commercial support. However, if you have access to Usenet and
Internet mail, you may find the free support found there just as
Keeping the following suggestions in mind should improve your
experiences with Linux and guarantee you more success in finding
help to your problems:
- Consult all available documentation first.
The first thing to do when encountering a problem is consult the
various sources of information listed in
the previous section and
Appendix A, "Sources of Linux Information". These documents were laboriously
written for people like you--people who need help with the Linux
system. Even books written for Unix in general are
applicable to Linux, and you should take advantage of them.
Impossible as it might seem, more than
likely you will find the answer to your problems somewhere in this
If you have access to the Web, Usenet news, or any of the
lists, be sure to actually read the information
there before posting for help with your problem. Many times, solutions
to common problems are not easy to find in documentation and are
instead well-covered in the newsgroups and mailing lists devoted to
Linux. If you only post to these groups, and don't actually read them,
you are asking for trouble.
If you can't find what you're looking for, web search
engines, and the DejaNews (http://www.dejanews.com) Usenet
archive site are great places to start.
- Learn to appreciate self-maintenance.
In most cases, it's preferable to do as much independent research and
investigation into the problem as possible before seeking outside
help. Remember that Linux is about hacking and fixing problems
yourself. It's not a commercial operating system, nor does it try to
look like one. Hacking won't kill you. In fact, it will teach you a
great deal about the system to investigate and solve problems
yourself--maybe even enough to one day call yourself a Linux
guru. Learn to appreciate the value of hacking the system and
fixing problems yourself. You can't expect to run a complete, home-brew
Linux system without some degree of handiwork.
- Remain calm.
It's vital to refrain from
getting frustrated with the system. Nothing is earned by
taking an axe--or worse, a powerful electromagnet--to your
Linux system in a fit of anger. The authors have found that a large
punching bag or similar inanimate object is a wonderful way to relieve
the occasional stress attack. As Linux matures and distributions
become more reliable, we hope that this problem will go away. However,
even commercial Unix implementations can be tricky
at times. When all else fails, sit back, take a few deep breaths, and
go after the problem again when you feel
relaxed. Your mind will be
clearer, and your system will thank you.
- Refrain from posting spuriously.
Many people make the mistake of posting
or mailing messages pleading for help prematurely. When encountering a
problem, do not--we repeat, do
not--rush immediately to your nearest
terminal and post a message to one of the Linux Usenet
newsgroups. Often, you will catch your own mistake five minutes later
and find yourself in the curious situation of defending your own
sanity in a public forum. Before posting anything to any of the Linux
mailing lists or newsgroups, first attempt to resolve the problem
yourself and be absolutely certain what the problem is. Does your
system not respond when you turn it on? Perhaps the machine is unplugged.
- If you do post for help, make it
If all else fails, you may wish to post a
message for help in any of the number of electronic forums dedicated
to Linux, such as Usenet newsgroups and mailing lists. When posting,
remember that the people reading your post are not there to help
you. The network is not your personal consulting service. Therefore,
it's important to remain as polite, terse, and informative as
How can one accomplish this? First, you should include as much
(relevant) information about your system and your problem as
possible. Posting the simple request "I can't seem to get email
to work" will probably get you nowhere unless you include
information on your system, what software you are using, what you have
attempted to do so far, and what the results were. When including
technical information, it's usually a good idea to include general
information on the version(s) of your software (Linux kernel version,
for example), as well as a brief summary of your hardware
configuration. However, don't overdo it--including information
on the brand and type of monitor that you have is probably irrelevant
if you're trying to configure networking software.
Second, remember that you need to make some attempt--however
feeble--at solving your problem before you go to the Net. If you
have never attempted to set up electronic mail, for instance, and
first decide to ask folks on the Net how to go about doing it, you are
making a big mistake. There are a number of documents available (see
the previous section "Section 1.10, "Sources of Linux Information"")
on how to get started with many common tasks under
Linux. The idea is to get as far along as possible on your own and
then ask for help if and when you get stuck.
Also remember that the people reading your message, however helpful,
may occasionally get frustrated by seeing the same problem over and
over again. Be sure to actually read the Linux HOWTOs, FAQs, newsgroups,
and mailing lists before posting your problems. Many times, the solution
to your problem has been discussed repeatedly, and all that's required to find
it is to browse the current messages.
Third, when posting to electronic newsgroups and mailing lists, try
to be as polite as possible. It's much more effective and worthwhile
to be polite, direct, and informative--more people will be
willing to help you if you master a humble tone. To be sure, the flame
war is an art form across many forms of electronic communication, but
don't allow that to preoccupy your and other people's time. The
network is an excellent way to get help with your Linux
problems--but it's important to know how to use the network
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