Originally Published: Tuesday, 20 February 2001 Author: Marc Baker
Published to: learn_articles_firststep/General Page: 1/1 - [Std View]

Getting the Most From Your System : The Linux Documentation Project

You've successfully installed Linux and givien yourself a pat on the back. What happens next is the topic of this helpful article from Marc Baker. What happens when things don't work as well as you expected?

You've installed Linux and you're fairly proud of yourself. Now as you sit in front of your brand new Linux box you realize that everything doesn't work exactly as it should. Your CD-RW acts like a CD-ROM, you can't print anything and your USB ports don't exist. These and other symptoms can easily cause Post Install Stress Disorder (PISD), but have no fear. There is a cure. We'll tell you where to get help.

Linux Documentation Project

Since 1992 an organization called the Linux Documentation Project (LDP) has worked to develop free, high-quality documentation for Linux. It is set up much the same way as the Linux development team. Volunteers from across the Internet work together. The LDP develops three types of documents: Guides, HOWTOs, and FAQs.


Guides are full-fledged books about Linux covering broad topics like Network Administration. Some guides have been published and are available through bookstores. Securing and Optimizing Linux: Red Hat Edition is one such book. It's now being used as a textbook at Central Michigan University. Some distributions also install a couple of books by default. If you look in the directory /usr/doc/ you might find a directory LDP. Inside you may find either the Network Administrators' Guide (NAG) or the Linux System Administrators' Guide (LAG). I still suggest you visit the LDP Web site as Guides are often updated to account for new developments; the version you have installed may be out of date. For more information on LDP Guides go to http://www.linuxdoc.org/guides.html.


HOWTOs provide help on a specific subject. Most, but not all, give instructions telling you, well, how to do something! HOWTOs deal with subjects like setting up your hardware, recompiling the kernel, programming, and using Linux programs. Each HOWTO has a maintainer, whose job is to keep the document up to date and free of errors. For more information on HOWTOs go to http://www.linuxdoc.org/docs.html.


FAQ stands for Frequently Asked Questions. It is a common means of documentation used all over the Internet. Questions that are often asked, and can be easily answered in a sentence or two are kept here. Most often these questions are of the What, Why, When, Where variety. You should read the FAQ on a specific issue before asking a question in case it is already answered. Asking questions that are answered in the FAQ is a good way to upset people. If you do this, odds are your question will not be answered. For more information on FAQs go to http://www.linuxdoc.org/FAQ/.

Documentation Etiquette

The Linux community is made up of brilliant people who are willing to help even the novice user. However, everyone is expected to put forth some effort to find an answer before asking for help. In this article, we have given you only a few of the available resources available on the Internet. Don't be afraid to use them. If you need to set up your printer, read the Printer HOWTO. If at the end you haven't got it working, or something in the HOWTO is unclear, then ask someone. If you have a question specific to the AfterStep Window Manager, read the correct FAQ. If your question isn't answered then ask somebody. People are here to help, but they won't do everything for you. In the end you get out what you put in. The more effort you put into learning Linux, the more rewarding your experience will be. You will amaze yourself. Give it a try!

Final Thoughts

I once was trying to find out how to do something in Microsoft Word at work. I wasn't a Word user, but a friend showed me the dancing paper clip that supposedly had all the answers. After running around in circles, answering irrelevant questions I gave up. I'd do it some other way because the help system was useless. So often in commercial packages documentation is given a back seat. The Linux community has not only put forth an amazing product, but amazing support. The Linux Documentation Project is a valuable resource and is as much responsible for Linux as the hackers who built the operating system. Try and find a company to give you that kind of support for Windows. Thousands of pages of docs, all available free and all maintained and updated regularly? Good luck! The LDP is an amazing tool and using it will help your Linux experience.