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Linux Documentation Sources

Manual Pages (man pages)

  • man pages are authoritative text based documents for Command Line commands & programs.
  • These get converted to many different formats:
    • Webpage based
    • PDF documents
    • Graphical Help based systems
    • etc..

Manual Search Parameters

Note: In the below, replace <keyword> with the keyword or expression to search for.

  • man -f <keyward> is the same as using the whatis command
    • Lookup the manual pages referenced by <keyword> and print out the short descriptions of any found.
  • man -k <keyword> is the same as using the apropos command
    • Search the man page short descriptions and the man page names for the given <keyword> (as a regular expression).

Manual Chapters & Parameters

  • the chapter number as a parameter will force the man to return the command from a specific manual chapter
    • e.g. $ man 3 printf
  • the -a parameter will display the given command from all manual chapters
    • e.g. $ man -a printf

The below list gives the chapter numbers of the different categories of man pages:

  1. Executable programs or shell commands
  2. System calls (functions provided by the kernel)
  3. Library calls (functions within program libraries)
  4. Special files (usually found in /dev)
  5. File formats and conventions eg /etc/passwd
  6. Games
  7. Miscellaneous (including macro packages and conventions), e.g. man(7), groff(7)
  8. System administration commands (usually only for root)
  9. Kernel routines [Non standard]

A man page consists of several sections. Conventional section names include:

NAME, SYNOPSIS, CONFIGURATION, DESCRIPTION, OPTIONS, EXIT STATUS, RETURN VALUE, ERRORS, ENVIRONMENT, FILES, VERSIONS, CONFORMING TO, NOTES, BUGS, EXAMPLE, AUTHORS, and SEE ALSO.

GNU Info System

  • Information can be viewed through
    • The Command Line Interface
    • A Graphical Interface
    • Online (Web) Pages
    • Printed documentation
    • etc..
  • info is the documentation format that the GNU Project prefers over man
    • It is a “gopher like” system of linked text documents that pre-dates the World Wide Web.
    • In a Terminal, typing info with no arguments displays an index of available topics.
      • those pages can be navigated & viewd using the movement keys (← ↑ → ↓, page up, page down, …)
      • also use the q key to quit, the h key for help, and the enter key to select an item.
    • info <keyword> will search all info files for the Topic given by <keyword>
  • A Topic in an info page is called a node
    • use the n key to go to the next node
    • use the p key to go to the previous node
    • use the u key to move up one level in the info index.
  • each node may contain menus and linked subtopics, or items
    • an item is a hyperlink, that starts with an asterisk (*) and ends with double-colons (::)

Terminal Command -h or --help

  • Most commands have an available short description which can be viewed using the –help or the -h parameter
    • e.g. man –help
    • This provides a summary that is quicker but less extensive than the man pages
    • some commands only use -h, some commands only use –help, and many commands use both
  • The BASH terminal has its own build-in commands
    • to view a summary of these built-in commands, simply type in the help command

Other Sources

Desktop Help

  • All Linux desktop systems have a graphical help application.
    • for Gnome → gnome-help
    • for KDE → khelpcenter

Package Documentation

  • Linux documentation is also available as part of the package management system.
    • This documentation is found in the /usr/share/doc directory

Online Resources

  • there are many online forums, wikis and e-books to provide additional help documentation.