This is a collection of things I find myself writing again and again,
so I thought it best to collect them and provide help-seeking Linux users with One Link.
Please, don't feel insulted if you have been asked to read this. It is not meant that way.
Most of us have been asked to "do their homework", or something along those lines, at some
time in their posting career, found this kind of advice useful, and are thus sharing it.
I have been using Linux forums for many years.
These days, I am happy to be able to return at least a little to the community.
Sometimes I might overestimate my knowledge of a particular problem -
but I believe that
problems are solved
by combinig efforts, and the least I can do is to help clarify things.
If a topic is active, it gets many forum member's attention, and believe me,
they are just waiting for you to contribute that bit of information that enables
them to help.
Others have been writing about this before, and instead of repeating all of it, I'll just give you some
The Help Vampire: A Spotters Guide
(my favorite) and, although I wouldn't consider myself a hacker,
How To Ask Questions The Smart Way
(the overall tone here is harsher).
Linux Is Not Windows - Don't let the title mislead you,
this contains much more than just a comparison, a good read even for people who've been using Linux for years.
In addition to the wonderful resources mentioned above -
Here's some things to always consider - before and during asking for help:
- You are going to have to read a lot.
For me this is a major aspect. I don't like it. My eyes hurt,
and my attention span is short.
So make yourself comfortable reading, especially from your terminal. Make it Your Home.
Use a nicer font. Use a larger font. Try different color schemes.
In most web browsers, the key combinations Ctrl-plus/minus/zero adjust font sizes.
Use syntax highlighting for your text editor.
- Define your problem - define your search terms
What are you searching for? Whether you are dealing with search engines or human beings,
clearly defining your problem (or your search terms) is the first thing. Better then I ever could, others have
written about this here and
here (and onwards) and
- Try various different searches - nearest first
I don't think we have to tell you to RTFM or
but it is important that you search various places with meaningful and changing search terms.
I suggest this order:
- Search your own machine.
You'll be surprised how many resources there are already. There are
man pages. The man command has
a search function which I only found out about while writing this article, see
There's the /usr/doc/ section in your file system that has additional documentation
on many programs (often even in html!). Most commands have a -h or --help option. The
of your system can also provide you with lots of useful information.
Desktop environments and graphical applications
often have inbuilt help systems.
- Search the appropriate forum or wiki.
Usually you don't even have to open an account to do that. If you have defined your problem well, chances are it
will be easier to find the appropriate online community. It could be closely related to your
Linux distribution, or one particular piece of software, or hardware. Your distro's forum is
usually your first choice. Many forums have their own wiki. Some applications don't have a forum
but have their own wiki.
Don't stop after one search, try to broaden your terms. Even if you don't find anything directly
related, you might learn something from skimming other threads.
- Search the world wide web
Do this before posting a help thread. If you have proceded as suggested you probably have a better
understanding of the problem and can create better search terms. Suggestions: I often prepend my
searches with "linux". I usually don't add anything like "does not work" or "broken" - 99% of all
cases, people post because they have a problem.
None of the above was any help? Doesn't matter! You learned a lot along the way and can now
define your problem much better. So now it's time to make that forum post.
Here's some things to consider when asking for help:
- Read your forum's Forum Guidelines.
All forums have them, most have them under that name. Or "Please read before posting".
They can be wiki-like pages or simple sticky threads. Finding at least one of those will be
your first task when you join a new forum. They are usually kept short, because you're meant to read it
- It is Your Job to make it all happen, not ours.
Even if I'm the Linux veteran with 10.000 forum posts, and you're the newbie writing your first,
I still can't look into your machine.
It's OK to tell us how helpless you feel (we've all been there and we're sympathetic), but it won't help solve your problem if
that is all that you do. There is no such thing as "I am just a non-technical user, you are all
uber-nerds, so why won't you help me already?". Most of us have started from zero and are getting there through
their own efforts, with a little help. Not only is the whole Linux community a two-way-street, every
forum thread is.
Provide us with meaningful output from your own computer.
It is not enough to state what your
exact problem and your hardware is - we need to see that you are able to look into it,
because nobody is going to do it all for you. If the output is more than 50 lines I expect
you to do something to filter out the meaningful part. Manually, or with something like
$ grep -i yourfilterhere /some/log/file
$ dmesg | grep -i yourfilterhere
Nobody enjoys reading hundreds of lines of log files to filter out one or two relevant entries.
This is your tedious task.
Also, take a moment to think what is relevant information and how to post it. I see this a lot with
hardware specs. Not all of us are following the latest hype and writing "the newest X5321" doesn't tell me
anything, even if it might be a very familiar term amongst game-playing teenagers. On the other hand, an all
too detailed description of all your gadgets might distract from the problem at hand, especially if more important
info, like which distro you're using and which drivers are installed, is missing. If in doubt, provide links.
Usually I am intersted in the age and approximate CPU and RAM capabilities of your computer.
- Don't just copy-paste. Don't answer in oneliners.
I have seen so many help threads where the original poster describes his problem in his first post in
some detail, receives answers from one or two people, usually asking for additional information, and
after that just provides the output asked for, adding a non-descript "still doesn't work. what next?".
That is not enough! Simple copy-pasting shows that you are not doing anything to solve your problem but
want someone else to do it for you.
- If you don't get an answer, ask yourself why.
It could be because nobody is competent enough. It could be that you haven't provided enough information to start
investigating the problem. It could be that the answer is too obvious.
As I already said, I am tired of posting the same things over and over again. So if you don't get
an answer, it could be because the answer is: "What have you done so far?" or "Read the wiki." or "Read the man page" or "Read the output
you just posted. The answer is there, right before your eyes." or "Re-read the whole thread" or...
All this can also be put together and shortened to "Do your homework."
- You asked for advice, so please do what you're told.
Somebody answers your call for help, asking for 3 things, of which you answer/do one, then complain
that it still doesn't work. Please answer each and every question to your best knowledge and ability,
but also reflect on it, try it from three different angles, try to do at least one more thing you haven't been
- Keep track of what you're changing.
Make a backup. If you change something and it doesn't work, change it back before trying something else. If a
change brings partial success, keep in mind that it could be breaking something else.
- Stay on topic. One problem at a time. Use the Enter button to increase readability.
There's no hurry.
It is not uncommon that a thread starter tells a lot about their setup, how they came to use Linux and whatnot,
making the post so cluttered that some vital information is overlooked. Or complaining about three unrelated problems.
People start answering, each trying to help with one of the three, but each with a different one... total chaos is imminent,
not only in your thread but in your computer, too.
You are managing your thread, so keep it clean!
- Stick to the facts. Don't get emotional.
This seems to happen a lot - somebody answers your call for help, but somehow it feels arrogant and condescending (like parts
of this page probably do). It most probably isn't meant that way, but even if it was, they are still trying to help you, aren't they?
Emotions don't travel well through the internet, and people tend to fill the void with what they find inside themselves.
This is my personal experience, every time i get into some communication. I learned to stick to the facts the hard way.
For similar reasons, be very careful about jokes. It may come out funny if you actually tell it to someone, but if you write
it in a forum, it may seem just disrespectful and not funny at all. Emoticons help a little, at least for me.
Please don't take these suggestions as holy law. Even the most distinguished hackers don't follow these 100% when posting.
Don't feel that you screwed up when you haven't followed all of these instructions. It's rather the other way round - if you
remembered to do at least one, there's hope. And the fact that you read all the way to the bottom of this page counts for
something in itself!