Help is at hand for Linux

Everyone needs a little help from time to time. And for anyone new to the Linux operating system, some handy help points can get you on track. This time around we look at the commonly used man and info tools, as well as the KDE and GNOME environments help applications.

Man tool

Man is one of the most helpful utilities in the Linux environment, and is used to view the manual page for a utility or application under Linux. The information provided by man can include command line switches, the purpose and functionality of a program, and any related tools that may be useful. To try man, type the following into a terminal:

$ man man

This will display the manual page for the man command. The parameter supplied after the man command specifies the page to look up. Try looking up the manual page for some other Linux commands such as ls, cp and rm.

Man can also provide information on other parts of the Linux system. Many configuration files have their own manual page specifying the format required. Man can also be used to determine the syntax of many core functions for the C programming language. The man utility can search the manual pages on your system for keywords, which can help you locate a particular manual page. To try searching with man, use the following command:

$ man -k lilo

On my system, this outputs the following:

lilo (8) - install boot loader lilo.conf [lilo] (5) - configuration file for lilo

This output indicates there are two manual pages that contain the keyword “lilo” and they are named lilo and lilo.conf. The number that follows the manual page name is the section in which the manual page is stored. Occasionally you may come across two man pages with an identical name, but they will be stored in different sections. To view each of these manual pages, you must specify a section by using the following command: $ man -S 5 lilo.conf

The standard sections for man pages are as follows. Your system may have extra sections or may organise these sections differently, depending on your distribution.

Info tool

Info is a documentation system used to provide more detailed information than that offered by the man command. Info pages can contain hypertext links to other info pages. The info system works in a similar way to man, but the range of applications offering info pages is much smaller than those with manual pages. To use the info tool, type the following command in a terminal:

$ info info

This will display the info page for the info command. The page can be navigated using the arrow keys. Hyperlinks are preceded by an “*” character and can be followed by moving the cursor over the link and pressing the key.

GNOME help

GNOME includes a graphical help application that is capable of viewing documentation written specifically for GNOME, other GNOME applications, and man and info pages. To start the GNOME help browser, locate it in the GNOME menu or type in a terminal:

$ gnome-help

Navigating the GNOME help browser is very similar to using a Web browser, for example, hyperlinks are displayed in blue. A search tool, capable of searching all documentation supported by the GNOME help browser, is included and can be accessed by clicking the Index button.

KDE help

KDE also includes a graphical help application. Its documentation is far more comprehensive than that provided by GNOME, at this stage. Extensive documentation of the K Desktop Environment is included along with tutorials and other helpful items. The KDE help browser is also capable of viewing man and info pages. To start the KDE help browser, locate it in the K menu or type in a terminal:

$ khelpcenter

The K Help Center interface is organised into two columns. Categories and specific documents are organised on the left, while the current document is displayed on the right. No search facility has been included within the K Help Center, which can make finding the right document difficult. A find utility is included to search within individual documents.

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Alastair Cousins

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