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The netbook newbie's guide to Linux

One small step for Man...

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Now AA1 users will have a full working manual pages facility. If the AA1 isn't your weapon of choice, this will at least give you some idea how a command-line package installer works. And with man on board we're now all singing from the same song sheet.

Root of the file system

The root of the file system

A logical first step might be man man - those old Unix guys really loved recursion! The spacebar will page-down through the output, and the 'b' key will move you back one page. 'g' takes you to the top of the document; 'G' takes you to the bottom. A particularly useful one is '/' followed by a string, which will search through the particular man page you're on for that string - and 'n' will take you to the next occurrence. You'll find these keys also work in less, which you encountered last time.

One really convenient way to use man pages, particularly if you're a beginner, is through apropos. This command is equivalent to evoking man with the -k parameter - or, in Unix-speak, it's an alias to man -k. It'll give you a list of all the man pages relevant to some particular topic. So if you type:

apropos text

you'll get a list of everything related to text. If the list overflows the window, you can usually use Shift PgUp and Shift PgDown to hop through the pages, although this depends on the nature of the terminal application you're running this in. And alternative is to use a pipe to less:

apropos text | less

But there's a good chance that none of this will work, and apropos (or man -k) will only return "nothing appropriate", particularly if you've only just installed the man pages. This is because apropos depends on an index of man pages that doesn't yet exist. There are two ways of making this index. On the MSI Wind and the Asus Eee PC, the command is mandb. AA1 users can create the index with the command makewhatis.

Root user

Who owns Root's root folder?

In all cases, you'll need to run this command as the so-called 'superuser', root, so this might be an appropriate point to discuss exactly what we mean by this. We touched on the root question last time, because this highest privilege level was necessary in order to install new software. The word means two different things in the context of Linux. First, it's the topmost directory in the directory hierarchy, represented with '/'. It's also the user with the highest system-access privileges. 'Uppermost' is the concept uniting these two ideas, although confusingly as a user root will usually have a home directory called root, which of course is not the same as /. An additional source of confusion lies in the fact that root is also the name of a privileged group of users, of which root is usually the only member.

Next Time... we'll take a closer look at those GUI interfaces and start exploring alternatives, and we'll have more to say about those text files under the hood that define features and functions.

The Important Bits

  • apropos - the command-line application for reading manual-page summaries.
  • apt-get - the command-line application installer on most Linux systems.
  • less - Linux's answer to DOS' More command, it breaks long output listings into pages.
  • makewhatis - the command-line application for indexing manual pages on the Aspire One.
  • man - the command-line application for reading manual pages.
  • mandb - the command-line application for indexing manual pages on most Linux systems.
  • Root - the nickname for the user with full access to a Linux system. Also the name of the top of the file hierarchy, which is written as /
  • sudo - the command that gives you run a second command as if you had full access to the system.
  • yum - the Acer Aspire One's command-line application installer.

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