The Art of RTFM

I always get asked how I know the things that I know in the UNIX/Linux world, and my reply is a very common one: RTFM. It has somewhat become a misnomer, or perhaps seen as brute way to send off newcomers to the UNIX world, but I think that this is misleading. There is an argument that it is more efficient to use a GUI browser to find the same information, and this is where I usually attempt to make my claim.

Resources on the Internet are all well and good, but you do run the risk that they may not be consistent. On the other hand, the authors of the manpages follow a strict framework, in which to deliver the information that one is seeking, thereby guaranteeing consistency. Therefore, it is simply a matter of knowing how to “RTFM” than anything else. I do recognize, that this “soft” skill comes with time, but there are “training wheels” per se.

For example, one can start by sticking to a single source of truth, when researching about a UNIX command. Here, I recommend the Arch wiki, as it is the manpages on steroids. Eventually, one should take the plunge and peruse the manpages properly (i.e. on the command line), and there is no greater resource than the OpenBSD manpages.

OpenBSD’s manpages are well organized, full of examples, and you will learn a thing or two about the command. Moreover, Canonical’s layout for manpages are also very readable and as an added benefit, you can use their dman shell script to peruse the manpages in the terminal, without downloading them unto your box. This is particularly a good choice, if you’re running a vm on a cloud, or an ephemeral docker image.

Regardless of the methods I mentioned, you should still find a way to gain this skill, as there will be a time when you will find yourself with no Internet connection, and things need to get done. The benefits you will gain by the power of RTFM cannot be overstated, and it shows that you value the developer or team of developers that took the time to write them.

Happy hacking!

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