Bash Tutorial: Getting Help

Jeff Anderson java.emitter at
Sun Feb 2 09:28:12 MST 2014

*Getting Help*

Let's face it: you need help.  A lot of help.  Your mom has known this for
quite a while now, but you are just beginning to realize it.  So, let's
explore what you can do about it when she is not around.

*Let Me Google That For You / RTFM*

Before you ask your pressing question to the world on Facebook, mailing
lists, online forums, Twitter, and the corporate global e-mail address,
first pause and do nothing.  Before you get down on your knees and pray for
the answer to your pressing question (e.g., "What does the echo command
do?"), reconsider.  Type your query into Google first.  You may be
astonished to find out that your question has more often than not already
been answered.  Others have been confounded by the very same mystery you
are stuck on.

Here are some websites where your question has already been answered: (for the Australians)

"That's all well and good, Jeff," you say, "but I'd have to lift my hand
off my keyboard, move it to my mouse, launch a web browser, go to Google,
type in a query, and hit enter to do that.  I have enough hassle in my
increasingly short life."  Wow, I'm surprised you've read this far given
your blazing work ethic and indomitable spirit.  Fear not, if you have
Launchy installed (and Firefox as your default browser), you can do it all
from the keyboard.  Ah, all the fools and their pathetic touch screens!
Type <Alt + Space>google<Tab>Bash<Enter>.  Now <Tab><Enter>.  Bam!  You are
on the Bash Wikipedia page without the hassle of using your mouse.

If you can't figure out how to install Launchy, TRY GOOGLING IT!  If you
can't figure out how to configure it, RTFM!

*When the Internet Is Broken*

If the unthinkable occurs, you can still get help from your trusty
computer.  Fortunately, not everything has been assimilated by The Cloud

$ man bash

$ info bash

$ help <built-in>

$ <non-built-in command> --help

When I use <foo>, I don't mean type <foo> literally.  I mean "replace <foo>
with something that is a foo".  In this case, type something that is a Bash
built-in command.  If you just type 'help' by itself, you will see a list
of Bash's built-in commands.

A built-in command is a command that Bash handles by itself.  Non-built-in
commands are compiled binary executables or other scripts that exist as
separate files on your computer.  Often they will support a --help
command-line option.  Types of commands, command-line options, command-line
arguments and a bunch of other related crap will be discussed in more
detail later.

*Helping Yourself*

Well, now you've learned a bunch of useful stuff, and what did you do with
it?  Nothing.  You did not write it down.  You will not remember it.  Nice
work, Einstein!  As Gandalf would say, "Fool of a Took.  Throw yourself in
next time, and rid us of your stupidity. "  May I suggest a different
approach: write down your hard-won knowledge.  When God talked to Moses,
what did Moses do?  Wander of and say, "Thanks God, that was helpful.  I
think I can remember all that."  No!  He wrote that stuff down on a stone
tablet.  You can do the same.  Suppose you learn something interesting
about the echo command.  Maybe you could write that information in a file
like ~/Dropbox/Notes/Linux/Commands/echo.txt.  Maybe that file is in
Dropbox.  Maybe that file is indexed by Launchy so you can type <Alt +
Space>echo.txt<Enter> to get to it really, really fast.  You may end up
with a focused, quickly accessible database of knowledge pertaining to the
things most relevant in your life.  Perhaps it is even under revision
control on a machine that is backed up regularly.  Then, it really is like

Another good way to help yourself is to write what I call 'hello
projects'.  These are simple one-file projects focused on the basics of a
topic in some language.   Let's say in the near future, you are learning
about the basics of for loops in Bash.  You suddenly have the brilliant
idea to make a hello project: ~/Dropbox/Projects/Hello/Bash/
Now, whenever you forget about the basics of for loops in Bash, you can
look at a very focused simple piece of actual working code.

Over time, instead of asking people annoying questions, you will waste less
of your time answering them.  I salute you for your contribution to society.

*If All Else Fails*

If you have completely failed in your quest for knowledge, shame yourself
before your fellow human beings and ask a question.  While you will suffer
humiliation for a second, you will not remain in ignorance for an
eternity.  Asking random people at the mall will not work.  People over 60
may give you a blank look.  Small children (and many grownups) may start
crying.  Try instead a tech-oriented co-worker, the mailing list of a local
Linux User's Group, or a relevant online form.  If you are still not
getting results, try one of these:  Or just
ask your mom.

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