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*DocIndex - Troubleshooting

Getting Answers

* The Right Time
* The Right Place
* The Right Question

Related Resources:

Linux FAQ: How to get further assistance
How To Ask Questions The Smart Way

Revision / Modified: Oct. 02, 2001
Author: Tom Berger


* The Right Time

You should really try to solve your problem by yourself first. There are several reasons for this:

  1. You'll get to know GNU/Linux and your box better. Even if it turns out that you've searched in the wrong corner, you will pick up a lot of knowledge by the way that will be useful some time later.

  2. You will be able to ask questions more precisely. If you acquire some background knowledge your questions will become easier to answer.

  3. You are judged by your questions. If you repeatedly ask questions which show that you have made no effort whatsoever to solve the problem yourself, people will be less and less inclined to answer them. This has nothing to do with malevolence but it just isn't fun to answer questions that can be solved by simply taking a short look into documentation or that have already been answered again and again.

  4. It will boost your self-confidence ;-).

So what is the right time, then? It is when you have made surethat one or more of the following conditions do not apply:

  • You've made an error while invoking the program (typo, wrong path, wrong permissions).
  • The 'abnormal' behavior is covered in its documentation or by major online resources (listed in the resources section). Maybe it's a feature, not a bug...
  • The error is known and has been dealt with in an update or a fix has been posted on the programmer's homepage or Mandrakesoft.
  • Your hardware does not support the intended operation.
  • You've chosen the wrong program for your task.
  • There is an alternative program which does the same job.
  • What you are trying to do is covered by appropriate documentation.

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* The Right Place

Now if you have decided to draw upon the help of other people, the next intelligent thing to do is to consider where you want to ask your question. Rule of thumb is: the more specifically the better. Have a look at the support resources page if you have no idea where to begin. You might want to check out the other pages in the 'Resources' section, too.

For instance let's say you have a question about the KDE newsreader 'KNode'. You may ask on one of Mandrake's mailing lists and hope someone uses this program, too. The chance is fairly small, though. Since it is a KDE program the newsgroup '' would be a better place. However, depending on what you want to know exactly, '' might be even better.
If you want advice in a language other than English, look for a matching group or mailing list of your nationality, in Germany for example you would give '' a try. Another good place to check out would be the program author's homepage.

Many Usenet newsgroups maintain FAQs (lists of frequently asked questions) which are a valuable source of information and should be consultedbefore asking. The Internet FAQ Consortium maintains the Internet FAQ Archives. Google carries a vast archive of many newsgroups, so it might be another good idea to search it for FAQs.

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* The Right Question

A good question should be

  • easy to read.

    Turn on 'line wrap' in your mail/news program, since being forced to scroll sideways is annoying. Use paragraphs and line breaks, especially in longer messages. Do not use HTML.

  • easy to understand.

    Try to establish some sort of logical structure, like first paragraph: problem description, second paragraph: what you've tried so far etc. Use a dictionary if you are not a native speaker of English. Use your native language if you don't think you will get your point across using English.

  • easy to answer.

    Supply all important facts:

    • Name of operating system, distribution, architecture. Of course you can omit these in Mandrake specific forums. Otherwise remember that many GNU/Linux programs run on all kinds of Unixes and architectures.

    • Version numbers of programs involved (usually an rpm -q [name]should do). Hardware data (manufacturer, brand etc) if applicable to your problem.

    • Report the error: what you did, what you expected the program to do and what happened instead. Include error messages and configuration files (if applicable).

    • Say what you have done so far to solve the problem and what effects you observed. Otherwise people will tell you what you already know.

  • Furthermore:

    • Don't include irrelevant things like sulking or whining. Statements like 'Linux sucks, Mandrake sucks, whatever sucks' don't help anyone and indeed are of no interest whatsoever. Do it by yourself, and when you are ready to face your problem with a serene mind, go on and ask.

    • Be polite. The GNU/Linux community is run mostly by volunteers. They are not obliged to answer your question. Rude behavior will lead you nowhere.

To round it all of, here comes an example of a good question (published with author's consent):
[1] summary:

ytalk does not work.

[2] full description:

ytalk hangs at the "Waiting for connection..." stage (on both clients). to end the session, you have to suspend (^Z) and then `kill -9` the process.

[3] versions:

Mandrake 6.0 (Venus) ytalk 3.1-3 ytalk 3.1.1 [same result; went back to 3.1-3 rpm for support reasons]

[4] /etc/inetd.conf:

talk dgram udp wait root /usr/sbin/tcpd in.talkd ntalk dgram udp wait
root /usr/sbin/tcpd in.ntalkd dtalk stream tcp wait nobody
/usr/sbin/tcpd in.dtalkd # enabled dtalk just for good measure

[5] /etc/services:

talk 517/udp ntalk 518/udp

[6] other info:

we primarily need ytalk to work on the localhost; ytalk with a remote host hardly ever happens (I'm speaking past tense here about our prior setup with RH5.2).

/usr/local/etc/ytalkrc is in place

can you reproduce this problem on your box(es)? it's almost imperative that we get this working. any help would be greatly appreciated. TIA

And remember to provide feedback if it worked, or if you've found another solution!

Yes, this sounds like a lot of work. But you expect other people to work for you, i.e. answering your question, so it's only fair if you make an effort, too.

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Legal: All texts on this site are covered by the GNU Free Documentation License. Standard disclaimers of warranty apply. Copyright LSTB (Tom Berger) and Mandrakesoft 1999-2002.