Insider Tips: Documentation in Unix and Linux

THE NOTE KEEPER

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System admins routinely refer to documentation for help with obscure command line options. In this month’s Admin Workshop, we examine the programs and formats behind the command line documentation you read everyday.

Most Linux users end up at the command line sooner or later. Command line programs are typically more flexible and efficient than their point&click counterparts. But they do have one disadvantage: innumerable options and parameters that nobody can remember. The expansive list of options often associated with a command line program makes detailed and accessible documentation invaluable to any administrator. Documentation should avoid complexity: sophisticated presentations are definitely not the kind of reference you need for software applications, and most developers prefer not to waste time prettifying their documentation. These pragmatic considerations have brought forth several forms of online documentation that represent different compromises between readability and ease of creation.

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