10 of the best ways to get help on Linux

Just because Linux appeals to the nerdiest of nerds doesn’t mean that it can’t be extremely helpful for those who don’t want to spend a lot of time delving into the technical details of how to use various commands. In fact, Linux provides a series of tools that can help anyone master the command line or just get the task at hand done more quickly and efficiently. This post covers 10 of the best options.

man pages

You can always go to the man pages to answer usage and syntax questions you might have on a Linux command. Just type “man” followed by the name of the command (e.g., man ps), and you’ll get a lot of descriptive information. 

On the other hand, if you really just want to see some examples of how to use a particular command, the content of a man page might be a lot more than you want to comb through. In the remainder of this post, I’ll explain some other options for finding the command that you need and learning how to use it.


One of the easiest ways to find the command you need is to use the apropos command. It will fetch the primary description line from the man page of every command that includes the word that you are asking about. For example, if you’re looking for a tool that allows you to select command output based on some pattern, you might do this:

shs@firefly:~$ apropos pattern
apt-patterns (7)     - Syntax and semantics of apt search patterns
awk (1)              - pattern scanning and text processing language
dh_installtex (1)    - register Type 1 fonts, hyphenation patterns, or formats with TeX
egrep (1)            - print lines that match patterns
fc-pattern (1)       - parse and show pattern
fgrep (1)            - print lines that match patterns
gpg-check-pattern (1) - Check a passphrase on stdin against the patternfile
grep (1)             - print lines that match patterns
magic (5)            - file command's magic pattern file
mawk (1)             - pattern scanning and text processing language
nawk (1)             - pattern scanning and text processing language
patgen (1)           - generate patterns for TeX hyphenation
pcrepattern (3)      - Perl-compatible regular expressions
ptargrep (1)         - Apply pattern matching to the contents of files in a tar archive
rgrep (1)            - print lines that match patterns
Text::Glob (3pm)     - match globbing patterns against text
zipgrep (1)          - search files in a ZIP archive for lines matching a pattern

The output clearly shows a lot of commands – likely some that you’ve never used before and others unrelated to what you are hoping to do. Based on the descriptions shown, though, you should be able to find one that does just what you need.

man -k

As it turns out, the man -k command will provide the same output as apropos. You can use whichever you prefer or make your search even easier by setting up an alias like this:

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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