How to get best results from FreeBSD-questions
grog at FreeBSD.ORG
Fri Nov 28 17:02:00 PST 2003
How to get the best results from FreeBSD questions.
Last update $Date: 2003/03/09 22:09:31 $
This is a regular posting to the FreeBSD questions mailing list. If
you got it in answer to a message you sent, it means that the sender
thinks that at least one of the following things was wrong with your
- You left out a subject line, or the subject line was not appropriate.
- You formatted it in such a way that it was difficult to read.
- You asked more than one unrelated question in one message.
- You sent out a message with an incorrect date, time or time zone.
- You sent out the same message more than once.
- You sent an 'unsubscribe' message to FreeBSD-questions.
If you have done any of these things, there is a good chance that you
will get more than one copy of this message from different people.
Read on, and your next message will be more successful.
This document is also available on the web at
II: How to unsubscribe from FreeBSD-questions
III: Should I ask -questions, -newbies or -hackers?
IV: How to submit a question to FreeBSD-questions
V: How to answer a question to FreeBSD-questions
This is a regular posting aimed to help both those seeking advice from
FreeBSD-questions (the "newcomers"), and also those who answer the
questions (the "hackers").
Note that the term "hacker" has nothing to do with breaking
into other people's computers. The correct term for the latter
activity is "cracker", but the popular press hasn't found out
yet. The FreeBSD hackers disapprove strongly of cracking
security, and have nothing to do with it.
In the past, there has been some friction which stems from the
different viewpoints of the two groups. The newcomers accused the
hackers of being arrogant, stuck-up, and unhelpful, while the hackers
accused the newcomers of being stupid, unable to read plain English,
and expecting everything to be handed to them on a silver platter. Of
course, there's an element of truth in both these claims, but for the
most part these viewpoints come from a sense of frustration.
In this document, I'd like to do something to relieve this frustration
and help everybody get better results from FreeBSD-questions. In the
following section, I recommend how to submit a question; after that,
we'll look at how to answer one.
II: How to unsubscribe from FreeBSD-questions
When you subscribed to FreeBSD-questions, you got a welcome message
from Majordomo at FreeBSD.ORG. In this message, amongst other things, it
told you how to unsubscribe. Here's a typical message:
Welcome to the freebsd-questions mailing list!
If you ever want to remove yourself from this mailing list,
you can send mail to "Majordomo at FreeBSD.ORG" with the following command
in the body of your email message:
unsubscribe freebsd-questions Greg Lehey <grog at lemis.de>
Here's the general information for the list you've
subscribed to, in case you don't already have it:
FREEBSD-QUESTIONS User questions
This is the mailing list for questions about FreeBSD. You should not
send "how to" questions to the technical lists unless you consider the
question to be pretty technical.
Normally, unsubscribing is even simpler than the message suggests: you
don't need to specify your mail ID unless it is different from the one
which you specified when you subscribed.
If Majordomo replies and tells you (incorrectly) that you're not on
the list, this may mean one of two things:
1. You have changed your mail ID since you subscribed. That's where
keeping the original message from majordomo comes in handy. For
example, the sample message above shows my mail ID as
grog at lemis.de. Since then, I have changed it to
grog at lemis.com. If I were to try to remove grog at lemis.com from
the list, it would fail: I would have to specify the name with
which I joined.
2. You're subscribed to a mailing list which is subscribed to
FreeBSD-questions. If that's the case, you'll have to figure out
which one it is and get your name taken off that one. If you're
not sure which one it might be, check the headers of the
messages you receive from freebsd-questions: maybe there's a
If you've done all this, and you still can't figure out what's going
on, send a message to Postmaster at FreeBSD.org, and he will sort things
out for you. Don't send a message to FreeBSD-questions: they can't
III: Should I ask -questions, -newbies or -hackers?
Two mailing lists handle general questions about FreeBSD,
FreeBSD-questions and FreeBSD-hackers. In addition, the
FreeBSD-newbies list caters specifically for people who are new to
FreeBSD and may be having trouble getting used to the environment. In
some cases, it's not really clear which group you should ask. The
following criteria should help for 99% of all questions, however:
If the question is of a general nature, first check whether this
isn't a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ). There's a list of these
and also on your own system (once you've installed it) at
/usr/share/doc/en/books/faq/index.html. Check there, and if you
don't find an answer, ask FreeBSD-questions. Examples might be
questions about installing FreeBSD or the use of a particular
If you think the question relates to a bug, but you're not sure,
or you don't know how to look for it, send the message to
If the question relates to a bug, and you're almost sure that
it's a bug (for example, you can pinpoint the place in the code
where it happens, and you maybe have a fix), then send the
message to FreeBSD-hackers. You should also enter a problem
report with the send-pr utility.
If the question relates to enhancements to FreeBSD, and you can
make suggestions about how to implement them, then send the
message to FreeBSD-hackers.
If the question is of particularly technical nature, such as
implementation details or suggestions for improvements, then send
the message to FreeBSD-hackers.
If you're new to FreeBSD, and the message is about your own
relationship to FreeBSD, send the message to FreeBSD-newbies.
There are also a number of other specialized mailing lists, for
example FreeBSD-isp, which caters to the interests of ISPs (Internet
Service Providers) who run FreeBSD. If you happen to be an ISP, this
doesn't mean you should automatically send your questions to
FreeBSD-isp. The criteria above still apply, and it's in your
interest to stick to them, since you're more likely to get good
results that way.
IV: How to submit a question
When submitting a question to FreeBSD-questions, consider the
1. Remember that nobody gets paid for answering a FreeBSD question.
They do it of their own free will. You can influence this free
will positively by submitting a well-formulated question
supplying as much relevant information as possible. You can
influence this free will negatively by submitting an incomplete,
illegible, or rude question. It's perfectly possible to send a
message to FreeBSD-questions and not get an answer even if you
follow these rules. It's much more possible to not get an
answer if you don't. In the rest of this document, we'll look
at how to get the most out of your question to
2. Not everybody who answers FreeBSD questions reads every message:
they look at the subject line and decide whether it interests
them. Clearly, it's in your interest to specify a subject.
``FreeBSD problem'' or ``Help'' aren't enough. If you provide
no subject at all, many people won't bother reading it. If your
subject isn't specific enough, the people who can answer it may
not read it.
3. When sending a new message, well, send a new message. Don't
reply to some other message, erase the old content and change
the subject line. That leaves an In-reply-to: header which many
mail readers use to thread messages, so your message shows up as
a reply to some other message. People often delete messages a
whole thread at a time, so apart from irritating people, you
also run a chance of having the message deleted unread.
4. Format your message so that it is legible, and PLEASE DON'T
SHOUT!!!!!. We appreciate that a lot of people don't speak
English as their first language, and we try to make allowances
for that, but it's really painful to try to read a message
written full of typos or without any line breaks. A lot of
badly formatted messages come from bad mailers or badly
configured mailers. The following mailers are known to send out
badly formatted messages without you finding out about them:
Microsoft Internet Mail
As you can see, the mailers in the Microsoft world are frequent
offenders. If at all possible, use a UNIX mailer. If you must
use a mailer under Microsoft environments, make sure it is set
up correctly. Try not to use MIME: a lot of people use mailers
which don't get on very well with MIME.
For further information on this subject, check out
5. Make sure your time and time zone are set correctly. This may
seem a little silly, since your message still gets there, but
many of the people you are trying to reach get several hundred
messages a day. They frequently sort the incoming messages by
subject and by date, and if your message doesn't come before the
first answer, they may assume they missed it and not bother to
6. Don't include unrelated questions in the same message. Firstly,
a long message tends to scare people off, and secondly, it's
more difficult to get all the people who can answer all the
questions to read the message.
7. Specify as much information as possible. This is a difficult
area, and we need to expand on what information you need to
submit, but here's a start:
If you get error messages, don't say ``I get error
messages'', say (for example) ``I get the error message 'No
route to host'''.
If your system panics, don't say ``My system panicked'', say
(for example) ``my system panicked with the message 'free
If you have difficulty installing FreeBSD, please tell us
what hardware you have. In particular, it's important to
know the IRQs and I/O addresses of the boards installed in
If you have difficulty getting PPP to run, describe the
configuration. Which version of PPP do you use? What kind of
authentication do you have? Do you have a static or dynamic
IP address? What kind of messages do you get in the log file?
8. If you don't get an answer immediately, or if you don't even see
your own message appear on the list immediately, don't resend
the message. Wait at least 24 hours. The FreeBSD mailer
offloads messages to a number of subordinate mailers around the
world, and sometimes it can take several hours for the mail to
get through. And once it gets through, the one person who might
know the answer will probably just have gone to bed in his part
of the world.
9. If you do all this, and you still don't get an answer, there
could be other reasons. For example, the problem is so
complicated that nobody knows the answer, or the person who does
know the answer was offline. If you don't get an answer after,
say, a week, it might help to re-send the message. If you don't
get an answer to your second message, though, you're probably
not going to get one from this forum. Resending the same
message again and again will only make you unpopular.
To summarize, let's assume you know the answer to the following
question (yes, it's the same one in each case :-). You choose which of
these two questions you would be more prepared to answer:
I just can't get hits damn silly FereBSD system to workd, and Im really good at this tsuff, but I have never seen anythign sho difficult to install, it jst wont work whatever I try so why don't y9ou guys tell me what I doing wrong.
Subject: Problems installing FreeBSD
I've just got the FreeBSD 2.1.5 CD-ROM from Walnut Creek, and I'm
having a lot of difficulty installing it. I have a 66 MHz 486 with 16
MB of memory and an Adaptec 1540A SCSI board, a 1.2GB Quantum Fireball
disk and a Toshiba 3501XA CD-ROM drive. The installation works just
fine, but when I try to reboot the system, I get the message "Missing
V: How to follow up to a question
Often you will want to send in additional information to a question
you have already sent. The best way to do this is to reply to your
original message. This has three advantages:
1. You include the original message text, so people will know what
you're talking about. Don't forget to trim unnecessary text out,
2. The text in the subject line stays the same (you did remember to
put one in, didn't you?). Many mailers will sort messages by
subject. This helps group messages together.
3. The message reference numbers in the header will refer to the
previous message. Some mailers, such as mutt, can thread messages,
showing the exact relationships between the messages.
VI: How to answer a question
Before you answer a question to FreeBSD-questions, consider:
1. A lot of the points on submitting questions also apply to
answering questions. Read them.
2. Has somebody already answered the question? The easiest way to
check this is to sort your incoming mail by subject: then
(hopefully) you'll see the question followed by any answers, all
If somebody has already answered it, it doesn't automatically mean
that you shouldn't send another answer. But it makes sense to
read all the other answers first.
3. Do you have something to contribute beyond what has already been
said? In general, "Yeah, me too" answers don't help much,
although there are exceptions, like when somebody is describing a
problem he's having, and he doesn't know whether it's his fault or
whether there's something wrong with the hardware or software. If
you do send a "me too" answer, you should also include any further
4. Are you sure you understand the question? Very frequently, the
person who asks the question is confused or doesn't express
himself very well. Even with the best understanding of the system,
it's easy to send a reply which doesn't answer the question. This
doesn't help: you'll leave the person who submitted the question
more frustrated or confused than ever. If nobody else answers, and
you're not too sure either, you can always ask for more
5. Are you sure your answer is correct? If not, wait a day or so.
If nobody else comes up with a better answer, you can still reply
and say, for example, "I don't know if this is correct, but since
nobody else has replied, why don't you try replacing your ATAPI
CD-ROM with a frog?".
6. Unless there's a good reason to do otherwise, reply to the sender
and to FreeBSD-questions. Many people on the FreeBSD-questions
are "lurkers": they learn by reading messages sent and replied to
by others. If you take a message which is of general interest off
the list, you're depriving these people of their information. Be
careful with group replies; lots of people send messages with
hundreds of CCs. If this is the case, be sure to trim the Cc:
7. Include relevant text from the original message. Trim it to the
minimum, but don't overdo it. It should still be possible for
somebody who didn't read the original message to understand what
you're talking about.
8. Use some technique to identify which text came from the original
message, and which text you add. I personally find that prepending
``> '' to the original message works best. Leaving white space
after the ``> '' and leave empty lines between your text and the
original text both make the result more readable.
9. Put your response in the correct place (after the text to which it
replies). It's very difficult to read a thread of responses where
each reply comes before the text to which it replies.
10. Most mailers change the subject line on a reply by prepending a
text such as ``Re: ''. If your mailer doesn't do it
automatically, you should do it manually.
11. If the submitter didn't abide by format conventions (lines too
long, inappropriate subject line), please fix it. In the case of
an incorrect subject line (such as ``HELP!!??''), change the
subject line to (say) ``Re: Difficulties with sync PPP (was:
HELP!!??)''. That way other people trying to follow the thread
will have less difficulty following it.
In such cases, it's appropriate to say what you did and why you
did it, but try not to be rude. If you find you can't answer
without being rude, don't answer.
If you just want to reply to a message because of its bad format,
just reply to the submitter, not to the list. You can just send
him this message in reply, if you like.
$Id: Howto-ask-questions,v 1.4 2003/03/09 22:09:31 grog Exp $
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