Things you’ll need when seeking GNU/Linux support online

Mike Turcotte-McCusker
Mar 11, 2018
Updated • Mar 11, 2018

You broke something. Congratulations! You’re one of the millions of people across the globe, who have broken their system, perhaps without having any clue whatsoever about how you even did it...

Okay, so, you’ve tried some searches online, you’ve asked your other computer savvy friends, and you’ve also dug out your favourite hammer – just incase you need to break something. Being real though, there’s many times where you may need to seek out help online using forums, IRC, or mailing lists.

In these cases, simply asking, “I broke my ‘distronamehere’ install. Help?” won’t really do much for you. Now if you said, “I broke my nginx config, and checked the log files. I can’t seem to figure out exactly what the error is, so I’ve posted it here, if anyone can help:,” you’d get much further.

lspci linux output

The logs

So, here’s somethings you should know how to do, use, or find, when seeking online help. Obviously, there is going to be many things not covered here, because there’s more things that can break on a GNU/Linux system, than I care to count; but this should get you started so you at least look like you have some idea what you’re talking about.

/var/log/ -- Check the logs!

Now, there is going to be exceptions to this, but a pretty good rule of thumb, is that if you’re having issues with a process failing to start / restart, crashing, etc., to check /var/log/ for the respective log file you need. Many, many applications put their logs here, so I would say that first thing above all, is check the logs.

An easy way to check log files in real-time, is using the tail -f command, such as:

sudo tail -f /var/log/nginx/error.log

The tail command, will actively take over your terminal until you end the process (cntrl+c) and show you the contents of the file specified, as it happens. This is especially handy for things like Apache/Nginx, so you can watch the error log as you attempt to visit a page / do whatever, and the corresponding error.

Send terminal output directly to Pastebin

A handy little tool called pastebinit will automatically send any terminal output you pipe into it, to pastebin for you. There are a number of ways you can customize your paste if you wish, using various options added into your command, however, at its core pastebinit is very simple to use.

Again, to use the same example as before, sending the contents of /var/log/nginx/error.log this time into a pastebin link:

tail /var/log/nginx/error.log | pastebinit <---- you will receive an output that looks like this, with your pastebin link.

Note: pastebinit will automatically try to see if the distro you are using, has its own pastebin, and if it does / its known to pastebinit, it will use it. If not, it will default to

Another way to use pastebinit, is to send the contents of a file, directly:

pastebinit -i myfile.conf

Know your system

This one sounds a little redundant, but its unbelievably true...Know your system. If you’re using OpenSUSE, you need to specificy if you’re using Tumbleweed or Leap for example, or which release of Ubuntu you use. Knowing your kernel version is always handy as well:

uname -r

or a more broad spectrum of kernel information

uname -a

Or perhaps print all PCI device information, like usb ports, graphics adapters, etc:

lspci -v #remove the -v for a more simplified list

Last thoughts

If there is one tip I can give to anyone about to go ask for support somewhere, it’s do as much research into the problem as you can, first. Even if you have no idea what the actual problem is, if you at least can say, ‘I tried X and Y to find the problem.’ then whomever it is who helps you, will have some idea of where you started, your capabilities / knowledge, and at the very least, will appreciate the effort.

Things you’ll need when seeking GNU/Linux support online
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Things you’ll need when seeking GNU/Linux support online
You broke something. Congratulations! You’re one of the millions of people across the globe, who have broken their system, perhaps without having any clue whatsoever about how you even did it...
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  1. Douglas Lloyd said on March 13, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    Thanks Mike! These articles are very helpful and encourage new Linux users to dig in and learn.

    Many Windows refugees who have recently adopted a ‘nix distro soon become painfully aware of their technical ignorance. When something breaks, they find it embarrassing to seek online help.

    What should be noted is that Microsoft has steadily increased the complexity of Windows while dumbing down the interface over the years. This encouraged Windows users to become more reliant upon others for support. It also created situations where complete system reimages were performed to fix what *should* have been simple problems.

    Compare this to the vehicle you drive. Microsoft would have you drive it with the hood locked and trade it in every three years. Instead, the open source option unlocks the hood and provides the shop manual, but you *will* have to read it.

    So thanks again Mike for providing us with the tools and encouragement to jump in and get greasy fingers. After reading today’s Ghacks summary of the Windows 10 telemetry issues. I can’t imagine going back to the Windows world now.

    Doug in east TN

  2. jasray said on March 12, 2018 at 3:48 pm

    The Linux Information Project offers great resources along with a tutorial for using the man command:

    Surprised so many Linux users are having problems with Linux; it’s in direct contradiction to the same users who condemn Windows for having so many issues.

    If Linux isn’t stable enough for a user and Windows is a “pathetic” alternative, it means . . . I don’t know. A new OS is on the horizon?

  3. leanon said on March 12, 2018 at 7:56 am

    I have become fairly adept at finding answers, at lest with this last round with GNU/Linux. No doubt it helps that the internet is growing every second and search engines have improved greatly, and like what lin_win said with quality sites being on the rise. As always thanks for the info Mike, no doubt will eventually need it.

    note to self, buy another hammer, just in case.

  4. HTTPS EVERYWHERE said on March 11, 2018 at 6:02 pm


    Please change the links to HTTPS !! (We live in 2018 not 1998!!)

  5. Gerard said on March 11, 2018 at 3:06 pm

    Thanks for the article.
    Talking about “Know your system”: I have always found Inxi (I is a capital i) a very useful utility. It is a powerful command line-system information script with a lot of options.
    Inxi should be in most repositories. There is also a PPA for Ubuntu, Mint, etc. users.
    Supported options:

    Try for instance: Inxi -Fxx

    1. Gerard said on March 12, 2018 at 3:30 pm

      Correction: inxi -Fxx

  6. Joe said on March 11, 2018 at 2:24 pm

    Nice tips. Your second pastebinit example should be:

    pastebinit -i myfile.conf

    instead of pastebin -i myfile.conf

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on March 11, 2018 at 5:17 pm

      Thanks Joe!

  7. shiro said on March 11, 2018 at 1:35 pm

    Nice article, useful info. Still can’t keep it though, print to pdf of this webpage still doesn’t work. Any progress on that or have you given up?

    1. dmacleo said on March 11, 2018 at 6:44 pm

      works fine for me on chrome, waterfox, internet explorer 11 qnd ms edge browsers.

      1. shiro said on March 11, 2018 at 8:36 pm

        Strange, Pale Moon does not work at all, not does Firefox latest. Are you using any special plugins?

      2. Al CiD said on March 12, 2018 at 9:54 am

        You just have to install a PDF-Printer, that´s all

      3. shiro said on March 12, 2018 at 11:09 am

        Which of course I already have. The issue is only the first page is printed, the following pages of text disappear and the last page is printed. It shows up like that on print preview too. Both Firefox and Pale Moon do this.

      4. Al CiD said on March 12, 2018 at 11:32 am

        Try it with a clean profile, without adblocker or other plugins.
        Eventualy try another or reinstall PDF-Printer, also with cleaned profile.

      5. shiro said on March 13, 2018 at 12:31 pm

        Deinstalled Firefox, removed everything (I’m using this for testing only,so no problem). Reinstalled, no add ons. Same issue. It does NOT work on Firefox or Pale Moon, and no I won’t be forced to move to Chrome.

      6. Al CiD said on March 16, 2018 at 2:04 pm

        I tested in FireFox, FireFox ESR, Palemoon… in WIN7, WIN10 and also in Linux.
        I don´t have the problem you mentioned.
        … and no one will force you to move to Chrome, it wouldn´t make sense… ;-)

      7. shiro said on March 16, 2018 at 2:35 pm

        Well, that’s very odd. I tested on my system Win 7 and OpenSuse, clean install Firefox, I even created a VM Linux Mint KDE especially for this, the issue remains. So the only answer possible is that you have something extra installed I have not.

      8. Al CiD said on March 17, 2018 at 9:44 am

        In Windows I installed Foxit PDF-Reader with Foxit PDF-Printer, nothing else… but this should not be the reason. In Linux I don´t have nothing extra installed.

        I don´t know, but when even the print-preview doesn´t show you all pages…?

      9. shiro said on March 17, 2018 at 11:04 am

        No, in print preview I indeed only see the first page, and then the last page with the “about Ghacks” text. That’s it. Tried everything sofar with FF and Pale Moon, Linux and Win 7 to no avail. I’ll try and create another vm and try chrome on that, but even if that would work it wouldn’t be a solution :(
        BTW, I run 64bit Linux and Win7, you would not be using 32bit versions would you?

      10. Al CiD said on March 18, 2018 at 9:36 am

        All 64bit, but tried in 32bit too without issues… tested in real installations, not VM

        Try this workaround that often works: select the entire page (Ctrl+a) and then print just the selection (Ctrl+p to call up the print dialog directly, then click Selection).

        Second please check to make sure that the printer does not have any saved settings in the Printer Settings option of Firefox printing.

        Does it work?

        Another way…

    2. Chris said on March 11, 2018 at 1:59 pm

      PDF printing works fine in Chrome.

      1. shiro said on March 11, 2018 at 3:08 pm

        Ah, thanks. But I’m not going to be forced to install a piece of ** that I don’t want nor need. Sounds like the old days, when Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was forced upon web users, even if it didn’t comply to web standards. Not very Linux-like, this.

  8. lin_win said on March 11, 2018 at 11:38 am

    I mostly use Windows but have for over a decade used various Linux distros now and then. Seldom enough to forget quite a few commands, shortcuts and so on inbetween uses.

    The rise of Stack Overflow and similar high quality Q & A sites have made it very much easier to troubleshoot and fix things that previously would have stopped me completely. Just googling the error message usually leads to finding someone’s question about the issue and a solution. So while the distros themselves have of course become more user friendly I think the abundance of good solutions online is the single biggest improvement for me actually.

  9. Chris said on March 11, 2018 at 8:17 am

    When I was into Linux for a while it was so frustrating. Way too many guides/forum posts didn’t work. Sure, it happens sometimes with Windows too, specially now with Win10, but not as much IMO. I guess a reason is Linux changes(ed) faster than Windows and because of the different distributions. But often it was because the guides were incomplete, ie “you should know X so I won’t bother including it”.

    1. jstewart said on March 11, 2018 at 1:47 pm

      With a system that is completely configurable BY THE USER, not the vendor, you have to trade off ignorance of your computer’s OS. I.E. the price for powerful, configurable, user defined software is the requirement that you now must be knowledgeable about how your OS is configured.
      Or you could stay with a closed source, user hostile (privacy, security, etc.) malware such as Win10. IMHO, everyone should take a look at the industries’ response to these privacy assaults; Linux distributions that are easy to use and configure like ElementaryOS, POP!_OS, PureOS, Zorin, etc.

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