There are four ways to get help when using Unix: from external documentation such as this book, Web sites, and other similar materials; from the extensive Unix reference manuals that come with every version of Unix, including Mac OS X; from the built-in help that comes with most commands; and from other people via online discussion systems, e-mail, user groups, and, yes, calling your friends on the telephone. You are already taking the first approach, so this chapter concentrates on the other three.
The Unix reference manual is a collection of files called man pages, which are specially formatted files intended to be viewed with the man command. Unix man pages are written for an audience of experienced programmers, not for novice users, so to understand Unix man pages, you need to understand the conventions used in them.
Mac OS X comes with almost 3000 Unix man pages. Most of these are copied from the FreeBSD version of Unix, the one used to create Mac OS X's Darwin layer. Some of these pages come from Apple itself, and some come from the software that Apple acquired when it bought NeXT. As of this writing (summer 2005), Apple has made progress updating the man pages to be Darwin specific, but the job is not yet done. Fortunately, most of the man pages do not require updating; unfortunately , there is no easy way to know which ones do require it.
Command-line programs almost always provide a minimal level of built-in helpusually just enough to show you the options and arguments the command expects. Still, that is often enough to remind you of the proper way to use the command.
Help from other people is the most valuable kind, and it's available from a variety of sources. At the end of this chapter is a list of the best places to look.