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Resources for Newbies

The following resources are some of those which FreeBSD newbies have found most helpful when learning to use FreeBSD. Please send corrections and additions to

Using the FreeBSD web site

This web site is the main source of up to date information about FreeBSD. Newbies have found the following pages particularly helpful:

  • Search the Handbook and FAQ, the whole web site, or the FreeBSD mailing list archives.

  • The Documentation page has links to the Handbook and FAQ, tutorials, information about contributing to the Documentation Project, documents in languages other than English, online manual pages, and much more.

  • The Support page contains a wealth of information about FreeBSD, including mailing lists, user groups, web and FTP sites, release information, and links to some sources of UNIX® information.

Learning about FreeBSD

  • You should most probably look for the latest mainstream release. (See the Handbook for why you should not be tempted by any of the other branches.) Before you begin, carefully read the installation instructions, as well as each one of the *.TXT files in the FTP directory or on the installation CD. They are there because they contain information that you will need. Also pick up the latest errata file from the web site, in case it has been updated.

  • A number of short articles and tutorials are available. The short tutorial, For People New to Both FreeBSD and Unix, is popular with absolute beginners. You do not have to know much about anything to enjoy this one.

  • There is a lot of documentation to help for setting up ppp. You might start with the PPP and SLIP chapter of the FreeBSD Handbook and explore the ppp page for links to the other valuable information and the latest updates.

  • The Complete FreeBSD by Greg Lehey, published by O'Reilly. This book assumes minimal UNIX experience and takes the beginner step by step through each stage from installation to everything you need to know to set up and run a FreeBSD system. You also get to understand what you are doing and why.

  • The FreeBSD Handbook and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) are the main documents for FreeBSD. Essential reading, they contain a lot of material for newbies as well as some pretty advanced stuff. Do not worry if you are unable to understand the advanced sections. The handbook contains the installation instructions and also provides lists of books and on-line resources, and the FAQ has a troubleshooting section.

  • Join the FreeBSD-Questions mailing list to see the questions you were too afraid to ask, and their answers. Subscribe by filling out the following form: You can look up old questions and answers via the search page.

  • The main newsgroup for FreeBSD is comp.unix.bsd.freebsd.misc. You might want to keep an eye on comp.unix.bsd.freebsd.announce as well.

  • Manual pages are good for reference but not always the best introduction for a novice. The more you work with man pages the more familiar they become. Some are very good for newbies, so always check them out. The ppp man page, for example, is more like a tutorial.

Learning about FreeBSD-derived projects

FreeBSD is widely used as a building block for other commercial and open-source operating systems. Some of the most widely used and publicly available systems are listed below.

  • PC-BSD is a FreeBSD derivative with a graphical installer and impressive desktop tools aimed at ease of use for the casual computer user.

  • Apple's Mac OS X is based in part on FreeBSD and includes a rich UNIX® foundation in addition to the proprietary Apple user interface.

Learning about UNIX®

Many of the problems we have as newbies come from being unfamiliar with the UNIX commands, needed to fix our FreeBSD problems. Without a UNIX background you will be faced with two things to learn at once. Fortunately a lot of resources are available to make this easier.

  • The UNIX® Basics chapter of the FreeBSD Handbook covers the basic commands and functionality of FreeBSD operating system. Most of information provided in this document is also relevant for any other UNIX®-like operating system.

  • There are many easy books, such as the "Dummies" guides, in any large book shop. If you want something really easy, take a look at what is available and pick one that seems to speak your language. Pretty soon you will want to move on to a book that gives more coverage.

  • One book mentioned frequently by newbies is UNIX for the Impatient by Paul W. Abrahams and Bruce R. Larson, published by Addison-Wesley. It is intended both as a book for learning UNIX and a reference, and includes an introduction to UNIX concepts and handy chapter on using the X Window System.

  • Another popular book is UNIX Power Tools by Jerry Peek, Tim O'Reilly and Mike Loukides, published by O'Reilly and Associates. It is organized as a series of short articles each of which solves a problem, and these articles are cross-referenced to other articles with related material. Though not specifically aimed at newbies, the design makes it ideal for a newbie with a burning question or the odd few minutes to browse. More elementary material is near the front of the book, but there are short easy articles throughout.

  • A UNIX Introductory Course from Ohio State University is available online in HTML format.

  • A UNIX System Administration Course from Ohio State University is available online in HTML format.

  • UNIXhelp for Users is another introductory guide which is available in HTML at a mirror site near you, or can be installed on your own system.

  • UNIX questions are dealt with in the newsgroup comp.unix.questions and the associated FAQ from the RMIT FTP site. Newbies are likely to be most interested in sections 1 and 2 initially.

  • Another interesting newsgroup is comp.unix.user-friendly. Although this newsgroup is for discussing user-friendliness, it can contain some good information for newbies. The FAQ is also available by FTP.

  • Many other web sites hold lists of UNIX tutorials and reference material. One of the best places to start looking is the UNIX page at Yahoo!.

Learning about the X Window System

The X Window System is used with a number of operating systems, including FreeBSD. The documentation for X can be found at the X.Org Foundation web site. Beware, much of this documentation is reference material which is more likely to be difficult for newcomers to digest.

  • For basic information about installing, configuring and using the X Window System, three of the books mentioned above have sections dealing with X at beginner level: The X Window System chapter of the FreeBSD Handbook, The Complete FreeBSD, and UNIX for the Impatient.

  • Before you can get X running exactly the way you like, you will need to choose a window manager. Visit the Window Managers for X page and follow the link to the introduction to find out about window managers, then return and read "The Basics". Then go back and compare the different types that are available. (Bonus: there is another beginners guide to UNIX there too.) Most, if not all, of these window managers are available to install from the FreeBSD Ports Collection.

Helping other people

Everyone has something to contribute to the FreeBSD community, even newbies! Some are busy working with the new advocacy group and some have become involved with the Documentation Project as reviewers. Other FreeBSD newbies might have particular skills and experiences to share, either computer related or not, or just want to meet new newbies and make them feel welcome. There are always people around who help others simply because they like to.

Friends who run FreeBSD are a great resource. No book can replace chatting on the phone or across a pizza with someone who has the same interests, enjoys similar accomplishments, and faces the same challenges. If you do not have many friends who use FreeBSD, consider using your old FreeBSD CDs to create some more.

User groups are good places to meet other FreeBSD users. If there is no one nearby, you might consider starting one!

Before talking to real humans about your new skills, you might want to check the Jargon File.