“Get into the habbit of reading source docs”

The great thing about Linux is that all the definitive documentation (including the source code) comes with the OS.

You know, I’m finding that for a lot of the “beginner” linux distro’s, this is not true. Yes, the source is available but it doesn’t come with the OS.

Granted, not everyone wants to fill their harddrives with source tarballs or SRPMs on the off chance they might want to read them, but only a few distro’s I know come with source, and those are not necessarily for noob’s. the main example that comes to mind is Gentoo (since it’s a “ports”-like distribution). This is not to wax lyrical on the benefits of Gentoo for learning Linux (Gentoo has many weaknesses in that regard too, among its inappropriateness as a general OS for noob’s), just that it’s the only one I’ve found where the source comes with the OS.

Other distro’s with source “available” are Debian and Fedora (on extra CDs you have to download, and Fedora locks the source into SRPMs which is another learning hurdle to leap over, especially bad if all you want to do is read the source comments, or documentation not included in the binary RPM). It makes me feel like a 2nd-class citizen, that the source is somehow “open” but you have to know the secret handshake to get at it.

All of this, just to say: while reading source docs is a laudable habbit and I share your wish to encourage it, I can also see how it is difficult for most Linux noob’s to form this habbit so long as the source doesn’t actually come with the OS, which for a great many distro’s it does not. The extra steps to download (and in many cases extract from SRPMs) the source are probably enough of a deterrent to forming this habbit.

unfortunately, hacker habbits require hacker motivation 😦


2 thoughts on ““Get into the habbit of reading source docs”

  1. Bubble Wrap: you seem to have stumbled on my rant, sorry if this is misleading you. 😉

    The thing with SRPM is that it’s basically the “pristine” (unmodified upstream) source code, with instructions to build it, and (potentially) some patches to make that code function properly in the particular distribution that the SRPM was written for (e.g. RedHat/Fedora, or OpenSuse…). There are a lot of steps involved simply in locating the SRPMs for a specific distribution (you won’t usually find SRPMs on your install CD. You may find them with the yum repositories, if your distro uses yum or apt), downloading and unpacking them. I haven’t been sufficiently motivated to figure them all out, instead I switched distros away from RPM-based ones… but don’t read that as an endorsement of non-RPM distro’s, I have many other reasons for not using Fedora and OpenSuse, and I’ve not really used any other RPM distro’s. Also my experience with Debian-like distro’s (ubuntu and knoppix) shows that, so long as your APT sources is set up properly, getting the source deb packages in these distro’s is fairly easy. As always, YMMV…

    Sometimes if I just want to browse the source code to a specific program, I just go to that program’s web site and download the original source distribution from there. Since I have no intention of compiling it, just reading, this is fine. (even compiling is usually okay, and Debian’s checkinstall helps here quite a bit)

    If I actually want to hack on something, it’s easier to get a distro-specific source so that you can see if anything weird needs to be done to get it working. The good thing about SRPMs or Deb sources is that they separate the original code and the customisations, so it’s easy to see what has been done by the package maintainer. So learning SPRM would reward your efforts there.

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