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How to Find FAQ Lists

Revised 7 Oct 2010

Copyright © 1995–2017 by Stan Brown, Oak Road Systems

Contents:

Introduction

There are lots of ways for you to get Frequently Asked Questions lists (FAQ lists). I list some of the methods that I know. Believe it or not, earlier versions of this guide told you how to get FAQs by e-mail if you didn’t have an FTP client! We’ve come a long way since then, and now I target the resources that are out on the Web.

I’ll use some specific newsgroups as examples. If you’re interested in different newsgroups, use their names instead of the ones in my examples. Just follow the same patterns of punctuation (periods and / marks). For a few newsgroups, the standard instructions won’t work; please see Special Cases below.

There are other sites and other methods beyond those that I list in these instructions. You may want to consult the article “Introduction to *.answers”, posted frequently in the news.answers newsgroup. Among other things, that article lists some European archive sites for FAQ lists and other periodic postings. If you can’t get that article at your site, try Google.

Finally, there is a sort of über-FAQ that explains how Usenet itself works and how to use it best. See the section below on news.newusers.questions.


Method 1: Newsgroups on Your Server

When looking for an FAQ list, first do the obvious and check the relevant newsgroup on your local news server for articles with “FAQ” or “frequently” in the subject line. If you don’t know how to check articles that your newsreader has already marked as read, ask your system administrator or an experienced user at your site, or use Google.

Next, try the newsgroup news.answers. FAQ lists for many groups are cross-posted there, and there’s no discussion. Subject lines often contain the names of the newsgroups (often, but not always). For instance, all the misc.consumers FAQ lists will have “misc.consumers” in their subject lines. Again, your system administrator can tell you the commands to use in searching.

Along with news.answers, there is an “answers” newsgroup for each major hierarchy: comp.answers, rec.answers, sci.answers, soc.answers, talk.answers, and so on. These newsgroups all work like news.answers, but take periodic postings only from within their own hierarchies. (A “hierarchy” is simply newsgroups whose names all start with the same element(s).)

These newsgroups are collectively referred to as “*.answers”. As far as I know, everything that’s posted into any of the other *.answers groups will appear in news.answers and vice versa, but there may be exceptions.

Having the other *.answers groups lets you can narrow your search a bit. If you want a FAQ on AIDS, for instance, you might scan sci.answers rather than the much larger news.answers—even if you don’t know which newsgroup covers AIDS you can be pretty sure it’s somewhere in the “sci” hierarchy.

The articles in *.answers are posted in such a way that each version should stay around at each site until the new version is posted. But some sites are configured so that this does not occur. If FAQ lists that you’re looking for have expired in news.answers at your site, you can get copies of them by FTP. (You might also want to speak to your system administrator, suggesting that she give news.answers and the other *.answers groups a longer expiry time than other groups. Since they’re moderated groups with only informational articles and no follow-ups, their signal-to-noise ratio is far above the Usenet average.)


Method 2: Google Archives

Google stores all articles posted to Usenet. You can use it to retrieve any FAQ lists that have been posted.

Here’s a little form to help you. If you enter the newsgroup name in the input field and submit the form, a new window will open and Google will return any articles posted in that newsgroup in the past month with the word FAQ in the subject.

If the form comes up empty, you may want to try Google’s advanced search at <http://groups.google.com/advanced_search>. Put the newsgroup name in the Newsgroup box (duh!) and FAQ in the Subject box. (You might also try a second search with “Frequently Asked Questions” in the Subject box.)

If this search comes up empty, and you’re sure you’ve typed the newsgroup name correctly, try one of the other methods in this article.


Method 3: rtfm.mit.edu

This site, fondly known as “RTFM” after the perennial cry of “Read the F---in’ Manual”, is a huge repository of Usenet wisdom. You may find things here that you’d miss through other search methods, because RTFM also contains a number of periodic informational postings that don’t have the word FAQ in their titles.

As an old-timer on Usenet, I hope you’ll indulge me in a short trip down Memory Lane before I get to the mechanics of accessing this very useful archive.

Historical Note

Cast your mind back to when dinosaurs ruled the earth (well, 1990 if you want to get technical). Newsgroup articles weren’t saved anywhere public, and the World Wide Web was just a few computers at CERN. Imagine! once a newsgroup article expired from your server, it was gone.>

There was no central repository of FAQ lists. If you wanted the FAQ list for a particular newsgroup, you just had to subscribe to the group and wait until the FAQ author posted the list—or be annoying and post a request for someone to send it to you. Imagine! no instant response.

Jonathan Kamens of OpenVision Technologies, Inc. (formerly of MIT’s Project Athena, which still supports the archive) took the lead and set up an archive of periodic postings (including FAQ lists) at pit-manager.mit.edu around March 1991. Later, that server was renamed rtfm.mit.edu to reflect the acronym for “Read the F---in’ Manual”. Kamens also took the lead in creating the news.answers newsgroup later that year, so that FAQ lists and other periodically posted articles could more easily be found within Usenet news.

I have some additional details on chronology from Pamela Greene, one of the current moderators of *.answers (as of May 1998).

In April and May of 1991, Glenn R. Stone coordinated a discussion in news.groups about creating a new newsgroup to serve as a clearinghouse for FAQs and other periodic informational postings. As Jonathan Kamens relates the story, just as that discussion had settled down and it looked like a vote would be held, Glenn disappeared. In July, Jon reopened the discussion with another RFD. The CFV for news.answers ran from August 15 to September 15, 1991, and it was newgrouped shortly thereafter.

The RFD for “*.answers” appeared in news.groups on October 18, 1992, and the CFV for comp., misc., rec., sci., soc., and talk.answers was posted on November 19, closed on December 20. alt.answers had been discussed in both news.groups and (mainly) alt.config in parallel with the other groups’ discussion. Tim Pierce announced the result of the *.answers vote in alt.config on January 7, 1992, and said at that time he would newgroup alt.answers shortly after the other *.answers groups were created.

I can’t find any discussion of the creation of de.answers. I know that humanities.answers was created shortly after that hierarchy was started, around 1995 I believe.

We have copies of the original RFDs, charter, etc., if you’re really interested.

Though nearly all Netters now have Web access and can get FAQ lists much more easily now, Kamens deserves more than a footnote in the history of Usenet. We owe him a very large debt of gratitude.

How to Access RTFM

Historically, access to RTFM was by anonymous FTP, with e-mail access provided for those who had no FTP client. Today, all or almost all of you reading this page will have a Web browser, so I’ll just tell you about WWW and FTP links that you can select.

There are some searchable HTML versions of FAQ lists. But RTFM is the ur-source.

You can use your Web browser to access RTFM by an FTP-type link: <ftp://rtfm.mit.edu/pub/>. (If using an FTP client instead of a Web browser, select host rtfm.mit.edu with user name anonymous and use your e-mail address as your password. Start in directory /pub.)

Under the /pub directory, whether you reached it by Web browser or FTP client, there are two directories of interest:

Once you get to the directory for your newsgroup of interest, you’ll see a list of file names, which are the article titles with underscore (_) replacing any spaces. Yes, this makes for very long article names. Simply retrieve the one(s) that you’re interested in.

There’s another way to access the archives. This way may be more efficient if you’re running a non-graphical FTP client, particularly if you’re looking for an updated version of an FAQ-type article that you already have. You’ll need the “archive-name” found just after the article’s header. (See below for how to get archive names if you don’t know them.) Instead of /pub, start in the /pub/usenet/news.answers directory, then issue a command to get the archive-name. For example, the archive name of the comp.lang.c FAQ is C-faq/faq, so you would issue these commands in an FTP session:

    ftp rtfm.mit.edu
    cd /pub/usenet/news.answers
    get C-faq/faq

(Other subdirectories of /pub/usenet contain periodic postings that may not appear in news.answers.) Don’t worry about the files that have a part1 and no part2; that’s just how the directory structure is set up.

If you don’t know the archive-names of the articles that you want, you can get a list of all periodic postings that are archived in news.answers by retrieving /pub/usenet/news.answers/index (415 KB as of March 1998).

The entire directory /pub/usenet/news.announce.newusers/ is articles to retrieve and read if you want to get the best use out of Usenet. Much of the equivalent material is available in HTML as the news.newusers.questions FAQ.

If you are able to display a list of files at the remote site but get errors like “permission denied” or “no access” when you try to download one of them, check to make sure that you have write access to your local directory. (DOS and Windows users should check that the read-only attribute is not present.) Messages like these are probably local problems at your end, not problems at rtfm.mit.edu. Any remote FTP error should have a three-digit error code at the front.

RTFM is mirrored at sites around the world. You can use them if rtfm.mit.edu is overloaded (as it often is). RTFM lists a great many at <ftp://rtfm.mit.edu/pub/usenet/news.answers/news-answers/introduction>. Please look at that list and select the mirror nearest you for fastest access.


Method 4: World Wide Web

In addition to the RTFM archive described in the previous section, some HTML (hypertext) versions of FAQs also exist at <http://www.faqs.org/faqs/>, Kent Landfield’s Usenet Hypertext FAQ Archive. This provides many ways to search FAQs.


Special Cases

Several newsgroups don’t have FAQ lists in the usual place, but do have FAQ lists. If you know of more newsgroups that have FAQ lists but don’t store them at rtfm.mit.edu, please let me know.

alt.usage.english

The alt.usage.english FAQ, along with some additional documents, may be found at <http://www.alt-usage-english.org/>, which is a redirection from <http://go.to/aue>.

alt.talk.royalty

There are two FAQs for alt.talk.royalty. The one on the British royal and noble families (the “BritFAQ”) is at <http://www.heraldica.org/faqs/britfaq.html>, and the one covering the rest of the world is at <http://www.heraldica.org/faqs/atrfaq.htm>.

alt.video.dvd, rec.video.dvd.*

The DVD FAQ is at <http://dvddemystified.com/dvdfaq.html>.

bionet.*

Thanks to Nicholas G. Theodorakis, who let me know that the bionet groups have a FAQ at <http://www.bio.net/docs.html>. More specifically, Paul Hengen maintains an unofficial FAQ for bionet.molbio.methds-reagnts at <http://www-lecb.ncifcrf.gov/~pnh/FAQlist.html>.

comp.infosystems.www.authoring.html

There is no FAQ posted in the newsgroup. However the Web Design Group maintains several FAQs at <http://www.htmlhelp.com>. You can find pointers to them, and others, in my Web Resources for Web Authors.

comp.std.c and comp.lang.c.moderated

comp.std.c and comp.lang.c.moderated share an FAQ list with comp.lang.c, but it is posted only in comp.lang.c. For Steve Summit’s masterly FAQ list about the C language, which answers many questions about the ANSI/ISO standard and standard C, look in the directory <ftp://rtfm.mit.edu/pub/usenet/comp.lang.c>.

comp.std.c++ and comp.lang.c++.moderated

There’s no FAQ list for comp.lang.c++.moderated as such, but there is an excellent FAQ on the C++ language. The “C++ FAQ Lite” at <http://www.parashift.com/c++-faq-lite/> is authored by Marshall Cline.

The comp.std.c++ FAQ is available at <http://www.comeaucomputing.com/csc/faq.html>.

You can get pointers to other FAQ-like documents by sending a blank mail to c++-help@netlab.cs.rpi.edu.

comp.sys.ibm.pc.hardware.cd-rom

This newsroup has no FAQ as such. However, there are several very good FAQs on CD-R and CD-RW on the Web:

news.newusers.questions

This newsgroup answers questions about how Usenet works, how to post and receive answers, and so on. Its FAQ is HTMLized as NNQ Links at <http://www.anta.net/misc/nnq/>. The pages are mirrored many places, including <http://www.newsgruppen.de/nnqlinks.html>.

rec.arts.books.tolkien, alt.fan.tolkien

These newsgroups have a FAQ at <http://tolkien.slimy.com/>. In addition to answering many questions, that site also links to other Tolkien FAQs.

My own FAQ of the Rings answers questions specifically about the Rings of Power as described in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and other works.

sci.lang.japan

Ben Bullock’s FAQ for this newsgroup may be found at <http://www.sljfaq.org/afaq/afaq.html>.

talk.origins

Visit <http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/faqs-qa.html> for the Origins FAQ, or <http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/index.html> for An Index to Creationist Claims.

uk.rec.birdwatching

Stephen Poley maintains a FAQ at <http://www.xs4all.nl/~sbpoley/ukrb.htm>.


Newsgroup Charters

They’re not FAQ lists, but the charters of newsgroups are a good fast way to tell what sorts of topics are or are not appropriate in a particular newsgroup. I know of two sources:A


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