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<TITLE>The Linux Documentation Project: History</TITLE>
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<p><H2>&nbsp;Linux Documentation Project History&nbsp;</H2></p>
<h2 class="title">
Inside TLDP</h2>
<div class="submitted">
By Machtelt Garrels</div>
<div class="created">
Created 2004-03-04</div>
<div class="source_url">
Originally Created For the <a href="http://www.linuxjournal.com"><em>Linux Journal</em></a> : <a href="http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/7433">http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/7433</a>
<div class="content">
A behind-the-scenes look at the evolution of the Linux Documentation Project.
<div class="article" lang="en">
<div class="simplesect" lang="en">
<div class="titlepage">
<h2 class="title"><a name="N0x850ca00.0x857391c"></a></h2>
<p><a href="http://tldp.org" target="_top">TLDP</a> is short for The Linux Documentation Project, an
organization of volunteers authoring, reviewing and managing documents about the Linux operating system.
Documents basically come in two formats based upon their length. The shorter ones generally are called HOWTOs
(or mini-HOWTOs, if they are really short), the longer documents, called guides, deal in-depth with a Linux
<p>The number of topics discussed in these HOWTOs and guides is practically unlimited, ranging from
installing the Linux system to managing all kinds of devices, services and environments, to creating your own
system from scratch: there's something about it in TLDP, mainly thanks to <a href="vlist.html">volunteers</a> who
share their experiences. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that there are still some important topics missing from the collection.</p>
<p>All the documentation is freely available in several formats suitable for printing and on-line browsing.
The main submission language is English, but several translation efforts, including French, German, Italian, Korean and
Chinese, try to make this immense amount of information available to a wider public.</p>
<p>This is only an article, not a book. Some people who have done fantastic work are not mentioned here. I hope these people understand the context of this article and know that I am thinking about them, eventhough they are not all listed by name.</p>
<div class="simplesect" lang="en">
<div class="titlepage">
<h2 class="title"><a name="N0x850ca00.0x8573a24"></a>How to Use TLDP</h2>
<p>Linux environments tend to change at a rather high speed, so do the docs. Sooner rather than later,
submissions about new protocols and applications reach TLDP, outdating older documents. The main problem here
is TLDP maintainers usually are rather soft-hearted, so partly out of melancholy, partly out of respect and
sometimes partly because of the lack of volunteers for upgrading a document, they tend to archive
everything. Some also argue that it is better to have an outdated document than none at all.</p>
<p>Given this information, it might thus be best to stick to the following golden rules when searching the
LDP collection:</p>
<div class="itemizedlist">
<ul type="disc">
<p>1. Check the revision date on a document. If it's older than a year, don't depend on it too much (Unless, of course, we are discussing proven technology that has been around in the same form for years or decades).</p>
<p>2. Check that a document is being updated regularly; this is an extra sign that it is being maintained
<p>Most documents contain revision history information in the preface or in an appendix.</p>
<div class="simplesect" lang="en">
<div class="titlepage">
<h2 class="title"><a name="N0x850ca00.0x8573bdc"></a>How Did TLDP Get Started?</h2>
<h3>1992 - 1996</h3>
<p>As Matt Welsh, one of the co-founders, puts it: "The history of the LDP is a pretty murky memory these
days." It started in 1992, before the World Wide Web existed. It's hard to imagine how we did without HTML,
but in those days almost everything was FTP and Usenet and dial-in to a BBS was most likely. In the
beginning, most of the documentation was in one big file, split into sections, called the <span class="
emphasis"><em>Linux FAQ</em></span>.</p>
<p>Later, Matt got together with Lars Wirzenius and Michael K. Johnson, who had the idea of producing printed
Linux documentation. Michael initially started on a kernel hackers guide, Lars did the system administrator
guide and Matt wrote the first installation guide. Everything was done in LaTeX, so the only way to read
these docs in a reasonably comfortable way was either by printing them out or using a PostScript viewer.</p>
<p>But as Linux capabilities grew, it was no longer possible for one person to maintain everything. Pretty
soon, not even several people could manage the job. Thus, the HOWTOs were born, each describing a part of the
original big chunk of information. This created an easily extendible system that allows for many authors to
contribute to their areas of specialization.</p>
<p>That effort lead to the use of (Linuxdoc) SGML, which enabled the fast generation of all sorts of output formats,
including HTML, from one source file or set of files. The first tests were conducted at Sunsite (a famous
server machine at the University of North Carolina), which was the first Web site offering information about
Linux. Also, when you wanted to download Linux software, Sunsite.unc.edu was the place to go. It still
contains some kernel archives--probably by accident, there also are a lot of empty directories these
<p>Before the crash (May 2003) I was able to find, via FTP, a document referring to two maintainers of the
LDP as it was run by the end of 1994 at UNC. It pointed to Jon Magid and a mysterious Erik with no last name,
who was still at Sunsite in 1996.</p>
<p>After extended research in the dungeon server rooms of Google, we can state with almost certainty that the
mysterious Erik does have a last name after all. Most likely, we are dealing here with the Erik Troan, who
supported possibly half of the Linux users in the 1993-1996 period and later on became the Senior Director of
Engineering at Red Hat.</p>
<p>Further research revealed that sometime in 1996, Greg Hankins became the HOWTO coordinator of the LDP project. He was
the original author of the <a href="HOWTO/Serial-HOWTO.html" target="_top">Serial
HOWTO</a>, which he began maintaining in 1993; he also was one of the main contributors to the SGML-tools
development project.</p>
<div class="simplesect" lang="en">
<div class="titlepage">
<h2 class="title"><a name="N0x850ca00.0x8573dc0"></a>Growing</h2>
<h3>1996 - 1999</h3>
<p>LDP is becoming more popular by the day, and the collection was published on paper several times, in part or entirely.
LSL (now CheapBytes) was the publisher of multiple editions. They were called "The Linux Bible", "Dr. Linux",
"Linux Getting Started", "Linux the Complete Reference" and "The Linux Encyclopedia".</p>
<p>1998 saw the publication of "Linux Undercover", subtitled "Linux Secrets as Revealed by the Linux
Documentation Project". Red Hat was the first to use the new just-in-time production method. Previous printed
versions often contained stale HOWTOs, but this one essentially was printed straight from the on-line master
<p>The linuxdoc.org domain was registered and the entire Linux documentation collection moved to it
and promptly was mirrored. The relationship with iBiblio (formerly sunsite.UNC.edu) was maintained during
the romance with SGI, and the university became a mirror site. The love didn't last, however, and TLDP moved
to iBiblio again after the short SGI intermezzo. Paul Jones and his colleagues, responsible for managing TLDP
at iBilbio, were very understanding and provided a lot of support, which enabled the centralization of
resources in North Carolina.</p>
<p>Prior to the mailinglists, discussion primarily happened in the Usenet newsgroups. In 1996 the ldp-l@cornell.edu mailinglist was created. It moved to ldp-l@linux.org.au around 1998. The mailing lists were a good thing; I
remember that newsfeed in those days was generating enormous amounts of traffic and consumed--for that
time--unreasonable amounts of bandwidth. Some ISPs decided to offer only a partial feed or none at all. The ldp-l mailinglist was stopped and replaced by the <a href="http://lists.tldp.org">current lists</a> (discuss, feedback, announce, submit etc.) in 1999.</p>
<p>Lars and his crew started working on an automated system for submission and publication of updates during this period of growth, but the system was never finished.</p>
<div class="simplesect" lang="en">
<div class="titlepage">
<h2 class="title"><a name="N0x850ca00.0x8573f4c"></a>Some Serious Organizing</h2>
<h3>1999 - 2001</h3>
<p>By 1999, Guylhem Aznar was elected coordinator of the LDP. His job was to unify the LDP: servers were in operation all over the world, there were no real backup mechanisms when people were ill or unavailable. He
started by putting together a staff, a team of volunteers that could give structure to TLDP.</p>
<p>The exact configuration of the <a href="LDP-Team-19981212.htm" target="_top">core team</a> in
those days has been preserved. It was composed of a hub, consisting of one main
coordinator, plus individual FAQ, Guide and HOWTO coordinators, Greg Ferguson, Joshua Drake and Tim Bynum,
respectively. Furthermore, most translation efforts started in 1994 now are running more or less at full
speed, and people have been appointed to manage each translation. One project not listed here, although it
was among the first, is the German translation effort. As with the recent joining of some Italian
translators, it sometimes takes a while for people find one another.</p>
<p>In 1999, the project hosted eight guides, including version 1.0 of the Linux Network Administrator's Guide
and beta-1 of the Linux User's Guide. These and other documents still were written mostly in SGML or
<p>The first occurrences of DocBook were seen in 2000; DocBook now is the preferred submission format because
it enables easy generation of HTML, PS, PDF and other formats from the source files.</p>
<p>Another novelty that came with the 21st century was the creation of a versioning system. Serge
Victor and Gregory Leblanc were responsible for the setup; Serge still manages our GitHub repository. He also became
the listmaster by the end of 2000. Up until then, Debian hosted the TLDP mailing lists.</p>
<p>TLDP project was maturing and growing in every possible way. To this end, David S. Lawyer finalized the
<a href="manifesto.html" target="_top">LDP Manifesto</a>. David is still the point of contact
for all license issues.</p>
<p>A new Web site layout was probably the most visible improvement. The new millennium brought the precursor
of the site as it is today.</p>
<div class="simplesect" lang="en">
<div class="titlepage">
<h2 class="title"><a name="N0x850ca00.0x85740ac"></a>From LinuxDoc.org to TLDP.org</h2>
<h3>2001 - 2003</h3>
<p>In some documents you still can see references to the old linuxdoc.org domain. The reason for the domain
switch was not pretty, unfortunately, but as it is part of the TLDP story, it should be told.</p>
<p>As is so often the case, goodwill and kindness made selfishness rise to the occasion. Many people are
interested in TLDP, but not always for the good of the project.</p>
<p>At the time Guylhem was elected president, there was only one other candidate. Guylhem didn't want that
man to feel left out, so he trusted him to be the webmaster. TLDP lost the linuxdoc.org domain because the
webmaster managed to claim ownership of it. He also purchased the .com domain and ran a commercial Web site
on it on the back of TLDP. Needless to say, this caused a lot of friction.</p>
<p>There is another side to the story, saying that the webmaster (inadvertently or not?) failed to pay the renewal fee for the domain.</p>
<p>Anyway, a new domain had to be found, and <a href="http://tldp.org" target="_top">tldp.org</a> was short and
free. Guylhem took his responsibilities seriously, registered the domain in 2002 and moved the project to the
current domain. The team also took this opportunity to broaden the scope of the project, and they combined
the move with a restructuring operation that made the project much more efficient.</p>
<div class="simplesect" lang="en">
<div class="titlepage">
<h2 class="title"><a name="N0x850ca00.0x85741e0"></a>New Procedures</h2>
<h3>2003 - 2005</h3>
<p>But all these efforts were not enough. Ever more authors and other volunteers needed guidance, and ever
more documents had to be organized. The project hosted a lot of outdated documents by now, which became a bit
shameful. Another problem was the random publication of documents. There was so much work and not enough
people to do it, so anybody could publish almost anything. Scandal broke loose when a couple of opinionated
documents were found, containing tainted and sometimes plainly wrong information that was possibly harmful to
the readers.</p>
<p>Thus, 2003 became the year of revamping. A thorough search through the entire collection revealed more old
or doubtful documents that were taken off-line for a revision. Documents too old to be useful were moved to
the attic. Tabatha Marshall was appointed review coordinator and put together a team of reviewers. Together,
they edit new submissions: they check for technical correctness, readability and grammar and spelling errors.
Furthermore, they apply the TLDP style so as to give the collection consistency. The Weekly News was revived
and offered over RSS feed. Input from the feedback mailing list was followed up once more.
The <a href="LDP/LDP-Author-Guide/html/index.html" target="_top">Author Guide</a> was revised to list the
new procedures for publishing documents in accordance with the quality control guidelines. A HOWTO generator
was created to facilitate submissions by new authors. Beyond these visible accomplishments, hundreds of
authors are working together now, everyone of them contributing a small part to this huge project.</p>
<p>People responsible for managing projects often ask us how we do it. This is how. There is no book that
tells you how to do it. We are on a road with many bumps and ups and downs, and TLDP seemingly hangs together
with hooks and eyes--but it's there and it doesn't go away.</p>
<h3>More history</h3>
<p>As the Weekly News project also has its ups and downs and is currently in a down, we decided to take the link off the front page and make the old issues available <a href="ldpwn/">here</a>.</p>
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