Arch Community Ethos

2013-11-07 19:10 UTC
  • Xyne


Let me begin with a simple analogy. It is not perfect but I think it illustrates the point clearly.

Different Linux distros are different lanes in a big swimming pool. Each lane has a different style and a different pace. You should choose the one that fits your own style and jump in that one.

Now let’s say that you decide that crawling is sexy and that you want to be a crawler, so you jump in that lane. The problem is that you can’t really swim yet, so you just flounder in the middle and stop people as they swim past you to ask for inflatable armbands. When they suggest that perhaps you should get out of the crawl lane and go play in the wading pool, you think they are being rude. In truth, you are the one who is in the wrong lane, and you are impeding everyone else. The crawl lane is not for people who can’t swim. You cannot expect everyone in the lane to adapt to your needs when the lane is clearly reserved for them, and when there are plenty of other appropropriate lanes for you.

If you jump in and all you know is how to doggy paddle, then when you ask people how to crawl they will tell you to just observe the others in the lane. Again, you think this is rude, but the truth is that you shouldn’t be in the lane if you can’t figure out the basics of crawling. After all, it’s just putting one arm over the other. If you have never crawled before then you may not think it is so simple, but if you were to just try then you would realize that it actually is, even if your technique won’t be instantly perfect. If you are not willing to try and you need an instructor to hold you afloat and teach you how to move your arms, then you should get out of the lane and take a swim class.

That doesn’t mean that the lane is reserved for olympic swimmers. Not everyone in the lane keeps the same pace, and if you jump in and start swimming laps then you will be welcome in that lane. If you need help with your technique and show others what you have tried so far, then you will get many helpful suggestions for improving it.

Of course, in any crawl lane there will always be a few rude people who swim as fast as they can to show off, who overtake others aggressively even when they cross over into the opposite lane, who splash others in adjacent lanes, and who generally make the lane unpleasant. These people will give condescending advice if you ask them about anything. They are indeed rude, but they are not representative of the lane and we admonish them to change their behavior or leave.

Forum Etiquette

I have been a member of the Arch Linux forum (and thereby the larger Arch community) for several years now. Through all of these, I have noticed a consistent trickle of new users who show up expecting to have their hand held, and who are instantly offended when nobody does. Over time, a vocal subset of these users have gone on to complain quite loudly about their alleged mistreatment by the community, and this in turn has given the Arch Linux community a bad reputation in some circles. I would like to address this.


I have been quite active in the community since I joined. I have been a Trusted User (TU) for several years, and I have now been a forum moderator for a little over half a year at the time of writing. I have also maintained this site and the growing collection of projects and scripts during this time. As such, I expect some readers will dismiss my points by claiming that I’m “one of them”, i.e. that being a part of the core community prevents me from seeing what’s wrong with the community. I don’t believe it does and I do not believe that the community is perfect. I have always been vocal, both publically and privately, about what I consider to be closed-mindedness, rudeness, and/or fanboyism among community members, including devs, TUs and forum staff. The fact that I have been banned from the forum once (while a TU) should lend weight to this point.

What Arch Expects

As I wrote above, one of the most common sources of tension comes from new user’s who show up, ask for help with something that others consider very basic or trivial, and who then get upset when they don’t get the answer they were expecting.

At the core of the issue is that Arch Linux is aimed at “competent GNU/Linux users”. What that really means though, as discussed here, is that the distro is aimed at users who do their own homework, or at least try before asking for help. If you are willing to make an effort and learn, then you will do just fine with Arch. As indicated in that thread, I had no experience with Linux before I began using Arch yet I managed, and I am not alone by a long shot. All you need is the right attitude.

Asking Questions

Wrong Questions

Arch Linux is not a handholding distro. If you just want someone to give you a list of commands that you can run without understanding what you are doing then this is not the right distro for you. If you want the community to do basic research for you to help you decide subjective questions such as which DE or which partitioning scheme you should use1, then this is not the right distro for you. If you just want a system that configures everything via a pretty GUI, then this is not the right distro for you.

Trivial questions are not rebuked because the community is elitist. They are rebuked because it shows that the person asking the question has made no effort whatsoever to answer the question him-/herself. If someone can’t be bothered to search and read a little, why should others be expected to help? Such people are help vampires, and they drain the life out of a community while simultaneously drowning out non-trivial problems.

Most of the time, these issues are covered clearly in the Arch Linux wiki, which has a very good reputation as a source of technical information that extends far beyond Arch Linux itself. Beyond that, many of the trivial questions that arise are easily answered by reading relevant (sections of) man pages. Now some people may object that understanding the wiki and the man pages is too challenging for new users and that others should help, but then we come back to the point that Arch is aimed at technically competent users or at least those who are willing to learn. If you are not prepared to roll up your sleeves and familiarize yourself with such things, then this is not the right distro for you.

Right Questions

So what kind of questions can you ask on the forum? The answer is clearly defined technical questions that show what you have tried so far. For example, if you are having trouble with a new USB camera then

I just bought a new USB camera, but when I plug it in, it doesn’t work. HELP!!!!!

is not the right way to ask a question. It provides no information that can be used to help you. What is the problem? Is the device not detected by udev? Is it a driver issue? Is it a software issue? What have you tried so far? We don’t know, because you haven’t told us. Such a thread will be closed because you have not made any effort.

The right way to ask for help with the camera would be something like

I have just bought a <model of the USB camera>. When I plug it in, I can see the following in the output of dmesg:

$ dmesg
<dmesg output>

The driver appears to be loaded in the lsmod output:

$ lsmod
<lsmod output>

But when I try to view the camera in VLC, I see the following error in the console and VLC crashes

<vlc error>

Searching for the error yields no relevant results. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Obviously not all problems will require dmesg and lsmod output. Some will require you to post configuration files, others may require you to post package versions, etc. The point is that you should provide all relevant information and tell us both what you want to do and what you have tried so far. For more suggestions, read Eric S. Raymond’s “How To Ask Questions The Smart Way”.

Topics Going Nowhere

Another thing that new users on the forum tend take the wrong way is the movement of their thread to the “Topics Going Nowhere” (TGN) thread. What you should understand is that this forum is reserved for threads without significant content and which are unlikely to lead to productive discussion. It is not the same as the “Dustbin”, which is for thread deletion. The TGN forum is there to allow threads to persist without reducing the signal-to-noise ratio of the other forums. If you are upset by your thread getting TGN’d then you should first ask yourself why it bothers you and then ask yourself what you could have done to improve the quality of the thread.

Bad Elements

Overall I honestly believe that the Arch Linux community is a very helpful and friendly community. Like any community, we have our own norms and if you show up and essentially flout them then you will not be well received. When this happens, it is you who is being rude (refer to the analogy).

Despite this, I cannot say that there are no undesirable members of the community or that everyone always behaves as we would like. The community itself has no membership card. Basically, anyone can hang out on the forum, on the IRC channel (which has a very different atmosphere compared to the forum, in my opinion) or elsewhere and claim to be a part of the community. There are members who are elitist and who will post condescending remarks in response to valid questions.2 If you dig through the forum, you will notice that I and other mods discourage such behavior. I personally have a strong adversion to it and I will not hesitate to call people out for it. They are, however, not the norm and I hope that new users will quickly realize this and ignore such replies.

Another problem, as I see it, is that there are a number of Arch Linux fanboys on other sites around the internet. Most of the time it seems that these fanboys play no role on the forum, the mailing lists etc. They seem to be limited to touting Arch on other websites, often in a very annoying way. They do not represent the community any more than any other peripheral extremist represents the core of the movement with which they are nominally associated. If you browse the Arch Linux forum you will find numerous endorsements for other distros and a general “use whatever works for you” attitude. Obviously most of us prefer Arch Linux, but we don’t run around claiming it is the best and we don’t evangelize it. In fact, the devs have clearly stated on several occasions that the goal of Arch is not to become popular but to adhere to The Arch Way. In my opinion, the fanboys who try to shove it down everyone’s throat, including their own grandparents, are idiots and they are doing a great disservice to everyone involved.

  1. It depends on your system and your needs, so no one can answer that question for you.↩︎

  2. This happens quite often due to some users’ replying without having carefully read and correctly understood the question↩︎

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