[TUHS] Systematic approach to command-line interfaces

Jon Steinhart jon at fourwinds.com
Mon Aug 2 03:31:31 AEST 2021

Michael Siegel writes:
> Being able to provide interactive help is exactly what the person who
> suggested grammar-based parsing to me was working on. I hadn't even
> thought about that at first. But given my recent investigation into
> built-in command documentation on Unix-like systems, I tend to think
> this would be a great enhancement – if it was implemented with a
> strict focus on not getting in the way, i.e., the user should be able
> to switch it off completely, and search-as-you-type would be opt-in, if
> provided at all.
> --
> Michael

While I agree with you in theory, I'm dubious about how it would work
in practice.  Sorry if it sounds like I've lost faith with my profession
but I'm trying to accept reality.

Where would such documentation come from?  Not wanting to reopen old
flame wars, but the fragmentation of the documentation system where some
things are man pages, some are info pages, some are random HTML files,
some are only online, some things having no documentation at all except
maybe a help message, and much of that have no actual content, is reality.
Who's going to write more documentation, and how is it going to be kept
consistent with other documentation?  Is your help system going to be
yet another fragment?

Also, we seem to be well into a "Farenheight 451" world now where a vast
number of people communicate only by photos and video.  Writing seems to
be deprecated.  I don't have confidence that any documentation would be
useful even if people wrote it.  As a current example, I'm having trouble
with a btrfs filesystem and I can't say that the btrfs-check manual page
contains any useful content.

Maybe since Microsoft "AI" is now going to write code for, not sure what
to call them, programmers doesn't seem right any more, maybe it'll write
their documentation too?

I guess what I'm saying is that it sounds like you are having some good
thoughts on a technical solution that I think will fail without also
having a social solution.  If you could somehow extract your help info
from man pages without creating a whole new documentation system it
might work in the few cases where there are good manual pages.

Wow I sound grumpy this morning.


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