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The Keyboard Cabal

System administrators are like everybody else -- they try to make things easier for themselves. And when you sit in front of a keyboard all day, that can mean trying everything possible to reduce the number of keys you actually have to hit each day.

Unfortunately, that can make it difficult for the rest of us.

You've already read about `bin' and `lost+found' directories, `etc' is another seemingly interesting directory that turns out to be another place to store files used by the ftp site itself. Again, nothing of any real interest.

Then, once you get into the actual file libraries, you'll find that in many cases, files will have such non-descriptive names as `V1.1-AK.TXT'. The best known example is probably a set of several hundred files known as RFCs, which provide the basic technical and organizational information on which much of the Internet is built. These files can be found on many ftp sites, but always in a form such as `RFC101.TXT', `RFC102.TXT' and so on, with no clue whatsoever as to what information they contain.

Fortunately, almost all ftp sites have a "Rosetta Stone" to help you decipher these names. Most will have a file named `README' (or some variant) that gives basic information about the system. Then, most directories will either have a similar `README' file or will have an index that does give brief descriptions of each file. These are usually the first file in a directory and often are in the form `00INDEX.TXT'. Use the ftp command to get this file. You can then scan it online or download it to see which files you might be interested in.

Another file you will frequently see is called `ls-lgR.Z'. This contains a listing of every file on the system, but without any descriptions (the name comes from the Unix command `ls -lgR', which gives you a listing of all the files in all your directories). The `.Z' at the end means the file has been compressed, which means you will have to use a Unix un-compress command before you can read the file.

And finally, we have those system administrators who almost seem to delight in making things difficult -- the ones who take full advantage of Unix's ability to create absurdly long file names. On some FTP sites, you will see file names as long as 80 characters or so, full of capital letters, underscores and every other orthographic device that will make it almost impossible for you to type the file name correctly when you try to get it. Your secret weapon here is the mget command. Just type mget, a space, and the first five or six letters of the file name, followed by an asterisk, for example:

mget This_F*

The FTP site will ask you if you want to get the file that begins with that name. If there are several files that start that way, you might have to answer `n' a few times, but it's still easier than trying to recreate a ludicrously long file name.

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