Inside TLDP

A behind-the-scenes look at the evolution of the Linux Documentation Project.

TLDP 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 feature.

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. Name any topic, there's something about it in TLDP, mainly thanks to volunteers who share their experiences.

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 and Chinese, try to make this immense amount of information available to a wider public.

How to Use TLDP

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.

Given this information, it might thus be best to stick to the following golden rules when searching the LDP collection:

  • 1. Check the revision date on a document. If it's older than a year, don't depend on it too much.

  • 2. Check that a document is being updated regularly; this is an extra sign that it is being maintained seriously.

Most documents contain revision history information in the preface.

How Did TLDP Get Started?

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 Linux FAQ.

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.

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.

That effort lead to the use of 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, was the place to go. It still contains some kernel archives--probably by accident, there also are a lot of empty directories these days.

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.

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.

Further research revealed that sometime in 1996, Greg Hankins became supervisor of the LDP project. He was the original author of the Serial HOWTO, which he began maintaining in 1993; he also was one of the main contributors to the SGML-tools development project.



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People responsible for

poker online's picture

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.


thank you

Free online dating site's picture

Thank you for this project. My website is developed in pure C++ for Linux, it does not use any MySQL/PHP databases. All database is held in RAM with STL and dumps at disk. TLDP has greatly helped me to create it. Thank you!

2004 ... wow this is some

Anonymous's picture

2004 ... wow this is some kind of historic document right here ;)
greets, Leupold Luftreiniger


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Thank you

adtech's picture

Thank you


leo12's picture

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TLDP down?

Henning Sprang's picture

What happened to the TLDP?

Since weeks, I only get Server timeouts ("Firefox can't find the server at") when trying to access the tldp.

What's up with it?


Inside TLDP: setting things straight

Anonymous's picture

- According to an excerpt from the mailinglist archive that was sent to me, Guylhem took over from Lars only in 1999.

- There are a couple of things left out, since this is an article and not a book:
* Rise and fall of the Open Source Writers Group;
* David Merrill, creator and maintainer of the LDP database and developer of LDP tools, deserves credit but is not mentioned - but on the other hand there are many others who did fantastic work and 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;

- Note the difference between old documents that are unmaintained and documents that deal with old(er) concepts or old hardware but that are still being maintained;

- I might have given the impression that Guylhem took over a floundering organization, but this is not so. Lars, his predecessor, was working on major changes, including an automated submission system for updates - however this was never finished;

- Not all printed copies of TLDP docs were copies of the complete collection.


Re: Inside TLDP: setting things straight

Anonymous's picture

The historical record of the "core team" has been preserved AND the current structure is available from:



Anonymous's picture

The LDP has been a valuable resource to many, despte the issues with outdated documents you mentioned. Thanks for all your time and effort on the project.

old documents and tldp in general

Anonymous's picture


The TLDP is actively working on improving its collection and removing anything old and redundant.

But for this kind of thing we need help, volunteer work doesn't happen by itself.

So if anyone finds spare time feel free to contribute to the TLDP....

current ltdp contributor


Bruce Byford's picture

I just contributed to TLDP about 2 weeks ago but haven't received an acknowledgment yet. Could you please look into it?

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