How to Find FAQ Lists
revised 7 Oct 2010
Copyright © 1995–2012 by Stan Brown, Oak Road Systems
Copying: You’re welcome to print copies of this page for your own use, and to link from your own Web pages to this page. But please don’t make any electronic copies and publish them on your Web page or elsewhere.
There are lots of ways for you to get Frequently Asked Questions lists (FAQ lists). I list some of the methods that I know. Believe it or not, earlier versions of this guide told you how to get FAQs by e-mail if you didn’t have an FTP client! We’ve come a long way since then, and now I target the resources that are out on the Web.
I’ll use some specific newsgroups as examples. If you’re interested in different newsgroups, use their names instead of the ones in my examples. Just follow the same patterns of punctuation (periods and / marks). For a few newsgroups, the standard instructions won’t work; please see Special Cases below.
There are other sites and other methods beyond those that I list in
these instructions. You may want to consult the article “Introduction
to *.answers”, posted frequently in the
newsgroup. Among other things, that article lists some European
archive sites for FAQ lists and other periodic postings. If you can’t
get that article
at your site, try
Finally, there is a sort of über-FAQ that explains how Usenet itself works and how to use it best. See the section below on news.newusers.questions.
When looking for an FAQ list, first do the obvious and check the relevant newsgroup on your local news server for articles with “FAQ” or “frequently” in the subject line. If you don’t know how to check articles that your newsreader has already marked as read, ask your system administrator or an experienced user at your site, or use Google.
Next, try the newsgroup news.answers. FAQ lists
for many groups are cross-posted there, and there’s no discussion.
Subject lines often contain the names of the newsgroups (often, but
not always). For instance, all the
lists will have “misc.consumers” in their subject lines. Again, your
system administrator can tell you the commands to use in
news.answers, there is an “answers” newsgroup
for each major hierarchy:
talk.answers, and so on. These
newsgroups all work like
news.answers, but take periodic
postings only from within their own hierarchies. (A “hierarchy” is
simply newsgroups whose names all start with the same element(s).)
These newsgroups are collectively referred to as “*.answers”. As far
as I know, everything that’s posted into any of the other *.answers
groups will appear in
news.answers and vice versa, but
there may be exceptions.
Having the other *.answers groups lets you can narrow your search a
bit. If you want a FAQ on AIDS, for instance, you might scan
sci.answers rather than the much larger
news.answers—even if you don’t know which
newsgroup covers AIDS you can be pretty sure it’s somewhere in the
The articles in *.answers are posted in such a way that each version
should stay around at each site until the new version is posted. But
some sites are configured so that this does not occur. If FAQ lists
that you’re looking for have expired in
your site, you can get copies of them by FTP. (You might also want to
speak to your system administrator, suggesting that she give
news.answers and the other *.answers groups a longer
expiry time than other groups. Since they’re moderated groups with
only informational articles and no follow-ups, their
signal-to-noise ratio is far above the Usenet average.)
Google stores all articles posted to Usenet. You can use it to retrieve any FAQ lists that have been posted.
Here’s a little form to help you. If you enter the newsgroup name in the input field and submit the form, a new window will open and Google will return any articles posted in that newsgroup in the past month with the word FAQ in the subject.
If the form comes up empty, you may want to try Google’s advanced search at <http://groups.google.com/advanced_search>. Put the newsgroup name in the Newsgroup box (duh!) and FAQ in the Subject box. (You might also try a second search with “Frequently Asked Questions” in the Subject box.)
If this search comes up empty, and you’re sure you’ve typed the newsgroup name correctly, try one of the other methods in this article.
This site, fondly known as “RTFM” after the perennial cry of “Read the F---in’ Manual”, is a huge repository of Usenet wisdom. You may find things here that you’d miss through other search methods, because RTFM also contains a number of periodic informational postings that don’t have the word FAQ in their titles.
As an old-timer on Usenet, I hope you’ll indulge me in a short trip down Memory Lane before I get to the mechanics of accessing this very useful archive.
Cast your mind back to when dinosaurs ruled the earth (well, 1990 if you want to get technical). Newsgroup articles weren’t saved anywhere public, and the World Wide Web was just a few computers at CERN. Imagine! once a newsgroup article expired from your server, it was gone.>
There was no central repository of FAQ lists. If you wanted the FAQ list for a particular newsgroup, you just had to subscribe to the group and wait until the FAQ author posted the list—or be annoying and post a request for someone to send it to you. Imagine! no instant response.
Jonathan Kamens of OpenVision Technologies, Inc. (formerly of MIT’s
Project Athena, which still supports the archive) took the lead and
set up an archive of periodic postings (including FAQ lists) at
pit-manager.mit.edu around March 1991. Later, that server was renamed
rtfm.mit.edu to reflect the acronym for “Read the F---in’ Manual”.
Kamens also took the lead in creating the
newsgroup later that year, so that FAQ lists and other periodically
posted articles could more easily be found within Usenet news.
I have some additional details on chronology from Pamela Greene, one of the current moderators of *.answers (as of May 1998).
In April and May of 1991, Glenn R. Stone coordinated a discussion in
news.groupsabout creating a new newsgroup to serve as a clearinghouse for FAQs and other periodic informational postings. As Jonathan Kamens relates the story, just as that discussion had settled down and it looked like a vote would be held, Glenn disappeared. In July, Jon reopened the discussion with another RFD. The CFV for
news.answersran from August 15 to September 15, 1991, and it was newgrouped shortly thereafter.
The RFD for “*.answers” appeared in
news.groupson October 18, 1992, and the CFV for comp., misc., rec., sci., soc., and talk.answers was posted on November 19, closed on December 20.
alt.answershad been discussed in both
alt.configin parallel with the other groups’ discussion. Tim Pierce announced the result of the *.answers vote in
alt.configon January 7, 1992, and said at that time he would newgroup
alt.answersshortly after the other *.answers groups were created.
I can’t find any discussion of the creation of
de.answers. I know that
humanities.answerswas created shortly after that hierarchy was started, around 1995 I believe.
We have copies of the original RFDs, charter, etc., if you’re really interested.
Though nearly all Netters now have Web access and can get FAQ lists much more easily now, Kamens deserves more than a footnote in the history of Usenet. We owe him a very large debt of gratitude.
Historically, access to RTFM was by anonymous FTP, with e-mail access provided for those who had no FTP client. Today, all or almost all of you reading this page will have a Web browser, so I’ll just tell you about WWW and FTP links that you can select.
There are some searchable HTML versions of FAQ lists. But RTFM is the ur-source.
You can use your Web browser to access RTFM by an FTP-type link:
(If using an FTP client instead of a Web browser, select host
rtfm.mit.edu with user name
use your e-mail address as your password. Start in directory
/pub directory, whether you reached it by Web
browser or FTP client, there are two directories of interest:
usenet directory shows all newsgroups in one
directory. This is helpful if you don’t know whether your newsgroup of
interest is under
alt, for instance.
The down side is that it will take quite a while to load that
usenet-by-hierarchy directory presents the
newsgroups in a tree-like structure. For instance, if you want to
check the FAQ list for
comp.lang.c, you would change
under that, then
lang under that, and finally
c under that. It’s more hops, but each one goes
faster because each page along the way is much smaller.
Once you get to the directory for your newsgroup of interest, you’ll see a list of file names, which are the article titles with underscore (_) replacing any spaces. Yes, this makes for very long article names. Simply retrieve the one(s) that you’re interested in.
There’s another way to access the archives. This way may be more efficient
if you’re running a non-graphical FTP client, particularly if you’re
looking for an updated version of an FAQ-type article that you already
have. You’ll need the “archive-name” found just after the article’s
header. (See below for how to get archive names if you don’t know
them.) Instead of
/pub, start in the
/pub/usenet/news.answers directory, then issue a command
to get the archive-name. For example, the archive name
comp.lang.c FAQ is
C-faq/faq, so you
would issue these commands in an FTP session:
ftp rtfm.mit.edu cd /pub/usenet/news.answers get C-faq/faq
(Other subdirectories of
/pub/usenet contain periodic
postings that may not appear in
Don’t worry about the files that have a part1 and no part2; that’s just
how the directory structure is set up.
If you don’t know the archive-names of the articles that you want, you can get a list of all periodic postings that are archived in news.answers by retrieving /pub/usenet/news.answers/index (415 KB as of March 1998).
The entire directory /pub/usenet/news.announce.newusers/ is articles to retrieve and read if you want to get the best use out of Usenet. Much of the equivalent material is available in HTML as the news.newusers.questions FAQ.
If you are able
to display a list of files at the remote site but get
errors like “permission denied” or “no access” when you try to
download one of them, check to make sure that you have write
access to your local directory. (DOS and Windows users should check
that the read-only attribute is not present.) Messages like these
are probably local problems at your end, not problems at
rtfm.mit.edu. Any remote FTP error should have a
three-digit error code at the front.
RTFM is mirrored at sites around the world. You can use them if
rtfm.mit.edu is overloaded (as it often is).
RTFM lists a great many at
Please look at that list and select the mirror nearest you for fastest
In addition to the RTFM archive described in the previous section, some HTML (hypertext) versions of FAQs also exist at <http://www.faqs.org/faqs/>, Kent Landfield’s Usenet Hypertext FAQ Archive. This provides many ways to search FAQs.
Several newsgroups don’t have FAQ lists in the usual place, but do have
FAQ lists. If you know of more newsgroups that have FAQ lists but don’t
store them at
let me know.
The alt.usage.english FAQ, along with some additional documents, may be found at <http://www.alt-usage-english.org/>, which is a redirection from <http://go.to/aue>.
There are two FAQs for alt.talk.royalty. The one on the British royal and noble families (the “BritFAQ”) is at <http://www.heraldica.org/faqs/britfaq.html>, and the one covering the rest of the world is at <http://www.heraldica.org/faqs/atrfaq.htm>.
The DVD FAQ is at <http://dvddemystified.com/dvdfaq.html>.
Thanks to Nicholas G. Theodorakis, who let me know that the bionet groups have a FAQ at <http://www.bio.net/docs.html>. More specifically, Paul Hengen maintains an unofficial FAQ for bionet.molbio.methds-reagnts at <http://www-lecb.ncifcrf.gov/~pnh/FAQlist.html>.
There is no FAQ posted in the newsgroup. However the Web Design Group maintains several FAQs at <http://www.htmlhelp.com>. You can find pointers to them, and others, in my Web Resources for Web Authors.
comp.lang.c.moderated share an
FAQ list with
comp.lang.c, but it is posted only in
comp.lang.c. For Steve Summit’s masterly FAQ list about
the C language, which answers many questions about the ANSI/ISO
standard and standard C, look in the directory
There’s no FAQ list for
comp.lang.c++.moderated as such,
but there is an excellent FAQ on the C++ language.
The “C++ FAQ Lite” at
is authored by Marshall Cline.
comp.std.c++ FAQ is available at
You can get pointers to other FAQ-like documents by sending a blank mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This newsroup has no FAQ as such. However, there are several very good FAQs on CD-R and CD-RW on the Web:
If you read nothing else, read Andy McFadden’s very fine CD-Recordable FAQ: <http://www.cdrfaq.org>. I was lucky enough to find it through a reference in the newsgroup after stumbling around on my own for a few weeks, making some mistakes and creating a few coasters. McFadden’s FAQ not only answered all the questions I knew I needed answers for, it showed me some questions I should have been asking and wasn’t. Very highly recommended.
Mike Richter: Primer on CD-R <http://www.mrichter.com/cdr/primer/primer.htm>
Clive Backham: Transferring LPs to CDR: Some Advice <http://www.digitalaudio.com/fileadmin/general/Files/Transferring_LPs_to_CDR.pdf> (This is also somewhat applicable to other forms of audio input.)
This newsgroup answers questions about how Usenet works, how to post and receive answers, and so on. Its FAQ is HTMLized as NNQ Links at <http://www.anta.net/misc/nnq/>. The pages are mirrored many places, including <http://www.newsgruppen.de/nnqlinks.html>.
These newsgroups have a FAQ at <http://tolkien.slimy.com/>. In addition to answering many questions, that site also links to other Tolkien FAQs.
My own FAQ of the Rings answers questions specifically about the Rings of Power as described in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and other works.
Ben Bullock’s FAQ for this newsgroup may be found at <http://www.sljfaq.org/afaq/afaq.html>.
Visit <http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/faqs-qa.html> for the Origins FAQ, or <http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/index.html> for An Index to Creationist Claims.
Stephen Poley maintains a FAQ at <http://www.xs4all.nl/~sbpoley/ukrb.htm>.
They’re not FAQ lists, but the charters of newsgroups are a good fast way to tell what sorts of topics are or are not appropriate in a particular newsgroup. I know of two sources:A
The next-level directories are the hierarchy heads like
comp, and the level below that is the newsgroup
names. You’ll see the file names listed with “.Z” appended, which
is fine if you have the uncompress program available to you; but you
can retrieve the uncompressed form by simply omitting the “.Z”.
For example, the uncompressed charter for
comp.infosystems.www.authoring.html can be retrieved as
<ftp://ftp.isc.org/pub/usenet/control/>: Here, as with the UUnet source, you append the top-level hierarchy name and then the full newsgroup name. For example, the charter for comp.infosystems.www.authoring.html can be retrieved as <ftp://ftp.isc.org/pub/usenet/control/comp/comp.infosystems.www.authoring.html>.