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Common Difficulties

This section provides some tips for handling some of the most frequently experienced difficulties users have encountered.

Working with Strangely-Named Files

Occasionally, you may find that you have accidentally created a file that contains a character not normally found in a filename. Examples of this could include a space, a leading hyphen, or maybe a quotation mark. You may find that accessing, removing, or renaming these files can be difficult.

Here are some tips to help you:

  • Try enclosing the filename in single quotation marks, like this:
    less 'File With Spaces.txt'
  • Insert a ./ before the filename:
    less './-a strange file.txt'
  • Use wildcards:
    less File?With?Spaces.txt
  • Use a backslash before each unusual character:
    less File\ With\ Spaces.txt


One common source of trouble is the printing system in Debian. Traditionally, printing has been a powerful but complex aspect of Unix. However, Debian makes it easier. An easy way to print is with the package called magicfilter. magicfilter will ask you a few questions about your printer and then configure it for you. If you are having troubles printing, give magicfilter a try.

X Problems

Many questions revolve around X. Here are some general tips for things to try if you are having difficulties setting up the X Window system:

  • For mouse problems, run XF86Setup and try the PS/2, Microsoft, MouseSystems, and Logitech options. Most mice will fit under one of these. Also, the device for your mouse is /dev/psaux for PS/2 mice and a serial port such as /dev/ttyS0 for serial mice.
  • If you don't know what video chipset you have, try running
    SuperProbe; it can often figure this out for you.
  • If your screen doesn't have a lot of color, try selecting a different video card or tell X how much video RAM you have.
  • If your screen goes blank or has unreadable text when you start X, you probably selected an incorrect refresh rate. Go back to XF86Setup or xf86config and double-check those settings.
  • xvidtune can help if the image on the screen is shifted too far to the left or right, is too high or low, or is too narrow or wide.
  • xdpyinfo can give information about a running X session.
  • XF86Setup can set your default color depth.
  • You can select your default window manager by editing
  • /var/log/xdm-errors can contain useful information if you are having trouble getting xdm to start properly.
As a final reminder, try the XF86Setup or xf86config tools for configuring or reconfiguring X for your hardware.

John Goerzen / Ossama Othman