User's Manual

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KBcaution.png Important: This is an unofficial guide for Second Life Viewer 1.23 helpfully compiled by Second Life Residents. Much of it does not apply to the current version of the SL Viewer (Viewer 2).

This "User's Manual" provides basic information about Second Life Viewer in the style of a software manual. Click the links to the right for additional topics.

To Open this Manual from within the Second Life viewer, Click the bottom toolbar Search button, All tab, then enter "User's Manual" into the Find: box, and select the first result.

This manual is written for version 1.23 of the Viewer software.


Second Life® is a virtual world, filled with thousands of 3D places to explore, that combines social interaction and 3D graphics in a unique way.

It features a huge amount of user-created content (270 TeraBytes), a convertible currency, and 750,000[1] active users doing almost everything imaginable.

In terms of virtual size and real Dollar economy, it ranks about 178th in the world, and in terms of population 160th.

The software download and account setup are free. Some activities, most notably having access to one's own virtual land, have fees.

Because this is the first virtual world of this size and complexity, the software is in continuous development. Occasional bugs, crashes, and downtime can be expected, along with frequent software updates.

What You Need

Interacting with the Second Life virtual world requires the following:

(1) A Second Life account - Before you can log in, you have to set up an Account with a first and last name, and a password. Accounts are available for people 18 years of age or older in the main Second Life area, and for those 13-17 years old in the Teen Second Life area.

Caution: Some parts of the main area contain Adult content. You must verify your account in order to visit these areas.

(2) A Broadband Internet connection - A speed of 500 kilobits per second is the default software bandwidth. As a service with real time interaction, low latency (ping time) is important, preferably below 500 ms. Although satellite and terrestrial wireless are not officially supported, it is possible to use them. Dial-up is below the minimum bandwith setting of 50 kbps required for the 3D graphics, media streaming, and voice chat when logged in. Typical bandwidth usage is 50-100MB per hour, which may be a factor for users with monthly download quotas.

(3) A computer capable of running the Viewer program - The list of System Requirements gives the details, but the basic idea is that the 3D graphics are generated in real time by your computer, and it has to have a fast enough graphics chip or card to do that. In turn, the rest of the computer system has to be able to support the graphics.

The settings within the Viewer can accommodate a wide range of computer systems. If you are at the low end of the system requirements, your 3D view will not be as pretty, but it can be made to work.

Although not noted in the system requirements, about 500MB of hard drive space is needed to install the software, and store downloaded data when you run it.

(4) Installing the Viewer program - Official versions are available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Windows XP and Vista are currently supported. In addition to the official version, there are various alternate viewers.

(5) A web browser installed - Some features such as account information are accessed on the web (as is this wiki page). The viewer has a built-in web browser which can be used.

Optionally you may use:

(6) A microphone or headset for voice interaction - Visit the Voice FAQ page for details on how to set up and use this feature.

(7) Joystick or 3D mouse as a control device - See the Flycam and SpaceNavigator pages for details.

Basic Concepts

Second Life is not like any other 3D environment, and has developed its own jargon. This section covers some basic terms, and more items are defined in the Glossary.

The Grid - A set of servers hosting connected map regions plus supporting databases and networking. Together they make it possible for a user to log in, see, and interact with the 3D world. The main SL Grid is called Agni. See Grid.

Map Region - Each server on the domain runs several copies of a "Simulator" program, each of which represents one 256x256 meter area of the grid. When you move from one region to another, you are handed off from one server to another, giving the impression of a large 3D world. Currently the main (Agni) grid has about 29,000 map regions.

Technically a map region is a set of data, like a document, or spreadsheet, which can be saved, and reloaded if a server stops running. The Simulator program is constantly updating the data in real time, as users come and go, objects are added and removed, scripts running within the objects do things, etc. Map regions are also sometimes called 'sims' after the program that runs them. However, that term is somewhat incorrect if you are being precise. See sim for more details.

Viewer - The program that runs on your computer that connects via the Internet to the Second Life servers. It allows you to log in to the grid and then see and interact with objects and avatars around your current "location" in the virtual world.

Resident - An account type that most Second Life users have, with a first and last name, profile, account balance, inventory, etc. See Resident.

Avatar - The character that represents a Resident when logged into Second Life, and appears on the 3D view area. Avatars are highly customizable. See Avatar.

Linden Lab - The company that owns Second Life. See Linden Lab.

Linden - Staff member of Linden Lab. Their accounts have the last name "Linden". For example, "Philip Linden" is the account used by Philip Rosedale, founder and Chairman of Linden Lab. See Linden.

User-Created Content - Linden Lab codes the software and hosts the servers that runs Second Life. But most of the items you see when you are logged in, such as clothes, furniture, weapons, animations, and sounds, are actually created by other users. This is different than most online games, where the game designers create the content.

The Viewer

Viewer Screen with multiple items open

The Viewer program provides a central 3D interactive view, and additional menus, buttons, and windows which are opened to do specific things. It uses your graphics card or chip to generate what you see in real time. The data to produce the 3D view has to be downloaded from the servers as you need it for two reasons: First, the total data for the main grid is over 270 Terabytes and growing[2], and second, it changes constantly. This is different than online games, where most of the data is provided on an installation disk.

As you travel from place to place, the servers send you data for the area around you to a maximum 'draw distance' you have set. Within that distance, there will be an initial fast download of the area around you, then slower updates as things change.

Information on installing the Viewer and using its menus and windows are covered in these pages:

Getting Started has basic information on downloading, installing, and using the viewer software.

Viewer menu has information on the six standard drop-down menus that appear on the top left of the screen

Advanced Menu has information on the two optional drop-down menus: Advanced and Admin.

Context Menu has information on menus which appear when you right click in the 3D view area. Depending on what the mouse was pointing at (the context0, the menus will change.

Inventory Menu has information on the inventory, which is where all your items are stored. The inventory window has its own set of drop-down and context menus.

Floating Windows has information on over 60 windows which appear on top of -- or 'float' over -- the 3D view area, each for a specific purpose. Floating windows generally can be opened and closed, moved around, and resized to your taste.

The Website

Some parts of the Second Life service are accessed via the Second Life website rather than the 3D Viewer program. Both the website and viewer use the same account first and last name, and password, to log in.

Some of the more important pages include:

  • SL Forums - Discussion forums. Some Linden Staff post here. You can find answers to many questions here if you use the search function.
  • Downloads - Where to get the official Viewer software.

Things to Do

Once you have your account and viewer program set up, there are many things you can do. Where you go and what you do are up to you, much as you can surf the web and use it for whatever you choose. There is not a goal, or way to "win" Second Life as there is in some online games, even though it uses similar graphics technology.

Some of the things you can do and hints about how to go about them are listed below:

Meet People

Main Grid Map (Click to enlarge)

Second Life has users from around the world, although certain times of day are more popular for particular countries. Meeting people is as easy as showing up where they are, or joining a group.

Finding People on the Grid - The main grid (shown at right) has nearly 29,000 regions, and the online population varies from 40 to 75 thousand depending on time of day. That works out to 1.4 to 2.6 avatars per map region, which is not very crowded. To find people, you need to seek them out. This can be done in several ways:

  • Using the bottom toolbar Search button > Places tab. Search for a type of place you are interested in such as clubs, shopping, or roleplay theme. Results are listed in order by traffic score, which is player-minutes per day. High scores mean more players on average.
  • Using the World Map, with the Resident check box activated. Online users will appear as green dots. A cluster of dots is a group of users in one place.
  • Using Events and Groups: Look for something you are interested in, and show up at a scheduled event, or join a group that interests you. In a group you can see who is online from the group, start an instant message with one of them, or general group chat.
Lower Left Viewer screen

Talking to People Once you Find Them - There are numerous ways to communicate with people in Second Life. The most common include:

  • Local Chat - Text typed in the lower toolbar text entry can be seen by anyone within 20 meters.
  • Instant Messages - Private text chat with one or more people, who can be anywhere in SL.
  • Group Chat - Text chat with anyone online in a group you belong to.
  • Voice Chat - Live conversations using microphones.

Once you get to know someone, you can invite them to be your friend, and stay in closer touch.

Play Tourist

  • Travel the Grid - Second Life is a vast 3D simulated environment. A number of real world places have been rebuilt here, as well as many more that cannot exist in real life. Click the photos below for larger versions. The web links will take you to the SL Map, from which you can go directly to the location within Second Life.
  • Take Pictures - You can take high resolution photos (up to 6000x6000 pixels) in Second Life, share them with friends, email them, or do whatever else you want with them. Some people even make entire videos here (called Machinima). You even can control the sky and water to get the photo effects you want.

Gardens of Apollo (click to enlarge)

Go Shopping


There are literally millions of things you can get, from jewelry to rocketships. This includes custom parts and accessories for your avatar, vehicles, houses... everything you can find in real life, and many things you can't. Many items are available free, though the better items have a price attached. Ways to get things include:

  • In World Shopping - You can use the Search Button > All, Classified, or Places Tabs to find items. Simply enter what you are looking for in the white search query box. You can narrow the search by category or maturity rating. Once you find an item, you can teleport to the store and buy the item. This requires that you have enough funds in your Linden Dollar balance.
  • Web Based Shopping - You can shop on a website and have the items delivered instantly to your inventory in Second Life. By far the largest shopping site is the XStreetSL site, owned by Linden Lab, which also owns Second Life.
  • Items from Individuals - Many people are willing to share things they have made or accumulated with other users. You can find freebie items at places set up for that, on the shopping sites at a price of zero, or as gifts directly from other users.


Second Life has the ability to play a variety of media within the Viewer program:

Music - Many locations in the 3D world have music playing. Clubs often have live DJs, and live performance events are common. You can hear the audio stream by using the bottom right volume controls.

Video - Video streams can also be played, and can often be found in-world in the form of widescreen TVs or movie screens. A good computer and Internet connection are needed to play in-world videos well. You can even create your own videos. This one is a humorous introduction to Second Life:

Web - You can include web links in many places like your profile, and chat, and then use the internal web browser or your favorite external browser to see web content.


Be Yourself

In real life, you are born with the body you have, and change it a little. In Second Life you can totally change into whatever you want, in seconds. The 'starter bodies' you get are human, but you can change every part of it, including changing to something non-human like a robot or dragon. You can even be multiple people at once if you have a powerful enough computer.

Although some people make their avatars look like their real-life selves, this is not required. It's called "Second Life", not "Computer Animated Copy of Real Life". In your second life, you can be whatever you want to be, and change your mind and your look in a minute.

Join Groups

Groups are lists of users who want to stay in closer touch for whatever reason they choose: hobby, shared land holdings, friendship, business, whatever. You can join up to 42 "Groups" per account, and groups exist on almost every subject imaginable. If you don't find one that fits your needs, you can set one up for a small fee, as long as you get at least one other user to populate it. (Groups with only one member get deleted after a while.)

  • Searching for Groups - You can use the bottom toolbar Search button > Groups tab to search for groups by name. Many groups are free to join; others have a fee to join. Some groups are private and are not listed in search. You can also see groups listed in people's profiles if they choose to show them, and double clicking on a group name in a profile will open the group information.
  • Your Friends - Your list of friends and contacts (calling cards) is a sort of informal personal group, and your list of favorite locations (landmarks) that attract regular visitors is another.


Almost all of what you see in Second Life is created by other users. If you have the urge to be creative, there are many ways to do that here. People create items for their own enjoyment, to share with friends, or to sell. Not everyone has the time or skills to create items, and those who do, do not have time to create *everything* from scratch. So a large part of the Second Life economy is built on trading or selling items between users. By this process of "User Created Content", the Second Life world has much more variety than if the staff programmers made everything.

The Viewer program has built in 3D design and edit features. You can create anything from plywood cubes (the default object) to entire multi-region private estates. Software scripts can be put inside objects to make them do a wide variety of things. Using outside programs you can create custom shapes, animations, textures, and sounds; import them into Second life's database; and use them in your items.

The Creation Portal is a good place to start learning how to make things. "Sandboxes" are places within Second Life open to anyone to build and create items.

Virtual Land

Your inventory always stays with you, and can contain tens of thousands of items and store them at no cost, and anything that you can wear or carry can be done for free. But if you want to place items in the 3D world, be it a chair, car, house, etc. that stays in place, and have other people visit, then you need some virtual land to put it on.

There are public places called 'sandboxes' where you are allowed to place items temporarily. These are handy if you just need to unpack a box of items you got, or want to practice making things. But for something more permanent, you would need to rent or "buy" some land of your own.

"Buy" is in quotes, because Linden Lab actually owns the servers and databases which make it possible to display the virtual land. To hold land, you will need to pay fees directly or indirectly to Linden Lab. This is similar to hosting a website on a paid server. The amount of "stuff" (measured in primitive shapes or 'prims') you can place on a piece of land is proportional to the land area.

Role Play

Role-playing is one of the most popular activities in Second Life [3] Unlike real life, or even dedicated online games, which limit how much you can change things, Second Life affords endless ways to represent a given role. Many people can and do create their own role-play environments, characters, and rules.

Second Life's Culture

Put 3/4 of a million people together *anywhere* and they will develop their own unique culture and expectations. It is no different here. We have our own ways of doing things, including the words we use, how we interact, and how we behave.

  • You have the ability to do almost anything here, but there are basic rules set by Linden Lab. Those rules are described in the Community Standards. Real life laws still apply in a virtual world. Linden Lab is based in California, USA, so their local laws apply to it, and your local laws apply to you.
  • One important thing to remember is that most land in Second Life is privately owned, and the owners can set their own rules in addition to the ones imposed by Linden Lab. Just because you can do something here, does not mean you should. If you do not have some information about the rules for a particular place in Second Life, ask yourself "Would I do this in real life?"
  • You are anonymous by default, and some people like to keep it that way. They may tell you about their real life, or they may not, it's up to them. Be cautious about revealing real life details. Most people here are nice, but you never know if the next one you meet will turn out to be a jerk, fake, or serial killer.


  1. SLCC Keynote Presentation Mark Kingdon (M Linden), CEO of Linden Lab, 17 Aug 2009, slide 77
  2. SLCC Keynote Presentation Mark Kingdon (M Linden), CEO of Linden Lab, 17 Aug 2009, slide 78
  3. Role-Playing In Second Life, Mitch Wagner, Information Week blog, Apr 20, 2007

See also