groffer - display groff files and man pages on X and tty
The groffer program is the easiest way to use groff(1). It can
display arbitrary documents written in the groff language, see
groff(7), or other roff languages, see roff(7), that are
compatible to the original troff language. It finds and runs all
necessary groff preprocessors, such as gchem.
|[mode-option ...] [groff-option ...] [man-option
...] [X-option ...] [--]
The groffer program also includes many of the features for
finding and displaying the Unix manual pages
(man pages), such that it can be used as a replacement for a
man(1) program. Moreover, compressed files that can be handled by
gzip(1) or bzip2(1) are decompressed on-the-fly.
The normal usage is quite simple by supplying a file name or name
of a man page without further options. But the option handling
has many possibilities for creating special behaviors. This can be done
either in configuration files, with the shell environment variable
GROFFER_OPT, or on the command line.
The output can be generated and viewed in several different ways
available for groff. This includes the X Window System-based
groff program gxditview(1), each PostScript,
PDF, or DVI display program, a web browser by generating
HTML or XHTML in www mode, or several
text modes in text terminals.
Most of the options that must be named when running groff
directly are determined automatically for groffer, due to the
internal usage of the grog(1) program. But all parts can also be
controlled manually by arguments.
Several file names can be specified on the command-line arguments.
They are transformed into a single document in the normal way of
Option handling is done in GNU style.
Options and file names can be mixed freely. The option
“--” closes the option handling, all following
arguments are treated as file names. Long options can be abbreviated in
- breaking options
||[-h | --help]
[-v | --version]
- groffer mode options
[--x | --X]
- options related to groff
||[-T | --device
[-Z | --intermediate-output | --ditroff]
All further groff short options are accepted.
- options for man pages
- long options taken over from GNU man
[--location | --where]
Further long options of GNU man are
accepted as well.
- options mapped to X Window System Toolkit Intrinsics options
||[--bd | --bordercolor
[--bg | --background
[--bw | --borderwidth
[--fg | --foreground
[--fn | --ft | --font
- options for development
- filespec arguments
The groffer program can usually be run with very few options. But for
special purposes, it supports many options. These can be classified in 5
The filespec parameters are all arguments that are neither
an option nor an option argument. They usually mean a file name or a man
page searching scheme.
In the following, the term section_extension is used. It
means a word that consists of a man section that is optionally
followed by an extension. The name of a man section is a
single character from [1–9on], the extension is some
word. The extension is mostly lacking.
No filespec parameters means standard input.
- stands for standard input (can occur several times).
- the path name of an existing file.
- section_extension name
- search the man page name in the section with optional
- man page in the lowest man section that has
- if name is not an existing file search for the man page
name in the lowest man section.
All short options of groffer are compatible with the short
options of groff(1). All long options of groffer are
compatible with the long options of man(1).
Arguments for long option names can be abbreviated in several
ways. First, the argument is checked whether it can be prolonged as is.
Furthermore, each minus sign - is considered as a starting point for
a new abbreviation. This leads to a set of multiple abbreviations for a
single argument. For example, --de-n-f can be used as an abbreviation
for --debug-not-func, but --de-n works as well. If the
abbreviation of the argument leads to several resulting options an error is
These abbreviations are only allowed in the environment variable
GROFFER_OPT, but not in the configuration files. In configuration,
all long options must be exact.
As soon as one of these options is found on the command line it is executed,
printed to standard output, and the running groffer is terminated
thereafter. All other arguments are ignored.
The display mode and the viewer programs are determined by these options. If
none of these mode and viewer options is specified groffer tries to
find a suitable display mode automatically. The default modes are mode
pdf, mode ps, mode html, mode xhtml, mode x,
and mode dvi in the X Window System with different viewers and mode
tty with device utf8 under less on a terminal; other modes
are tested if the programs for the main default mode do not exist.
- -h | --help
- Print help information with a short explanation of options to standard
- -v | --version
- Print version information to standard output.
In the X Window System, many programs create their own window when
called. groffer can run these viewers as an independent program in
the background. As this does not work in text mode on a terminal (tty) there
must be a way to know which viewers are X Window System-based graphical
programs. The groffer script has a small amount of information on
some viewer names. If a viewer argument of the command-line chooses an
element that is recognized as an X Window System-based program in this list,
it is treated as a viewer that can run in the background. Unrecognized
viewers are not run in the background.
For each mode, you are free to choose whatever viewer you want.
That need not be some graphical viewer suitable for this mode. There is a
chance to view the output source; for example, the combination of the
options --mode=ps and --viewer=less shows the content of the
PostScript output, the source code, with the pager less.
- Equivalent to --mode=auto.
- Reset all configuration from previously processed command-line options to
the default values. This is useful to wipe out all former options of the
configuration, in GROFFER_OPT, and restart option processing using
only the rest of the command line.
- --default-modes mode1,mode2,...
- Set the sequence of modes for auto mode to the comma
separated list given in the argument. See --mode for details on
modes. Display in the default manner; actually, this means to try the
modes x, ps, and tty in this sequence.
- Equivalent to --mode=dvi. Known DVI viewers for the X Window
System include xdvi(1) and dvilx(1).
- Equivalent to --mode=groff.
- Equivalent to --mode=html.
- --mode value
- Set the display mode. The following mode values are recognized:
- Select the automatic determination of the display mode. The sequence of
modes that are tried can be set with the --default-modes option.
Useful for restoring the default mode when a different mode
was specified before.
- Display formatted input in a DVI viewer program. By default, the
formatted input is displayed with the xdvi(1) program.
- After the file determination, switch groffer to process the input
like groff(1) would do. This disables the groffer viewing
- Translate the input into HTML format and display the result in a web
browser program. By default, the existence of a sequence of standard web
browsers is tested, starting with konqueror(1) and
mozilla(1). The text HTML viewer is lynx(1). By default, the
existence of a sequence of standard web browsers is tested, starting with
konqueror(1) and mozilla(1). The text HTML viewer is
- Transform roff input files into a PDF file by using the
groff (1) device -Tpdf. This is the default PDF
generator. The generated PDF file is displayed with suitable viewer
programs, such as okular(1).
- This is the traditional pdf mode. Sometimes this mode produces more
correct output than the default PDF mode. By default, the input is
formatted by groff using the PostScript device, then it is
transformed into the PDF file format using gs(1), or
ps2pdf(1). If that's not possible, the PostScript mode (ps)
is used instead. Finally it is displayed using different viewer
- Display formatted input in a PostScript viewer program. By default, the
formatted input is displayed in one of many viewer programs.
- Format in a groff text mode and write the result to
standard output without a pager or viewer program. The text device,
latin1 by default, can be chosen with option -T.
- Format in a groff text mode and write the result to
standard output using a text pager program, even when in the X Window
- Equivalent to --mode=html.
- Display the formatted input in a native roff viewer. By default,
the formatted input is displayed with the gxditview(1) program
being distributed together with groff. But the legacy X Window
System application xditview(1) can also be chosen with the option
--viewer. The default resolution is 75dpi, but 100dpi
are also possible. The default groff device for the resolution of
75dpi is X75-12, for 100dpi it is X100. The
corresponding groff intermediate output for the actual device is
generated and the result is displayed. For a resolution of 100dpi,
the default width of the geometry of the display program is chosen to
- Equivalent to --mode=x.
- Translate the input into XHTML format, which is an XML
version of HTML. Then display the result in a web browser program,
mostly the known HTML viewers.
The following modes do not use the groffer viewing
features. They are only interesting for advanced applications.
- Generate device output with plain groff without using the special
viewing features of groffer. If no device was specified by option
-T the groff default ps is assumed.
- Output the roff source code of the input files without further
- Equivalent to --mode=pdf.
- Equivalent to --mode=pdf2.
- Equivalent to --mode=ps. Common PostScript viewers include
okular(1), evince(1), gv(1), ghostview(1), and
gs(1), In each case, arguments can be provided additionally.
- Equivalent to --mode=source.
- Equivalent to --mode=text.
- The file for the chosen mode is generated and its content is printed to
standard output. It will not be displayed in graphical mode.
- Equivalent to --mode=tty. The standard pager is less(1).
This option is equivalent to man option --pager=prog.
The option argument can be a file name or a program to be searched in
$PATH; arguments can be provided additionally.
- --viewer prog
- Choose a viewer program for actual device or mode. This can be a file name
or a program to be searched in $PATH; arguments can be provided
- Equivalent to --mode=html.
- --X | --x
- Equivalent to --mode=x. Suitable viewer programs are
gxditview(1) which is the default and xditview(1).
- Signals the end of option processing; all remaining arguments are
interpreted as filespec parameters.
Besides these, groffer accepts all short options that are
valid for the groff(1) program. All non-groffer options are
sent unmodified via grog to groff. So postprocessors, macro
packages, compatibility with classical troff, and much more
can be manually specified.
All short options of groffer are compatible with the short options of
groff(1). The following of groff options have either an
additional special meaning within groffer or make sense for normal
Because of the special outputting behavior of the groff
option -Z groffer was designed to be switched into
groff mode; the groffer viewing features are disabled
there. The other groff options do not switch the mode, but allow to
customize the formatting process.
- This generates an ASCII approximation of output in the
text modes. That could be important when the text pager has
problems with control sequences in tty mode.
- --m file
- Add file as a groff macro file. This is useful in case it
cannot be recognized automatically.
- --P opt_or_arg
- Send the argument opt_or_arg as an option or option argument to the
actual groff postprocessor.
- --T devname | --device
- This option determines groff's output device. The most important
devices are the text output devices for referring to the different
character sets, such as ascii, utf8, latin1,
utf8, and others. Each of these arguments switches groffer
into a text mode using this device, to
mode tty if the actual mode is not a
text mode. The following devname arguments are mapped
to the corresponding groffer --mode=devname option:
dvi, html, xhtml, and ps. All X*
arguments are mapped to mode x. Each other devname
argument switches to mode groff using this device.
- is equivalent to groff -X. It displays the groff intermediate
output with gxditview. As the quality is relatively bad this
option is deprecated; use --X instead because the
x mode uses an X* device for a better display.
- -Z | --intermediate-output | --ditroff
- Switch into groff mode and format the input with the
groff intermediate output without postprocessing; see
groff_out(5). This is equivalent to option --ditroff of
man, which can be used as well.
All other groff options are supported by groffer,
but they are just transparently transferred to groff without any
intervention. The options that are not explicitly handled by groffer
are transparently passed to groff. Therefore these transparent
options are not documented here, but in groff(1). Due to the
automatism in groffer, none of these groff options should be
needed, except for advanced usage.
- Start the apropos(1) command or facility of man(1) for
searching the filespec arguments within all man page
descriptions. Each filespec argument is taken for search as it is;
section specific parts are not handled, such that 7 groff
searches for the two arguments 7 and groff, with a large
result; for the filespec groff.7 nothing will be found. The
language locale is handled only when the called programs do support
this; the GNU apropos and man -k do not. The display differs
from the apropos program by the following concepts:
- Construct a groff frame similar to a man page to the
output of apropos,
- each filespec argument is searched on its own.
- The restriction by --sections is handled as well,
- wildcard characters are allowed and handled without a further option.
- Show only the apropos descriptions for data documents, these are
the man(7) sections 4, 5, and 7. Direct
section declarations are ignored, wildcards are accepted.
- Show only the apropos descriptions for development documents, these
are the man(7) sections 2, 3, and 9.
Direct section declarations are ignored, wildcards are
- Show only the apropos descriptions for documents on programs, these
are the man(7) sections 1, 6, and 8.
Direct section declarations are ignored, wildcards are
- For each filespec argument search all man pages and
display their description — or say that it is not a
man page. This is written from anew, so it differs from
man's whatis output by the following concepts
- each retrieved file name is added,
- local files are handled as well,
- the language and system locale is supported,
- the display is framed by a groff output format similar to a
- wildcard characters are allowed without a further option.
The following options were added to groffer for choosing
whether the file name arguments are interpreted as names for local files or
as a search pattern for man pages. The default is looking up
for local files.
The long options of groffer were synchronized with the long options of
GNU man. All long options of
GNU man are recognized, but not all of these
options are important to groffer, so most of them are just ignored.
These ignored man options are --catman, --troff, and
- Check the non-option command-line arguments (filespecs) first on
being man pages, then whether they represent an existing
file. By default, a filespec is first tested whether it is an
- --no-man | --local-file
- Do not check for man pages. --local-file is the
corresponding man option.
- Disable former calls of --all, --apropos*, and
In the following, the man options that have a special
meaning for groffer are documented.
If your system has GNU man
installed the full set of long and short options of the
GNU man program can be passed via the
environment variable MANOPT; see man(1).
The following long options were adapted from the corresponding X Window System
Toolkit Intrinsics options. groffer will pass them to the actual viewer
program if it is an X Window System program. Otherwise these options are
- In searching man pages, retrieve all suitable documents
instead of only one.
- -7 | --ascii
- In text modes, display ASCII translation of special
characters for critical environment. This is equivalent to groff
-mtty_char; see groff_tmac(5).
- Produce groff intermediate output. This is equivalent to
- --extension suffix
- Restrict man page search to file names that have
suffix appended to their section element. For example, in the file
name /usr/share/man/man3/terminfo.3ncurses.gz the
man page extension is ncurses.
- --locale language
- Set the language for man pages. This has the same effect,
but overwrites $LANG.
- Print the location of the retrieved files to standard error.
- Do not display the location of retrieved files; this resets a former call
to --location. This was added by groffer.
- --manpath 'dir1:dir2:...'
- Use the specified search path for retrieving man pages
instead of the program defaults. If the argument is set to the empty
string "" the search for man page is
- Set the pager program in tty mode; default is less.
This can be set with --viewer.
- --sections sec1:sec2:...
- Restrict searching for man pages to the given
sections, a colon-separated list.
- --systems sys1,sys2,...
- Search for man pages for the given operating systems; the
argument systems is a comma-separated list.
- Equivalent to --location.
Unfortunately these options use the old style of a single minus
for long options. For groffer that was changed to the standard with
using a double minus for long options, for example, groffer uses the
option --font for the X Window System Toolkit Intrinsics option
See X(7) and the manual X Toolkit Intrinsics – C
Language Interface for more details on these options and their
- --background color
- Set the background color of the viewer window.
- --bd pixels
- This is equivalent to --bordercolor.
- --bg color
- This is equivalent to --background.
- --bw pixels
- This is equivalent to --borderwidth.
- --bordercolor pixels
- Specifies the color of the border surrounding the viewer window.
- --borderwidth pixels
- Specifies the width in pixels of the border surrounding the viewer
- --display X-display
- Set the X Window System display on which the viewer program shall be
started. See section “Display Names” in X(7) for the
syntax of the argument.
- --foreground color
- Set the foreground color of the viewer window.
- --fg color
- This is equivalent to --foreground.
- --fn font_name
- This is equivalent to --font.
- --font font_name
- Set the font used by the viewer window. The argument is an X Window System
- --ft font_name
- This is equivalent to --font.
- --geometry size_pos
- Set the geometry of the display window, that means its size and its
starting position. See section “Geometry Specifications” in
X(7) for the syntax of the argument.
- --resolution value
- Set X Window System resolution in dpi (dots per inch) in some viewer
programs. The only supported dpi values are 75 and 100.
Actually, the default resolution for groffer is set to
75dpi. The resolution also sets the default device in mode
- Reverse foreground and background color of the viewer window.
- --title 'some text'
- Set the title for the viewer window.
- --xrm 'resource'
- Set the X Window System server resource to the given value.
- Enable all debugging options --debug-type. The temporary
files are kept and not deleted, the grog output is printed, the
name of the temporary directory is printed, the displayed file names are
printed, and the parameters are printed.
- Print the names of the files and man pages that are
displayed by groffer.
- Print the output of all grog commands.
- Enable two debugging informations. Print the name of the temporary
directory and keep the temporary files, do not delete them during the run
- Print the parameters, as obtained from the configuration files, from
GROFFER_OPT, and the command-line arguments.
- Print the name of the temporary directory.
- This is like --version, but without the output; no viewer is
started. This makes only sense in development.
- Just print the argument to standard error. This is good for parameter
- This is an advanced option for debugging only. Instead of displaying the
formatted input, a lot of groffer specific information is printed
to standard output:
- the output file name in the temporary directory,
- the display mode of the actual groffer run,
- the display program for viewing the output with its arguments,
- the active parameters from the config files, the arguments in
GROFFER_OPT, and the arguments of the command line,
- the pipeline that would be run by the groff program, but without
Other useful debugging options are the groff option
-Z and --mode=groff.
A filespec parameter is an argument that is not an option or option
argument. In groffer, filespec parameters are a file name or a
template for searching man pages. These input sources are
collected and composed into a single output file such as groff does.
The strange POSIX behavior to regard all
arguments behind the first non-option argument as filespec arguments
is ignored. The GNU behavior to recognize options
even when mixed with filespec arguments is used throughout. But, as
usual, the double minus argument -- ends the option handling and
interprets all following arguments as filespec arguments; so the
POSIX behavior can be easily adopted.
The options --apropos* have a special handling of
filespec arguments. Each argument is taken as a search scheme of its
own. Also a regexp (regular expression) can be used in the filespec. For
example, groffer --apropos '^gro.f$' searches groff in the
man page name, while groffer --apropos groff searches
groff somewhere in the name or description of the
All other parts of groffer, such as the normal display or
the output with --whatis have a different scheme for
filespecs. No regular expressions are used for the arguments. The
filespec arguments are handled by the following scheme.
It is necessary to know that on each system the
man pages are sorted according to their content into several
sections. The classical man sections have a single-character name,
either a digit from 1 to 9 or one of the characters n
This can optionally be followed by a string, the so-called
extension. The extension allows the storage of several
man pages with the same name in the same section. But
the extension is only rarely used; usually it is omitted. Then the
extensions are searched automatically by alphabet.
In the following, we use the name section_extension for a
word that consists of a single character section name or a
section character that is followed by an extension. Each
filespec parameter can have one of the following forms in decreasing
- No filespec parameters means that groffer waits for standard
input. The minus option - always stands for standard input; it can
occur several times. If you want to look up a man page
called - use the argument man:-.
- Next a filespec is tested whether it is the path name of an
existing file. Otherwise it is assumed to be a searching pattern for a
name.section_extension search the man page
name in man section and possibly extension of
- Now man:name searches for a man page in the
lowest man section that has a document called
- section_extension name is a pattern of 2 arguments that
originates from a strange argument parsing of the man program.
Again, this searches the man page name with
section_extension, a combination of a section character
optionally followed by an extension.
- We are left with the argument name which is not an existing file.
So this searches for the man page called name in the
lowest man section that has a document for this name.
Several file name arguments can be supplied. They are mixed by
groff into a single document. Note that the set of option arguments
must fit to all of these file arguments. So they should have at least the
same style of the groff language.
By default, the groffer program collects all input into a single file,
formats it with the groff program for a certain device, and then
chooses a suitable viewer program. The device and viewer process in
groffer is called a mode. The mode and viewer of a running
groffer program is selected automatically, but the user can also choose
it with options. The modes are selected by option the arguments of
--mode=anymode. Additionally, each of this argument
can be specified as an option of its own, such as anymode.
Most of these modes have a viewer program, which can be chosen by the option
Several different modes are offered: graphical modes for the X
Window System, text modes, and some direct
groff modes for debugging and development.
By default, groffer first tries whether
x mode is possible, then ps mode, and finally
tty mode. This mode testing sequence for
auto mode can be changed by specifying a comma separated list
of modes with the option --default-modes.
The searching for man pages and the decompression of
the input are active in every mode.
The graphical display modes work mostly in the X Window System environment (or
similar implementations within other windowing environments). The environment
variable DISPLAY and the option --display are used for
specifying the X Window System display to be used. If this environment
variable is empty, groffer assumes that the X Window System is not
running and changes to a text mode. You can change this
automatic behavior by the option --default-modes.
Known viewers for the graphical display modes and their standard X
Window System viewer programs are
- in a PDF viewer (pdf mode)
- in a web browser (html, (xhtml, or
- in a PostScript viewer (ps mode)
- X Window System roff viewers such as gxditview(1) or
xditview(1) (in x mode)
- in a DVI viewer program (dvi mode)
The pdf mode has a major advantage — it is
the only graphical display mode that allows searching for text within the
viewer; this can be a really important feature. Unfortunately, it takes some
time to transform the input into the PDF format, so it was not chosen as the
These graphical viewers can be customized by options of the X
Window System Toolkit Intrinsics. But the groffer options use a
leading double minus instead of the single minus used by the X Window System
There are two modes for text output, mode text for plain output
without a pager and mode tty for a text output on a text
terminal using some pager program.
If the variable DISPLAY is not set or empty, groffer
assumes that it should use tty mode.
In the actual implementation, the groff output device
latin1 is chosen for text modes. This can be changed by
specifying option -T or --device.
The pager to be used can be specified by one of the options
--pager and --viewer, or by the environment variable
PAGER. If all of this is not used the less(1) program with the
option -r for correctly displaying control sequences is used as the
These modes use the groffer file determination and decompression. This is
combined into a single input file that is fed directly into groff with
different strategy without the groffer viewing facilities. These modes
are regarded as advanced, they are useful for debugging and development
The source mode with option --source just
displays the decompressed input.
Option --to-stdout does not display in a graphical mode. It
just generates the file for the chosen mode and then prints its content to
The groff mode passes the input to groff
using only some suitable options provided to groffer. This enables
the user to save the generated output into a file or pipe it into another
In groff mode, the option -Z disables
post-processing, thus producing the groff intermediate output.
In this mode, the input is formatted, but not postprocessed; see
groff_out(5) for details.
All groff short options are supported by
The default behavior of groffer is to first test whether a file parameter
represents a local file; if it is not an existing file name, it is assumed to
represent the name of a man page. The following options can be
used to determine whether the arguments should be handled as file name or
man page arguments.
- forces to interpret all file parameters as filespecs for searching
- disable the man searching; so only local files are displayed.
If neither a local file nor a man page was retrieved
for some file parameter a warning is issued on standard error, but
processing is continued.
Let us now assume that a man page should be searched. The
groffer program provides a search facility for man pages.
All long options, all environment variables, and most of the functionality of
the GNU man(1) program were implemented. The
search algorithm shall determine which file is displayed for a given
man page. The process can be modified by options and environment
The only man action that is omitted in groffer are
the preformatted man pages, also called
cat pages. With the excellent performance of the actual
computers, the preformatted man pages aren't necessary any
longer. Additionally, groffer is a roff program; it wants to
read roff source files and format them itself.
The algorithm for retrieving the file for a man page
needs first a set of directories. This set starts with the so-called
man path that is modified later on by adding names of
operating system and language. This arising set is used for
adding the section directories which contain the man page
The man path is a list of directories that are
separated by colon. It is generated by the following methods.
- The environment variable MANPATH can be set.
- It can be read from the arguments of the environment variable
- The man path can be manually specified by using the option
--manpath. An empty argument disables the man page
- When no man path was set the manpath(1) program is
tried to determine one.
- If this does not work a reasonable default path from $PATH is
We now have a starting set of directories. The first way to change
this set is by adding names of operating systems. This assumes
that man pages for several operating systems are
installed. This is not always true. The names of such operating
systems can be provided by 3 methods.
- The environment variable SYSTEM has the lowest precedence.
- This can be overridden by an option in MANOPT.
- This again is overridden by the command-line option --systems.
Several names of operating systems can be given by
appending their names, separated by a comma.
The man path is changed by appending each
system name as subdirectory at the end of each directory of the set.
No directory of the man path set is kept. But if no
system name is specified the man path is left
After this, the actual set of directories can be changed by
language information. This assumes that there exist
man pages in different languages. The wanted language
can be chosen by several methods.
- Environment variable LANG.
- This is overridden by LC_MESSAGES.
- This is overridden by LC_ALL.
- This can be overridden by providing an option in MANOPT.
- All these environment variables are overridden by the command-line option
The default language can be specified by specifying one of
the pseudo-language parameters C or
POSIX. This is like deleting a formerly given
language information. The man pages in the default
language are usually in English.
Of course, the language name is determined by man.
In GNU man, it is specified in the
POSIX 1003.1 based format:
but the two-letter code in <language> is sufficient
for most purposes. If for a complicated language formulation no
man pages are found groffer searches the country part
consisting of these first two characters as well.
The actual directory set is copied thrice. The language
name is appended as subdirectory to each directory in the first copy of the
actual directory set (this is only done when a language information is
given). Then the 2-letter abbreviation of the language name is
appended as subdirectories to the second copy of the directory set (this is
only done when the given language name has more than 2 letters). The third
copy of the directory set is kept unchanged (if no language
information is given this is the kept directory set). These maximally 3
copies are appended to get the new directory set.
We now have a complete set of directories to work with. In each of
these directories, the man files are separated in sections.
The name of a section is represented by a single character, a digit
between 1 and 9, or the character o or n, in
For each available section, a subdirectory
man<section> exists containing all man files for
this section, where <section> is a single character as
described before. Each man file in a section directory has the
where <extension> and <compression> are optional.
<name> is the name of the man page that is also
specified as filespec argument on the command line.
The extension is an addition to the section. This postfix
acts like a subsection. An extension occurs only in the file name,
not in name of the section subdirectory. It can be specified on the
On the other hand, the compression is just an information
on how the file is compressed. This is not important for the user, such that
it cannot be specified on the command line.
There are 4 methods to specify a section on the command
- Environment variable MANSECT
- Command line option --sections
- Appendix to the name argument in the form
- Preargument before the name argument in the form <section>
It is also possible to specify several sections by
appending the single characters separated by colons. One can imagine that
this means to restrict the man page search to only some
sections. The multiple sections are only possible for
MANSECT and --sections.
If no section is specified all sections are searched
one after the other in the given order, starting with
section 1, until a suitable file is found.
There are 4 methods to specify an extension on the command
line. But it is not necessary to provide the whole extension name, some
abbreviation is good enough in most cases.
- Environment variable EXTENSION
- Command line option --extension
- Appendix to the <name>.<section> argument in the form
- Preargument before the name argument in the form
For further details on man page searching, see
The program has a decompression facility. If standard input or a file that was
retrieved from the command line parameters is compressed with a format that is
supported by either gzip(1) or bzip2(1) it is decompressed
on-the-fly. This includes the GNU .gz,
.bz2, and the traditional .Z compression. The program displays
the concatenation of all decompressed input in the sequence that was specified
on the command line.
The groffer program supports many system variables, most of them by
courtesy of other programs. All environment variables of groff(1) and
GNU man(1) and some standard system variables
- This is an uncompressed file for the man page
groff in section 1. It can be called
sh# groffer groff
No section is specified here, so all sections should be
searched, but as section 1 is searched first this file will
be found first. The file name is composed of the following components.
/usr/share/man/ must be part of the man path; the
subdirectory man1/ and the part .1 stand for the
section; groff is the name of the
- The file name is composed of the following components.
/usr/local/share/man must be part of the man path;
the subdirectory man7/ and the part .7 stand for the
section; groff is the name of the man page;
the final part .gz stands for a compression with gzip(1). As
the section is not the first one it must be specified as well. This
can be done by one of the following commands.
sh# groffer groff.7
sh# groffer 7 groff
sh# groffer --sections=7 groff
- Here /usr/local/man must be in man path; the
subdirectory man1/ and the file name part .1 stand for
section 1; the name of the man page is
ctags; the section has an extension emacs21; and the file is
compressed as .bz2 with bzip2(1). The file can be viewed
with one of the following commands
sh# groffer ctags.1e
sh# groffer 1e ctags
sh# groffer --extension=e --sections=1 ctags
where e works as an abbreviation for the extension
- The directory /usr/man is now part of the man path;
then there is a subdirectory for an operating system name
linux/; next comes a subdirectory de/ for the German
language; the section names man7 and .7 are
known so far; man is the name of the man page; and
.Z signifies the compression that can be handled by gzip(1).
We want now show how to provide several values for some options. That is
possible for sections and operating system names. So we use
as sections 5 and 7 and as system names
linux and aix. The command is then
sh# groffer --locale=de --sections=5:7 --systems=linux,aix man
sh# LANG=de MANSECT=5:7 SYSTEM=linux,aix groffer man
The following variables have a special meaning for groffer.
- Store options for a run of groffer. The options specified in this
variable are overridden by the options given on the command line. The
content of this variable is run through the shell builtin
“eval”, so arguments containing whitespace or special shell
characters should be quoted. Do not forget to export this variable,
otherwise it does not exist during the run of groffer.
The groffer program internally calls groff, so all environment
variables documented in groff(1) are internally used within
groffer as well. The following variable has a direct meaning for the
- If set, this variable indicates that the X Window System is running.
Testing this variable decides on whether graphical or text output is
generated. This variable should not be changed by the user carelessly, but
it can be used to start the graphical groffer on a remote X Window
System terminal. For example, depending on your system, groffer can
be started on the second monitor by the command
sh# DISPLAY=:0.1 groffer what.ever &
- If one of these variables is set (in the above sequence), its content is
interpreted as the locale, the language to be used, especially when
retrieving man pages. A locale name is typically of the form
where language is an ISO 639 language code, territory is an
ISO 3166 country code, and codeset is a character set or encoding
identifier like ISO-8859-1 or UTF-8; see setlocale(3). The locale
values C and POSIX stand
for the default, i.e. the man page directories without a
language prefix. This is the same behavior as when all 3 variables
- This variable can be used to set the pager for the tty output. For
example, to disable the use of a pager completely set this variable to the
sh# PAGER=cat groffer anything
- All programs within the groffer script are called without a fixed
path. Thus this environment variable determines the set of programs used
within the run of groffer.
Parts of the functionality of the man program were implemented in
groffer; support for all environment variables documented in
man(1) was added to groffer, but the meaning was slightly
modified due to the different approach in groffer; but the user
interface is the same. The man environment variables can be overwritten
by options provided with MANOPT, which in turn is overwritten by the
- If the value of this variable is an existing, writable directory,
groffer uses it for storing its temporary files, just as
groff does. See the groff(1) man page for more details on
the location of temporary files.
- Restrict the search for man pages to files having this
extension. This is overridden by option --extension; see there for
- This variable contains options as a preset for man(1). As not all
of these are relevant for groffer only the essential parts of its
value are extracted. The options specified in this variable overwrite the
values of the other environment variables that are specific to man.
All options specified in this variable are overridden by the options given
on the command line.
- If set, this variable contains the directories in which the
man page trees are stored. This is overridden by option
- If this is a colon separated list of section names, the search for
man pages is restricted to those manual sections in that
order. This is overridden by option --sections.
- If this is set to a comma separated list of names these are interpreted as
man page trees for different operating systems. This
variable can be overwritten by option --systems; see there for
The environment variable MANROFFSEQ is ignored by
groffer because the necessary preprocessors are determined
The groffer program can be preconfigured by two configuration files.
- System-wide configuration file for groffer.
- User-specific configuration file for groffer, where $HOME
denotes the user's home directory. This file is called after the
system-wide configuration file to enable overriding by the user.
Both files are handled for the configuration, but the
configuration file in /etc comes first; it is overwritten by the
configuration file in the home directory; both configuration files are
overwritten by the environment variable GROFFER_OPT; everything is
overwritten by the command line arguments.
The configuration files contain options that should be called as
default for every groffer run. These options are written in lines
such that each contains either a long option, a short option, or a short
option cluster; each with or without an argument. So each line with
configuration information starts with a minus character
“-”; a line with a long option starts with two minus
characters “--”, a line with a short option or short
option cluster starts with a single minus “-”.
The option names in the configuration files may not be
abbreviated, they must be exact.
The argument for a long option can be separated from the option
name either by an equal sign “=” or by whitespace, i.e.
one or several space or tab characters. An argument for a short option or
short option cluster can be directly appended to the option name or
separated by whitespace. The end of an argument is the end of the line. It
is not allowed to use a shell environment variable in an option name or
It is not necessary to use quotes in an option or argument, except
for empty arguments. An empty argument can be provided by appending a pair
of quotes to the separating equal sign or whitespace; with a short option,
the separator can be omitted as well. For a long option with a separating
equal sign “=”, the pair of quotes can be omitted, thus
ending the line with the separating equal sign. All other quote characters
are cancelled internally.
In the configuration files, arbitrary whitespace is allowed at the
beginning of each line, it is just ignored. Each whitespace within a line is
replaced by a single space character “ ” internally.
All lines of the configuration lines that do not start with a
minus character are ignored, such that comments starting with
“#” are possible. So there are no shell commands in the
As an example, consider the following configuration file that can
be used either in /etc/groff/groffer.conf or ~/.groff/groffer.conf
# groffer configuration file
# groffer options that are used in each call of groffer
--viewer=gxditview -geometry 900x1200
The lines starting with # are just ignored, so they act as
command lines. This configuration sets four groffer options (the
lines starting with “-”). This has the following
The usage of groffer is very easy. Usually, it is just called with a file
name or man page. The following examples, however, show that
groffer has much more fancy capabilities.
- Use a text color of DarkBlue in all viewers that support this, such
- Use a resolution of 100dpi in all viewers that support this, such
as gxditview. By this, the default device in x mode is set
- Force gxditview(1) as the x-mode viewer using the geometry
option for setting the width to 900px and the height to
1200px. This geometry is suitable for a resolution of
- Use xpdf(1) as the pdf-mode viewer with the argument
sh# groffer /usr/local/share/doc/groff/meintro.ms.gz
Decompress, format and display the compressed file
meintro.ms.gz in the directory /usr/local/share/doc/groff,
using the standard viewer gxditview as graphical viewer when in the X
Window System, or the less(1) pager program otherwise.
sh# groffer groff
If the file ./groff exists use it as input. Otherwise
interpret the argument as a search for the man page named
groff in the smallest possible man section, being
section 1 in this case.
sh# groffer man:groff
search for the man page of groff even when
the file ./groff exists.
sh# groffer groff.7
sh# groffer 7 groff
search the man page of groff in
man section 7. This section search works only for a
digit or a single character from a small set.
sh# groffer fb.modes
If the file ./fb.modes does not exist interpret this as a
search for the man page of fb.modes. As the extension
modes is not a single character in classical section style the
argument is not split to a search for fb.
sh# groffer groff ’troff(1)’ man:roff
The arguments that are not existing files are looked-up as the
following man pages: groff (automatic search, should be
found in man section 1), troff (in
section 1), and roff (in the section with the lowest number,
being 7 in this case). The quotes around
’troff(1)’ are necessary because the parentheses are
special shell characters; escaping them with a backslash character \(
and \) would be possible, too. The formatted files are concatenated
and displayed in one piece.
sh# LANG=de groffer --man --viewer=galeon ls
Retrieve the German man page (language de)
for the ls program, decompress it, format it to html or
xhtml format (www mode) and view the result in the web
browser galeon. The option --man guarantees that the
man page is retrieved, even when a local file ls exists
in the actual directory.
sh# groffer --source 'man:roff(7)'
Get the man page called roff in
man section 7, decompress it, and print its unformatted
content, its source code.
sh# groffer --de-p --in --ap
This is a set of abbreviated arguments, it is determined as
sh# groffer --debug-params --intermediate-output --apropos
sh# cat file.gz | groffer -Z -mfoo
The file file.gz is sent to standard input, this is
decompressed, and then this is transported to the groff intermediate
output mode without post-processing (groff option -Z),
using macro package foo (groff option -m).
sh# echo '\f(CBWOW!' |
> groffer --x --bg red --fg yellow --geometry 200x100 -
Display the word WOW! in a small window in constant-width
bold font, using color yellow on red background.
The groffer program is written in Perl, the Perl version during writing
groffer provides its own parser for command-line arguments
that is compatible to both POSIX getopts(1)
and GNU getopt(1). It can handle option
arguments and file names containing white space and a large set of special
characters. The following standard types of options are supported.
The free mixing of options and filespec parameters follows
the GNU principle. That does not fulfill the strange option behavior of
POSIX that ends option processing as soon as the
first non-option argument has been reached. The end of option processing can
be forced by the option “--” anyway.