man - an interface to the on-line reference manuals


man [  -C file  ] [  -d  ] [  -D  ] [  --warnings  \c [ = warnings  ] ] [  -R encoding  ] [  -L locale  ] [  -m system  [ ,. . . ] ] [  -M path  ] [  -S list  ] [  -e extension  ] [  -i  |  -I  ] [  --regex  |  --wildcard  ] [  --names-only  ] [  -a  ] [  -u  ] [  --no-subpages  ] [  -P pager  ] [  -r prompt  ] [  -7  ] [  -E encoding  ] [  --no-hyphenation  ] [  --no-justification  ] [  -p string  ] [  -t  ] [  -T  \c [  device  ] ] [  -H  \c [  browser  ] ] [  -X  \c [  dpi  ] ] [  -Z  ] [ [  section  ] page  . . . ] . . .


-k [  apropos options  ] regexp . . .


-K [  -w  |  -W  ] [  -S list  ] [  -i  |  -I  ] [  --regex  ] [  section  ] term  . . .


-f [  whatis options  ] page . . .


-l [  -C file  ] [  -d  ] [  -D  ] [  --warnings  \c [ = warnings  ] ] [  -R encoding  ] [  -L locale  ] [  -P pager  ] [  -r prompt  ] [  -7  ] [  -E encoding  ] [  -p string  ] [  -t  ] [  -T  \c [  device  ] ] [  -H  \c [  browser  ] ] [  -X  \c [  dpi  ] ] [  -Z  ] file . . .


R -w  |  -W [  -C file  ] [  -d  ] [  -D  ] page . . .


-c [  -C file  ] [  -d  ] [  -D  ] page . . .

man [  -hV  ]


man is the system's manual pager. Each page argument given to

man is normally the name of a program, utility or function. The manual page associated with each of these arguments is then found and displayed. A section , if provided, will direct

man to look only in that section of the manual. The default action is to search in all of the available sections , following a pre-defined order and to show only the first page found, even if page exists in several sections . The table below shows the section numbers of the manual followed by the types of pages they contain.

tab (@);
DEBUTLIENDEBUTLIEN1@ExecutableFINLIENFINLIEN programs or shell commands
DEBUTLIENDEBUTLIEN2@SystemFINLIENFINLIEN calls (functions provided by the kernel)
DEBUTLIENDEBUTLIEN3@LibraryFINLIENFINLIEN calls (functions within program libraries)
DEBUTLIENDEBUTLIEN4@SpecialFINLIENFINLIEN files (usually found in \fI/dev\fR)
DEBUTLIENDEBUTLIEN5@FileFINLIENFINLIEN formats and conventions eg \fI/etc/passwd\fR
Miscellaneous (including macro packages and conventions),
e.g. \fBman\fR(7), \fBgroff\fR(7)
DEBUTLIENDEBUTLIEN8@SystemFINLIENFINLIEN administration commands (usually only for root)

A manual page consists of several sections. Conventional section names include

















R SEE ALSO . The following conventions apply to the

SYNOPSIS section and can be used as a guide in other sections.

tab (@);
\fBbold text\DEBUTLIENDEBUTLIENfR@typeFINLIENFINLIEN exactly as shown.
\fIitalic text\DEBUTLIENDEBUTLIENfR@replaceFINLIENFINLIEN with appropriate argument.
[ \fB-abc\fR ]@any or all arguments within [ ] are optional.
\fB-a \fR| \fB-b\DEBUTLIENDEBUTLIENfR@optionsFINLIENFINLIEN delimited by | cannot be used together.
\fIargument\fB . . .@\fIargument\fR is repeatable.
[ \fIexpression\fR ]\fB . . .@\fRentire \fIexpression\fR within [ ] is repeatable.

Exact rendering may vary depending on the output device. For instance, man will usually not be able to render italics when running in a terminal, and will typically use underlined or coloured text instead. The command or function illustration is a pattern that should match all possible invocations. In some cases it is advisable to illustrate several exclusive invocations as is shown in the

SYNOPSIS section of this manual page.


  • man  ls
        Display the manual page for the item (program) ls .
  • man -a  intro
        Display, in succession, all of the available intro manual pages contained within the manual. It is possible to quit between successive displays or skip any of them.
  • \fBman -t alias |\fI lpr -Pps
        Format the manual page referenced by ` alias ', usually a shell manual page, into the default

troff or

groff format and pipe it to the printer named ps . The default output for

groff is usually PostScript.

man --help should advise as to which processor is bound to the

-t option.

  • man -l -T dvi ./foo.1x.gz  >  ./foo.1x.dvi
        This command will decompress and format the nroff source manual page ./foo.1x.gz into a

device independent (dvi) file. The redirection is necessary as the

-T flag causes output to be directed to

stdout with no pager. The output could be viewed with a program such as

xdvi or further processed into PostScript using a program such as

R dvips.

  • man -k  printf
        Search the short descriptions and manual page names for the keyword printf as regular expression. Print out any matches. Equivalent to apropos -r  printf .
  • man -f  smail
        Lookup the manual pages referenced by smail and print out the short descriptions of any found. Equivalent to whatis -r  smail .


Many options are available to

man in order to give as much flexibility as possible to the user. Changes can be made to the search path, section order, output processor, and other behaviours and operations detailed below. If set, various environment variables are interrogated to determine the operation of

R man . It is possible to set the `catch all' variable $ MANOPT to any string in command line format with the exception that any spaces used as part of an option's argument must be escaped (preceded by a backslash).

man will parse $ MANOPT prior to parsing its own command line. Those options requiring an argument will be overridden by the same options found on the command line. To reset all of the options set in $ MANOPT ,

-D can be specified as the initial command line option. This will allow man to `forget' about the options specified in $ MANOPT although they must still have been valid. The manual pager utilities packaged as

man-db make extensive use of

index database caches. These caches contain information such as where each manual page can be found on the filesystem and what its whatis (short one line description of the man page) contains, and allow

man to run faster than if it had to search the filesystem each time to find the appropriate manual page. If requested using the

-u option,

man will ensure that the caches remain consistent, which can obviate the need to manually run software to update traditional whatis text databases. If

man cannot find a

mandb initiated

index database for a particular manual page hierarchy, it will still search for the requested manual pages, although file globbing will be necessary to search within that hierarchy. If

whatis or

apropos fails to find an

index it will try to extract information from a traditional whatis database instead. These utilities support compressed source nroff files having, by default, the extensions of

R .Z It is possible to deal with any compression extension, but this information must be known at compile time. Also, by default, any cat pages produced are compressed using

R gzip . Each `global' manual page hierarchy such as /usr/share/man or /usr/X11R6/man may have any directory as its cat page hierarchy. Traditionally the cat pages are stored under the same hierarchy as the man pages, but for reasons such as those specified in the

R it may be better to store them elsewhere. For details on how to do this, please read

R manpath (5). For details on why to do this, read the standard. International support is available with this package. Native language manual pages are accessible (if available on your system) via use of locale functions. To activate such support, it is necessary to set either $ LC_MESSAGES , $ LANG or another system dependent environment variable to your language locale, usually specified in the

POSIX 1003.1 based format: < language >[ \c

_\c < territory > [ \c

.\c < character-set > [ \c

,\c < version > ] ] ] If the desired page is available in your locale , it will be displayed in lieu of the standard (usually American English) page. Support for international message catalogues is also featured in this package and can be activated in the same way, again if available. If you find that the manual pages and message catalogues supplied with this package are not available in your native language and you would like to supply them, please contact the maintainer who will be coordinating such activity. For information regarding other features and extensions available with this manual pager, please read the documents supplied with the package.


man will search for the desired manual pages within the index database caches. If the

-u option is given, a cache consistency check is performed to ensure the databases accurately reflect the filesystem. If this option is always given, it is not generally necessary to run

mandb after the caches are initially created, unless a cache becomes corrupt. However, the cache consistency check can be slow on systems with many manual pages installed, so it is not performed by default, and system administrators may wish to run

mandb every week or so to keep the database caches fresh. To forestall problems caused by outdated caches,

man will fall back to file globbing if a cache lookup fails, just as it would if no cache was present. Once a manual page has been located, a check is performed to find out if a relative preformatted `cat' file already exists and is newer than the nroff file. If it does and is, this preformatted file is (usually) decompressed and then displayed, via use of a pager. The pager can be specified in a number of ways, or else will fall back to a default is used (see option

-P for details). If no cat is found or is older than the nroff file, the nroff is filtered through various programs and is shown immediately. If a cat file can be produced (a relative cat directory exists and has appropriate permissions),

man will compress and store the cat file in the background. The filters are deciphered by a number of means. Firstly, the command line option

-p or the environment variable $ MANROFFSEQ is interrogated. If

-p was not used and the environment variable was not set, the initial line of the nroff file is parsed for a preprocessor string. To contain a valid preprocessor string, the first line must resemble

'\ < string > where

string can be any combination of letters described by option

-p below. If none of the above methods provide any filter information, a default set is used. A formatting pipeline is formed from the filters and the primary formatter ( nroff or [ tg ] roff with

R -t ) and executed. Alternatively, if an executable program mandb_nfmt (or mandb_tfmt with

R -t ) exists in the man tree root, it is executed instead. It gets passed the manual source file, the preprocessor string, and optionally the device specified with

R -T as arguments.


Non argument options that are duplicated either on the command line, in $ MANOPT , or both, are not harmful. For options that require an argument, each duplication will override the previous argument value.

7.1. General options

  • -C  file , --config-file= file
        Use this user configuration file rather than the default of ~/.manpath .

-d, --debug

    Print debugging information.

-D, --default

    This option is normally issued as the very first option and resets

man's behaviour to its default. Its use is to reset those options that may have been set in $ MANOPT . Any options that follow

-D will have their usual effect.

  • --warnings[=warnings]
        Enable warnings from groff . This may be used to perform sanity checks on the source text of manual pages. warnings is a comma-separated list of warning names; if it is not supplied, the default is "mac". See the « Warnings » node in

info groff for a list of available warning names.

7.2. Main modes of operation

-f, --whatis

    Equivalent to

R whatis . Display a short description from the manual page, if available. See

R whatis (1) for details.

-k, --apropos

    Equivalent to

R apropos . Search the short manual page descriptions for keywords and display any matches. See

R apropos (1) for details.

-K, --global-apropos

    Search for text in all manual pages. This is a brute-force search, and is likely to take some time; if you can, you should specify a section to reduce the number of pages that need to be searched. Search terms may be simple strings (the default), or regular expressions if the

--regex option is used.

-l, --local-file

    Activate `local' mode. Format and display local manual files instead of searching through the system's manual collection. Each manual page argument will be interpreted as an nroff source file in the correct format. No cat file is produced. If '-' is listed as one of the arguments, input will be taken from stdin. When this option is not used, and man fails to find the page required, before displaying the error message, it attempts to act as if this option was supplied, using the name as a filename and looking for an exact match.

-w, --where, --location

    Don't actually display the manual pages, but do print the location(s) of the source nroff files that would be formatted.

-W, --where-cat, --location-cat

    Don't actually display the manual pages, but do print the location(s) of the cat files that would be displayed. If -w and -W are both specified, print both separated by a space.

-c, --catman

    This option is not for general use and should only be used by the

catman program.

  • DEBUTINLINE-R  encoding\fR,  --recode=\fIencodingFININLINE
        Instead of formatting the manual page in the usual way, output its source converted to the specified encoding . If you already know the encoding of the source file, you can also use

R manconv (1) directly. However, this option allows you to convert several manual pages to a single encoding without having to explicitly state the encoding of each, provided that they were already installed in a structure similar to a manual page hierarchy.

7.3. Finding manual pages

  • -L  locale , --locale= locale
        .B man will normally determine your current locale by a call to the C function

R setlocale (3) which interrogates various environment variables, possibly including $ LC_MESSAGES and $ LANG . To temporarily override the determined value, use this option to supply a locale string directly to

R man . Note that it will not take effect until the search for pages actually begins. Output such as the help message will always be displayed in the initially determined locale.

-m system\c  [ ,. . . ]  , --systems= system\c  [ ,. . . ] If this system has access to other operating system's manual pages, they can be accessed using this option. To search for a manual page from NewOS's manual page collection, use the option


R NewOS . The system specified can be a combination of comma delimited operating system names. To include a search of the native operating system's manual pages, include the system name

man in the argument string. This option will override the $ SYSTEM environment variable.

  • -M  path , --manpath= path
        Specify an alternate manpath to use. By default,

man uses

manpath derived code to determine the path to search. This option overrides the $ MANPATH environment variable and causes option

-m to be ignored. A path specified as a manpath must be the root of a manual page hierarchy structured into sections as described in the man-db manual (under "The manual page system"). To view manual pages outside such hierarchies, see the

-l option.

  • -S  list , -s  list , --sections= list
        List is a colon- or comma-separated list of `order specific' manual sections to search. This option overrides the $ MANSECT environment variable. (The

-s spelling is for compatibility with System V.)

  • -e  sub-extension , --extension= sub-extension
        Some systems incorporate large packages of manual pages, such as those that accompany the

Tcl package, into the main manual page hierarchy. To get around the problem of having two manual pages with the same name such as

R exit (3), the

Tcl pages were usually all assigned to section

R l . As this is unfortunate, it is now possible to put the pages in the correct section, and to assign a specific `extension' to them, in this case,

R exit (3tcl). Under normal operation,

man will display

R exit (3) in preference to

R exit (3tcl). To negotiate this situation and to avoid having to know which section the page you require resides in, it is now possible to give

man a sub-extension string indicating which package the page must belong to. Using the above example, supplying the option

-e tcl to

man will restrict the search to pages having an extension of

R *tcl .

-i, --ignore-case

    Ignore case when searching for manual pages. This is the default.

-I, --match-case

    Search for manual pages case-sensitively.


    Show all pages with any part of either their names or their descriptions matching each page argument as a regular expression, as with

R apropos (1). Since there is usually no reasonable way to pick a "best" page when searching for a regular expression, this option implies

R -a .


    Show all pages with any part of either their names or their descriptions matching each page argument using shell-style wildcards, as with

R apropos (1)

R --wildcard . The page argument must match the entire name or description, or match on word boundaries in the description. Since there is usually no reasonable way to pick a "best" page when searching for a wildcard, this option implies

R -a .


    If the

--regex or

--wildcard option is used, match only page names, not page descriptions, as with

R whatis (1). Otherwise, no effect.

-a, --all

    By default,

man will exit after displaying the most suitable manual page it finds. Using this option forces

man to display all the manual pages with names that match the search criteria.

-u, --update

    This option causes

man to perform an `inode level' consistency check on its database caches to ensure that they are an accurate representation of the filesystem. It will only have a useful effect if

man is installed with the setuid bit set.


    By default,

man will try to interpret pairs of manual page names given on the command line as equivalent to a single manual page name containing a hyphen. This supports the common pattern of programs that implement a number of subcommands, allowing them to provide manual pages for each that can be accessed using similar syntax as would be used to invoke the subcommands themselves. For example:

 $ man -aw git diff

To disable this behaviour, use the

--no-subpages option.

 $ man -aw --no-subpages git diff

7.4. Controlling formatted output

  • -P  pager , --pager= pager
        Specify which output pager to use. By default,

man uses

R This option overrides the $ MANPAGER environment variable, which in turn overrides the $ PAGER environment variable. It is not used in conjunction with

-f or

R -k . The value may be a simple command name or a command with arguments, and may use shell quoting (backslashes, single quotes, or double quotes). It may not use pipes to connect multiple commands; if you need that, use a wrapper script, which may take the file to display either as an argument or on standard input.

  • -r  prompt , --prompt= prompt
        If a recent version of

less is used as the pager,

man will attempt to set its prompt and some sensible options. The default prompt looks like

Manual page\c .IB  name ( sec )\c  line  x where name denotes the manual page name, sec denotes the section it was found under and x the current line number. This is achieved by using the $ LESS environment variable. Supplying

-r with a string will override this default. The string may contain the text

$MAN_PN which will be expanded to the name of the current manual page and its section name surrounded by `(' and `)'. The string used to produce the default could be expressed as

\ Manual\ page\ \$MAN_PN\ ?ltline\ %lt?L/%L.:

byte\ %bB?s/%s..?\ (END):?pB\ %pB\\%.. It is broken into two lines here for the sake of readability only. For its meaning see the

R less (1) manual page. The prompt string is first evaluated by the shell. All double quotes, back-quotes and backslashes in the prompt must be escaped by a preceding backslash. The prompt string may end in an escaped $ which may be followed by further options for less. By default

man sets the

-ix8 options. If you want to override

R man 's prompt string processing completely, use the $ MANLESS environment variable described below.

-7, --ascii

    When viewing a pure ascii (7) manual page on a 7 bit terminal or terminal emulator, some characters may not display correctly when using the latin1 (7) device description with


R nroff . This option allows pure ascii manual pages to be displayed in ascii with the latin1 device. It will not translate any latin1 text. The following table shows the translations performed: some parts of it may only be displayed properly when using


R nroff 's latin1 (7) device. .ie c \[shc] \ . ds softhyphen \[shc] . ds softhyphen (hy

tab (@);
l c c c.
continuation DEBUTLIENDEBUTLIENhyphen@255FINLIENFINLIEN@\*[softhyphen]@-
bullet (middle dot)@267@@o

If the latin1 column displays correctly, your terminal may be set up for latin1 characters and this option is not necessary. If the latin1 and ascii columns are identical, you are reading this page using this option or

man did not format this page using the latin1 device description. If the latin1 column is missing or corrupt, you may need to view manual pages with this option. This option is ignored when using options

R -t ,

R -H ,

R -T , or

-Z and may be useless for

nroff other than

R GNU's .

  • DEBUTINLINE-E  encoding\fR,  --encoding=\fIencodingFININLINE
        Generate output for a character encoding other than the default. For backward compatibility, encoding may be an

nroff device such as

R ascii as well as a true character encoding such as

R UTF-8 .

R --no-hyphenation


nroff will automatically hyphenate text at line breaks even in words that do not contain hyphens, if it is necessary to do so to lay out words on a line without excessive spacing. This option disables automatic hyphenation, so words will only be hyphenated if they already contain hyphens. If you are writing a manual page and simply want to prevent

nroff from hyphenating a word at an inappropriate point, do not use this option, but consult the

nroff documentation instead; for instance, you can put "\%" inside a word to indicate that it may be hyphenated at that point, or put "\%" at the start of a word to prevent it from being hyphenated.

R --no-justification


nroff will automatically justify text to both margins. This option disables full justification, leaving justified only to the left margin, sometimes called "ragged-right" text. If you are writing a manual page and simply want to prevent

nroff from justifying certain paragraphs, do not use this option, but consult the

nroff documentation instead; for instance, you can use the ".na", ".nf", ".fi", and ".ad" requests to temporarily disable adjusting and filling.

  • -p  string , --preprocessor= string
        Specify the sequence of preprocessors to run before

nroff or

R troff / groff . Not all installations will have a full set of preprocessors. Some of the preprocessors and the letters used to designate them are:

R eqn

R grap

R pic

R tbl

R vgrind

R refer This option overrides the $ MANROFFSEQ environment variable.

zsoelim is always run as the very first preprocessor.

-t, --troff

    Use groff -mandoc to format the manual page to stdout. This option is not required in conjunction with

R -H ,

R -T , or

R -Z .

  • -T[device], --troff-device[=device]
        This option is used to change

groff (or possibly

R troff's ) output to be suitable for a device other than the default. It implies

R -t . Examples (provided with Groff-1.17) include

R dvi

R X75

  • -H[browser], --html[=browser]
        This option will cause

groff to produce HTML output, and will display that output in a web browser. The choice of browser is determined by the optional browser argument if one is provided, by the $ BROWSER environment variable, or by a compile-time default if that is unset (usually

R lynx ). This option implies

R -t , and will only work with


R troff .

  • -X[dpi], --gxditview[=dpi]
        This option displays the output of

groff in a graphical window using the

gxditview program. The dpi (dots per inch) may be 75, 75-12, 100, or 100-12, defaulting to 75; the -12 variants use a 12-point base font. This option implies

-T with the X75, X75-12, X100, or X100-12 device respectively.

-Z, --ditroff

    .B groff will run

troff and then use an appropriate post-processor to produce output suitable for the chosen device. If groff -mandoc is

R groff , this option is passed to

groff and will suppress the use of a post-processor. It implies

R -t .

7.5. Getting help

-h, --help

    Print a help message and exit.

-V, --version

    Display version information.



    Successful program execution.


    Usage, syntax or configuration file error.


    Operational error.


    A child process returned a non-zero exit status.


    At least one of the pages/files/keywords didn't exist or wasn't matched.



    If $ MANPATH is set, its value is used as the path to search for manual pages.


    The contents of $ MANROFFOPT are added to the command line every time

man invokes the formatter ( nroff ,

R troff , or

R groff ).


    If $ MANROFFSEQ is set, its value is used to determine the set of preprocessors to pass each manual page through. The default preprocessor list is system dependent.


    If $ MANSECT is set, its value is a colon-delimited list of sections and it is used to determine which manual sections to search and in what order.


    If $ MANPAGER or $ PAGER is set ($ MANPAGER is used in preference), its value is used as the name of the program used to display the manual page. By default,

pager -s is used. The value may be a simple command name or a command with arguments, and may use shell quoting (backslashes, single quotes, or double quotes). It may not use pipes to connect multiple commands; if you need that, use a wrapper script, which may take the file to display either as an argument or on standard input.


    If $ MANLESS is set,

man will not perform any of its usual processing to set up a prompt string for the

less pager. Instead, the value of $ MANLESS will be copied verbatim into $ LESS . For example, if you want to set the prompt string unconditionally to « my prompt string », set $ MANLESS to (oq -Psmy prompt string (cq.


    If $ BROWSER is set, its value is a colon-delimited list of commands, each of which in turn is used to try to start a web browser for


R --html . In each command, %s is replaced by a filename containing the HTML output from

R groff , %% is replaced by a single percent sign (%), and %c is replaced by a colon (:).


    If $ SYSTEM is set, it will have the same effect as if it had been specified as the argument to the

-m option.


    If $ MANOPT is set, it will be parsed prior to

man's command line and is expected to be in a similar format. As all of the other

man specific environment variables can be expressed as command line options, and are thus candidates for being included in $ MANOPT it is expected that they will become obsolete. N.B. All spaces that should be interpreted as part of an option's argument must be escaped.


    If $ MANWIDTH is set, its value is used as the line length for which manual pages should be formatted. If it is not set, manual pages will be formatted with a line length appropriate to the current terminal (using an

R ioctl (2) if available, the value of $ COLUMNS , or falling back to 80 characters if neither is available). Cat pages will only be saved when the default formatting can be used, that is when the terminal line length is between 66 and 80 characters.


    Normally, when output is not being directed to a terminal (such as to a file or a pipe), formatting characters are discarded to make it easier to read the result without special tools. However, if $ MAN_KEEP_FORMATTING is set to any non-empty value, these formatting characters are retained. This may be useful for wrappers around

man that can interpret formatting characters.


    Normally, when output is being directed to a terminal (usually to a pager), any error output from the command used to produce formatted versions of manual pages is discarded to avoid interfering with the pager's display. Programs such as

groff often produce relatively minor error messages about typographical problems such as poor alignment, which are unsightly and generally confusing when displayed along with the manual page. However, some users want to see them anyway, so, if $ MAN_KEEP_STDERR is set to any non-empty value, error output will be displayed as usual.


    Depending on system and implementation, either or both of $ LANG and $ LC_MESSAGES will be interrogated for the current message locale.

man will display its messages in that locale (if available). See

R setlocale (3) for precise details.


  • /etc/manpath.config
        man-db configuration file.
  • /usr/share/man
        A global manual page hierarchy.
  • /usr/share/man/index.(bt|db|dir|pag)
        A traditional global index database cache.
  • /var/cache/man/index.(bt|db|dir|pag)
        An FHS compliant global index database cache.


R mandb (8),

R manpath (1),

R manpath (5),

R apropos (1),

R whatis (1),

R catman (8),

R less (1),

R nroff (1),

R troff (1),

R groff (1),

R zsoelim (1),

R setlocale (3),

R man (7),

R ascii (7),

R latin1 (7), the man-db package manual,



1990, 1991 - Originally written by John W. Eaton ( ). Dec 23 1992: Rik Faith ( ) applied bug fixes supplied by Willem Kasdorp ( ). 30th April 1994 - 23rd February 2000: Wilf. ( ) has been developing and maintaining this package with the help of a few dedicated people. 30th October 1996 - 30th March 2001: Fabrizio Polacco < > maintained and enhanced this package for the Debian project, with the help of all the community. 31st March 2001 - present day: Colin Watson < > is now developing and maintaining man-db.