GROFFER(1) General Commands Manual GROFFER(1)
groffer - display groff files and man pages on X and tty
groffer [--] [filespec ....]
groffer [mode-option ....] [groff-options ....] [man-options ....]
[X-options ....] [--] [filespec ....]
groffer -h | --help
groffer -v | --version
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 chem.
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 avail‐
able for groff. This includes the groff native X Window viewer
gxditview(1), each Postcript, pdf, or dvi display program, a web brows‐
er by generating html in www mode, or several text modes in text termi‐
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 ar‐
Several file names can be specified on the command line arguments.
They are transformed into a single document in the normal way of groff.
Option handling is done in GNU style. Options and file names can be
mixed freely. The option `--' closes the option handling, all follow‐
ing arguments are treated as file names. Long options can be abbrevi‐
ated in several ways.
[-h | --help] [-v | --version]
groffer mode options
[--auto] [--default] [--default-modes mode1,mode2,....]
[--dvi] [--groff] [--html] [--latin1] [--mode display_mode]
[--pdf] [--pdf2] [--ps] [--source] [--text] [--to-stdout]
[--tty] [--utf8] [--viewer prog] [--www] [--x | --X]
options related to groff
[-T | --device device] [-Z | --intermediate-output | --ditroff]
All further groff short options are accepted.
options for man pages
[--apropos] [--apropos-data] [--apropos-devel]
[--apropos-progs] [--man] [--no-man] [--no-special] [--whatis]
long options taken over from GNU man
[--all] [--ascii] [--ditroff] [--extension suffix]
[--locale language] [--local-file] [--location | --where]
[--manpath dir1:dir2:....] [--no-location] [--pager program]
[--sections sec1:sec2:....] [--systems sys1,sys2,....]
Further long options of GNU man are accepted as well.
X Window Toolkit options
[--bd | --bordercolor pixels] [--bg | --background color]
[--bw | --borderwidth pixels] [--display X-display]
[--fg | --foreground color] [--fn | --ft | --font font_name]
[--geometry size_pos] [--resolution value] [--rv]
[--title string] [--xrm X-resource]
options for development
[--debug] [--debug-filenames] [--debug-grog] [--debug-keep]
[--debug-params] [--debug-tmpdir] [--do-nothing] [--print text]
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 fol‐
lowed by an extension. The name of a man section is a single
character from [1–9on], the extension is some word. The exten‐
sion is mostly lacking.
No filespec parameters means standard input.
- stands for standard input (can occur several times).
filename the path name of an existing file.
search the man page name in the section with optional
man:name man page in the lowest man section that has name.
name if name is not an existing file search for the
man page name in the lowest man section.
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 option classes.
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. Fur‐
thermore, each minus sign - is considered as a starting point for a new
abbreviation. This leads to a set of multiple abbreviations for a sin‐
gle 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 raised.
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.
groffer breaking Options
As soon as one of these options is found on the command line it is exe‐
cuted, printed to standard output, and the running groffer is termi‐
nated thereafter. All other arguments are ignored.
-h | --help
Print help information with a short explanation of options to
-v | --version
Print version information to standard output.
groffer Mode Options
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 x, and mode dvi in X Window with
different viewers and mode tty with device utf8 under less on a termi‐
nal; other modes are tested if the programs for the main default mode
do not exist.
In X Window, many programs create their own window when called.
groffer can run these viewers as an independent program in the back‐
ground. As this does not work in text mode on a terminal (tty) there
must be a way to know which viewers are X Window graphical programs.
The groffer script has a small set of information on some viewer names.
If a viewer argument of the command-line chooses an element that is
kept as X Window program in this list it is treated as a viewer that
can run in the background. All other, unknown viewer calls 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.
--auto 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
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.
--dvi Equivalent to --mode=dvi.
Choose a viewer program for dvi mode. This can be a file name
or a program to be searched in $PATH. Known X Window dvi view‐
ers include xdvi(1) and dvilx(1). In each case, arguments can
be provided additionally.
Equivalent to --mode=groff.
--html Equivalent to --mode=html.
Choose a web browser program for viewing in html mode. It can
be the path name of an executable file or a program in $PATH.
In each case, arguments can be provided additionally.
Set the display mode. The following mode values are recognized:
auto 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.
dvi Display formatted input in a dvi viewer program. By
default, the formatted input is displayed with the
groff After the file determination, switch groffer to process
the input like groff(1) would do. This disables the
groffer viewing features.
html Translate the input into html format and display the
result in a web browser program. By default, the exis‐
tence of a sequence of standard web browsers is tested,
starting with konqueror(1) and mozilla(1). The text html
viewer is lynx(1).
pdf Transform roff input files into a PDF file by using the
groff (1) device -Tpdf. This is the default PDF genera‐
tor. The generated PDF file is displayed with suitable
viewer programs, such as okular(1).
pdf2 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 programs.
ps Display formatted input in a Postscript viewer program.
By default, the formatted input is displayed in one of
many viewer programs.
text Format in a groff text mode and write the result to stan‐
dard output without a pager or viewer program. The text
device, latin1 by default, can be chosen with option -T.
tty Format in a groff text mode and write the result to stan‐
dard output using a text pager program, even when in
www Equivalent to --mode=html.
x 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 standard X Window tool 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 850dpi.
X Equivalent to --mode=x.
The following modes do not use the groffer viewing features.
They are only interesting for advanced applications.
groff 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.
source Output the roff source code of the input files without
--pdf Equivalent to --mode=pdf.
--pdf2 Equivalent to --mode=pdf2.
Choose a viewer program for pdf mode. This can be a file name
or a program to be searched in $PATH; arguments can be provided
--ps Equivalent to --mode=ps.
Choose a viewer program for ps mode. This can be a file name or
a program to be searched in $PATH. 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.
--text 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 graphi‐
--tty Equivalent to --mode=tty.
Choose a text pager for 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.
--www Equivalent to --mode=html.
--X | --x
Equivalent to --mode=x.
Choose a viewer program for x mode. Suitable viewer programs
are gxditview(1) which is the default and xditview(1). The
argument can be any executable file or a program in $PATH; argu‐
ments can be provided additionally.
-- 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 clas‐
sical troff, and much more can be manually specified.
Options related to groff
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 usage.
Because of the special outputting behavior of the groff option -Z
groffer was designed to be switched into groff mode; the groffer view‐
ing features are disabled there. The other groff options do not switch
the mode, but allow to customize the formatting process.
--a 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.
Add file as a groff macro file. This is useful in case it can‐
not be recognized automatically.
Send the argument opt_or_arg as an option or option argument to
the actual groff postprocessor.
--T devname | --device devname
This option determines groff's output device. The most impor‐
tant 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, and
ps. All X* arguments are mapped to mode x. Each other devname
argument switches to mode groff using this device.
--X 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
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 docu‐
mented here, but in groff(1). Due to the automatism in groffer, none
of these groff options should be needed, except for advanced usage.
Options for man pages
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
* 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
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 dec‐
larations are ignored, wildcards are accepted.
Show only the apropos descriptions for documents on programs,
these are the man(7) sections 1, 6, and 8. Direct section dec‐
larations are ignored, wildcards are accepted.
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
* 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
--man 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 existing
--no-man | --local-file
Do not check for man pages. --local-file is the corresponding
Disable former calls of --all, --apropos*, and --whatis.
Long options taken over from GNU man
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 ig‐
nored. These ignored man options are --catman, --troff, and --update.
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 op‐
tions of the GNU man program can be passed via the environment variable
$MANOPT; see man(1).
--all 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
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
Set the language for man pages. This has the same effect, but
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.
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 disabled.
Set the pager program in tty mode; default is less. This can be
set with --viewer.
Restrict searching for man pages to the given sections, a colon-
Search for man pages for the given operating systems; the argu‐
ment systems is a comma-separated list.
Equivalent to --location.
X Window Toolkit Options
The following long options were adapted from the corresponding
X Window Toolkit options. groffer will pass them to the actual viewer
program if it is an X Window program. Otherwise these options are ig‐
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 option -font.
See X(7) and the documentation on the X Window Toolkit options for more
details on these options and their arguments.
Set the background color of the viewer window.
This is equivalent to --bordercolor.
This is equivalent to --background.
This is equivalent to --borderwidth.
Specifies the color of the border surrounding the viewer window.
Specifies the width in pixels of the border surrounding the
Set the X Window display on which the viewer program shall be
started, see the X Window documentation for the syntax of the
Set the foreground color of the viewer window.
This is equivalent to --foreground.
This is equivalent to --font.
Set the font used by the viewer window. The argument is an
X Window font name.
This is equivalent to --font.
Set the geometry of the display window, that means its size and
its starting position. See X(7) for the syntax of the argument.
Set X Window resolution in dpi (dots per inch) in some viewer
programs. The only supported dpi values are 75 and 100. Actu‐
ally, the default resolution for groffer is set to 75dpi. The
resolution also sets the default device in mode x.
--rv Reverse foreground and background color of the viewer window.
--title 'some text'
Set the title for the viewer window.
Set X Window resource.
Options for Development
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
Print the output of all grog commands.
Enable two debugging informations. Print the name of the tempo‐
rary directory and keep the temporary files, do not delete them
during the run of groffer.
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 pa‐
-V This is an advanced option for debugging only. Instead of dis‐
playing the formatted input, a lot of groffer specific informa‐
tion 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
$GROFFER_OPT, and the arguments of the command line,
* the pipeline that would be run by the groff program, but with‐
out executing it.
Other useful debugging options are the groff option -Z and
A filespec parameter is an argument that is not an option or option ar‐
gument. In groffer, filespec parameters are a file name or a template
for searching man pages. These input sources are collected and com‐
posed into a single output file such as groff does.
The strange POSIX behavior to regard all arguments behind the first
non-option argument as filespec arguments is ignored. The GNU behavior
to recognize options even when mixed with filespec arguments is used
throughout. But, as usual, the double minus argument -- ends the op‐
tion handling and interprets all following arguments as filespec argu‐
ments; so the POSIX behavior can be easily adopted.
The options --apropos* have a special handling of filespec arguments.
Each argument is taken as a search scheme of its own. Also a regexp
(regular expression) can be used in the filespec. For example, groffer
--apropos '^gro.f$' searches groff in the man page name, while groffer
--apropos groff searches groff somewhere in the name or description of
the man pages.
All other parts of groffer, such as the normal display or the output
with --whatis have a different scheme for filespecs. No regular ex‐
pressions are used for the arguments. The filespec arguments are han‐
dled 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 or o.
This can optionally be followed by a string, the so-called extension.
The extension allows to store 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 sequence.
* 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
* 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
* man:name(section_extension), man:name.section_extension,
name(section_extension), or 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 name.
* 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 choos‐
es 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. Ad‐
ditionally, 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 --viewer.
Several different modes are offered, graphical modes for X Window,
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 ac‐
tive in every mode.
Graphical Display Modes
The graphical display modes work mostly in the X Window environment (or
similar implementations within other windowing environments). The en‐
vironment variable $DISPLAY and the option --display are used for spec‐
ifying the X Window display to be used. If this environment variable
is empty groffer assumes that no X Window is running and changes to a
text mode. You can change this automatic behavior by the option --de‐
Known viewers for the graphical display modes and their standard
X Window viewer programs are
* in a PDF viewer (pdf mode)
* in a web browser (html or www mode)
* in a Postscript viewer (ps mode)
* X Window 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 to search for text within the viewer; this can be a
really important feature. Unfortunately, it takes some time to trans‐
form the input into the PDF format, so it was not chosen as the major
These graphical viewers can be customized by options of the
X Window Toolkit. But the groffer options use a leading double minus
instead of the single minus used by the X Window Toolkit.
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
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
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 default pager.
Special Modes for Debugging and Development
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 de‐
The source mode with option --source just displays the decompressed in‐
Option --to-stdout does not display in a graphical mode. It just gen‐
erates the file for the chosen mode and then prints its content to
The groff mode passes the input to groff using only some suitable op‐
tions provided to groffer. This enables the user to save the generated
output into a file or pipe it into another program.
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 groffer.
The default behavior of groffer is to first test whether a file parame‐
ter 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.
--man forces to interpret all file parameters as filespecs for search‐
ing man pages.
disable the man searching; so only local files are displayed.
If neither a local file nor a man page was retrieved for some file pa‐
rameter a warning is issued on standard error, but processing is con‐
Let us now assume that a man page should be searched. The groffer pro‐
gram 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 variables.
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 con‐
tain the man page files.
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 searching.
* When no man path was set the manpath(1) program is tried to determine
* If this does not work a reasonable default path from $PATH is deter‐
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 al‐
ways true. The names of such operating systems can be provided by 3
* 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 lan‐
guages. 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
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 usual‐
ly 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 charac‐
ters as well.
The actual directory set is copied thrice. The language name is ap‐
pended as subdirectory to each directory in the first copy of the actu‐
al directory set (this is only done when a language information is giv‐
en). 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 this order.
For each available section, a subdirectory man<section> exists contain‐
ing all man files for this section, where <section> is a single charac‐
ter as described before. Each man file in a section directory has the
form man<section>/<name>.<section>[<extension>][.<compression>], where
<extension> and <compression> are optional. <name> is the name of the
man page that is also specified as filespec argument on the command
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 command line.
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 line:
* Environment variable $MANSECT
* Command line option --sections
* Appendix to the name argument in the form <name>.<section>
* Preargument before the name argument in the form <section> <name>
It is also possible to specify several sections by appending the single
characters separated by colons. One can imagine that this means to re‐
strict the man page search to only some sections. The multiple sec‐
tions are only possible for $MANSECT and --sections.
If no section is specified all sections are searched one after the oth‐
er in the given order, starting with section 1, until a suitable file
There are 4 methods to specify an extension on the command line. But
it is not necessary to provide the whole extension name, some abbrevia‐
tion is good enough in most cases.
* Environment variable $EXTENSION
* Command line option --extension
* Appendix to the <name>.<section> argument in the form <name>.<sec‐
* Preargument before the name argument in the form <section><extension>
For further details on man page searching, see man(1).
Examples of man files
This is an uncompressed file for the man page groff in sec‐
tion 1. It can be called by
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 compo‐
nents. /usr/share/man/ must be part of the man path; the subdi‐
rectory man1/ and the part .1 stand for the section; groff is
the name of the man page.
The file name is composed of the following components.
/usr/local/share/man must be part of the man path; the subdirec‐
tory man7/ and the part .7 stand for the section; groff is the
name of the man page; the final part .gz stands for a compres‐
sion 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
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 emacs21.
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 sys‐
tem 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 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 decom‐
pressed on-the-fly. This includes the GNU .gz, .bz2, and the tradi‐
tional .Z compression. The program displays the concatenation of all
decompressed input in the sequence that was specified on the command
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 are honored.
Native groffer Variables
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 white-space 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 following variables have a special meaning for groffer.
If this variable is set this 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 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 &
$LANG 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 typi‐
cally of the form language[_territory[.codeset[@modifier]]],
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 lo‐
cale values C and POSIX stand for the default, i.e. the man page
directories without a language prefix. This is the same behav‐
ior as when all 3 variables are unset.
$PAGER 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 cat(1) program
sh# PAGER=cat groffer anything
$PATH 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.
The groffer program internally calls groff, so all environment vari‐
ables documented in groff(1) are internally used within groffer as
well. The following variable has a direct meaning for the groffer pro‐
If the value of this variable is an existing, writable direc‐
tory, 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.
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 dif‐
ferent 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 command line.
Restrict the search for man pages to files having this exten‐
sion. 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 vari‐
able overwrite the values of the other environment variables
that are specific to man. All options specified in this vari‐
able 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
The environment variable $MANROFFSEQ is ignored by groffer because the
necessary preprocessors are determined automatically.
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
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 argu‐
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 end‐
ing the line with the separating equal sign. All other quote charac‐
ters 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 possi‐
ble. So there are no shell commands in the configuration files.
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
--viewer xpdf -Z 150
The lines starting with # are just ignored, so they act as command
lines. This configuration sets four groffer options (the lines start‐
ing with `-'). This has the following effects:
* 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 to X100.
* 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 100dpi.
* Use xpdf(1) as the pdf-mode viewer with the argument -Z 150.
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.
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 X Window, or the less(1) pager
program when not in X Window.
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 pos‐
sible 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 char‐
acter in classical section style the argument is not split to a search
sh# groffer groff ’troff(1)’ man:roff
The arguments that are not existing files are looked-up as the follow‐
ing man pages: groff (automatic search, should be found in man sec‐
tion 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 neces‐
sary 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, decom‐
press it, format it to html 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
sh# echo '\f[CB]WOW!' |
> 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 com‐
patible 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
* The option consisting of a single minus - refers to standard input.
* A single minus followed by characters refers to a single character
option or a combination thereof; for example, the groffer short
option combination -Qmfoo is equivalent to -Q -m foo.
* Long options are options with names longer than one character; they
are always preceded by a double minus. An option argument can either
go to the next command line argument or be appended with an equal
sign to the argument; for example, --long=arg is equivalent to
* An argument of -- ends option parsing; all further command line argu‐
ments are interpreted as filespec parameters, i.e. file names or con‐
structs for searching man pages).
* All command line arguments that are neither options nor option argu‐
ments are interpreted as filespec parameters and stored until option
parsing has finished. For example, the command line
sh# groffer file1 -a -o arg file2
is equivalent to
sh# groffer -a -o arg -- file1 file2
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.
Report bugs to the bug-groff mailing list ⟨email@example.com⟩. Include
a complete, self-contained example that will allow the bug to be repro‐
duced, and say which version of groffer you are using.
You can also use the groff mailing list ⟨firstname.lastname@example.org⟩, but you must
first subscribe to this list. You can do that by visiting the groff
mailing list web page ⟨http://lists.gnu.org/mailman/listinfo/groff⟩.
See groff(1) for information on availability.
Details on the options and environment variables available in
groff; all of them can be used with groffer.
This program tries to guess the necessary groff command line
options from the input and the groffer options.
Documentation of the groff language.
Documentation on the groff characters, special characters, and
Documentation on the groff macro files.
Documentation on the groff intermediate output before the run of
a postprocessor. (ditroff output). This can be run by the
groff or groffer option -Z.
man(1) The standard program to display man pages. The information
there is only useful if it is the man page for GNU man. Then it
documents the options and environment variables that are sup‐
ported by groffer.
Viewers for groffer's x mode.
gs(1) Viewers for groffer's ps mode.
ggv(1) Viewers for groffer's pdf mode.
kdvi(1), xdvi(1), dvilx(1)
Viewers for groffer's dvi mode.
Web-browsers for groffer's html or www mode.
Standard pager program for the tty mode.
xz(1) The decompression programs supported by groffer.
Copyright © 2001-2014 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
This file is part of groffer, which is part of groff, a free software
You can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU
General Public License version 2 as published by the Free Software
The license text is available in the internet at
This file was written by Bernd Warken ⟨email@example.com⟩.
Groff Version 1.22.3 4 November 2014 GROFFER(1)