Manual Reference Pages  - GROFFER (1)


groffer - display groff files and man~pages on X and tty




-h|--help -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  CR]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 or on the command line.

The output can be generated and viewed in several different ways available for  groff. This includes the  groff native  CR]X~Window] viewer  gxditview(1), each  Postcript,  pdf, or  dvi display program, a web browser by generating  html 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  groff.

Option handling is done in CR]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 several ways.


breaking options

 groffer mode options

options related to  groff

All further  groff short options are accepted.

options for man~pages
long options taken over from GNU man

Further long options of CR]GNU] man are accepted as well.

X Window Toolkit options

options for development

 filespec arguments

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).
filename the path name of an existing file.
  man:name.section_extension name(section_extension) name.section_extension section_extension name search the  man~page  name in the section with optional extension section_extension.
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. 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 raised.

These abbreviations are only allowed in the environment variable 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 executed, printed to standard output, and the running  groffer is terminated thereafter. All other arguments are ignored.
Print a helping information with a short explanation of option sto
  standard output.
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  CR]X~Window] with different viewers and mode tty with device latin1 under less on a terminal; other modes are tested if the programs for the main default mode do not exist.

In  CR]X~Window], 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  CR]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  CR]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 --ps-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 and restart option processing using only the rest of the command line.
--default-modes mode1,mode2,Ellipsis]
  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.
--dvi-viewer prog
  Choose a viewer program for  dvi~mode. This can be a file name or a program to be searched in Known  CR]X~Window]  dvi viewers 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 In each case, arguments can be provided additionally.
  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. --dvi.
After the file determination, switch  groffer to process the input like  groff(1) would do. This disables the  groffer viewing features.
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).
Display formatted input in a  PDF (Portable Document Format) viewer program. 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.  pdf has a big advantage because the text is displayed graphically and is searchable as well.
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  CR]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 standard  CR]X~Window] tool  xditview(1) can also be chosen with the option --x-viewer . The default resolution is 75~dpi, but 100~dpi are also possible. The default groff device for the resolution of 75~dpi is X75-12, for 100~dpi it is X100. The corresponding groff intermediate output for the actual device is generated and the result is displayed. For a resolution of 100~dpi, the default width of the geometry of the display program is chosen to 850~dpi.
Equivalent to --mode=x.
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 processing.
--pdf Equivalent to --mode=pdf.
--pdf-viewer prog
  Choose a viewer program for  pdf~mode. This can be a file name or a program to be searched in arguments can be provided additionally.
--ps Equivalent to --mode=ps.
--ps-viewer prog
  Choose a viewer program for  ps~mode. This can be a file name or a program to be searched in Common Postscript viewers inlude  gv(1),  ghostview(1), and  gs(1), In each case, arguments can be provided additionally.
  Equivalent --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 graphical mode.
--tty Equivalent to --mode=tty.
--tty-viewer prog
  Choose a text pager for mode tty. The standard pager is less(1). This option is eqivalent to man option --pager=prog. The option argument can be a file name or a program to be searched in arguments can be provided additionally.
--www Equivalent to --mode=html.
--www-viewer prog
  Equivalent to --html-viewer .
  Equivalent to --mode=x.
--X-viewer -- x-viewer prog
  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 arguments 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 classical  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 viewing 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 cannot 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 important devices are the text output devices for referring to the different character sets, such as  ascii,  utf8,  latin1, 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.
  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.

    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  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 accepted.
  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 accepted.
  For each  filespec argument search all  man~pages and display their description [em] 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  man~page,
  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.
--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 file.
  Do not check for  man~pages. --local-file is the corresponding man option.
  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 CR]GNU] man. All long options of CR]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 --update .

In the following, the man options that have a special meaning for  groffer are documented.

If your system has CR]GNU] man installed the full set of long and short options of the CR]GNU] man program can be passed via the environment variable see  man(1).
--all In searching  man~pages, retrieve all suitable documents instead of only one.
  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  groffer -Z .
  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.
  Set the language for  man~pages. This has the same effect, but overwrites
  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 is equivalent to --tty-viewer .
  Restrict searching for  man~pages to the given sections, a colon-separated list.
  Search for  man~pages for the given operating systems; the argument  systems is a comma-separated list.
  Eqivalent to --location .

    X~ Window~ Toolkit Options

The following long options were adapted from the corresponding  CR]X~Window~Toolkit] options.  groffer will pass them to the actual viewer program if it is an  CR]X~Window] program. Otherwise these options are ignored.

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  CR]X~Window] option -font .

See X(7) and the documentation on the  CR]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 .
--bw pixels
  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 viewer window.
  Set the  CR]X~Window] display on which the viewer program shall be started, see the  CR]X~Window] documentation for the syntax of the argument.
  Set the foreground color of the viewer window.
  This is equivalent to -foreground .
--fn font_name
  This is equivalent to --font .
  Set the font used by the viewer window. The argument is an  CR]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  CR]X~Window] 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 75~dpi. 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 CR] 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 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 of  groffer.
  Print the parameters, as obtained from the configuration files, from 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 check.
-V 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 and the arguments of the command line,
  the pipeline that would be run by the  groff program, but without executing it.
Other useful debugging options are the  groff option -Z and --mode=groff.

    Filespec Arguments

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  CR]POSIX] behavior to regard all arguments behind the first non-option argument as  filespec arguments is ignored. The CR]GNU] behavior to recognize options even when mixed with  filespec arguments is used througout. But, as usual, the double minus argument -- ends the option handling and interprets all following arguments as  filespec arguments; so the  CR]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 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 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 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  man~page.
   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  section_extension.
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 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 an option that is constructed like --anymode-viewer.

Several different modes are offered, graphical modes for CR] 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 active in every mode.

    Graphical Display Modes

The graphical display modes work mostly in the  CR]X~Window] environment (or similar implementations within other windowing environments). The environment variable and the option --display are used for specifying the  CR]X~Window] display to be used. If this environment variable is empty  groffer assumes that no  CR]X~Window] is 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  CR]X~Window] viewer progams are
  in a PDF viewer ( pdf~mode),
  in a web browser (html or  www~mode).

  in a Postscript viewer ( ps~mode),
   CR]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 [em] it is the only graphical diplay mode that allows to search 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 major mode.

These graphical viewers can be customized by options of the  CR]X~Window~Toolkit]. But the  groffer options use a leading double minus instead of the single minus used by the  CR]X~Window~Toolkit].

    Text modes

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 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 --tty-viewer, or by the environment variable 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 development purposes.

The  source~mode with option --source just displays the decompressed input.

Otion --to-stdout does not display in a graphical mode. It just generates the file for the chosen mode and then prints its content to standard output.

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 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 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.
--man forces to interpret all file parameters as  filespecs for searching  man~pages.
--no-man --local-file 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.

    Search Algoritm

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 CR]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 contain 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 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 one.
  If this does not work a reasonable default path from is determined.
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 has the lowest precedence.
  This can be overridden by an option in
  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 unchanged.

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.
  Enviroment variable
  This is overridden by
  This is overridden by
  This can be overridden by providing an option in
  All these environment variables are overridden by the command line option --locale.
The default language can be specified by specifying one of the pseudo-language parameters CR]C or CR] 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 CR]GNU man, it is specified in the  CR]POSIX~1003.1 based format:

I]<language>][CB]_]I]<territory>][CB]. I]<character-set>][CB],I]<version>]]],

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 this order.

For each available section, a subdirectory 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 form  CB]man<section>CB]/<name>CB].<section> [<extension>][CB].<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 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 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
  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 restrict the  man~page search to only some sections. The multiple sections are only possible for 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
  Command line option --extension
  Appendix to the <name>.<section> argument in the form <name>.<section><extension>
  Preargument before the name argument in the form <section><extension> <name>
For further details on  man~page searching, see  man(1).

    Examples of man files

This is an uncompressed file for the
   man~page CR]groff in section~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 components. must be part of the  man~path; the subdirectory and the part stand for the section; is the name of the  man~page.
The file name is composed of the following components.
  must be part of the  man~path; the subdirectory and the part stand for the section; is the name of the  man~page; the final part 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
  must be in  man~path; the subdirectory and the file name part stand for section~1; the name of the  man~page is the section has an extension and the file is compressed as 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 CR]e works as an abbreviation for the extension CR]emacs21.
The directory
  is now part of the  man~path; then there is a subdirectory for an operating system name next comes a subdirectory for the German language; the section names and are known so far; is the name of the  man~page; and 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 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 CR]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 CR]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.

    System Variables

The following variables have a special meaning for  groffer.
If this variable is set this indicates that the  CR]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  CR]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 &

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 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 locale values CR]C] and  CR]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 are unset.
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

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.

    Groff Variables

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  groffer program.
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.

    Man Variables

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 which in turn is overwritten by the command line.
Restrict the search for
   man~pages to files having this extension. This is overridden by option --extension; see there for details.
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 --manpath.
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 details.
The environment variable 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
User-specific configuration file for
   groffer, where 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 comes first; it is overwritten by the configuration file in the home directory; both configuration files are overwritten by the environment variable 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 argument.

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 configuration files.

As an example, consider the following configuration file that can be used either in or

# groffer configuration file
# groffer options that are used in each call of groffer
--resolution 100
--x-viewer=gxditview -geometry 900x1200
--pdf-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 starting with -’). This has the following effects:
  Use a text color of  DarkBlue in all viewers that support this, such as  gxditview.
  Use a resolution of 100~dpi 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 900~dpi and the height to 1200~dpi. This geometry is suitable for a resolution of 100~dpi.
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/ Decompress, format and display the compressed file in the directory using the standard viewer  gxditview as graphical viewer when in  CR]X~Window], or the  less(1) pager program when not in  CR]X~Window].


If the file 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.


search for the  man~page of  groff even when the file 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.


If the file 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.


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 [cq]troff(1)[cq] are necessary because the paranthesis are special shell characters; escaping them with a backslash character [rs]( and [rs]) would be possible, too. The formatted files are concatenated and displayed in one piece.


Retrieve the German  man~page (language de) for the ls program, decompress 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 exists in the actual directory.


Get the  man~page called  roff in man~section 7, decompress it, and print its unformatted content, its source code.


This is a set of abbreviated arguments, it is determined as



The file 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~’[rs]f[CB]WOW!’~| > groffer --x --bg red --fg yellow --geometry 200x100 -

Display the word CB]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 was v5.8.8.

 groffer provides its own parser for command line arguments that is compatible to both  CR]POSIX]  getopts(1) and  CR]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 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 --long~arg.
  An argument of -- ends option parsing; all further command line arguments are interpreted as  filespec parameters, i.e. file names or constructs for searching  man~pages).
  All command line arguments that are neither options nor option arguments 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  CR]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 Include a complete, self-contained example that will allow the bug to be reproduced, and say which version of  groffer you are using.

You can also use the groff mailing list but you must first subscribe to this list. You can do that by visiting the groff mailing list web page

See  groff(1) for information on availability.


 groff(1),  troff(1)

Details on the options and environment variables available in  groff; all of them can be used with  groffer.
  Documentation of the  groff language.
 grog(1) Internally,  groffer tries to guess the  groff command line options from the input using this program.
 chem(1) Preprocessor of groff that is run automatically.
  Documentation on the  groff intermediate output (ditroff output).
  Documentation on the  groff macro files.
 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 supported by  groffer.
 gxditview(1),  xditview(1x)
  Viewers for  groffer’s  x~mode.
 kpdf(1),  kghostview(1),  evince(1),  ggv(1),  gv(1),  ghostview(1),  gs(1)
  Viewers for  groffer’s  ps~mode.
 kpdf(1),  acroread(1),  evince(1),  xpdf(1),  gpdf(1),  kghostview(1),  ggv(1)
  Viewers for  groffer’s  pdf~mode.
 kdvi(1),  xdvi(1),  dvilx(1)
  Viewers for  groffer’s  dvi~mode.
 konqueror(1),  epiphany(1),  firefox(1),  mozilla(1),  netscape(1),  lynx(1)
  Web-browsers for  groffer’s  html or  www~mode.
 less(1) Standard pager program for the  tty~mode .
 gzip(1),  bzip2(1)
  The decompression programs supported by  groffer.


This file was written by Bernd Warken.


Copyright (C) 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010
Free Software Foundation, Inc.

This file is part of  groffer, which is part of  groff, a free software project. You can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or (at your option) any later version.

You should have received a copy of the CR]GNU General Public License] along with groff, see the files  CB]COPYING] and  CB]LICENSE] in the top directory of the groff source package. Or read the man~page gpl(1). You can also visit <>.

Groff Version 1.21 GROFFER (1) 25 June 2012
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