Linux Man Page Viewer
The following form allows you to view linux man pages.
man [section] title
This page describes the conventions that should be employed when writ-
ing man pages for the Linux man-pages project, which documents the
user-space API provided by the Linux kernel and the GNU C library. The
project thus provides most of the pages in Section 2, as well as many
of the pages that appear in Sections 3, 4, 5, and 7 of the man pages on
a Linux system. The conventions described on this page may also be
useful for authors writing man pages for other projects.
Sections of the manual pages
The manual Sections are traditionally defined as follows:
1 Commands (Programs)
Those commands that can be executed by the user from within a
2 System calls
Those functions which must be performed by the kernel.
3 Library calls
Most of the libc functions.
4 Special files (devices)
Files found in /dev.
5 File formats and conventions
The format for /etc/passwd and other human-readable files.
7 Overview, conventions, and miscellaneous
Overviews of various topics, conventions and protocols, char-
acter set standards, and miscellaneous other things.
8 System management commands
Commands like mount(8), many of which only root can execute.
New manual pages should be marked up using the groff an.tmac package
described in man(7). This choice is mainly for consistency: the vast
majority of existing Linux manual pages are marked up using these
Conventions for source file layout
Please limit source code line length to no more than about 75 charac-
ters wherever possible. This helps avoid line-wrapping in some mail
clients when patches are submitted inline.
New sentences should be started on new lines. This makes it easier to
placed (e.g., 7).
date The date of the last revision--remember to change this
every time a nontrivial change is made to the man
page. Dates should be written in the form YYYY-MM-DD.
source The source of the command, function, or system call.
For those few man-pages pages in Sections 1 and 8,
probably you just want to write GNU.
For system calls, just write Linux. (An earlier prac-
tice was to write the version number of the kernel
from which the manual page was being written/checked.
However, this was never done consistently, and so was
probably worse than including no version number.
Henceforth, avoid including a version number.)
For library calls that are part of glibc or one of the
other common GNU libraries, just use GNU C Library,
GNU, or an empty string.
For Section 4 pages, use Linux.
In cases of doubt, just write Linux, or GNU.
manual The title of the manual (e.g., for Section 2 and 3
pages in the man-pages package, use Linux Programmer's
Sections within a manual page
The list below shows conventional or suggested sections. Most manual
pages should include at least the highlighted sections. Arrange a new
manual page so that sections are placed in the order shown in the list.
CONFIGURATION [Normally only in Section 4]
OPTIONS [Normally only in Sections 1, 8]
EXIT STATUS [Normally only in Sections 1, 8]
RETURN VALUE [Normally only in Sections 2, 3]
ERRORS [Typically only in Sections 2, 3]
VERSIONS [Normally only in Sections 2, 3]
ATTRIBUTES [Normally only in Sections 2, 3]
command. All words in this line (including the word
immediately following the "\-") should be in lowercase,
except where English or technical terminological conven-
tion dictates otherwise.
SYNOPSIS briefly describes the command or function's interface.
For commands, this shows the syntax of the command and
its arguments (including options); boldface is used for
as-is text and italics are used to indicate replaceable
arguments. Brackets () surround optional arguments,
vertical bars (|) separate choices, and ellipses (...)
can be repeated. For functions, it shows any required
data declarations or #include directives, followed by the
Where a feature test macro must be defined in order to
obtain the declaration of a function (or a variable) from
a header file, then the SYNOPSIS should indicate this, as
described in feature_test_macros(7).
CONFIGURATION Configuration details for a device. This section nor-
mally appears only in Section 4 pages.
DESCRIPTION gives an explanation of what the program, function, or
format does. Discuss how it interacts with files and
standard input, and what it produces on standard output
or standard error. Omit internals and implementation
details unless they're critical for understanding the
interface. Describe the usual case; for information on
command-line options of a program use the OPTIONS sec-
When describing new behavior or new flags for a system
call or library function, be careful to note the kernel
or C library version that introduced the change. The
preferred method of noting this information for flags is
as part of a .TP list, in the following form (here, for a
new system call flag):
XYZ_FLAG (since Linux 3.7)
Description of flag...
Including version information is especially useful to
users who are constrained to using older kernel or C
library versions (which is typical in embedded systems,
OPTIONS describes the command-line options accepted by a program
and how they change its behavior. This section should
appear only for Section 1 and 8 manual pages.
EXIT STATUS lists the possible exit status values of a program and
ENVIRONMENT lists all environment variables that affect the program
or function and how they affect it.
FILES lists the files the program or function uses, such as
configuration files, startup files, and files the program
directly operates on. Give the full pathname of these
files, and use the installation process to modify the
directory part to match user preferences. For many pro-
grams, the default installation location is in
/usr/local, so your base manual page should use
/usr/local as the base.
ATTRIBUTES A summary of various attributes of the function(s) docu-
mented on this page, broken into subsections. The fol-
lowing subsections are defined:
Multithreading (see pthreads(7))
This subsection notes attributes relating to mul-
* Whether the function is thread-safe.
* Whether the function is a cancellation point.
* Whether the function is async-cancel-safe.
Details of these attributes can be found in
VERSIONS A brief summary of the Linux kernel or glibc versions
where a system call or library function appeared, or
changed significantly in its operation. As a general
rule, every new interface should include a VERSIONS sec-
tion in its manual page. Unfortunately, many existing
manual pages don't include this information (since there
was no policy to do so when they were written). Patches
to remedy this are welcome, but, from the perspective of
programmers writing new code, this information probably
matters only in the case of kernel interfaces that have
been added in Linux 2.4 or later (i.e., changes since
kernel 2.2), and library functions that have been added
to glibc since version 2.1 (i.e., changes since glibc
The syscalls(2) manual page also provides information
about kernel versions in which various system calls first
CONFORMING TO describes any standards or conventions that relate to the
function or command described by the manual page. The
preferred terms to use for the various standards are
(which it commonly does), terminate the list with a
NOTES provides miscellaneous notes. For Section 2 and 3 man
pages you may find it useful to include subsections (SS)
named Linux Notes and Glibc Notes.
BUGS lists limitations, known defects or inconveniences, and
other questionable activities.
EXAMPLE provides one or more examples describing how this func-
tion, file or command is used. For details on writing
example programs, see Example Programs below.
AUTHORS lists authors of the documentation or program. Use of an
AUTHORS section is strongly discouraged. Generally, it
is better not to clutter every page with a list of (over
time potentially numerous) authors; if you write or sig-
nificantly amend a page, add a copyright notice as a com-
ment in the source file. If you are the author of a
device driver and want to include an address for report-
ing bugs, place this under the BUGS section.
SEE ALSO provides a comma-separated list of related man pages,
ordered by section number and then alphabetically by
name, possibly followed by other related pages or docu-
ments. Do not terminate this with a period.
Where the SEE ALSO list contains many long manual page
names, to improve the visual result of the output, it may
be useful to employ the .ad l (don't right justify) and
.nh (don't hyphenate) directives. Hyphenation of indi-
vidual page names can be prevented by preceding words
with the string "\%".
The following subsections describe the preferred style for the man-
pages project. For details not covered below, the Chicago Manual of
Style is usually a good source; try also grepping for preexisting usage
in the project source tree.
Use of gender-neutral language
As far as possible, use gender-neutral language in the text of man
pages. Use of "they" ("them", "themself", "their") as a gender-neutral
singular pronoun is acceptable.
For functions, the arguments are always specified using italics, even
in the SYNOPSIS section, where the rest of the function is specified in
int myfunction(int argc, char **argv);
Complete commands should, if long, be written as an indented line on
their own, with a blank line before and after the command, for example
man 7 man-pages
If the command is short, then it can be included inline in the text, in
italic format, for example, man 7 man-pages. In this case, it may be
worth using nonbreaking spaces ("\ ") at suitable places in the com-
mand. Command options should be written in italics (e.g., -l).
Expressions, if not written on a separate indented line, should be
specified in italics. Again, the use of nonbreaking spaces may be
appropriate if the expression is inlined with normal text.
Any reference to the subject of the current manual page should be writ-
ten with the name in bold. If the subject is a function (i.e., this is
a Section 2 or 3 page), then the name should be followed by a pair of
parentheses in Roman (normal) font. For example, in the fcntl(2) man
page, references to the subject of the page would be written as:
fcntl(). The preferred way to write this in the source file is:
.BR fcntl ()
(Using this format, rather than the use of "\fB...\fP()" makes it eas-
ier to write tools that parse man page source files.)
Any reference to another man page should be written with the name in
bold, always followed by the section number, formatted in Roman (nor-
mal) font, without any separating spaces (e.g., intro(2)). The pre-
ferred way to write this in the source file is:
.BR intro (2)
(Including the section number in cross references lets tools like
man2html(1) create properly hyperlinked pages.)
Control characters should be written in bold face, with no quotes; for
Starting with release 2.59, man-pages follows American spelling conven-
tions (previously, there was a random mix of British and American
spellings); please write all new pages and patches according to these
Aside from the well-known spelling differences, there are a few other
subtleties to watch for:
* American English tends to use the forms "backward", "upward",
"toward", and so on rather than the British forms "backwards",
"upwards", "towards", and so on.
Indentation of structure definitions, shell session logs, and so on
When structure definitions, shell session logs, and so on are included
in running text, indent them by 4 spaces (i.e., a block enclosed by
.in +4n and .in).
The following table lists some preferred terms to use in man pages,
mainly to ensure consistency across pages.
Term Avoid using Notes
bit mask bitmask
Epoch epoch For the UNIX Epoch
(00:00:00, 1 Jan
filename file name
filesystem file system
hostname host name
lowercase lower case, lower-case
pathname path name
privileged port reserved port, system
real-time realtime, real time
run time runtime
saved set-group-ID saved group ID, saved
saved set-user-ID saved user ID, saved
set-group-ID set-GID, setgid
set-user-ID set-UID, setuid
superuser super user, super-user
superblock super block, super-
timestamp time stamp
timezone time zone
uppercase upper case, upper-case
user space userspace
username user name
See also the discussion Hyphenation of attributive compounds below.
Terms to avoid
The following table lists some terms to avoid using in man pages, along
with some suggested alternatives, mainly to ensure consistency across
minus infinity negative infinity
non-root unprivileged user
non-superuser unprivileged user
OS operating system
plus infinity positive infinity
Unices UNIX systems
Unixes UNIX systems
Use the correct spelling and case for trademarks. The following is a
list of the correct spellings of various relevant trademarks that are
NULL, NUL, null pointer, and null character
A null pointer is a pointer that points to nothing, and is normally
indicated by the constant NULL. On the other hand, NUL is the null
byte, a byte with the value 0, represented in C via the character con-
The preferred term for the pointer is "null pointer" or simply "NULL";
avoid writing "NULL pointer".
The preferred term for the byte is "null byte". Avoid writing "NUL",
since it is too easily confused with "NULL". Avoid also the terms
"zero byte" and "null character". The byte that terminates a C string
should be described as "the terminating null byte"; strings may be
described as "null-terminated", but avoid the use of "NUL-terminated".
For hyperlinks, use the .UR/.UE macro pair (see groff_man(7)). This
produces proper hyperlinks that can be used in a web browser, when ren-
dering a page with, say:
BROWSER=firefox man -H pagename
Use of e.g., i.e., etc., a.k.a., and similar
In general, the use of abbreviations such as "e.g.", "i.e.", "etc.",
"a.k.a." should be avoided, in favor of suitable full wordings ("for
example", "that is", "and so on", "also known as").
The only place where such abbreviations may be acceptable is in short
parenthetical asides (e.g., like this one).
Hyphenation with multi, non, pre, re, sub, and so on
The general tendency in modern English is not to hyphenate after pre-
fixes such as "multi", "non", "pre", "re", "sub", and so on. Manual
pages should generally follow this rule when these prefixes are used in
natural English constructions with simple suffixes. The following list
gives some examples of the preferred forms:
Hyphens should be retained when the prefixes are used in nonstandard
English words, with trademarks, proper nouns, acronyms, or compound
terms. Some examples:
Finally, note that "re-create" and "recreate" are two different verbs,
and the former is probably what you want.
Real minus character
Where a real minus character is required (e.g., for numbers such as -1,
or when writing options that have a leading dash, such as in ls -l),
use the following form in the man page source:
Manual pages may include example programs demonstrating how to use a
system call or library function. However, note the following:
* Example programs should be written in C.
* An example program is necessary and useful only if it demonstrates
something beyond what can easily be provided in a textual descrip-
tion of the interface. An example program that does nothing other
than call an interface usually serves little purpose.
* Example programs should be fairly short (preferably less than 100
lines; ideally less than 50 lines).
* Example programs should do error checking after system calls and
library function calls.
* Example programs should be complete, and compile without warnings
when compiled with cc -Wall.
* Where possible and appropriate, example programs should allow exper-
imentation, by varying their behavior based on inputs (ideally from
command-line arguments, or alternatively, via input read by the pro-
* Example programs should be laid out according to Kernighan and
Ritchie style, with 4-space indents. (Avoid the use of TAB charac-
ters in source code!)
* For consistency, all example programs should terminate using either
Avoid using the following forms to terminate a program:
* If there is extensive explanatory text before the program source
code, mark off the source code with a susbsection heading Program
source, as in:
.SS Program source
Always do this if the explanatory text includes a shell session log.
If you include a shell session log demonstrating the use of a program
or other system feature:
* Place the session log above the source code listing
man(1), man2html(1), groff(7), groff_man(7), man(7), mdoc(7)
Linux 2014-03-16 MAN-PAGES(7)