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groffer - display groff files and man pages on X and tty
groffer [option...] [--] [filespec...]
groffer --apropos|--apropos-data|--apropos-devel|--apropos-progs name
The groffer program is the easiest way to use groff(1). It can display
arbitrary documents written in the groff(7) language or other roff(7)
languages that are compatible to the original troff language. The
groffer program also includes many of the features for finding and dis-
playing 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 in con-
figuration 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 viewer gxditview(1),
each Postcript 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 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.
[--apropos name] [--apropos-data name] [--apropos-devel name]
[--apropos-progs name] [-h|--help] [-v|--version]
groffer mode options
[--auto] [--default] [--default-modes mode1,mode2,...] [--dvi]
[--dvi-viewer prog] [--groff] [--html] [--html-viewer prog]
[--man] [--mode display_mode] [--no-man] [--pdf] [--pdf-viewer
prog] [--ps] [--ps-viewer prog] [--text] [--tty] [--tty-viewer
prog] [--www] [--www-viewer prog] [--x|--X] [--x-viewer|--X-
options related to groff
[-P|--postproc-arg opt_or_arg] [-Q|--source] [-T|--device
All further groff short options are accepted.
X Window toolkit options
[--bd pixels] [--bg|--background color] [--bw pixels] [--display
X-display] [--fg|--foreground color] [--ft|--font font_name]
[--geometry size_pos] [--resolution value] [--rv] [--title
string] [--xrm X_resource]
options from man
[--all] [--ascii] [--ditroff] [--extension suffix] [--locale
language] [--local-file] [--manpath dir1:dir2:...] [--pager
program] [--sections sec1:sec2:...] [--systems sys1,sys2,...]
[--troff-device device] [--whatis]
Further long options of GNU man are accepted as well.
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 man section section.
name.s if s is a character in [1-9on], search for a man page
name in man section s.
man:name man page in the lowest man section that has name.
s name if s is a character in [1-9on], search for a man page
name in man section s.
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 op-
tions of man(1).
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 terminat-
ed thereafter. All other arguments are ignored.
Start the apropos(1) command for searching within man page de-
scriptions. That slightly differs from the strange behavior of
the --apropos program of man(1), which has no argument of its
own, but takes the file arguments instead. Practically both
concepts are compatible.
Show only the apropos(1) descriptions for data documents, in the
man(7) sections 4, 5, and 7.
Show only the apropos(1) descriptions for development documents,
in the man(7) sections 2, 3, and 9.
Show only the apropos(1) descriptions for documents on programs,
in the man(7) sections 1, 6, and 8.
-h | --help
Print a helping information with a short explanation of option
sto standard output.
-v | --version
Print version information to standard output.
groffer Mode Options
The display mode and the viewer programs are determined by these op-
tions. If none of these mode and viewer options is specified groffer
tries to find a suitable display mode automatically.
--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.
Set the viewer program for dvi mode. This can be a file name or
a program to be searched in $PATH. Known dvi viewers inlude xd-
vi(1) and dvilx(1) In each case, arguments can be provided addi-
Equivalent to --mode=groff.
--html Equivalent to --mode=html.
Equivalent to --www-viewer.
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 de-
fault, the formatted input is displayed with the xdvi(1)
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 re-
sult in a web browser program. By default, the existence
of a sequence of standard web browsers is tested, start-
ing with konqueror(1) and mozilla(1). The text html
viewer is lynx(1).
pdf Display formatted input in a PDF (Portable Document For-
mat) viewer program. By default, the input is formatted
by groff using the Postscript device, then it is trans-
formed into the PDF file format using gs(1), and finally
displayed either with the xpdf(1) or the acroread(1) pro-
gram. PDF has a big advantage because the text is dis-
played graphically and is searchable as well. But as the
transformation takes a considerable amount of time, this
mode is not suitable as a default device for the auto
ps Display formatted input in a Postscript viewer program.
By default, the formatted input is displayed with the
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 X
www Equivalent to --www.
X Display formatted input in a native roff viewer. By de-
fault, the formatted input is displayed with the
gxditview(1) program, being distributed together with
groff, or with xditview(1), which is distributed as a
standard X tool.
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 Display the source code of the input without formatting;
equivalent to -Q.
--pdf Equivalent to --mode=pdf.
Set the viewer program for pdf mode. This can be a file name or
a program to be searched in $PATH. In each case, arguments can
be provided additionally.
--ps Equivalent to --mode=ps.
Set the viewer program for ps mode. This can be a file name or
a program to be searched in $PATH. Common Postscript viewers
inlude gv(1), ghostview(1), and gs(1), In each case, arguments
can be provided additionally.
--text Equivalent to --mode=text.
--tty Equivalent to --mode=tty.
Choose tty display mode, that means displaying in a text pager
even when in X; eqivalent to --mode=tty.
--www Equivalent to --mode=www.
Set the web browser program for viewing in www mode. Each pro-
gram that accepts html input and allows the file://local-
host/dir/file syntax on the command line is suitable as viewer
program; it can be the path name of an executable file or a pro-
gram in $PATH. In each case, arguments can be provided addi-
-X | --X | --x
Equivalent to --mode=X.
--X-viewer | --x-viewer prog
Set the viewer program for x mode. Suitable viewer programs are
gxditview(1) and xditview(1). But the argument can be any exe-
cutable file or a program in $PATH. In each case, arguments can
be provided additionally.
-- Signals the end of option processing; all remaining arguments
are interpreted as filespec parameters.
Besides these, groffer accepts all arguments that are valid for the
groff(1) program. All non-groffer options are sent unmodified via grog
to groff. Postprocessors, macro packages, compatibility with classical
troff, and much more can be manually specified.
Options for Development
Print debugging information for development only. Actually, a
function call stack is printed if an error occurs.
Specify the shell under which the groffer script should be run.
The script first tests whether this option is set (either by
configuration, within $GROFF_OPT or as a command line option);
if so, the script is rerun under the shell program specified
with the option argument.
-Q | --source
Output the roff source code of the input files without further
processing. This is the equivalent --mode=source.
Other useful debugging options are the groff options -V and -Z and op-
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 options -V and
-Z groffer was designed to be switched into groff mode by these; 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 text modes.
That could be important when the text pager has problems with
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 | --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, and oth-
ers. 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 corre-
sponding 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.
-V Switch into groff mode and show only the groff calling pipe
without formatting the input. This an advanced option from
groff(1), only useful for debugging.
-X was made equivalent to --mode=x; this slightly enhances the fa-
cility of groff's option.
-Z | --intermediate-output | --ditroff
Switch into groff mode and format the input with groff interme-
diate output without postprocessing; see groff_out(1). This is
equivalent to option --ditroff of man, which can be used as
All other groff options are supported by groffer, but they are just
transparently transferred to groff without any intervention. The op-
tions that are not explicitly handled by groffer are transparently
passed to groff. Therefore these transparent options are not document-
ed here, but in groff(1). Due to the automatism in groffer, none of
these groff options should be needed, except for advanced usage.
X Window toolkit Options
The following long options were adapted from the corresponding X Toolk-
it options. groffer will pass them to the actual viewer program if it
is an 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 X option -font.
See X(1), X(7), and the documentation on the X toolkit options for more
details on these options and their arguments.
Set the background color of the viewer window.
Specifies the color of the border surrounding the viewer window.
This is equivalent to --background.
Specifies the width in pixels of the border surrounding the
Set the X display on which the viewer program shall be started,
see the X Window documentation for the syntax of the argument.
Set the foreground color of the viewer window.
This is equivalent to -foreground.
Set the font used by the viewer window. The argument is an X
This is equivalent to --ft.
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 resolution in dpi (dots per inch) in some viewer programs.
The only supported dpi values are 75 and 100. Actually, the de-
fault resolution for groffer is set to 75.
--rv Reverse foreground and background color of the viewer window.
--title 'some text'
Set the title for the viewer window.
Set X resource.
Options from man
The long options of groffer were synchronized with the long options of
GNUman. 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-
The following two options were added by 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
In the following, the man options that have a special meaning for grof-
fer are documented.
The full set of long and short options of the GNU man program can be
passed via the environment variable $MANOPT; see man(1) if your system
has GNU man installed.
--all In searching man pages, retrieve all suitable documents instead
of only one.
-7 | --ascii
In text modes, display ASCII translation of special characters.
Eqivalent 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
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 is
equivalent to --tty-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.
Instead of displaying the content, get the one-liner description
from the retrieved man page files -- or say that it is not a
Eqivalent to --location.
Additionally, the following short option of man is supported as well.
A filespec parameter is an argument meaning an input source, such as a
file name or template for searching man pages. These input sources are
collected and composed into a single output file such as groff does.
The strange POSIX behavior that maps all arguments behind the first
non-option argument into filespec arguments is ignored. The GNU behav-
ior to recognize options even when mixed with filespec arguments is
used througout. But, as usual, the double minus argument -- still
takes all following arguments as filespecs.
Each filespec parameters can have one of the following forms.
No filespec parameters means that groffer waits for standard input.
The minus option - stands for standard input, too, but can occur sever-
al times. Next filespec is tested whether it is the path name of an
existing file. Otherwise it is assumed as a searching pattern for a
On each system, the man pages are sorted according to their content in-
to several sections. The classical man sections have a single-charac-
ter name, either are a digit from 1 to 9 or one of the characters n or
o. In the following, a stand-alone character s means this scheme.
The internal precedence of man for searching man pages with the same
name within several sections goes according to the classical single-
character sequence. On some systems, this single character can be ex-
tended by a following string. But the special groffer man page facili-
ty is based on the classical single character sections.
man:name(section) and name(section) search the man page name in
man section section, where section can be any string, but it must exist
in the man system.
Next some patterns based on the classical man sections were construct-
ed. man:name.s and name.s search for a man page name in man section s
if s is a classical man section mentioned above. Otherwise search for
a man page named name.s in the lowest man section.
Now man:name searches for a man page in the lowest man section that has
a document called name.
The pattern s name originates from a strange argument parsing of the
man program. If s is a classical man section interpret it as a search
for a man page called name in man section s, otherwise interpret s as a
file argument and name as another filespec argument.
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 an option that is constructed like --anymode-
Several different modes are offered, graphical X modes, 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
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 only 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 display to be used. If neither is given, groffer assumes
that no X and changes to one text mode. You can change this automatic
behavior by the option --default-modes.
Known viewers for the graphical display modes and their standard X Win-
dow viewer progams are
? X Window roff viewers such as gxditview(1) or xditview(1) (in x or X
? in a Postscript viewer (ps mode),
? in a dvi viewer program (dvi mode),
? in a PDF viewer (pdf mode),
? in a web browser (html or www mode),
The pdf mode has a major advantage -- 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 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 to 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
--tty-viewer, or by the environment variable $PAGER. If all of this is
not used the less(1) program with the option -r for correctly display-
ing 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 just displays the generated input. 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.
MAN PAGE SEARCHING
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 a name of a man page. This behavior can be modi-
fied by the following options.
--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-
The groffer program provides a search facility for man pages. All long
options, all environment variables, and most of the functionality of
the GNU man(1) program were implemented. This inludes the extended
file names of man pages, for example, the man page of groff in man sec-
tion 7 may be stored under /usr/share/man/man7/groff.7.gz, where
/usr/share/man/ is part of the man path, the subdirectory man7 and the
file extension .7 refer to the man section 7; .gz shows the compression
of the file.
The cat pages (preformatted man pages) are intentionally excluded from
the search because groffer is a roff program that wants to format by
its own. With the excellent performance of the actual computers, the
preformatted man pages aren't necessary any longer.
The algorithm for retrieving man pages uses five search methods. They
are successively tried until a method works.
? The search path can be manually specified by using the option
--manpath. An empty argument disables the man page searching. This
overwrites the other methods.
? If this is not available the environment variable $MANPATH is
? If this is empty, the program tries to read it from the environment
? If this does not work a reasonable default path from $PATH is
searched for man pages.
? If this does not work, the manpath(1) program for determining a path
of man directories is tried.
After this, the path elements for the language (locale) and operating
system specific man pages are added to the man path; their sequence is
determined automatically. For example, both /usr/share/man/linux/fr
and /usr/share/man/fr/linux for french linux man pages are found. The
language and operating system names are determined from both environ-
ment variables and command line options.
The locale (language) is determined like in GNU man, that is from high-
est to lowest precedence:
The language locale is usually specified in the POSIX 1003.1 based for-
but the two-letter code in <language> is sufficient for most purposes.
If no man pages for a complicated locale are found the country part
consisting of the first two characters (without the '_', '.', and ',',
parts) of the locale is searched as well.
If still not found the corresponding man page in the default language
is used instead. As usual, this default can be specified by one of C
or POSIX. The man pages in the default language are usually in En-
Several operating systems can be given by appending their names, sepa-
rated by a comma. This is then specified by the environment variable
$SYSTEM or by the command line option --systems. The precedence is
similar to the locale case above from highest to lowest precedence:
When searching for man pages this man path with the additional language
and system specific directories is used.
The search can further be restricted by limiting it to certain sec-
tions. A single section can be specified within each filespec argu-
ment, several sections as a colon-separated list in command line option
--sections or environment variable $MANSECT. When no section was spec-
ified a set of standard sections is searched until a suitable man page
Finally, the search can be restricted to a so-called extension. This
is a postfix that acts like a subsection. It can be specified by
--extension or environment variable $EXTENSION.
For further details on man page searching, see man(1).
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 programs 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.
The groffer program is a shell script that is run through /bin/sh,
which can be internally linked to programs like bash(1). The corre-
sponding system environment is automatically effective. 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 terminal. For example, depend-
ing 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 typical-
ly 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 identi-
fier like ISO-8859-1 or UTF-8; see setlocale(3). The locale
values C and POSIX stand for the default, i.e. the man page di-
rectories without a language prefix. This is the same behavior
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 shell script are called without
a fixed path. Thus this environment variable determines the set
of programs used within the run of groffer.
If set to a non-empty value this chooses the POSIX mode. This
is done internally by some shells. groffer ignores the bad
POSIX behavior for option processing, that means that option
processing will be finished as soon as a non-option argument is
found. Instead the GNU behavior of freely mixing options and
filespec arguments is used in any case. Usually, you do not
want to set this environment variable externally.
The groffer program internally calls groff, so all environment vari-
ables documented in groff(1) are internally used within groffer as
well. The following variables have a direct meaning for the groffer
If the value of this variable is an existing, writable directo-
ry, groffer uses it for storing its temporary files, just as
Parts of the functionality of the man program were implemented in grof-
fer; 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
taht 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 or-
der. This is overridden by option --sections.
If this is set to a comma separated list of names these are in-
terpreted 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.
This configuration can be overridden at each program start by command
line options or by the environment variable $GROFFER_OPT.
System-wide configuration file for groffer.
User-specific configuration file for groffer, where $HOME de-
notes the user's home directory. This script is called after
the system-wide configuration file to enable overriding by the
Their lines either start with a minus character or are shell commands.
Arbitrary spaces are allowed at the beginning, they are just ignored.
The lines with the beginning minus are appended to the existing value
of $GROFFER_OPT. This easily allows to set general groffer options
that are used with any call of groffer.
After the transformation of the minus lines the emerging shell scripts
that are called by groffer using the '. filename' syntax.
The only option that needs a minus line in the configuration files is
--shell. The reason is that its argument must be called at a very ear-
ly stage before the whole syntax of the configuration can be trans-
It makes sense to use these configuration files for the following
? Preset command line options by writing them into lines starting with
a minus sign.
? Preset environment variables recognized by groffer.
? Write a function for calling a viewer program for a special mode and
feed this name into its corresponding --mode-viewer option. Note
that the name of such a function must coincide with some existing
program in the system path $PATH in order to be recognized by grof-
As an example, consider the following configuration file in
# groffer configuration file
# groffer options that are used in each call of groffer
--x-viewer='gxditview -geometry 850x800'
# some shell commands
if test "$DISPLAY" = ""; then
This configuration sets four groffer options and runs two shell com-
mands. This has the following effects:
? Lines starting with a # character are
? Use /bin/bash as the shell to run the groffer script.
? Take a resolution of 100 dpi and a text color of DarkBlue in all
viewers that support this.
? Force gxditview(1) as the X-mode viewer using the geometry option for
setting the width to 850 dpi and the height to 800 dpi.
? The variable $DISPLAY is set to localhost:0.0 which allows to start
groffer in the standard X display, even when the program is called
from a text console.
? Just for fun, the date of each groffer start is written to the file
mygroffer.log in the home directory.
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 gxditview as
graphical viewer when in X Window, or the less(1) pager program
when not in X.
sh# groffer groff
If the file ./groff exists use it as input. Otherwise interpret
the argument as a search for the man page named groff in the
smallest possible man section, being secion 1 in this case.
sh# groffer man:groff
search for the man page of groff even when the file ./groff ex-
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
sh# groffer fb.modes
If the file ./fb.modes does not exist interpret this as a search
for the man page of fb.modes. As the extension modes is not a
single character in classical section style the argument is not
split to a search for fb.
sh# groffer groff 'troff(1)' man:roff
The arguments that are not existing files are looked-up as the
following man pages: groff (automatic search, should be found in
man section 1), troff (in section 1), and roff (in the section
with the lowest number, being 7 in this case). The quotes
around 'troff(1)' are necessary because the paranthesis are spe-
cial shell characters; escaping them with a backslash character
\( and \) would be possible, too. The formatted files are con-
catenated and displayed in one piece.
sh# LANG=de groffer --man --www --www-viever=mozilla ls
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 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# cat file.gz | groffer -Z -mfoo
Decompress the standard input, send this to groff intermediate
mode without post-processing (groff option -Z), using macro
package by foo (groff option -m)
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 shell script is compatible with both GNU and POSIX. POSIX
compatibility refers to IEEE P1003.2/D11.2 of September 1991, a very
early version of the POSIX standard that is still freely available in
the internet. Unfortunately, this version of the standard has 'local'
for shell function variables removed. As 'local' is needed for serious
programming this temporary POSIX deprecation was ignored.
Most GNU shells are compatible with this interpretation of POSIX, but
provide much more facilities. Nevertheless this script uses only a re-
stricted set of shell language elements and shell builtins. The grof-
fer script should work on most actual free and commercial operating
The groffer program provides its own parser for command line options;
it can handle option arguments and file names containing white space
and a large set of special characters.
The groffer shell script was tested with the following common implemen-
tations of the GNU shells: POSIX sh(1), bash(1), and others. Free
POSIX compatible shells and shell utilities for most operating systems
are available at the GNU software archive <http://
The shell can be chosen by the option --shell. This option can also be
given to the environment variable $GROFF_OPT. If you want to write it
to one of the groffer configuration files you must use the single op-
tion style, a line starting with --shell.
The groffer program provides its own parser for command line arguments
that is compatible to both POSIX getopts(1) and GNU getopt(1) except
for shortcuts of long options. The following standard types of options
? A single minus always refers to single character option or a combina-
tion 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 prededed 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 argu-
ments are interpreted as file name arguments.
? By default, 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, by default, equivalent to
sh# groffer -a -o arg -- file1 file2
This behavior can be changed by setting the environment variable
$POSIXLY_CORRECT to a non-empty value. Then the strange POSIX non-op-
tion behavior is adopted, i. e. option processing is stopped as soon as
the first non-option argument is found and each following argument is
taken as a file name. For example, in posixly correct mode, the com-
sh# groffer file1 -a -o arg file 2
is equivalent to
sh# groffer -- file1 -a -o arg file 2
As this leads to unwanted behavior in most cases, most people do not
want to set $POSIXLY_CORRECT.
Details on the options and environment variables available in
groff; all of them can be used with groffer.
man(1) The standard program to diplay man pages. The information there
is only useful if it is the man page for GNU man. Then it docu-
ments the options and environment variables that are supported
Viewers for groffer's x mode.
Viewers for groffer's ps mode.
gs(1) Transformer from ps to pdf; and a ps viewer.
Viewers for pdf files.
Viewers for groffer's dvi mode.
Standard pager program for the tty mode.
The decompression programs supported by groffer.
Documentation of the groff language.
Internally, groffer tries to guess the groff command line op-
tions from the input using this program.
Documentation on the groff intermediate output (ditroff output).
This file was written by Bernd Warken.
Copyright (C) 2001,2002,2004 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
This file is part of groff, a free software project. You can redis-
tribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public
License as published by the Free Software Foundation; either version 2,
or (at your option) any later version.
You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License along
with groff, see the files COPYING and LICENSE in the top directory of
the groff source package. Or read the man page gpl(1). You can also
write to the Free Software Foundation, 59 Temple Place - Suite 330,
Boston, MA 02111-1307, USA.
Groff Version 184.108.40.206 02 June 2004 GROFFER(1)
© 1994 Man-cgi 1.15, Panagiotis Christias <firstname.lastname@example.org>