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       man-pages - conventions for writing Linux man pages


       man [section] title


       This  page  describes  the  conventions  that  should  be employed when
       writing man pages for the  Linux  man-pages  project,  which  comprises
       Sections  2, 3, 4, 5, and 7 of the Linux manual pages.  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.

       6 Games

       7 Conventions and miscellaneous
                 Overviews  of  various  topics,  conventions  and  protocols,
                 character set standards, and miscellaneous other things.

       8 System management commands
                 Commands  like mount(8), many of which only root can execute.

   Macro package
       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
       characters 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
       see the effect  of  patches,  which  often  operate  at  the  level  of
       individual sentences.

   Title line
       The first command in a man page should be a TH command:

              .TH title section date source manual


              title     The  title of the man page, written in all caps (e.g.,

              section   The section number in which the  man  page  should  be
                        placed (e.g., 7).

              date      The  date  of  the  last revision — remember to change
                        this every time a change is  made  to  the  man  page,
                        since  this  is  the most general way of doing version
                        control.  Dates should be written in the form YYYY-MM-

              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
                        practice 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 Programmers

   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]
            CONFORMING TO
            SEE ALSO

       Where a traditional heading would apply, please use it;  this  kind  of
       consistency  can  make  the  information  easier to understand.  If you
       must, you can create your own headings if they make  things  easier  to
       understand  (this  can be especially useful for pages in Sections 4 and
       5).  However, before doing this, consider whether  you  could  use  the
       traditional   headings,   with  some  subsections  (.SS)  within  those

       The following list elaborates on the contents  of  each  of  the  above

       NAME          The  name  of this manual page.  See man(7) for important
                     details of the line(s) that should follow  the  .SH  NAME

       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
                     function declaration.

                     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
                     normally only appears 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

       OPTIONS       describes the command-line options accepted by a  program
                     and  how  they  change its behavior.  This section should
                     only appear for Section 1 and 8 manual pages.

       EXIT STATUS   lists the possible exit status values of  a  program  and
                     the  conditions  that  cause these values to be returned.
                     This section should only  appear  for  Section  1  and  8
                     manual pages.

       RETURN VALUE  For  Section  2 and 3 pages, this section gives a list of
                     the values the library routine will return to the  caller
                     and   the  conditions  that  cause  these  values  to  be

       ERRORS        For Section 2 and 3 manual pages, this is a list  of  the
                     values  that  may  be  placed in errno in the event of an
                     error, along with information  about  the  cause  of  the
                     errors.   The error list should be in alphabetical order.

       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
                     programs,  the  default  installation  location   is   in
                     /usr/local,   so   your   base  manual  page  should  use
                     /usr/local as the base.

       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
                     section 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
                     only  matters  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.  For  a
                     page  in  Section  2  or  3, this section should note the
                     POSIX.1 version(s) that the call conforms  to,  and  also
                     whether  the  call is specified in C99.  (Don’t worry too
                     much about other standards like SUS, SUSv2, and  XPG,  or
                     the  SVr4 and 4.xBSD implementation standards, unless the
                     call was specified in those standards, but isn’t  in  the
                     current version of POSIX.1.)  (See standards(7).)

                     If the call is not governed by any standards but commonly
                     exists on other systems,  note  them.   If  the  call  is
                     Linux-specific, note this.

                     If  this  section  consists  of  just a list of standards
                     (which it commonly  does),  terminate  the  list  with  a
                     period ('.').

       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
                     function,  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
                     significantly amend a page, add a copyright notice  as  a
                     comment  in  the source file.  If you are the author of a
                     device  driver  and  want  to  include  an  address   for
                     reporting 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
                     documents.  Do not terminate this with a period.

   Font conventions
       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);

       Variable names should, like argument names, be specified in italics.

       Filenames  (whether  pathnames,  or  references   to   files   in   the
       /usr/include directory) are always in italics (e.g., <stdio.h>), except
       in the SYNOPSIS section,  where  included  files  are  in  bold  (e.g.,
       #include  <stdio.h>).   When referring to a standard include file under
       /usr/include, specify the header file surrounded by angle brackets,  in
       the usual C way (e.g., <stdio.h>).

       Special  macros,  which  are  usually in upper case, are in bold (e.g.,
       MAXINT).  Exception: don’t boldface NULL.

       When enumerating a list of error codes, the codes  are  in  bold  (this
       list usually uses the .TP macro).

       Complete commands should, if long, be written as in an indented line on
       their own, 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
       command.  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
       written 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
       easier 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
       (normal) font, without any separating  spaces  (e.g.,  intro(2)).   The
       preferred 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.)

       Starting  with  release  2.59,  man-pages  follows  American   spelling
       conventions;  please write all new pages and patches according to these

   Example Programs and Shell Sessions
       Manual pages can 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 only necessary and useful if it demonstrates
          something  beyond  what  can  easily  be  provided  in   a   textual
          description  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
          experimentation, by varying their behavior based on inputs  (ideally
          from command-line arguments, or alternatively, via input read by the

       *  Example programs should be  laid  out  according  to  Kernighan  and
          Ritchie  style,  with  4-space  indents.   (Avoid  the  use  of  TAB
          characters in source code!)

       For some examples of  what  example  programs  should  look  like,  see
       wait(2) and pipe(2).

       If  you  include  a shell session demonstrating the use of a program or
       other system feature, boldface the user input text, to  distinguish  it
       from output produced by the system.

   Indentation of structure definitions, shell session logs, etc.
       When  structure  definitions,  shell session logs, etc. are included in
       running text, indent them by  4  spaces  (i.e.,  a  block  enclosed  by
       .in +4n and .in).


       For canonical examples of how man pages in the man-pages package should
       look, see pipe(2) and fcntl(2).


       man(1), man2html(1), groff(7), groff_man(7), man(7), mdoc(7)


       This page is part of release 3.24 of the Linux  man-pages  project.   A
       description  of  the project, and information about reporting bugs, can
       be found at