Table of Contents
How to search and read Manpages efficiently
Manpages are pages in the online Unix Manual. I hope this Howto can help some of you to use them more effectively, although I'm aware that many of the readers are already familiar with this subject.
Searching for a Manpage
In order to search for information about anything in the manpages you can use one of the following commands:
apropos is only an alias for
man -k; there is no difference between
them. The difference between
whatis and the other commands is that
whatis searches for whole words whereas
respectively) searches for parts of strings.
If you don't know how exactly a word, for example a command, is written, you
apropos. If you know exactly the word to search for,
would be more efficient because it results in fewer lines of output.
Searching for information about DHCP:
user@darkstar$ apropos dhcp dhclient  (8) - script - DHCP client network configuration script dhclient.conf  (5) - DHCP client configuration file dhclient.leases  (5) - DHCP client lease database dhcp  (5) - eval - ISC DHCP conditional evaluation dhcp  (5) - options - Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol options dhcpcd  (8) - an RFC 2131 compliant DHCP client dhcpcd  (8) - run-hooks - DHCP client configuration script dhcpcd.conf  (5) - dhcpcd configuration file dhcpctl_initialize  (3) - dhcpctl library initialization dhcpctl_initialize  (3p) - dhcpctl library initialization dhcpd  (8) - Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol Server dhcpd.conf  (5) - dhcpd configuration file dhcpd.leases  (5) - DHCP client lease database dnsmasq  (8) - A lightweight DHCP and caching DNS server
user@darkstar$ whatis dhcp dhcp  (5) - eval - ISC DHCP conditional evaluation dhcp  (5) - options - Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol options
For both commands, the search is case-insensitive!
Updating the ''whatis'' Database
whatiscommand has its own database. The manpages for any packages of
the stock Slackware installation are already present in the database. This
is also true if you upgrade such packages. But if you build your own
packages from source, for example from
SlackBuilds.org, the manpages for these
packages are not yet present in the
whatis database. In order to update
the database after installing new packages, Slackware provides the
makewhatis command. It has to be executed as root.
Please note that some other distributions use the
mandb command for this
Sections in the Manual
Don't confuse these sections with the sections within the structure of each manpage; they are described in the paragraph below.
The manpages manual is divided into eight different sections. Here is an
extract from the manpage for the
MANUAL SECTIONS The standard sections of the manual include: 1 User Commands 2 System Calls 3 C Library Functions 4 Devices and Special Files 5 File Formats and Conventions 6 Games et. Al. 7 Miscellanea 8 System Administration tools and Daemons
If the manual pages for a topic are divided over different sections, one can
pass the section number as an additional argument to the
user@darkstar$ apropos man ... makecontext  (3) - manipulate user context makedev  (3) - manage a device number man  (1) - format and display the on-line manual pages man  (7) - macros to format man pages man  (7) - pages - conventions for writing Linux man pages man.conf  (5) - configuration data for man man2html  (1) - format a manual page in html manuals with  (7) - mdoc
Now if you want to read the manpage about “macros to format man pages” in section 7 you'll have to execute the following command:
user@darkstar$ man 7 man
The Structure of the Manpages
The manpages all have (or should have) the same structure:
- Name of the command and a short description of its function(s)
- A usage statement including a short list of the options
- A detailed explanation of the command
- Detailed explanation of the command line options for the command
- Known Bugs
- The author(s) of the package and maybe the author of the manpage
- See also
- Advice for manpages about similar or related programs
If one searches for information about a subject rather than a single command the “see also” line is very interesting.
Searching within a Manpage
The reader for the manpages is the program
less. Its keybindings are
very similar to the vi editor.
- / searches the document forward
- ? searched the document backwards
- n the cursor jumps to the next match.
The − key has no special meaning in the search patterns, so it is possible to search (for example) for the -k option with /-k
Searching for the -h option in the manpage for the
ls command with
-h gives us
-h, --human-readable with -l, print sizes in human readable format (e.g., 1K 234M 2G)
Navigation within a Manpage
Navigation commands are like those in vi:
- G end of the manpage
- G,G first line of the manpage
- n,G nth line of the manpage
One can also set marks at a line of the manpage
- M,a sets mark a in the current line
- ', a jumps to mark a in the manpage
Unfortunately these marks are lost when you leave the manpage (which is done with Q).
Formatting a Manpage as a PDF-document
If you want to have a manpage as a PDF document you can use the command:
man -t ls | ps2pdf - > ls-manpage.pdf
which formats the manpage for the
ls command into a pdf document
For more information read the manpage for the
man command and the
manpages listed in “see also”.
- Originally written by Markus Hutmacher