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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 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, many of the pages
       that appear in Sections 3, 4, and 7, and a few of the pages that appear
       in Sections 1, 5, and 8 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 User commands (Programs)
                 Those commands that can be executed by the user from within a

       2 System calls
                 Those  functions  which  wrap  operations  performed  by  the

       3 Library calls
                 All library functions  excluding  the  system  call  wrappers
                 (Most of the libc functions).

       4 Special files (devices)
                 Files  found in /dev which allow to access to devices through
                 the kernel.

       5 File formats and configuration files
                 Describes   various   human-readable   file    formats    and
                 configuration files.

       6 Games   Games and funny little programs available on the system.

       7 Overview, conventions, and miscellaneous
                 Overviews  or descriptions of various topics, conventions and
                 protocols, character set standards, the  standard  filesystem
                 layout, 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 nontrivial change that  was  made
                        to  the  man page.  (Within the man-pages project, the
                        necessary updates  to  these  timestamps  are  handled
                        automatically  by  scripts,  so  there  is  no need to
                        manually update them  as  part  of  a  patch.)   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
                        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 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]
            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 command.  All words in this
                     line (including the word immediately following the  "\-")
                     should be in lowercase, except where English or technical
                     terminological convention dictates otherwise.

       SYNOPSIS      A brief summary of 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 appears only in Section 4 pages.

       DESCRIPTION   An explanation of what the program, function,  or  format

                     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 section.

                     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,
                     for example).

       OPTIONS       A description of 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   A list of the possible exit status values  of  a  program
                     and   the  conditions  that  cause  these  values  to  be

                     This section should appear  only  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

                     The error list should be in alphabetical order.

       ENVIRONMENT   A  list  of  all  environment  variables  that affect the
                     program or function and how they affect it.

       FILES         A list of 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.

       ATTRIBUTES    A  summary  of  various  attributes  of  the  function(s)
                     documented  on  this page.  See attributes(7) for further

       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 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 2.0).

                     The syscalls(2) manual  page  also  provides  information
                     about kernel versions in which various system calls first

       CONFORMING TO A description of 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
                     listed as headings in standards(7).

                     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.)

                     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         Miscellaneous notes.

                     For Section 2 and 3 man pages you may find it  useful  to
                     include  subsections  (SS)  named  Linux  Notes and Glibc

                     In  Section  2,  use   the   heading   C   library/kernel
                     differences   to   mark   off  notes  that  describe  the
                     differences  (if  any)  between  the  C  library  wrapper
                     function  for  a  system  call  and  the  raw system call
                     interface provided by the kernel.

       BUGS          A list of limitations, known defects  or  inconveniences,
                     and other questionable activities.

       EXAMPLE       One  or  more  examples  demonstrating how this function,
                     file or command is used.

                     For details on  writing  example  programs,  see  Example
                     Programs below.

       AUTHORS       A list of 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      A  comma-separated  list  of  related man pages, possibly
                     followed by other related pages or documents.

                     The list should be ordered by  section  number  and  then
                     alphabetically  by name.  Do not terminate this list 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
                     individual page names can be prevented by preceding words
                     with the string "\%".

                     Given the distributed, autonomous nature of FOSS projects
                     and their documentation, it is sometimes necessary—and in
                     many  cases  desirable—that the SEE ALSO section includes
                     references to manual pages provided by other projects.


       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.

   Formatting conventions for manual pages describing functions
       For manual pages that describe command (typically in Sections 1 and 8),
       the arguments are always specified using italics, even in the  SYNOPSIS

       The name of the command, and its options, should always be formatted in

   Formatting conventions for manual pages describing functions
       For manual pages that describe functions (typically in Sections  2  and
       3),  the  arguments  are  always  specified  using italics, even in the
       SYNOPSIS section, where the rest of the function is specified in bold:

           int myfunction(int argc, char **argv);

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

       Any reference to the subject of  the  current  manual  page  should  be
       written  with  the  name  in  bold 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.)

   Formatting conventions (general)
       Filenames (whether pathnames, or references to header files) 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 header file include, specify the header  file  surrounded
       by angle brackets, in the usual C way (e.g., <stdio.h>).

       Special  macros,  which  are  usually  in uppercase, 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 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
       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.

       When  showing example shell sessions, user input should be formatted in
       bold, for example

               $ date
               Thu Jul  7 13:01:27 CEST 2016

       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.)

       Control characters should be written in bold face, with no quotes;  for
       example, ^X.

       Starting   with  release  2.59,  man-pages  follows  American  spelling
       conventions (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.

   BSD version numbers
       The  classical  scheme for writing BSD version numbers is x.yBSD, where
       x.y is the version number (e.g., 4.2BSD).  Avoid forms such as BSD 4.3.

       In subsection  ("SS")  headings,  capitalize  the  first  word  in  the
       heading, but otherwise use lowercase, except where English usage (e.g.,
       proper nouns) or programming language  requirements  (e.g.,  identifier
       names) dictate otherwise.  For example:

           .SS Unicode under Linux

   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).

   Preferred terms
       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
       built-in             builtin
       Epoch                epoch                    For the UNIX  Epoch
                                                     (00:00:00,   1  Jan
                                                     1970 UTC)
       filename             file name

       filesystem           file system
       hostname             host name
       inode                i-node
       lowercase            lower case, lower-case
       pathname             path name
       pseudoterminal       pseudo-terminal
       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
       usable               useable
       user space           userspace
       username             user name
       zeros                zeroes

       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

       Avoid             Use instead           Notes

       32bit             32-bit                same   for   8-bit,
                                               16-bit, etc.
       current process   calling process       A   common  mistake
                                               made   by    kernel
                                               programmers    when
                                               writing man pages
       manpage           man  page,   manual
       minus infinity    negative infinity
       non-root          unprivileged user
       non-superuser     unprivileged user
       nonprivileged     unprivileged
       OS                operating system
       plus infinity     positive infinity
       pty               pseudoterminal
       tty               terminal
       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
       sometimes misspelled:


   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
       constant '\0'.

       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
       rendering 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).

       Always include periods  in  such  abbreviations,  as  shown  here.   In
       addition, "e.g." and "i.e." should always be followed by a comma.

       The  way  to  write  an em-dash—the glyph that appears at either end of
       this subphrase—in *roff  is  with  the  macro  "\(em".   (On  an  ASCII
       terminal,  an  em-dash  typically  renders as two hyphens, but in other
       typographical contexts it renders as a long dash.)  Em-dashes should be
       written without surrounding spaces.

   Hyphenation of attributive compounds
       Compound  terms  should be hyphenated when used attributively (i.e., to
       qualify a following noun). Some examples:

           32-bit value
           command-line argument
           floating-point number
           run-time check
           user-space function
           wide-character string

   Hyphenation with multi, non, pre, re, sub, and so on
       The general tendency in  modern  English  is  not  to  hyphenate  after
       prefixes 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:


       This guideline applies also to code examples.

   Character constants
       To  produce single quotes that render well in both ASCII and UTF-8, use
       the following form for character constants in the man page source:


       where C is the  quoted  character.   This  guideline  applies  also  to
       character constants used in code examples.

   Example programs and shell sessions
       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
          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!)  The following command can be used to
          format your source code to something close to the preferred style:

              indent -npro -kr -i4 -ts4 -sob -l72 -ss -nut -psl prog.c

       *  For consistency, all example programs should terminate using  either


          Avoid using the following forms to terminate a program:

              return n;

       *  If  there  is  extensive  explanatory text before the program source
          code, mark off the source code with  a  subsection  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

       *  Indent the session log by four spaces.

       *  Boldface the user input text, to distinguish it from output produced
          by the system.

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


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


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


       This page is part of release 4.07 of the Linux  man-pages  project.   A
       description  of  the project, information about reporting bugs, and the
       latest    version    of    this    page,    can     be     found     at