MAN-PAGES(7) Linux Programmer's Manual MAN-PAGES(7)
man-pages - conventions for writing Linux man pages
man [section] title
This page describes the conventions that should be employed when writ-
ing man pages for the Linux man-pages project, which documents the
user-space API provided by the Linux kernel and the GNU C library. The
project thus provides most of the pages in Section 2, 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 con-
ventions 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 ker-
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
5 File formats and configuration files
Describes various human-readable file formats and configura-
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.
New manual pages should be marked up using the groff an.tmac package
described in man(7). This choice is mainly for consistency: the vast
majority of existing Linux manual pages are marked up using these
Conventions for source file layout
Please limit source code line length to no more than about 75 charac-
ters wherever possible. This helps avoid line-wrapping in some mail
clients when patches are submitted inline.
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 au-
tomatically by scripts, so there is no need to manu-
ally 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 prac-
tice was to write the version number of the kernel
from which the manual page was being written/checked.
However, this was never done consistently, and so was
probably worse than including no version number.
Henceforth, avoid including a version number.)
For library calls that are part of glibc or one of the
other common GNU libraries, just use GNU C Library,
GNU, or an empty string.
For Section 4 pages, use Linux.
In cases of doubt, just write Linux, or GNU.
manual The title of the manual (e.g., for Section 2 and 3
pages in the man-pages package, use Linux Programmer's
Sections within a manual page
The list below shows conventional or suggested sections. Most manual
pages should include at least the highlighted sections. Arrange a new
manual page so that sections are placed in the order shown in the list.
CONFIGURATION [Normally only in Section 4]
OPTIONS [Normally only in Sections 1, 8]
EXIT STATUS [Normally only in Sections 1, 8]
RETURN VALUE [Normally only in Sections 2, 3]
ERRORS [Typically only in Sections 2, 3]
VERSIONS [Normally only in Sections 2, 3]
ATTRIBUTES [Normally only in Sections 2, 3]
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 sec-
The following list elaborates on the contents of each of the above sec-
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
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 er-
ror. Omit internals and implementation details unless
they're critical for understanding the interface. De-
scribe 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 li-
brary versions (which is typical in embedded systems, for
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 man-
EXIT STATUS A list of the possible exit status values of a program
and the conditions that cause these values to be re-
This section should appear only for Section 1 and 8 man-
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 re-
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 er-
ror, along with information about the cause of the er-
Where several different conditions produce the same er-
ror, the preferred approach is to create separate list
entries (with duplicate error names) for each of the con-
ditions. This makes the separate conditions clear, may
make the list easier to read, and allows metainformation
(e.g., kernel version number where the condition first
became applicable) to be more easily marked for each con-
The error list should be in alphabetical order.
ENVIRONMENT A list of all environment variables that affect the pro-
gram 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 in-
stallation process to modify the directory part to match
user preferences. For many programs, the default instal-
lation location is in /usr/local, so your base manual
page should use /usr/local as the base.
ATTRIBUTES A summary of various attributes of the function(s) docu-
mented on this page. See attributes(7) for further de-
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 writ-
ten). Patches to remedy this are welcome, but, from the
perspective of programmers writing new code, this infor-
mation probably matters only in the case of kernel inter-
faces 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 pe-
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 differ-
ences 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
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 pro-
AUTHORS A list of authors of the documentation or program.
Use of an AUTHORS section is strongly discouraged. Gen-
erally, 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 no-
tice as a comment in the source file. If you are the au-
thor 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 al-
phabetically by name. Do not terminate this list with a
Where the SEE ALSO list contains many long manual page
names, to improve the visual result of the output, it may
be useful to employ the .ad l (don't right justify) and
.nh (don't hyphenate) directives. Hyphenation of indi-
vidual page names can be prevented by preceding words
with the string "\%".
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 in-
cludes references to manual pages provided by other
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 commands
For manual pages that describe a command (typically in Sections 1 and
8), the arguments are always specified using italics, even in the SYN-
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 SYN-
OPSIS 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 writ-
ten 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 eas-
ier to write tools that parse man page source files.)
Use semantic newlines
In the source of a manual page, new sentences should be started on new
lines, and long sentences should split into lines at clause breaks
(commas, semicolons, colons, and so on). This convention, sometimes
known as "semantic newlines", makes it easier to see the effect of
patches, which often operate at the level of individual sentences or
Formatting conventions (general)
Paragraphs should be separated by suitable markers (usually either .PP
or .IP). Do not separate paragraphs using blank lines, as this results
in poor rendering in some output formats (such as PostScript and PDF).
Filenames (whether pathnames, or references to header files) are always
in italics (e.g., <stdio.h>), except in the SYNOPSIS section, where in-
cluded 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., MAX-
INT). 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 com-
mand. Command options should be written in italics (e.g., -l).
Expressions, if not written on a separate indented line, should be
specified in italics. Again, the use of nonbreaking spaces may be ap-
propriate if the expression is inlined with normal text.
When showing example shell sessions, user input should be formatted in
bold, for example
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 (nor-
mal) font, without any separating spaces (e.g., intro(2)). The pre-
ferred way to write this in the source file is:
.BR intro (2)
(Including the section number in cross references lets tools like
man2html(1) create properly hyperlinked pages.)
Control characters should be written in bold face, with no quotes; for
Starting with release 2.59, man-pages follows American spelling conven-
tions (previously, there was a random mix of British and American
spellings); please write all new pages and patches according to these
Aside from the well-known spelling differences, there are a few other
subtleties to watch for:
* American English tends to use the forms "backward", "upward", "to-
ward", and so on rather than the British forms "backwards", "up-
wards", "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 head-
ing, 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), format them using the .EX and EE macros, and surround
them with suitable paragraph markers (either .PP or .IP). For example:
main(int argc, char *argv)
The following table lists some preferred terms to use in man pages,
mainly to ensure consistency across pages.
Term Avoid using Notes
bit mask bitmask
Epoch epoch For the UNIX Epoch
(00:00:00, 1 Jan
filename file name
filesystem file system
hostname host name
lowercase lower case, lower-case
pathname path name
privileged port reserved port, system
real-time realtime, real time
run time runtime
saved set-group-ID saved group ID, saved
saved set-user-ID saved user ID, saved
set-group-ID set-GID, setgid
set-user-ID set-UID, setuid
superuser super user, super-user
superblock super block, super-
timestamp time stamp
timezone time zone
uppercase upper case, upper-case
user space userspace
username user name
x86-64 x86_64 Except if referring
to result of "un-
ame -m" or similar
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,
current process calling process A common mistake
made by kernel pro-
grammers when writ-
ing man pages
manpage man page, manual
minus infinity negative infinity
non-root unprivileged user
non-superuser unprivileged user
OS operating system
plus infinity positive infinity
Unices UNIX systems
Unixes UNIX systems
Use the correct spelling and case for trademarks. The following is a
list of the correct spellings of various relevant trademarks that are
NULL, NUL, null pointer, and null character
A null pointer is a pointer that points to nothing, and is normally in-
dicated 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
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 de-
scribed as "null-terminated", but avoid the use of "NUL-terminated".
For hyperlinks, use the .UR/.UE macro pair (see groff_man(7)). This
produces proper hyperlinks that can be used in a web browser, when ren-
dering a page with, say:
BROWSER=firefox man -H pagename
Use of e.g., i.e., etc., a.k.a., and similar
In general, the use of abbreviations such as "e.g.", "i.e.", "etc.",
"cf.", and "a.k.a." should be avoided, in favor of suitable full word-
ings ("for example", "that is", "compare to", "and so on", "also known
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 addi-
tion, "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 termi-
nal, an em-dash typically renders as two hyphens, but in other typo-
graphical 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:
Hyphenation with multi, non, pre, re, sub, and so on
The general tendency in modern English is not to hyphenate after pre-
fixes such as "multi", "non", "pre", "re", "sub", and so on. Manual
pages should generally follow this rule when these prefixes are used in
natural English constructions with simple suffixes. The following list
gives some examples of the preferred forms:
Hyphens should be retained when the prefixes are used in nonstandard
English words, with trademarks, proper nouns, acronyms, or compound
terms. Some examples:
Finally, note that "re-create" and "recreate" are two different verbs,
and the former is probably what you want.
Real minus character
Where a real minus character is required (e.g., for numbers such as -1,
for man page cross references such as utf-8(7), 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.
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 char-
acter 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 descrip-
tion of the interface. An example program that does nothing other
than call an interface usually serves little purpose.
* Example programs should be fairly short (preferably less than 100
lines; ideally less than 50 lines).
* Example programs should do error checking after system calls and li-
brary function calls.
* Example programs should be complete, and compile without warnings
when compiled with cc -Wall.
* Where possible and appropriate, example programs should allow exper-
imentation, by varying their behavior based on inputs (ideally from
command-line arguments, or alternatively, via input read by the pro-
* Example programs should be laid out according to Kernighan and
Ritchie style, with 4-space indents. (Avoid the use of TAB charac-
ters in source code!) 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:
* 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 5.05 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
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