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 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, as well
as many of the pages that appear in Sections 3, 4, 5, and 7 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 Commands (Programs)
Those commands that can be executed by the user from within a shell.
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.
7 Overview, 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.
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 macros.
Conventions for source file layout
Please limit source code line length to no more than about 75 characters wherever possi-
ble. This helps avoid line-wrapping in some mail clients when patches are submitted
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.
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., MAN-PAGES).
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-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 Manual).
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]
ATTRIBUTES [Normally only in Sections 2, 3]
VERSIONS [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 sections.
The following list elaborates on the contents of each of the above sections.
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 other-
SYNOPSIS briefly describes the command or function's interface. For commands, this
shows the syntax of the command and its arguments (including options); bold-
face 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 declara-
tion 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 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
When describing new behavior or new flags for a system call or library func-
tion, 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
XYZ_FLAG (since Linux 3.7)
Description of flag...
Including version information is especially useful to users who are con-
strained to using older kernel or C library versions (which is typical in
embedded systems, for example).
OPTIONS describes 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
EXIT STATUS lists the possible exit status values of a program and the conditions that
cause these values to be returned. This section should appear only for Sec-
tion 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 returned.
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.
ATTRIBUTES A summary of various attributes of the function(s) documented on this page,
broken into subsections. The following subsections are defined:
Multithreading (see pthreads(7))
This subsection notes attributes relating to multithreaded applica-
* Whether the function is thread-safe.
* Whether the function is a cancellation point.
* Whether the function is async-cancel-safe.
Details of these attributes can be found in pthreads(7).
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 ker-
nel 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 appeared.
CONFORMING TO describes any standards or conventions that relate to the function or com-
mand described by the manual page. For a page in Section 2 or 3, this sec-
tion 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
EXAMPLE provides one or more examples describing how this function, file or command
is used. For details on writing example programs, see Example Programs
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.
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 "\%".
For functions, the arguments are always specified using italics, even in the SYNOPSIS sec-
tion, 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.
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
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
Complete commands should, if long, be written as in an indented line on their own, for
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.,
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
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 prop-
erly hyperlinked pages.)
Starting with release 2.59, man-pages follows American spelling conventions; please write
all new pages and patches according to these conventions.
In subsection ("SS") headings capitalize the first word in heading, but otherwise use
lower case, except where English usage (e.g., proper nouns) or programming language
requirements (e.g., identifier names) dictate otherwise.
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 necessary and useful only if it demonstrates something beyond
what can easily be provided in a textual description of the interface. An example pro-
gram 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
* Example programs should be complete, and compile without warnings when compiled with
* Where possible and appropriate, example programs should allow experimentation, by vary-
ing their behavior based on inputs (ideally from command-line arguments, or alterna-
tively, via input read by the program).
* 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, and so on 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)
man(1), man2html(1), groff(7), groff_man(7), man(7), mdoc(7)
This page is part of release 3.55 of the Linux man-pages project. A description of the
project, and information about reporting bugs, can be found at
Linux 2013-07-24 MAN-PAGES(7)