groff_out - groff intermediate output format
This manual page describes the intermediate output format of the GNU roff(7) text process-
ing system. This output is produced by a run of the GNU troff(1) program before it is fed
into a device postprocessor program.
As the GNU roff processor groff(1) is a wrapper program around troff that automatically
calls a postprocessor, this output does not show up normally. This is why it is called
intermediate within the groff system. The groff program provides the option -Z to inhibit
postprocessing, such that the produced intermediate output is sent to standard output just
like calling troff manually.
In this document, the term troff output describes what is output by the GNU troff program,
while intermediate output refers to the language that is accepted by the parser that pre-
pares this output for the postprocessors. This parser is smarter on whitespace and imple-
ments obsolete elements for compatibility, otherwise both formats are the same. The pre-
groff roff versions are denoted as classical troff.
The main purpose of the intermediate output concept is to facilitate the development of
postprocessors by providing a common programming interface for all devices. It has a lan-
guage of its own that is completely different from the groff(7) language. While the groff
language is a high-level programming language for text processing, the intermediate output
language is a kind of low-level assembler language by specifying all positions on the page
for writing and drawing.
The intermediate output produced by groff is fairly readable, while classical troff output
was hard to understand because of strange habits that are still supported, but not used
any longer by GNU troff.
During the run of troff, the roff input is cracked down to the information on what has to
be printed at what position on the intended device. So the language of the intermediate
output format can be quite small. Its only elements are commands with or without argu-
ments. In this document, the term "command" always refers to the intermediate output lan-
guage, never to the roff language used for document formatting. There are commands for
positioning and text writing, for drawing, and for device controlling.
Classical troff output had strange requirements on whitespace. The groff output parser,
however, is smart about whitespace by making it maximally optional. The whitespace char-
acters, i.e. the tab, space, and newline characters, always have a syntactical meaning.
They are never printable because spacing within the output is always done by positioning
Any sequence of space or tab characters is treated as a single syntactical space. It sep-
arates commands and arguments, but is only required when there would occur a clashing
between the command code and the arguments without the space. Most often, this happens
when variable length command names, arguments, argument lists, or command clusters meet.
Commands and arguments with a known, fixed length need not be separated by syntactical
A line break is a syntactical element, too. Every command argument can be followed by
whitespace, a comment, or a newline character. Thus a syntactical line break is defined
to consist of optional syntactical space that is optionally followed by a comment, and a
The normal commands, those for positioning and text, consist of a single letter taking a
fixed number of arguments. For historical reasons, the parser allows to stack such com-
mands on the same line, but fortunately, in groff intermediate output, every command with
at least one argument is followed by a line break, thus providing excellent readability.
The other commands -- those for drawing and device controlling -- have a more complicated
structure; some recognize long command names, and some take a variable number of argu-
ments. So all D and x commands were designed to request a syntactical line break after
their last argument. Only one command, `x X' has an argument that can stretch over sev-
eral lines, all other commands must have all of their arguments on the same line as the
command, i.e. the arguments may not be splitted by a line break.
Empty lines, i.e. lines containing only space and/or a comment, can occur everywhere.
They are just ignored.
Some commands take integer arguments that are assumed to represent values in a measurement
unit, but the letter for the corresponding scale indicator is not written with the output
command arguments; see groff(7) and the groff info file for more on this topic. Most com-
mands assume the scale indicator u, the basic unit of the device, some use z, the scaled
point unit of the device, while others, such as the color commands expect plain integers.
Note that these scale indicators are relative to the chosen device. They are defined by
the parameters specified in the device's DESC file; see groff_font(5).
Note that single characters can have the eighth bit set, as can the names of fonts and
special characters. The names of characters and fonts can be of arbitrary length. A
character that is to be printed will always be in the current font.
A string argument is always terminated by the next whitespace character (space, tab, or
newline); an embedded # character is regarded as part of the argument, not as the begin-
ning of a comment command. An integer argument is already terminated by the next non-
digit character, which then is regarded as the first character of the next argument or
A correct intermediate output document consists of two parts, the prologue and the body.
The task of the prologue is to set the general device parameters using three exactly spec-
ified commands. The groff prologue is guaranteed to consist of the following three lines
(in that order):
x T device
x res n h v
with the arguments set as outlined in the section Device Control Commands. But the parser
for the intermediate output format is able to swallow additional whitespace and comments
The body is the main section for processing the document data. Syntactically, it is a
sequence of any commands different from the ones used in the prologue. Processing is ter-
minated as soon as the first x stop command is encountered; the last line of any groff
intermediate output always contains such a command.
Semantically, the body is page oriented. A new page is started by a p command. Position-
ing, writing, and drawing commands are always done within the current page, so they cannot
occur before the first p command. Absolute positioning (by the H and V commands) is done
relative to the current page, all other positioning is done relative to the current loca-
tion within this page.
This section describes all intermediate output commands, the classical commands as well as
the groff extensions.
A comment. Ignore any characters from the # character up to the next newline char-
This command is the only possibility for commenting in the intermediate output. Each com-
ment can be preceded by arbitrary syntactical space; every command can be terminated by a
The commands in this subsection have a command code consisting of a single character, tak-
ing a fixed number of arguments. Most of them are commands for positioning and text writ-
ing. These commands are smart about whitespace. Optionally, syntactical space can be
inserted before, after, and between the command letter and its arguments. All of these
commands are stackable, i.e., they can be preceded by other simple commands or followed by
arbitrary other commands on the same line. A separating syntactical space is only neces-
sary when two integer arguments would clash or if the preceding argument ends with a
Print a special groff character named xxx. The trailing syntactical space or line
break is necessary to allow character names of arbitrary length. The character is
printed at the current print position; the character's size is read from the font
file. The print position is not changed.
c c Print character c at the current print position; the character's size is read from
the font file. The print position is not changed.
f n Set font to font number n (a non-negative integer).
H n Move right to the absolute vertical position n (a non-negative integer in basic
units u) relative to left edge of current page.
h n Move n (a non-negative integer) basic units u horizontally to the right. 
allows negative values for n also, but groff doesn't use this.
m color_scheme [component ...]
Set the color for text (glyphs), line drawing, and the outline of graphic objects
using different color schemes; the analoguous command for the filling color of
graphic objects is DF. The color components are specified as integer arguments
between 0 and 65536. The number of color components and their meaning vary for the
different color schemes. These commands are generated by the groff escape sequence
\m. No position changing. These commands are a groff extension.
mc cyan magenta yellow
Set color using the CMY color scheme, having the 3 color components cyan,
magenta, and yellow.
md Set color to the default color value (black in most cases). No component
Set color to the shade of gray given by the argument, an integer between 0
(black) and 65536 (white).
mk cyan magenta yellow black
Set color using the CMYK color scheme, having the 4 color components cyan,
magenta, yellow, and black.
mr red green blue
Set color using the RGB color scheme, having the 3 color components red,
green, and blue.
N n Print character with index n (a non-negative integer) of the current font. The
print position is not changed. This command is a groff extension.
n b a Inform the device about a line break, but no positioning is done by this command.
In classical troff, the integer arguments b and a informed about the space before
and after the current line to make the intermediate output more human readable
without performing any action. In groff, they are just ignored, but they must be
provided for compatibility reasons.
p n Begin a new page in the outprint. The page number is set to n. This page is com-
pletely independent of pages formerly processed even if those have the same page
number. The vertical position on the outprint is automatically set to 0. All
positioning, writing, and drawing is always done relative to a page, so a p command
must be issued before any of these commands.
s n Set point size to n scaled points (this is unit z in GNU troff). Classical troff
used the unit points (p) instead; see section COMPATIBILITY.
t xxx dummy_arg<white_space>
Print a word, i.e. a sequence of characters xxx terminated by a space character or
a line break; an optional second integer argument is ignored (this allows the for-
matter to generate an even number of arguments). The first character should be
printed at the current position, the current horizontal position should then be
increased by the width of the first character, and so on for each character. The
widths of the characters are read from the font file, scaled for the current point
size, and rounded to a multiple of the horizontal resolution. Special characters
cannot be printed using this command (use the C command for named characters).
This command is a groff extension; it is only used for devices whose DESC file con-
tains the tcommand keyword; see groff_font(5).
u n xxx<white_space>
Print word with track kerning. This is the same as the t command except that after
printing each character, the current horizontal position is increased by the sum of
the width of that character and n (an integer in basic units u). This command is a
groff extension; it is only used for devices whose DESC file contains the tcommand
keyword; see groff_font(5).
V n Move down to the absolute vertical position n (a non-negative integer in basic
units u) relative to upper edge of current page.
v n Move n basic units u down (n is a non-negative integer).  allows negative val-
ues for n also, but groff doesn't use this.
w Informs about a paddable whitespace to increase readability. The spacing itself
must be performed explicitly by a move command.
Each graphics or drawing command in the intermediate output starts with the letter D fol-
lowed by one or two characters that specify a subcommand; this is followed by a fixed or
variable number of integer arguments that are separated by a single space character. A
D command may not be followed by another command on the same line (apart from a comment),
so each D command is terminated by a syntactical line break.
troff output follows the classical spacing rules (no space between command and subcommand,
all arguments are preceded by a single space character), but the parser allows optional
space between the command letters and makes the space before the first argument optional.
As usual, each space can be any sequence of tab and space characters.
Some graphics commands can take a variable number of arguments. In this case, they are
integers representing a size measured in basic units u. The arguments called h1, h2, ...,
hn h1, h2, ..., hn stand for horizontal distances where positive means right, negative
left. The arguments called v1, v2, ..., vn v1, v2, ..., vn stand for vertical distances
where positive means down, negative up. All these distances are offsets relative to the
Unless indicated otherwise, each graphics command directly corresponds to a similar groff
\D escape sequence; see groff(7).
Unknown D commands are assumed to be device-specific. Its arguments are parsed as
strings; the whole information is then sent to the postprocessor.
In the following command reference, the syntax element <line_break> means a syntactical
line break as defined in section Separation.
D~ h1 v1 h2 v2 ... hn vn<line_break>
Draw B-spline from current position to offset (h1, v1), then to offset (h2, v2) if
given, etc. up to (hn, vn). This command takes a variable number of argument pairs;
the current position is moved to the terminal point of the drawn curve.
Da h1 v1 h2 v2<line_break>
Draw arc from current position to (h1, v1)+(h2, v2) with center at (h1, v1); then
move the current position to the final point of the arc.
DC d dummy_arg<line_break>
Draw a solid circle using the current fill color with diameter d (integer in basic
units u) with leftmost point at the current position; then move the current posi-
tion to the rightmost point of the circle. An optional second integer argument is
ignored (this allows to the formatter to generate an even number of arguments).
This command is a groff extension.
Draw circle line with diameter d (integer in basic units u) with leftmost point at
the current position; then move the current position to the rightmost point of the
DE h v<line_break>
Draw a solid ellipse in the current fill color with a horizontal diameter of h and
a vertical diameter of v (both integers in basic units u) with the leftmost point
at the current position; then move to the rightmost point of the ellipse. This
command is a groff extension.
De h v<line_break>
Draw an outlined ellipse with a horizontal diameter of h and a vertical diameter
of v (both integers in basic units u) with the leftmost point at current position;
then move to the rightmost point of the ellipse.
DF color_scheme [component ...]<line_break>
Set fill color for solid drawing objects using different color schemes; the ana-
loguous command for setting the color of text, line graphics, and the outline of
graphic objects is m. The color components are specified as integer arguments
between 0 and 65536. The number of color components and their meaning vary for the
different color schemes. These commands are generated by the groff escape
sequences \D'F ...' and \M (with no other corresponding graphics commands). No
position changing. This command is a groff extension.
DFc cyan magenta yellow<line_break>
Set fill color for solid drawing objects using the CMY color scheme, having
the 3 color components cyan, magenta, and yellow.
Set fill color for solid drawing objects to the default fill color value
(black in most cases). No component arguments.
Set fill color for solid drawing objects to the shade of gray given by the
argument, an integer between 0 (black) and 65536 (white).
DFk cyan magenta yellow black<line_break>
Set fill color for solid drawing objects using the CMYK color scheme, having
the 4 color components cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.
DFr red green blue<line_break>
Set fill color for solid drawing objects using the RGB color scheme, having
the 3 color components red, green, and blue.
The argument n must be an integer in the range -32767 to 32767.
0 <= n <= 1000
Set the color for filling solid drawing objects to a shade of gray, where 0
corresponds to solid white, 1000 (the default) to solid black, and values in
between to intermediate shades of gray; this is obsoleted by command DFg.
n < 0 or n > 1000
Set the filling color to the color that is currently being used for the text
and the outline, see command m. For example, the command sequence
mg 0 0 65536
sets all colors to blue.
No position changing. This command is a groff extension.
Dl h v<line_break>
Draw line from current position to offset (h, v) (integers in basic units u); then
set current position to the end of the drawn line.
Dp h1 v1 h2 v2 ... hn vn<line_break>
Draw a polygon line from current position to offset (h1, v1), from there to offset
(h2, v2), etc. up to offset (hn, vn), and from there back to the starting position.
For historical reasons, the position is changed by adding the sum of all arguments
with odd index to the actual horizontal position and the even ones to the vertical
position. Although this doesn't make sense it is kept for compatibility. This
command is a groff extension.
DP h1 v1 h2 v2 ... hn vn<line_break>
The same macro as the corresponding Dp command with the same arguments, but draws a
solid polygon in the current fill color rather than an outlined polygon. The posi-
tion is changed in the same way as with Dp. This command is a groff extension.
Set the current line thickness to n (an integer in basic units u) if n>0; if n=0
select the smallest available line thickness; if n<0 set the line thickness propor-
tional to the point size (this is the default before the first Dt command was spec-
ified). For historical reasons, the horizontal position is changed by adding the
argument to the actual horizontal position, while the vertical position is not
changed. Although this doesn't make sense it is kept for compatibility. This com-
mand is a groff extension.
Device Control Commands
Each device control command starts with the letter x followed by a space character
(optional or arbitrary space/tab in groff) and a subcommand letter or word; each argument
(if any) must be preceded by a syntactical space. All x commands are terminated by a syn-
tactical line break; no device control command can be followed by another command on the
same line (except a comment).
The subcommand is basically a single letter, but to increase readability, it can be writ-
ten as a word, i.e. an arbitrary sequence of characters terminated by the next tab, space,
or newline character. All characters of the subcommand word but the first are simply
ignored. For example, troff outputs the initialization command x i as x init and the res-
olution command x r as x res. But writings like x i_like_groff and x roff_is_groff resp.
are accepted as well to mean the same commands.
In the following, the syntax element <line_break> means a syntactical line break as
defined in section Separation.
(Filename control command)
Use name as the intended name for the current file in error reports. This is use-
ful for remembering the original file name when groff uses an internal piping mech-
anism. The input file is not changed by this command. This command is a groff
xf n s<line_break>
(font control command)
Mount font position n (a non-negative integer) with font named s (a text word), cf.
(Height control command)
Set character height to n (a positive integer in scaled points z). Classical troff
used the unit points (p) instead; see section COMPATIBILITY.
(init control command)
Initialize device. This is the third command of the prologue.
(pause control command)
Parsed but ignored. The classical documentation reads pause device, can be
xr n h v<line_break>
(resolution control command)
Resolution is n, while h is the minimal horizontal motion, and v the minimal verti-
cal motion possible with this device; all arguments are positive integers in basic
units u per inch. This is the second command of the prologue.
(Slant control command)
Set slant to n (an integer in basic units u).
(stop control command)
Terminates the processing of the current file; issued as the last command of any
intermediate troff output.
(trailer control command)
Generate trailer information, if any. In groff, this is actually just ignored.
(Typesetter control command)
Set name of device to word xxx, a sequence of characters ended by the next white-
space character. The possible device names coincide with those from the groff -T
option. This is the first command of the prologue.
(underline control command)
Configure underlining of spaces. If n is 1, start underlining of spaces; if n
is 0, stop underlining of spaces. This is needed for the cu request in nroff mode
and is ignored otherwise. This command is a groff extension.
(X-escape control command)
Send string anything uninterpreted to the device. If the line following this com-
mand starts with a + character this line is interpreted as a continuation line in
the following sense. The + is ignored, but a newline character is sent instead to
the device, the rest of the line is sent uninterpreted. The same applies to all
following lines until the first character of a line is not a + character. This
command is generated by the groff escape sequence \X. The line-continuing feature
is a groff extension.
In classical troff output, the writing of a single character was mostly done by a very
strange command that combined a horizontal move and the printing of a character. It
didn't have a command code, but is represented by a 3-character argument consisting of
exactly 2 digits and a character.
ddc Move right dd (exactly two decimal digits) basic units u, then print character c.
In groff, arbitrary syntactical space around and within this command is allowed to
be added. Only when a preceding command on the same line ends with an argument of
variable length a separating space is obligatory. In classical troff, large clus-
ters of these and other commands were used, mostly without spaces; this made such
output almost unreadable.
For modern high-resolution devices, this command does not make sense because the width of
the characters can become much larger than two decimal digits. In groff, this is only
used for the devices X75, X75-12, X100, and X100-12. For other devices, the commands t
and u provide a better functionality.
The roff postprocessors are programs that have the task to translate the intermediate out-
put into actions that are sent to a device. A device can be some piece of hardware such
as a printer, or a software file format suitable for graphical or text processing. The
groff system provides powerful means that make the programming of such postprocessors an
There is a library function that parses the intermediate output and sends the information
obtained to the device via methods of a class with a common interface for each device. So
a groff postprocessor must only redefine the methods of this class. For details, see the
reference in section FILES.
This section presents the intermediate output generated from the same input for three dif-
ferent devices. The input is the sentence hell world fed into groff on the command line.
o High-resolution device ps
shell> echo hell world | groff -Z -T ps
x T ps
x res 72000 1 1
x font 5 TR
This output can be fed into the postprocessor grops(1) to get its representation as a
o Low-resolution device latin1
This is similar to the high-resolution device except that the positioning is done at a
minor scale. Some comments (lines starting with #) were added for clarification; they
were not generated by the formatter.
shell> echo hell world | groff -Z -T latin1
x T latin1
x res 240 24 40
# begin a new page
# font setup
x font 1 R
# initial positioning on the page
# write text `hell'
# inform about a space, and do it by a horizontal jump
# write text `world'
# announce line break, but do nothing because ...
# ... the end of the document has been reached
This output can be fed into the postprocessor grotty(1) to get a formatted text document.
o Classical style output
As a computer monitor has a very low resolution compared to modern printers the interme-
diate output for the X devices can use the jump-and-write command with its 2-digit dis-
shell> echo hell world | groff -Z -T X100
x T X100
x res 100 1 1
x font 5 TR
# write text with old-style jump-and-write command
This output can be fed into the postprocessor xditview(1x) or gxditview(1) for displaying
Due to the obsolete jump-and-write command, the text clusters in the classical output are
The intermediate output language of the classical troff was first documented in . The
groff intermediate output format is compatible with this specification except for the fol-
o The classical quasi device independence is not yet implemented.
o The old hardware was very different from what we use today. So the groff devices are
also fundamentally different from the ones in classical troff. For example, the classi-
cal PostScript device was called post and had a resolution of 720 units per inch, while
groff's ps device has a resolution of 72000 units per inch. Maybe, by implementing some
rescaling mechanism similar to the classical quasi device independence, these could be
integrated into modern groff.
o The B-spline command D~ is correctly handled by the intermediate output parser, but the
drawing routines aren't implemented in some of the postprocessor programs.
o The argument of the commands s and x H has the implicit unit scaled point z in groff,
while classical troff had point (p). This isn't an incompatibility, but a compatible
extension, for both units coincide for all devices without a sizescale parameter,
including all classical and the groff text devices. The few groff devices with a
sizescale parameter either did not exist, had a different name, or seem to have had a
different resolution. So conflicts with classical devices are very unlikely.
o The position changing after the commands Dp, DP, and Dt is illogical, but as old ver-
sions of groff used this feature it is kept for compatibility reasons.
The differences between groff and classical troff are documented in groff_diff(7).
Device description file for device name.
Defines the parser and postprocessor for the intermediate output. It is located
relative to the top directory of the groff source tree, e.g. @GROFFSRCDIR@. This
parser is the definitive specification of the groff intermediate output format.
A reference like groff(7) refers to a manual page; here groff in section 7 of the man-page
documentation system. To read the example, look up section 7 in your desktop help system
or call from the shell prompt
shell> man 7 groff
For more details, see man(1).
option -Z and further readings on groff.
for details of the groff language such as numerical units and escape sequences.
for details on the device scaling parameters of the DESC file.
generates the device-independent intermediate output.
for historical aspects and the general structure of roff systems.
The differences between the intermediate output in groff and classical troff.
grodvi(1), grohtml(1), grolbp(1), grolj4(1), grops(1), grotty(1)
the groff postprocessor programs.
For a treatment of all aspects of the groff system within a single document, see the groff
info file. It can be read within the integrated help systems, within emacs(1) or from the
shell prompt by
shell> info groff
The classical troff output language is described in two AT&T Bell Labs CSTR documents
available on-line at Bell Labs CSTR site <http://cm.bell-labs.com/cm/cs/cstr.html>.
A Typesetter-independent TROFF by Brian Kernighan is the original and most concise
documentation on the output language; see CSTR #97 <http://cm.bell-labs.com/cm/cs/
The 1992 revision of the Nroff/Troff User's Manual by J. F. Osanna and Brian
Kernighan isn't as concise as [CSTR #97] regarding the output language; see
CSTR #54 <http://cm.bell-labs.com/cm/cs/cstr/54.ps.gz>.
Copyright (C) 1989, 2001, 2002 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
This document is distributed under the terms of the FDL (GNU Free Documentation License)
version 1.1 or later. You should have received a copy of the FDL with this package; it is
also available on-line at the GNU copyleft site <http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html>.
This document is part of groff, the GNU roff distribution. It is based on a former ver-
sion - published under the GPL - that described only parts of the groff extensions of the
output language. It has been rewritten 2002 by Bernd Warken <email@example.com> and is
maintained by Werner Lemberg <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Groff Version 1.18.1 12 September 2002 GROFF_OUT(5)