Manual Page

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What Does Manual Page Mean?

A manual page (man page) is a Unix-based online manual for Unix-based interactive shell commands, system objects and interfaces. The man command can be entered by a system user. To display a certain man page, the user must type a space after the man command then type the name of the command or object for which he or she is seeking information.


Man pages are preinstalled documents associated with Unix-like operating systems, where each page is a self-contained document. They are stored as “nroff” files. The first man pages were written by Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson in early 1971. At that time, it was hard to find published information about Unix-based commands. Man page was therefore seen as a step forward in the world of information and documentation.

Techopedia Explains Manual Page

The command format to find the man itself is “man man”. If only the general topic rather than the command name is known, the “apropos” command is used. This lists all man pages related to the topic specified.

The majority of Unix GUI applications provide end-user documentation in HTML, including embedded HTML viewers, such as Yelp, to read the help within the application. Generally, they are in English. However, translations to other languages are also available in the system. The default format of the man page is “troff”, including the macro package “man”, or “mdoc” on some systems. Therefore, a man page can be typeset to PostScript, PDF, and other formats for viewing or printing. Modern Linux distributions use the “man2html” command to browse their man pages using an HTML browser. OpenBSD also uses “mandoc”, a formatter for man pages that supports output in HTML, XHTML and PostScript. The manual is usually split into eight numbered sections for BSD, Linux and Unix, as follows:

  1. General commands
  2. System calls
  3. C library functions
  4. Special files and drivers
  5. File formats and conventions
  6. Miscellanea
  7. Screen savers and games
  8. System administration commands and daemons

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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert
Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.