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groff - front-end for the groff document formatting system


groff [-abcegijklpstzCEGNRSUVXZ] [-d cs] [-D arg] [-f fam] [-F dir] [-I dir] [-K arg]
[-L arg] [-m name] [-M dir] [-n num] [-o list] [-P arg] [-r cn] [-T dev] [-w name]
[-W name] [file ...]
groff -h | --help
groff -v | --version [option ...]


This document describes the groff program, the main front-end for the groff document
formatting system. The groff program and macro suite is the implementation of a roff(7)
system within the free software collection GNU ⟨http://www.gnu.org⟩. The groff system has
all features of the classical roff, but adds many extensions.

The groff program allows to control the whole groff system by command line options. This
is a great simplification in comparison to the classical case (which uses pipes only).


The command line is parsed according to the usual GNU convention. The whitespace between
a command line option and its argument is optional. Options can be grouped behind a
single ‘-’ (minus character). A filename of - (minus character) denotes the standard

As groff is a wrapper program for troff both programs share a set of options. But the
groff program has some additional, native options and gives a new meaning to some troff
options. On the other hand, not all troff options can be fed into groff.

Native groff Options
The following options either do not exist for troff or are differently interpreted by

-D arg Set default input encoding used by preconv to arg. Implies -k.

-e Preprocess with eqn.

-g Preprocess with grn.

-G Preprocess with grap. Implies -p.

--help Print a help message.

-I dir This option may be used to specify a directory to search for files (both those on
the command line and those named in .psbb and .so requests, and \X'ps: import' and
\X'ps: file' escapes). The current directory is always searched first. This
option may be specified more than once; the directories are searched in the order
specified. No directory search is performed for files specified using an absolute
path. This option implies the -s option.

-j Preprocess with chem. Implies -p.

-k Preprocess with preconv. This is run before any other preprocessor. Please refer
to preconv's manual page for its behaviour if no -K (or -D) option is specified.

-K arg Set input encoding used by preconv to arg. Implies -k.

-l Send the output to a spooler program for printing. The command that should be used
for this is specified by the print command in the device description file, see
groff_font(5). If this command is not present, the output is piped into the lpr(1)
program by default. See options -L and -X.

-L arg Pass arg to the spooler program. Several arguments should be passed with a
separate -L option each. Note that groff does not prepend ‘-’ (a minus sign) to
arg before passing it to the spooler program.

-N Don't allow newlines within eqn delimiters. This is the same as the -N option in

-p Preprocess with pic.

-P -option
-P -option -P arg
Pass -option or -option arg to the postprocessor. The option must be specified
with the necessary preceding minus sign(s) ‘-’ or ‘--’ because groff does not
prepend any dashes before passing it to the postprocessor. For example, to pass a
title to the gxditview postprocessor, the shell command

groff -X -P -title -P 'groff it' foo

is equivalent to

groff -X -Z foo | gxditview -title 'groff it' -

-R Preprocess with refer. No mechanism is provided for passing arguments to refer
because most refer options have equivalent language elements that can be specified
within the document. See refer(1) for more details.

-s Preprocess with soelim.

-S Safer mode. Pass the -S option to pic and disable the following troff requests:
.open, .opena, .pso, .sy, and .pi. For security reasons, safer mode is enabled by

-t Preprocess with tbl.

-T dev Set output device to dev. For this device, troff generates the intermediate
output; see groff_out(5). Then groff calls a postprocessor to convert troff's
intermediate output to its final format. Real devices in groff are

dvi TeX DVI format (postprocessor is grodvi).

xhtml HTML and XHTML output (preprocessors are soelim and pre-grohtml,
postprocessor is post-grohtml).

lbp Canon CAPSL printers (LBP-4 and LBP-8 series laser printers;
postprocessor is grolbp).

lj4 HP LaserJet4 compatible (or other PCL5 compatible) printers
(postprocessor is grolj4).

ps PostScript output (postprocessor is grops).

pdf Portable Document Format (PDF) output (postprocessor is gropdf).

For the following TTY output devices (postprocessor is always grotty), -T selects
the output encoding:

ascii 7bit ASCII.

cp1047 Latin-1 character set for EBCDIC hosts.

latin1 ISO 8859-1.

utf8 Unicode character set in UTF-8 encoding. This mode has the most
useful fonts for TTY mode, so it is the best mode for TTY output.

The following arguments select gxditview as the ‘postprocessor’ (it is rather a
viewing program):

X75 75dpi resolution, 10pt document base font.

X75-12 75dpi resolution, 12pt document base font.

X100 100dpi resolution, 10pt document base font.

100dpi resolution, 12pt document base font.

The default device is ps.

-U Unsafe mode. Reverts to the (old) unsafe behaviour; see option -S.

Output version information of groff and of all programs that are run by it; that
is, the given command line is parsed in the usual way, passing -v to all

-V Output the pipeline that would be run by groff (as a wrapper program) on the
standard output, but do not execute it. If given more than once, the commands are
both printed on the standard error and run.

-X Use gxditview instead of using the usual postprocessor to (pre)view a document.
The printing spooler behavior as outlined with options -l and -L is carried over to
gxditview(1) by determining an argument for the -printCommand option of
gxditview(1). This sets the default Print action and the corresponding menu entry
to that value. -X only produces good results with -Tps, -TX75, -TX75-12, -TX100,
and -TX100-12. The default resolution for previewing -Tps output is 75dpi; this
can be changed by passing the -resolution option to gxditview, for example

groff -X -P-resolution -P100 -man foo.1

-z Suppress output generated by troff. Only error messages are printed.

-Z Do not automatically postprocess groff intermediate output in the usual manner.
This will cause the troff output to appear on standard output, replacing the usual
postprocessor output; see groff_out(5).

Transparent Options
The following options are transparently handed over to the formatter program troff that is
called by groff subsequently. These options are described in more detail in troff(1).

-a ASCII approximation of output.

-b Backtrace on error or warning.

-c Disable color output. Please consult the grotty(1) man page for more details.

-C Enable compatibility mode.

-d cs
-d name=s
Define string.

-E Disable troff error messages.

-f fam Set default font family.

-F dir Set path for font DESC files.

-i Process standard input after the specified input files.

-m name
Include macro file name.tmac (or tmac.name); see also groff_tmac(5).

-M dir Path for macro files.

-n num Number the first page num.

-o list
Output only pages in list.

-r cn
-r name=n
Set number register.

-w name
Enable warning name. See troff(1) for names.

-W name
disable warning name. See troff(1) for names.


The groff system implements the infrastructure of classical roff; see roff(7) for a survey
on how a roff system works in general. Due to the front-end programs available within the
groff system, using groff is much easier than classical roff. This section gives an
overview of the parts that constitute the groff system. It complements roff(7) with
groff-specific features. This section can be regarded as a guide to the documentation
around the groff system.

Paper Size
The virtual paper size used by troff to format the input is controlled globally with the
requests .po, .pl, and .ll. See groff_tmac(5) for the ‘papersize’ macro package which
provides a convenient interface.

The physical paper size, giving the actual dimensions of the paper sheets, is controlled
by output devices like grops with the command line options -p and -l. See groff_font(5)
and the man pages of the output devices for more details. groff uses the command line
option -P to pass options to output devices; for example, the following selects A4 paper
in landscape orientation for the PS device:

groff -Tps -P-pa4 -P-l ...

The groff program is a wrapper around the troff(1) program. It allows to specify the
preprocessors by command line options and automatically runs the postprocessor that is
appropriate for the selected device. Doing so, the sometimes tedious piping mechanism of
classical roff(7) can be avoided.

The grog(1) program can be used for guessing the correct groff command line to format a

The groffer(1) program is an allround-viewer for groff files and man pages.

The groff preprocessors are reimplementations of the classical preprocessors with moderate
extensions. The standard preprocessors distributed with the groff package are

eqn(1) for mathematical formulae,

grn(1) for including gremlin(1) pictures,

pic(1) for drawing diagrams,

for chemical structure diagrams,

for bibliographic references,

for including macro files from standard locations,


tbl(1) for tables.

A new preprocessor not available in classical troff is preconv(1) which converts various
input encodings to something groff can understand. It is always run first before any
other preprocessor.

Besides these, there are some internal preprocessors that are automatically run with some
devices. These aren't visible to the user.

Macro Packages
Macro packages can be included by option -m. The groff system implements and extends all
classical macro packages in a compatible way and adds some packages of its own. Actually,
the following macro packages come with groff:

man The traditional man page format; see groff_man(7). It can be specified on the
command line as -man or -m man.

mandoc The general package for man pages; it automatically recognizes whether the
documents uses the man or the mdoc format and branches to the corresponding macro
package. It can be specified on the command line as -mandoc or -m mandoc.

mdoc The BSD-style man page format; see groff_mdoc(7). It can be specified on the
command line as -mdoc or -m mdoc.

me The classical me document format; see groff_me(7). It can be specified on the
command line as -me or -m me.

mm The classical mm document format; see groff_mm(7). It can be specified on the
command line as -mm or -m mm.

ms The classical ms document format; see groff_ms(7). It can be specified on the
command line as -ms or -m ms.

www HTML-like macros for inclusion in arbitrary groff documents; see groff_www(7).

Details on the naming of macro files and their placement can be found in groff_tmac(5);
this man page also documents some other, minor auxiliary macro packages not mentioned

Programming Language
General concepts common to all roff programming languages are described in roff(7).

The groff extensions to the classical troff language are documented in groff_diff(7).

The groff language as a whole is described in the (still incomplete) groff info file; a
short (but complete) reference can be found in groff(7).

The central roff formatter within the groff system is troff(1). It provides the features
of both the classical troff and nroff, as well as the groff extensions. The command line
option -C switches troff into compatibility mode which tries to emulate classical roff as
much as possible.

There is a shell script nroff(1) that emulates the behavior of classical nroff. It tries
to automatically select the proper output encoding, according to the current locale.

The formatter program generates intermediate output; see groff_out(7).

In roff, the output targets are called devices. A device can be a piece of hardware,
e.g., a printer, or a software file format. A device is specified by the option -T. The
groff devices are as follows.

ascii Text output using the ascii(7) character set.

cp1047 Text output using the EBCDIC code page IBM cp1047 (e.g., OS/390 Unix).

dvi TeX DVI format.

html HTML output.

latin1 Text output using the ISO Latin-1 (ISO 8859-1) character set; see iso_8859_1(7).

lbp Output for Canon CAPSL printers (LBP-4 and LBP-8 series laser printers).

lj4 HP LaserJet4-compatible (or other PCL5-compatible) printers.

ps PostScript output; suitable for printers and previewers like gv(1).

pdf PDF files; suitable for viewing with tools such as evince(1) and okular(1).

utf8 Text output using the Unicode (ISO 10646) character set with UTF-8 encoding; see

xhtml XHTML output.

X75 75dpi X Window System output suitable for the previewers xditview(1x) and
gxditview(1). A variant for a 12pt document base font is X75-12.

X100 100dpi X Window System output suitable for the previewers xditview(1x) and
gxditview(1). A variant for a 12pt document base font is X100-12.

The postprocessor to be used for a device is specified by the postpro command in the
device description file; see groff_font(5). This can be overridden with the -X option.

The default device is ps.

groff provides 3 hardware postprocessors:

for some Canon printers,

for printers compatible to the HP LaserJet 4 and PCL5,

for text output using various encodings, e.g., on text-oriented terminals or line-

Today, most printing or drawing hardware is handled by the operating system, by device
drivers, or by software interfaces, usually accepting PostScript. Consequently, there
isn't an urgent need for more hardware device postprocessors.

The groff software devices for conversion into other document file formats are

for the DVI format,

for HTML and XHTML formats,

for PostScript.

for PDF.

Combined with the many existing free conversion tools this should be sufficient to convert
a troff document into virtually any existing data format.

The following utility programs around groff are available.

Add information to troff font description files for use with groff.

Create font description files for PostScript device.

Convert an eqn image into a cropped image.

Mark differences between groff, nroff, or troff files.

Convert a grap diagram into a cropped bitmap image.

General viewer program for groff files and man pages.

The groff X viewer, the GNU version of xditview.

Create font description files for lj4 device.

Make inverted index for bibliographic databases.

Search bibliographic databases.

Interactively search bibliographic databases.

Create PDF documents using groff.

Translate a PostScript font in .pfb format to ASCII.

Convert a pic diagram into a cropped image.

Create font description files for TeX DVI device.

roff viewer distributed with X window.

Convert X font metrics into GNU troff font metrics.


Normally, the path separator in the following environment variables is the colon; this may
vary depending on the operating system. For example, DOS and Windows use a semicolon

This search path, followed by $PATH, is used for commands that are executed by
groff. If it is not set then the directory where the groff binaries were installed
is prepended to PATH.

When there is a need to run different roff implementations at the same time groff
provides the facility to prepend a prefix to most of its programs that could
provoke name clashings at run time (default is to have none). Historically, this
prefix was the character g, but it can be anything. For example, gtroff stood for
groff's troff, gtbl for the groff version of tbl. By setting GROFF_COMMAND_PREFIX
to different values, the different roff installations can be addressed. More
exactly, if it is set to prefix xxx then groff as a wrapper program internally
calls xxxtroff instead of troff. This also applies to the preprocessors eqn, grn,
pic, refer, tbl, soelim, and to the utilities indxbib and lookbib. This feature
does not apply to any programs different from the ones above (most notably groff
itself) since they are unique to the groff package.

The value of this environment value is passed to the preconv preprocessor to select
the encoding of input files. Setting this option implies groff's command line
option -k (this is, groff actually always calls preconv). If set without a value,
groff calls preconv without arguments. An explicit -K command line option
overrides the value of GROFF_ENCODING. See preconv(1) for details.

A list of directories in which to search for the devname directory in addition to
the default ones. See troff(1) and groff_font(5) for more details.

A list of directories in which to search for macro files in addition to the default
directories. See troff(1) and groff_tmac(5) for more details.

The directory in which temporary files are created. If this is not set but the
environment variable TMPDIR instead, temporary files are created in the directory
$TMPDIR. On MS-DOS and Windows 32 platforms, the environment variables TMP and
TEMP (in that order) are searched also, after GROFF_TMPDIR and TMPDIR. Otherwise,
temporary files are created in /tmp. The refer(1), groffer(1), grohtml(1), and
grops(1) commands use temporary files.

Preset the default device. If this is not set the ps device is used as default.
This device name is overwritten by the option -T.


The following example illustrates the power of the groff program as a wrapper around

To process a roff file using the preprocessors tbl and pic and the me macro set, classical
troff had to be called by

pic foo.me | tbl | troff -me -Tlatin1 | grotty

Using groff, this pipe can be shortened to the equivalent command

groff -p -t -me -T latin1 foo.me

An even easier way to call this is to use grog(1) to guess the preprocessor and macro
options and execute the generated command (by using backquotes to specify shell command

`grog -Tlatin1 foo.me`

The simplest way is to view the contents in an automated way by calling

groffer foo.me

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