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Section: User Commands (1)
Updated: 4 November 2014
Index Return to Main Contents


groff - front-end for the groff document formatting system  


[ -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~...] -h | --help -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 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 CR]GNU] convention. The whitespace between a command line option and its argument is optional. Options can be grouped behind a single [oq]-[cq] (minus character). A filename of - (minus character) denotes the standard input. 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 groff.
-D arg
Set default input encoding used by preconv to arg. Implies -k.
Preprocess with eqn.
Preprocess with grn.
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.
Preprocess with chem. Implies -p.
Preprocess with preconv. This is run before any other preprocessor. Please refer to preconv[aq]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.
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 [oq]-[cq] (a minus sign) to arg before passing it to the spooler program.
Don[aq]t allow newlines within eqn delimiters. This is the same as the -N option in eqn.
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) [oq][cq] or [oq][cq] 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' I]foo]
is equivalent to
groff -X -Z I]foo] | gxditview -title 'groff it' -
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.
Preprocess with soelim.
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 default.
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[aq]s intermediate output to its final format. Real devices in groff are
TeX DVI format (postprocessor is grodvi).
xhtml HTML and XHTML output (preprocessors are soelim and pre-grohtml, postprocessor is post-grohtml).
Canon CAPSL printers (LBP-4 and LBP-8 series laser printers; postprocessor is grolbp).
HP LaserJet4 compatible (or other PCL5 compatible) printers (postprocessor is grolj4).
PostScript output (postprocessor is grops).
Portable Document Format (PDF) output (postprocessor is gropdf).
For the following TTY output devices (postprocessor is always grotty), -T selects the output encoding:
7bit CR]ASCII].
Latin-1 character set for EBCDIC hosts.
ISO 8859-1.
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 [oq]postprocessor[cq] (it is rather a viewing program):
75dpi resolution, 10pt document base font.
75dpi resolution, 12pt document base font.
100dpi resolution, 10pt document base font.
100dpi resolution, 12pt document base font.
The default device is ps.
Unsafe mode. Reverts to the (old) unsafe behaviour; see option -S.
--version 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 subprograms.
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.
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
Suppress output generated by troff. Only error messages are printed.
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).
CR]ASCII] approximation of output.
Backtrace on error or warning.
Disable color output. Please consult the grotty(1) man page for more details.
Enable compatibility mode.
-d cs
-d name=s Define string.
Disable troff error messages.
-f fam
Set default font family.
-F dir
Set path for font DESC files.
Process standard input after the specified input files.
-m name
Include macro file name.tmac (or; 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 [oq]papersize[cq] 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 file. 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
for mathematical formulae,
for including gremlin(1) pictures,
for drawing diagrams,
for chemical structure diagrams,
for bibliographic references,
for including macro files from standard locations, and
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[aq]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:
The traditional man page format; see groff_man(7). It can be specified on the command line as -man or -m~man.
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.
The CR]BSD]-style man page format; see groff_mdoc(7). It can be specified on the command line as -mdoc or -m~mdoc.
The classical me document format; see groff_me(7). It can be specified on the command line as -me or -m~me.
The classical mm document format; see groff_mm(7). It can be specified on the command line as -mm or -m~mm.
The classical ms document format; see groff_ms(7). It can be specified on the command line as -ms or -m~ms.
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 here.

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.
Text output using the ascii(7) character set.
Text output using the EBCDIC code page IBM cp1047 (e.g., OS/390 Unix).
TeX DVI format.
HTML output.
Text output using the ISO Latin-1 (ISO 8859-1) character set; see iso_8859_1(7).
Output for Canon CAPSL printers (LBP-4 and LBP-8 series laser printers).
HP LaserJet4-compatible (or other PCL5-compatible) printers.
PostScript output; suitable for printers and previewers like gv(1).
PDF files; suitable for viewing with tools such as evince(1) and okular(1).
Text output using the Unicode (ISO 10646) character set with UTF-8 encoding; see unicode(7).
XHTML output.
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.
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-printers. 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[aq]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 CR]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 CR]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 CR]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 instead.
This search path, followed by vVar$PATH is used for commands that are executed by groff. If it is not set then the directory where the groff binaries were installed is prepended to vVarPATH
When there is a need to run different roff implementations at the same time groff provides the facility to prepend a prefix to most of its programs that could provoke name clashings at run time (default is to have none). Historically, this prefix was the character g, but it can be anything. For example, gtroff stood for groff[aq]s troff, gtbl for the groff version of tbl. By setting vVarGROFF_COMMAND_PREFIX to different values, the different roff installations can be addressed. More exactly, if it is set to prefix xxx then groff as a wrapper program internally calls xxxtroff instead of troff. This also applies to the preprocessors eqn, grn, pic, refer, tbl, soelim, and to the utilities indxbib and lookbib. This feature does not apply to any programs different from the ones above (most notably groff itself) since they are unique to the groff package.
The value of this environment value is passed to the preconv preprocessor to select the encoding of input files. Setting this option implies groff[aq]s command line option -k (this is, groff actually always calls preconv). If set without a value, groff calls preconv without arguments. An explicit -K command line option overrides the value of vVarGROFF_ENCODING See preconv(1) for details.
A list of directories in which to search for the devname directory in addition to the default ones. See troff(1) and groff_font(5) for more details.
A list of directories in which to search for macro files in addition to the default directories. See troff(1) and groff_tmac(5) for more details.
The directory in which temporary files are created. If this is not set but the environment variable vVarTMPDIR instead, temporary files are created in the directory vVar$TMPDIR On MS-DOS and Windows~32 platforms, the environment variables vVarTMP and vVarTEMP (in that order) are searched also, after vVarGROFF_TMPDIR and vVarTMPDIR 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 troff. To process a roff file using the preprocessors tbl and pic and the me macro set, classical troff had to be called by
pic | tbl | troff -me -Tlatin1 | grotty Using groff, this pipe can be shortened to the equivalent command
groff -p -t -me -T latin1 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 substitution)
`grog -Tlatin1` The simplest way is to view the contents in an automated way by calling


On CR]EBCDIC] hosts (e.g., CR]OS/390 Unix]), output devices ascii and latin1 aren[aq]t available. Similarly, output for CR]EBCDIC] code page cp1047 is not available on CR]ASCII] based operating systems. Report bugs to the groff mailing list Include a complete, self-contained example that allows the bug to be reproduced, and say which version of groff you are using.  


There are some directories in which groff installs all of its data files. Due to different installation habits on different operating systems, their locations are not absolutely fixed, but their function is clearly defined and coincides on all systems.  

Collection of Installation Directories

This section describes the position of all files of the groff package after the installation [em] got from Makefile.comm at the top of the groff source package.
index directory and index name
legacy font directory
directory for binary programs
system tmac directory
documentation directory
directory for examples
documentation directory for html files
documentation directory for pdf files
data subdirectory
file for common words
directory for fonts
directory for old fonts
tmac directory
mm tmac directory
local font directory
local tmac directory

groff Macro Directory

This contains all information related to macro packages. Note that more than a single directory is searched for those files as documented in groff_tmac(5). For the groff installation corresponding to this document, it is located at /usr/share/groff/1.22.3/tmac. The following files contained in the groff macro directory have a special meaning:
Initialization file for troff. This is interpreted by troff before reading the macro sets and any input.
Final startup file for troff. It is parsed after all macro sets have been read.
name.tmac Macro file for macro package name.

groff Font Directory

This contains all information related to output devices. Note that more than a single directory is searched for those files; see troff(1). For the groff installation corresponding to this document, it is located at /usr/share/groff/1.22.3/font. The following files contained in the groff font directory have a special meaning:
Device description file for device name, see groff_font(5).
Font file for font F of device name.


Information on how to get groff and related information is available at the groff GNU website Three groff mailing lists are available:
for reporting bugs
for general discussion of groff,
the groff commit list a read-only list showing logs of commitments to the groff repository. Details on repository access and much more can be found in the file README at the top directory of the groff source package. There is a free implementation of the grap preprocessor, written by Ted Faber The actual version can be found at the grap website This is the only grap version supported by groff.


The groff info file contains all information on the groff system within a single document, providing many examples and background information. See info(1) on how to read it. Due to its complex structure, the groff system has many man pages. They can be read with man(1) or groffer(1). But there are special sections of man-pages. groff has man-pages in sections 1, 5,and 7. When there are several man-pages with the same name in the same man section, the one with the lowest section is should as first. The other man-pages can be shown anyway by adding the section number as argument before the man-page name. Reading the man-page about the groff language is done by one of
man 7 groff
groffer 7 groff
Introduction, history and further readings:
Viewer for groff files:
groffer(1), gxditview(1), xditview(1x).
Wrapper programs for formatters:
groff(1), grog(1).
Roff preprocessors:
eqn(1), grn(1), pic(1), chem(1), preconv(1), refer(1), soelim(1), tbl(1), grap(1).
Roff language with the groff extensions:
groff(7), groff_char(7), groff_diff(7), groff_font(5).
Roff formatter programs:
nroff(1), troff(1), ditroff(7).
The intermediate output language:
Postprocessors for the output devices:
grodvi(1), grohtml(1), grolbp(1), grolj4(1), lj4_font(5), grops(1), gropdf(1), grotty(1).
Groff macro packages and macro-specific utilities:
groff_tmac(5), groff_man(7), groff_mdoc(7), groff_me(7), groff_mm(7), groff_mmse(7), groff_mom(7), groff_ms(7), groff_www(7), groff_trace(7), mmroff(7).
The following utilities are available:
addftinfo(1), afmtodit(1), eqn2graph(1), gdiffmk(1), grap2graph(1), groffer(1), gxditview(1), hpftodit(1), indxbib(1), lkbib(1), lookbib(1), pdfroff(1), pfbtops(1), pic2graph(1), tfmtodit(1), xtotroff(1).


Copyright [co] 1989-2014 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

Rewritten in 2002 by Bernd Warken <>

This document is part of groff, a free GNU software project.

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.3 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with the Invariant Sections being the macro definition or .co and .au, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.

A copy of the Free Documentation License is included as a file called FDL in the main directory of the groff source package.

It is also available in the internet at the GNU copyleft site  


This document is based on the original groff man page written by James Clark It was rewritten, enhanced, and put under the FDL license by Bernd Warken <>. It is maintained by Werner Lemberg



Native groff Options
Transparent Options
Paper Size
Macro Packages
Programming Language
Collection of Installation Directories
groff Macro Directory
groff Font Directory

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