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Section: Environments, Tables, and Troff Macros (7)
Updated: 4 November 2014
Index Return to Main Contents


groff_ms - groff ms macros  


groff -ms [ options... ] [ files... ]
groff -m ms [ options... ] [ files... ]  


This manual page describes the GNU version of the ms macros, part of the groff typesetting system. The ms macros are mostly compatible with the documented behavior of the 4.3 BSD Unix ms macros (see Differences from troff ms below for details). The ms macros are suitable for reports, letters, books, and technical documentation.  


The ms macro package expects files to have a certain amount of structure. The simplest documents can begin with a paragraph macro and consist of text separated by paragraph macros or even blank lines. Longer documents have a structure as follows:
Document type
If you use the RP (report) macro at the beginning of the document, groff prints the cover page information on its own page; otherwise it prints the information on the first page with your document text immediately following. Other document formats found in AT&T troff are specific to AT&T or Berkeley, and are not supported in groff ms.
Format and layout
By setting number registers, you can change your document[aq]s type (font and size), margins, spacing, headers and footers, and footnotes. See Document control registers below for more details.
Cover page
A cover page consists of a title, and optionally the author[aq]s name and institution, an abstract, and the date. See Cover page macros below for more details.
Following the cover page is your document. It consists of paragraphs, headings, and lists.
Table of contents
Longer documents usually include a table of contents, which you can add by placing the TC macro at the end of your document.

Document control registers

The following table lists the document control number registers. For the sake of consistency, set registers related to margins at the beginning of your document, or just after the RP macro.

Margin settings


POPage offset (left margin)next page1i
LLLine lengthnext paragraph6i
LTHeader/footer lengthnext paragraph6i
HMTop (header) marginnext page1i
FMBottom (footer) marginnext page1i

Text settings


PS Point size next paragraph10p
VS Line spacing (leading) next paragraph12p
PSINCR Point size increment for section headings of increasing importance next heading1p
GROWPS Heading level beyond which PSINCR is ignored next heading0

Paragraph settings


PI Initial indent next paragraph5n
PD Space between paragraphs next paragraph0.3v
QI Quoted paragraph indent next paragraph5n
PORPHANS Number of initial lines to be kept together next paragraph1
HORPHANS Number of initial lines to be kept with heading next heading1

Footnote settings


FLFootnote lengthnext footnote[rs]n[LL]*5/6
FIFootnote indentnext footnote2n
FFFootnote formatnext footnote0
FPSPoint sizenext footnote[rs]n[PS]-2
FVSVert. spacingnext footnote[rs]n[FPS]+2
FPDPara. spacingnext footnote[rs]n[PD]/2

Other settings


DDDisplay, table, eqn, pic spacingnext para.0.5v
MINGWMinimum width between columnsnext page2n


Cover page macros

Use the following macros to create a cover page for your document in the order shown.
.RP [no]
Specifies the report format for your document. The report format creates a separate cover page. With no RP macro, groff prints a subset of the cover page on page~1 of your document.
If you use the optional no argument, groff prints a title page but does not repeat any of the title page information (title, author, abstract, etc.) on page~1 of the document.
(P-one) Prints the header on page~1. The default is to suppress the header.
.DA [xxx]
(optional) Print the current date, or the arguments to the macro if any, on the title page (if specified) and in the footers. This is the default for nroff.
.ND [xxx]
(optional) Print the current date, or the arguments to the macro if any, on the title page (if specified) but not in the footers. This is the default for troff.
Specifies the document title. Groff collects text following the TL macro into the title, until reaching the author name or abstract.
Specifies the author[aq]s name. You can specify multiple authors by using an AU macro for each author.
Specifies the author[aq]s institution. You can specify multiple institutions.
.AB [no]
Begins the abstract. The default is to print the word ABSTRACT, centered and in italics, above the text of the abstract. The option no suppresses this heading.
End the abstract.


Use the PP macro to create indented paragraphs, and the LP macro to create paragraphs with no initial indent.

The QP macro indents all text at both left and right margins. The effect is identical to the HTML <BLOCKQUOTE> The next paragraph or heading returns margins to normal.

The XP macro produces an exdented paragraph. The first line of the paragraph begins at the left margin, and subsequent lines are indented (the opposite of PP).

For each of the above paragraph types, and also for any list entry introduced by the IP macro (described later), the document control register PORPHANS, sets the minimum number of lines which must be printed, after the start of the paragraph, and before any page break occurs. If there is insufficient space remaining on the current page to accommodate this number of lines, then a page break is forced before the first line of the paragraph is printed.

Similarly, when a section heading (see subsection Headings below) precedes any of these paragraph types, the HORPHANS document control register specifies the minimum number of lines of the paragraph which must be kept on the same page as the heading. If insufficient space remains on the current page to accommodate the heading and this number of lines of paragraph text, then a page break is forced before the heading is printed.  


Use headings to create a hierarchical structure for your document. By default, the ms macros print headings in bold using the same font family and point size as the body text. For output devices which support scalable fonts, this behaviour may be modified, by defining the document control registers, GROWPS and PSINCR.

The following heading macros are available:

.NH xx
Numbered heading. The argument xx is either a numeric argument to indicate the level of the heading, or S xx xx "..." to set the section number explicitly. If you specify heading levels out of sequence, such as invoking .NH 3 after .NH 1, groff prints a warning on standard error.
If the GROWPS register is set to a value greater than the level of the heading, then the point size of the heading will be increased by PSINCR units over the text size specified by the PS register, for each level by which the heading level is less than the value of GROWPS. For example, the sequence:
.nr PS 10 .nr GROWPS 3 .nr PSINCR 1.5p . .NH 1 Top Level Heading . .NH 2 Second Level Heading . .NH 3 Third Level Heading
will cause ``1. Top Level Heading'' to be printed in 13pt bold text, followed by ``1.1. Second Level Heading'' in 11.5pt bold text, while ``1.1.1. Third Level Heading'', and all more deeply nested heading levels, will remain in the 10pt bold text which is specified by the PS register.
Note that the value stored in PSINCR is interpreted in groff basic units; the p scaling factor should be employed, when assigning a value specified in points.
The style used to represent the section number, within a numbered heading, is controlled by the SN-STYLE string; this may be set to either the SN-DOT or the SN-NO-DOT style, (described below), by aliasing SN-STYLE accordingly. By default, SN-STYLE is initialised by defining the alias
it may be changed to the SN-NO-DOT style, if preferred, by defining the alternative alias
Any such change becomes effective with the first use of .NH, after the new alias is defined.
After invoking .NH, the assigned heading number is available in the strings SN-DOT (as it appears in the default formatting style for numbered headings, with a terminating period following the number), and SN-NO-DOT (with this terminating period omitted). The string SN is also defined, as an alias for SN-DOT; if preferred, the user may redefine it as an alias for SN-NO-DOT, by including the initialisation:
at any time; the change becomes effective with the next use of .NH, after the new alias is defined.
.SH [xx]
Unnumbered subheading. The use of the optional xx argument is a GNU extension, which adjusts the point size of the unnumbered subheading to match that of a numbered heading, introduced using .NH xx with the same value of xx. For example, given the same settings for PS, GROWPS and PSINCR, as used in the preceding .NH example, the sequence:
.SH 2 An Unnumbered Subheading
will print ``An Unnumbered Subheading'' in 11.5pt bold text.  


The ms macros provide a variety of methods to highlight or emphasize text:
.B [txt [post [pre]]]
Sets its first argument in bold type. If you specify a second argument, groff prints it in the previous font after the bold text, with no intervening space (this allows you to set punctuation after the highlighted text without highlighting the punctuation). Similarly, it prints the third argument (if any) in the previous font before the first argument. For example,
.B foo ) (
prints (foo).
If you give this macro no arguments, groff prints all text following in bold until the next highlighting, paragraph, or heading macro.
.R [txt [post [pre]]]
Sets its first argument in roman (or regular) type. It operates similarly to the B macro otherwise.
.I [txt [post [pre]]]
Sets its first argument in italic type. It operates similarly to the B macro otherwise.
.CW [txt [post [pre]]]
Sets its first argument in a constant width face. It operates similarly to the B macro otherwise.
.BI [txt [post [pre]]]
Sets its first argument in bold italic type. It operates similarly to the B macro otherwise.
.BX [txt]
Prints its argument and draws a box around it. If you want to box a string that contains spaces, use a digit-width space ([rs]0).
.UL [txt [post]]
Prints its first argument with an underline. If you specify a second argument, groff prints it in the previous font after the underlined text, with no intervening space.
Prints all text following in larger type (2~points larger than the current point size) until the next font size, highlighting, paragraph, or heading macro. You can specify this macro multiple times to enlarge the point size as needed.
Prints all text following in smaller type (2~points smaller than the current point size) until the next type size, highlighting, paragraph, or heading macro. You can specify this macro multiple times to reduce the point size as needed.
Prints all text following in the normal point size (that is, the value of the PS register).
Print the enclosed text as a superscript.


You may need to indent sections of text. A typical use for indents is to create nested lists and sublists.

Use the RS and RE macros to start and end a section of indented text, respectively. The PI register controls the amount of indent.

You can nest indented sections as deeply as needed by using multiple, nested pairs of RS and RE.  


The IP macro handles duties for all lists. Its syntax is as follows:
.IP [marker [width]]
The marker is usually a bullet character [rs](bu for unordered lists, a number (or auto-incrementing number register) for numbered lists, or a word or phrase for indented (glossary-style) lists.
The width specifies the indent for the body of each list item. Once specified, the indent remains the same for all list items in the document until specified again.

Tab stops

Use the ta request to set tab stops as needed. Use the TA macro to reset tabs to the default (every 5n). You can redefine the TA macro to create a different set of default tab stops.  

Displays and keeps

Use displays to show text-based examples or figures (such as code listings). Displays turn off filling, so lines of code can be displayed as-is without inserting br requests in between each line. Displays can be kept on a single page, or allowed to break across pages. The following table shows the display types available.
Display macroType of display
With keepNo keep

.DS L.LDLeft-justified.
.DS I [indent].ID Indented (default indent in the DI register).
.DS B.BD Block-centered (left-justified, longest line centered).
.DS C.CDCentered.
.DS R.RDRight-justified.

Use the DE macro to end any display type. The macros Ds and De were formerly provided as aliases for DS and DE, respectively, but they have been removed, and should no longer be used. X11 documents which actually use Ds and De always load a specific macro file from the X11 distribution (macros.t) which provides proper definitions for the two macros.

To keep text together on a page, such as a paragraph that refers to a table (or list, or other item) immediately following, use the KS and KE macros. The KS macro begins a block of text to be kept on a single page, and the KE macro ends the block.

You can specify a floating keep using the KF and KE macros. If the keep cannot fit on the current page, groff holds the contents of the keep and allows text following the keep (in the source file) to fill in the remainder of the current page. When the page breaks, whether by an explicit bp request or by reaching the end of the page, groff prints the floating keep at the top of the new page. This is useful for printing large graphics or tables that do not need to appear exactly where specified.

The macros B1 and B2 can be used to enclose a text within a box; .B1 begins the box, and .B2 ends it. Text in the box is automatically placed in a diversion (keep).  

Tables, figures, equations, and references

The -ms macros support the standard groff preprocessors: tbl, pic, eqn, and refer. Mark text meant for preprocessors by enclosing it in pairs of tags as follows:
.TS [H] and .TE
Denotes a table, to be processed by the tbl preprocessor. The optional H~argument instructs groff to create a running header with the information up to the TH macro. Groff prints the header at the beginning of the table; if the table runs onto another page, groff prints the header on the next page as well.
.PS and .PE
Denotes a graphic, to be processed by the pic preprocessor. You can create a pic file by hand, using the AT&T pic manual available on the Web as a reference, or by using a graphics program such as xfig.
.EQ [,align/] and .EN
Denotes an equation, to be processed by the eqn preprocessor. The optional align argument can be C, L, or~I to center (the default), left-justify, or indent the equation.
.[ and .]
Denotes a reference, to be processed by the refer preprocessor. The GNU refer(1) manual page provides a comprehensive reference to the preprocessor and the format of the bibliographic database.


The ms macros provide a flexible footnote system. You can specify a numbered footnote by using the [rs]** escape, followed by the text of the footnote enclosed by FS and FE macros.

You can specify symbolic footnotes by placing the mark character (such as [rs](dg for the dagger character) in the body text, followed by the text of the footnote enclosed by FS [rs](dg and FE macros.

You can control how groff prints footnote numbers by changing the value of the FF register as follows:

Prints the footnote number as a superscript; indents the footnote (default).
Prints the number followed by a period (like~1.) and indents the footnote.
Like~1, without an indent.
Like~1, but prints the footnote number as a hanging paragraph.

You can use footnotes safely within keeps and displays, but avoid using numbered footnotes within floating keeps. You can set a second [rs]** between a [rs]** and its corresponding .FS; as long as each .FS occurs after the corresponding [rs]** and the occurrences of .FS are in the same order as the corresponding occurrences of [rs]**.  

Headers and footers

There are three ways to define headers and footers:
Use the strings LH, CH, and RH to set the left, center, and right headers; use LF, CF, and RF to set the left, center, and right footers. This works best for documents that do not distinguish between odd and even pages.
Use the OH and EH macros to define headers for the odd and even pages; and OF and EF macros to define footers for the odd and even pages. This is more flexible than defining the individual strings. The syntax for these macros is as follows:
.OH 'left/',center/',right/'
You can replace the quote ([aq]) marks with any character not appearing in the header or footer text.

You can also redefine the PT and BT macros to change the behavior of the header and footer, respectively. The header process also calls the (undefined) HD macro after PT ; you can define this macro if you need additional processing after printing the header (for example, to draw a line below the header).  


You control margins using a set of number registers. The following table lists the register names and defaults:

POPage offset (left margin)next page1i
LLLine lengthnext paragraph6i
LTHeader/footer lengthnext paragraph6i
HMTop (header) marginnext page1i
FMBottom (footer) marginnext page1i

Note that there is no right margin setting. The combination of page offset and line length provide the information necessary to derive the right margin.  

Multiple columns

The ms macros can set text in as many columns as will reasonably fit on the page. The following macros are available. All of them force a page break if a multi-column mode is already set. However, if the current mode is single-column, starting a multi-column mode does not force a page break.
Single-column mode.
Two-column mode.
.MC [width [gutter]]
Multi-column mode. If you specify no arguments, it is equivalent to the 2C macro. Otherwise, width is the width of each column and gutter is the space between columns. The MINGW number register is the default gutter width.

Creating a table of contents

Wrap text that you want to appear in the table of contents in XS and XE macros. Use the TC macro to print the table of contents at the end of the document, resetting the page number to~i (Roman numeral~1).

You can manually create a table of contents by specifying a page number as the first argument to XS. Add subsequent entries using the XA macro. For example:

.XS 1
.XA 2
A Brief History of the Universe
.XA 729
Details of Galactic Formation

Use the PX macro to print a manually-generated table of contents without resetting the page number.

If you give the argument no to either PX or TC, groff suppresses printing the title specified by the [rs]*[TOC] string.  

Fractional point sizes

Traditionally, the ms macros only support integer values for the document[aq]s font size and vertical spacing. To overcome this restriction, values larger than or equal to 1000 are taken as fractional values, multiplied by 1000. For example, [oq].nr~PS~10250[cq] sets the font size to 10.25 points.

The following four registers accept fractional point sizes: PS, VS, FPS, and FVS.

Due to backwards compatibility, the value of VS must be smaller than 40000 (this is 40.0 points).  


The groff ms macros are a complete re-implementation, using no original AT&T code. Since they take advantage of the extended features in groff, they cannot be used with AT&T troff. Other differences include:
The internals of groff ms differ from the internals of Unix ms. Documents that depend upon implementation details of Unix ms may not format properly with groff ms.
The error-handling policy of groff ms is to detect and report errors, rather than silently to ignore them.
Some Bell Labs localisms are not implemented by default. However, if you call the otherwise undocumented SC section-header macro, you will enable implementations of three other archaic Bell Labs macros: UC, P1, and P2. These are not enabled by default because (a)~they were not documented, in the original ms manual, and (b)~the P1 and UC macros both collide with different macros in the Berkeley version of ms.
These emulations are sufficient to give back the 1976 Kernighan~& Cherry paper Typesetting Mathematics - User[aq]s Guide its section headings, and restore some text that had gone missing as arguments of undefined macros. No warranty express or implied is given as to how well the typographic details these produce match the original Bell Labs macros.
Berkeley localisms, in particular the TM and CT macros, are not implemented.
Groff ms does not work in compatibility mode (e.g., with the -C option).
There is no support for typewriter-like devices.
Groff ms does not provide cut marks.
Multiple line spacing is not supported (use a larger vertical spacing instead).
Some Unix ms documentation says that the CW and GW number registers can be used to control the column width and gutter width, respectively. These number registers are not used in groff ms.
Macros that cause a reset (paragraphs, headings, etc.) may change the indent. Macros that change the indent do not increment or decrement the indent, but rather set it absolutely. This can cause problems for documents that define additional macros of their own. The solution is to use not the in request but instead the RS and RE macros.
The number register GS is set to~1 by the groff ms macros, but is not used by the Unix ms macros. Documents that need to determine whether they are being formatted with Unix ms or groff ms should use this number register.
To make groff ms use the default page offset (which also specifies the left margin), the PO number register must stay undefined until the first ms macro is evaluated. This implies that PO should not be used early in the document, unless it is changed also: Remember that accessing an undefined register automatically defines it.


You can redefine the following strings to adapt the groff ms macros to languages other than English:
StringDefault Value

TOCTable of Contents

The [rs]*- string produces an em dash [em] like this.

Use [rs]*Q and [rs]*U to get a left and right typographer[aq]s quote, respectively, in troff (and plain quotes in nroff).  

Text Settings

The FAM string sets the default font family. If this string is undefined at initialization, it is set to Times.

The point size, vertical spacing, and inter-paragraph spacing for footnotes are controlled by the number registers FPS, FVS, and FPD; at initialization these are set to [rs]n(PS-2, [rs]n[FPS]+2, and [rs]n(PD/2, respectively. If any of these registers are defined before initialization, the initialization macro does not change them.

The hyphenation flags (as set by the hy request) are set from the HY register; the default is~14.

Improved accent marks (as originally defined in Berkeley[aq]s ms version) are available by specifying the AM macro at the beginning of your document. You can place an accent over most characters by specifying the string defining the accent directly after the character. For example, n[rs]*[ti] produces an n with a tilde over it.  


The following conventions are used for names of macros, strings and number registers. External names available to documents that use the groff ms macros contain only uppercase letters and digits.

Internally the macros are divided into modules; naming conventions are as follows:

Names used only within one module are of the form module*name.
Names used outside the module in which they are defined are of the form module@name.
Names associated with a particular environment are of the form environment:name; these are used only within the par module.
name does not have a module prefix.
Constructed names used to implement arrays are of the form array!index.

Thus the groff ms macros reserve the following names:

Names containing the characters *, @, and~:.
Names containing only uppercase letters and digits.


/usr/share/groff/1.22.3/tmac/ms.tmac (a wrapper file for s.tmac)


groff(1), troff(1), tbl(1), pic(1), eqn(1), refer(1), Groff: The GNU Implementation of troff by Trent Fisher and Werner Lemberg.  


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

Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this manual provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

Permission is granted to copy and distribute modified versions of this manual under the conditions for verbatim copying, provided that the entire resulting derived work is distributed under the terms of a permission notice identical to this one.

Permission is granted to copy and distribute translations of this manual into another language, under the above conditions for modified versions, except that this permission notice may be included in translations approved by the Free Software Foundation instead of in the original English.  


Original manual page by James Clark et al, rewritten by Larry Kollar



Document control registers
Cover page macros
Tab stops
Displays and keeps
Tables, figures, equations, and references
Headers and footers
Multiple columns
Creating a table of contents
Fractional point sizes
Text Settings

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