How to Use Man Pages in UNIX/Linux

Using Online Documentation

The Linux/UNIX OS provides online manual pages, which describe commands and their usage. Additionally, online help resources provide general desktop information.

Displaying the Online Manual Pages

The online UNIX Reference Manual (man) pages provide detailed descriptions of UNIX commands and how to use them. Use the man command to display the man page entry that explains a given command.

The syntax of the man command is:

$ man command
$ man option command
$ man option filename

For example, to display the man pages for the uname command, perform the command:

$ man uname
Reformatting page.  Please Wait... done

User Commands                                            uname(1)

    uname - print name of current system

       uname [ -aimnprsvX ]

       uname [ -S system_name ]

The uname utility prints information about the current  sys     tem on the standard output. When options are specified, sym     bols representing one or more system characteristics will be     written to the standard output.  If no options are specified,     uname  prints  the  current  operating  system’s  name.  The     options  print  selected  information  returned by uname(2),     sysinfo(2), or both. ... (output truncated)

Scrolling in Man Pages

Table below shows the keys on the keyboard that you use to control the scrolling capabilities when you are in the man pages.

Scrolling Keys Action
Space bar Displays the next screen of a man page
Return Displays the next line of a man page
b Moves back one full screen
/pattern Searches forward for a pattern
n Finds the next occurrence of a pattern after you have used /pattern
h Provides a description of all scrolling capabilities
q Quits the man command

Searching the Man Pages

Two ways to search for information in the man pages are searching by section or by keyword.

Searching Man Pages by Section

You can search within a specific section of the man pages by using the man command with the -s option. The online man-page entries are organized into sections based on the type or use of the command or file. For example, Section 1 contains user commands, while Section 4 contains information about various file formats.

You can use the man intro command to view descriptive information about sections contained in the man pages. The syntax for looking up a specific section of the man pages is the man command with the -s option, followed by the section number, and the command or file name.

For example:

$ man -s number command
$ man -s number filename

The last section of a man page, titled SEE ALSO, lists other commands or files related to the man page. The number in parentheses reflects the section where the man page is located. You can use the man command with the -l option to list the man pages that relate to the same command or file name.

The following example shows the SEE ALSO part of the man page for passwd(1). Note that there is also a man page entry for passwd in Section 4.

finger(1),  login(1),  nispasswd(1),  nistbladm(1), yppasswd(1),  domainname(1M),  eeprom(1M),  id(1M), passmgmt(1M),  pwconv(1M),  su(1M),  useradd(1M),  userdel(1M), usermod(1M),    crypt(3C),    getpwnam(3C),    getspnam(3C), getusershell(3C),  nis_local_directory(3N),  pam(3),  loginlog(4),  nsswitch.conf(4),  pam.conf(  4),  passwd(4),  shadow(4), attributes(5), environ(5), pam_unix(5) ... (output truncated)

To view the online man page for the passwd file information, perform the following commands:

 $man -l passwd
passwd (1) -M /usr/man
passwd (4) -M /usr/man
$ man -s 1 passwd
PASSWD(1)                                                                                   User utilities                                                                                   PASSWD(1)

       passwd - update user's authentication tokens

       passwd [-k] [-l] [-u [-f]] [-d] [-e] [-n mindays] [-x maxdays] [-w warndays] [-i inactivedays] [-S] [--stdin] [username]

       The passwd utility is used to update user's authentication token(s).

       This  task  is  achieved  through  calls to the Linux-PAM and Libuser API.  Essentially, it initializes itself as a "passwd" service with Linux-PAM and utilizes configured password modules to
       authenticate and then update a user's password.

       A simple entry in the global Linux-PAM configuration file for this service would be:

Searching Man Pages by Keyword

When you are not sure of the name of a command, you can search for man page entries that are related by using the man command with the -k option and a keyword. The man command output provides a list of commands and descriptions that contain the keyword. The syntax for using the command to conduct a keyword search is:

man -k keyword

To view commands containing the keyword calendar, perform the command:

$ man -k calendar
... (output truncated)
cal             cal (1)         - display a calendar
calendar        calendar (1)    - reminder service
difftime        difftime (3c)   - computes the difference between two calendar times
mktime          mktime (3c)     - converts a tm structure to a calendar time