Unix Guide - Using the Online Manual

Last Updated: 06/19/2011

Launch man

To use the online Unix manual, enter the command man, followed by the subject you want to read about. For example, to find out nearly everything there is to know about the Unix command ls, which displays the contents of a directory, type man ls in response to the system prompt.

spot> man ls

For more information on the man command itself, type

spot> man man

Help Finding Command Names

If you are not sure of a command name, or if man tells you No manual entry for xxxxx (where xxxxx is the name of a command you thought existed), you can try a different form of the man command. When you use the keyword option -k, it will attempt to locate any manual page that has the given keywords in its header. For example, to inquire about commands that relate to terminals, type

spot> man -k terminal

Your screen will list manual page titles that have the word terminal in their header. It will look something like this:

clear (1) - clear terminal screen
ctermid (3s) - generate file name for terminal
getty (8) - set terminal mode
gettytab (5) - terminal configuration database
lock (1) - reserve a terminal
lta (4) - Local Area Terminal (LAT) service driver
pty (4) - pseudo terminal driver
script (1) - make typescript of terminal session

Numbers in parentheses after each command name refer to the manual section where the manual page is stored.

To Print man Pages

If you would like a hardcopy printout of a manual page, type the command:

spot> man ls | lpr -P printername

Organization of man Pages

Unix manual pages are logically divided into eight sections, numbered 1 - 8. In addition, individual Unix machines may have their own sections. For example, at OIT we have a section labeled local that contains manual pages developed and installed on OIT Unix machines. Although you don't need to know which section a particular man page is in to access it, here are the topics contained in each section.

1 Commands
2 System Calls
3 Subroutines
4 Special Files
5 File Formats
7 Macro Packages and Conventions
8 System Maintenance

Occasionally two different manual pages will have the same name and exist in two different sections. An example is chown, the Unix command that changes the ownership of a file to a different user. There is a command that you can type from the command line, chown (1), and a system call you use from within a program, chown (2).

To request a manual page from a specific section, type the section number before the command name. For example, to read about chown as a system call, type

spot> man 2 chown