What are Linux man pages?

Jack Wallen goes full-on Linux 101 and describes what the "M" stands for in "RTFM."

What are Linux man pages? Jack Wallen goes full-on Linux 101 and describes what the "M" stands for in "RTFM", as it pertains to Linux.

Have you ever sought help on a technical issue, only to be told RTFM? What is that acronym? In a safe-for-work translation, it means Read The Freaking Manual. That's all fine and good when you working with something that has a downloadable PDF file containing all the necessary information you need. But what about a Linux command? There are no manuals to be had. Or are there?

Actually, there are. In fact, the manuals for those commands are typically built right into the system. I'm talking about man pages.

SEE: Securing Linux policy (Tech Pro Research)

Man pages: Defined

Man pages are online references manuals, each of which covers a specific Linux command. The man pages are read from the terminal and are all presented in the same layout. A typical man page covers the synopsis, description, and examples for the command in question. The synopsis shows you the structure of a command. The description describes what the command does as well as any available options and flags for the command. The examples section shows you different ways in which you can use the command.

Opening a man page

But how do you open a man page? Simple. Let's say you need to know how to use a specific option for the ssh command. To read the ssh man page, issue the command man ssh. You can then use the arrow keys to scroll down (or up) one line at a time, or move up or down, one page at a time, using the Page Up or Page Down buttons.

You can even enter the command man man to learn about the manual pages. There's actually some useful information in that man manual page. So for anyone new to Linux, I recommend getting up to speed with man, before using man to read man pages.

Now, the next time someone tells you to RTFM, you'll know exactly what they're talking about.

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Image: Jack Wallen

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.