Converting a man page to HTML, PDF, text

If you wish to view documentation for commands and utiilties on a system running Apple's OS X operating system, or Linux, you can use the man command to view the manual page, aka a "man page" for the command/utility. If you want to convert the man page to a HyperText Markup Language (HTML) document, you can use the groff text formatting utility. You can find man pages beneath the /user/share/man directory in subdirectories named manx where x is a number, e.g. man1, man2, etc. You can use the find command to locate the appropriate directory and file. E.g., if a system was functioning as an Apache web server and I wished to find the file associated with the man page for apachectl, I could use the command below:

$ find /usr/share/man -name apachectl\*

Once you have the location, you can pipe the contents of the file into the groff command. E.g., under OS X, if you wanted to view the documentation for Apple's AppleScript scripting language osascript utility, you can find the man page on an OS X system at /usr/share/man/man1/osascript.1. To format it as HTML, you can pipe the contents of the file into groff as shown below:

$ cat /usr/share/man/man1/osascript.1 | groff -mandoc -Thtml >man_osascript.html

The above example creates an HTML file man_osascript.html by using the -T option to specify the type of formatting desired, in this case HTML - you can put a space between the -T and HTML, if you wish. Other options for the -T parameter are listed in the groff man page.

Some files in the man directories may be in compressed .gz format. You can use the gunzip command to extract them to standard output (stdout) and then pipe them to groff - be sure to include -c, --to-stdout or --stdout option so the original file will be left intact.

$ ls /usr/share/man/man8/cups*
/usr/share/man/man8/cups-deviced.8.gz	/usr/share/man/man8/cupsd-helper.8.gz
/usr/share/man/man8/cups-driverd.8.gz	/usr/share/man/man8/cupsd-logs.8.gz
/usr/share/man/man8/cups-exec.8.gz	/usr/share/man/man8/cupsd.8.gz
/usr/share/man/man8/cups-lpd.8.gz	/usr/share/man/man8/cupsdisable.8.gz
/usr/share/man/man8/cups-snmp.8.gz	/usr/share/man/man8/cupsenable.8.gz
/usr/share/man/man8/cupsaccept.8.gz	/usr/share/man/man8/cupsfilter.8.gz
/usr/share/man/man8/cupsaddsmb.8.gz	/usr/share/man/man8/cupsreject.8.gz
$ gunzip --to-stdout /usr/share/man/man8/cupsfilter.8.gz | groff -mandoc -Thtml >man_cupsfilter.html

If you want to produce a Portable Document Format (PDF) file for the man page, you can produce an HTML document from it using groff and then convert it to PDF with the cupsfilter command found on OS X and Linux systems. E.g., to produce an man_osascript.pdf file, I could issue the command cupsfilter man_osascript.html > man_osascript.pdf as shown below:

$ cupsfilter man_osascript.html > man_osascript.pdf
DEBUG: argv[0]="cupsfilter"
DEBUG: argv[1]="1"
DEBUG: argv[2]="jasmith1"
DEBUG: argv[3]="man_osascript.html"
DEBUG: argv[4]="1"
DEBUG: argv[5]=""
DEBUG: argv[6]="man_osascript.html"
DEBUG: envp[0]="<CFProcessPath>"
DEBUG: envp[1]="CONTENT_TYPE=text/html"
DEBUG: envp[2]="CUPS_DATADIR=/usr/share/cups"
DEBUG: envp[3]="CUPS_FONTPATH=/usr/share/cups/fonts"
DEBUG: envp[4]="CUPS_SERVERBIN=/usr/libexec/cups"
DEBUG: envp[5]="CUPS_SERVERROOT=/private/etc/cups"
DEBUG: envp[6]="LANG=en_US.UTF8"
DEBUG: envp[7]="PATH=/usr/libexec/cups/filter:/usr/bin:/usr/sbin:/bin:/usr/bin"
DEBUG: envp[8]="PPD=/System/Library/Frameworks/ApplicationServices.framework/Versions/A/Frameworks/PrintCore.framework/Versions/A/Resources/Generic.ppd"
DEBUG: envp[9]="PRINTER_INFO=cupsfilter"
DEBUG: envp[10]="PRINTER_LOCATION=Unknown"
DEBUG: envp[11]="PRINTER=cupsfilter"
DEBUG: envp[12]="RIP_MAX_CACHE=128m"
DEBUG: envp[13]="USER=jasmith1"
DEBUG: envp[14]="CHARSET=utf-8"
DEBUG: envp[15]="FINAL_CONTENT_TYPE=application/pdf"
INFO: xhtmltopdf (PID 15591) started.
DEBUG: Page = 612x792; 17,19 to 595,773
Feb  8 16:41:37 GSSLA15122293 cupsfilter[15591] <Warning>: CGSConnectionByID: 0 is not a valid connection ID.
Feb  8 16:41:37 GSSLA15122293 cupsfilter[15591] <Warning>: Invalid Connection ID 0
DEBUG: Loading "file:///Users/jasmith1/Documents/man_osascript.html"
DEBUG: Waiting for HTML file to load, 10%
DEBUG: Page title="osascript man page"
DEBUG: Bounds of document are [0.0 0.0 564.0 2112.0]
DEBUG: Starting page 1: [0.0 0.0 578.8 745.0]
DEBUG: Starting page 2: [0.0 745.0 578.8 752.0]
DEBUG: Starting page 3: [0.0 1497.0 578.8 754.8]
INFO: xhtmltopdf (PID 15591) exited with no errors.

The cupsfilter utility can be used to convert any HTML file to PDF.

Another alternative to viewing documentation for a command or utility from a command line interface (CLI) on an OS X or Linux system is to use the info utility, which reads info documentation files as opposed to the man page files used by the man command. The GNU Project distributes most of its manuals in the Info format - see Info at E.g., to view documentation for the osascript program on a OS X system, you can use info osascript. You can use the command below to produce an output text file, info_osascript.txt, containing the documentation.

$ info osascript --output=info_osascript.txt
info: Writing node (*manpages*)osascript...
info: Done.


  1. What is the difference between “man” and “info” documentation?
    Date: October 7, 2011
    Ask Ubuntu


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