Sunday, 2 September 2012

How To Search Manual Pages In Linux

Linux system consists of hundreds of binaries, several syscalls, and other stuffs that do have manual page. What if you want to locate or find the commands by searching through the manual pages? In this post, I am going to talk about one such useful command to search through the manual page names and short descriptions.

The command I am talking about is the apropos command. The best way to learn any linux command is to read its corresponding manual and go through the help (-h or --help) so lets poke through the help of apropos itself.

samar@Techgaun:~$ apropos -h
Usage: apropos [OPTION...] KEYWORD...

  -d, --debug                emit debugging messages
  -v, --verbose              print verbose warning messages
  -e, --exact                search each keyword for exact match
  -r, --regex                interpret each keyword as a regex
  -w, --wildcard             the keyword(s) contain wildcards
  -a, --and                  require all keywords to match
  -l, --long                 do not trim output to terminal width
  -C, --config-file=FILE     use this user configuration file
  -L, --locale=LOCALE        define the locale for this search
  -m, --systems=SYSTEM       use manual pages from other systems
  -M, --manpath=PATH         set search path for manual pages to PATH
  -s, --section=SECTION      search only this section
  -?, --help                 give this help list
      --usage                give a short usage message
  -V, --version              print program version

Mandatory or optional arguments to long options are also mandatory or optional
for any corresponding short options.

The --regex option is enabled by default.

Report bugs to

Particularly, the -e switch is quite useful to filter out your search. See the example below:

samar@Techgaun:~$ apropos -e tar
bf_tar (1)           - shell script to write a tar file of a bogofilter direc...
bf_tar-bdb (1)       - shell script to write a tar file of a bogofilter direc...
git-tar-tree (1)     - Create a tar archive of the files in the named tree ob...
lz (1)               - gunzips and shows a listing of a gzip'd tar'd archive
mxtar (1)            - Wrapper for using GNU tar directly from a floppy disk
ptar (1)             - a tar-like program written in perl
tar (1)              - The GNU version of the tar archiving utility
tar (5)              - format of tape archive files
tgz (1)              - makes a gzip'd tar archive
uz (1)               - gunzips and extracts a gzip'd tar'd archive

Each command has its associated short description and the apropos command searches the short description section of appropriate manual page for the provided keyword. You can also specify the search keywords in the form of regular expression for more flexibility. I hope this command counts as useful one :)