Write The Fine Manual with pod2man

Disclaimer: This is a guide for basic manual writing. It uses a simple markup language and converter to create a manual. It is good for beginners. For a good general overview of man pages read this, for more common approaches to writing manuals read this post.

An example

To get a good idea of how to write a manual seeing the markup of a POD (Perl’s Plain Old Document) works well. This is a POD for a fictitious program called dr-smile:

=encoding UTF8

=head1 NAME

dr-smile — output platitudes to help to improve one's mood


dr-smile [B<--happy>] [B<--joke>=F<type>]


B<dr-smile> outputs jokes and happy thoughts designed to make one feel F<--better>. It has the ability to output pleasant thoughts, jokes, good memories, optimistic fortunes, or just give you a big hub. B<dr-smile> is for I<entertainment> and for light mood change requirements. Please use responsibly and with greater change requirements please see an appropriate professional. Additional options are available in the configuration file F</etc/dr-smile.conf>.

=over 4

=item B<-h>B<--happy>

A general happy thought will be output (e.g. C<dr-smile --happy>).

=item B<-j> F<type>B<--joke>=F<type>

A good-sense joke will be told.  The types are: F<knock> and F<oddball>.  Read more in B<jokes(1)>.


Text formatting

Man pages are mainly created with these types of formatting:

Format Markup
bold B<text>
italic I<text>
link L<http://address.domain >
file name F<file-name>
email E<name@address.domain>

Note: E<> is technically for escapes, however, I have seen it used before in another pod2man document—whether intentional or not I am not sure. Read the manual perlpod for markup information.

From a general observation over the years, bold and italic formatting get used in these situations:


  • program names
  • options
  • other manuals


  • keywords
  • emphasis
  • arguments
  • occasionally manuals

Category formatting

Manual page categories are generally formatted with a certain order. The order of categories vary a bit per man page but the first four are usually present. Here is the general structure and their purpose

  The name of the command followed by a one-line description of what it does.
  A command's invocation with its listed options, or a functions parameter listings with its header file.
  An in-depth explanation of the command or function.
  A explanation(s) of what an option does these are sometimes put in the DESCRIPTION.
  Some examples of common usage.
  Files related to the command or function.
  List of known bugs.
  A list of referenced or related commands.
  Information about the author...

For how to create the categorical entries, I only know the basic formatting. Look at the above example to see how it is done.

  • Category begin is defined with the head1 tag.
  • Indenting is done with the over 4 tag.\
  • Category item is defined with the =item tag.
  • Category end to define a new category is done with the =back tag.

Document to manual conversion

pod2man usage is basic. First look at manual section definitions here to know what section it should belong to. For my miscellaneous, fictitious program:

pod2man dr-smile.pod > dr-smile.7

Additional information may be wanted to add to the manual along with compression:

pod2man --section=7 --center="General Commands Manual" --release="1.0" \
dr-smile.pod | gzip > dr-smile.7.gz

To view the man page use man -l dr-smile.7.gz.