Generate Manual Pages from AsciiDoc

The AsciiDoc language defines a doctype named manpage for composing manual pages (man pages) in AsciiDoc. Asciidoctor provides a converter for converting this AsciiDoc structure into a groff-formatted man page. This page introduces manual pages, examines the AsciiDoc structure of a man page, and shows how to convert an AsciiDoc document to groff-formatted man page and other formats using Asciidoctor.

What’s a manual page?

A manual page, abbreviated as man page, is a form of software documentation that typically accompanies software on Unix-like operating systems. Its formalized structure allows the man command to present the man page as a formatted document in a terminal pager, such as less.

The benefit of composing a man page in AsciiDoc is that you can convert it to multiple formats, including HTML and PDF. That makes the source of the man page reusable.

manpage doctype

The manpage doctype declares that the AsciiDoc structure serves as the source of a man page and conforms to the man page structure. Note the absence of the space in the doctype value.

By declaring the manpage doctype, the AsciiDoc processor expects the document to conform to the following structure.

Document Header

In a man page, the document header is mandatory. The doctitle consists of the program name followed by the volume number in round brackets (e.g., progname(1)). The doctitle must not contain spaces. The volume number is a single digit optionally followed by a single character.

Document Attributes

There are several built-in document attributes that impact how the source is parsed and converted when the manpage doctype is in use. Refer to the Document attributes section.

The NAME Section

The first section is mandatory, must be titled “Name” (or “NAME”), and must contain a single paragraph (usually a single line) consisting of a list of one or more comma-separated command name(s) separated from the command’s purpose by a dash character (e.g., progname - does stuff or name1, name2 - does stuff). The dash must have at least one space character on either side. If multiple names are given, Asciidoctor will generate alias files for the secondary names that point to the primary name.

The SYNOPSIS Section

The second section is recommended and, if present, must be titled “Synopsis” (or “SYNOPSIS”).

Subsequent sections are optional, but typical sections include “Description”, “Options”, “Bugs”, “See Also”, “Copyright”, and “Author”. You can write the section titles in all uppercase, but it’s better to let the man page converter handle that for you. See Generate a man page for details.

Since the structure required by the manpage doctype is standard AsciiDoc, you can opt to declare the manpage doctype at runtime. When the doctype attribute is not set, Asciidoctor will parse the document as an article and not give it any special treatment.

Here’s an example man page composed in AsciiDoc for the eve command. Observe that it declares the manpage doctype and conforms to the described structure.

Example 1. progname.adoc
= eve(1)
Andrew Stanton
:doctype: manpage
:manmanual: EVE
:mansource: EVE
:man-linkstyle: pass:[blue R < >]

== Name

eve - analyzes an image to determine if it's a picture of a life form

== Synopsis

*eve* [_OPTION_]... _FILE_...

== Options

*-o, --out-file*=_OUT_FILE_::
  Write result to file _OUT_FILE_.

*-c, --capture*::
  Capture specimen if it's a picture of a life form.

== Exit status

  Image is a picture of a life form.

  Image is not a picture of a life form.

== Resources

*Project web site:*

== Copying

Copyright (C) 2008 {author}. +
Free use of this software is granted under the terms of the MIT License.

Although the source document is named progname.adoc, you can name the file whatever you like. The output filename is determined by the manname and manvolnum attributes implicitly defined by the doctitle. In this example, the output filename is eve.1.

Backend and converter

Asciidoctor provides a built-in converter to generate groff-formatted man pages for AsciiDoc documents that declare the manpage doctype and conform to it. Asciidoctor’s own man page (i.e., man asciidoctor) is generated using this converter from this AsciiDoc source.

The man page converter is bound to the manpage backend (not to be confused with the manpage doctype). Note the absence of the space in the backend value.

Backend name


Converter class


Output format


Output file extension

.{manvolnum} (e.g., .1)

Generate a man page

First, ensure your source document conforms to the manpage doctype structure and the doctype attribute is set to the value manpage. Then, to activate the man page converter, you must assign manpage to the backend option. Doing so will instruct the processor to use the man page converter to convert the document.

For the purpose of this example, we’ll assue that the doctitle in progname.adoc is progname(1), where progname is the name of the command and 1 is the volume number. Based on this information, the man page converter will set the output file name to progname.1.

To generate a man page, run:

$ asciidoctor -b manpage progname.adoc

You can then view the resulting man page using the man command:

$ man ./progname.1

When converting to the man page format, Asciidoctor uppercases the titles of all level-0 and level-1 sections. This transformation is applied to conform to the widely adopted convention used by most man pages found on *nix systems. By applying this transform in the converter, it saves you from having to type section titles in all uppercase in the source document. It also makes the document portable to other output formats since this style is only needed for the man page output. If the titles are uppercased in the source, that casing ends up getting used in all output formats.

Prior to Ruby 2.4, Ruby could only uppercase Latin letters. If you’re using Ruby 2.4 or greater, Asciidoctor will uppercase any letter in the title that’s recognized by the Unicode specification as having an uppercase equivalent, which extends beyond Latin letters.

Recall that you’re not limited to using the man page converter to convert an AsciiDoc document that uses the manpage doctype. You can just as well convert it to HTML, as shown here.

$ asciidoctor progname.adoc

The structure of the source document is still enforced, but the output document will look like the output of any other AsciiDoc document.

Repurpose a man page

You may have a man page that you want to repurpose for documenting equivalent commands (but not aliases). You can do so by supplying an alternate man title, name, and/or purpose when converting the document.

If you want to change mantitle and manvolnum attributes, you must override the doctitle attribute when invoking Asciidoctor.

$ asciidoctor -b manpage -a doctitle="othername(7)" progname.adoc

This command sets the mantitle to “othername”, the manvolnum to “7”, and generates the file progname.7. However, the mantitle is only used in the hidden info section at the top of the man page. What you probably want to do is change the manname too, which is the name used in the header, the Name section, and the output filename.

One way to change the manname is to set both the manname and manpurpose attributes when calling Asciidoctor. But first, you need to hide the default Name section in this case so you don’t end up with two Name sections.

== Name

progname - description of progname

Now, you can replace the information in the Name section when calling Asciidoctor:

$ asciidoctor -b manpage \
  -a doctitle="othername(7)" \
  -a manname=othername \
  -a manpurpose="description of othername" \

This command generates the file othername.7.

If you only want to override the manname attribute and not the manpurpose attribute, reconfigure the Name section as shown in the next example.

ifndef::manname[:manname: progname]

== Name

{manname} - description of progname

Now, you can override the manname attribute without having to override the manpurpose attribute.

$ asciidoctor -b manpage \
  -a doctitle="othername(7)" \
  -a manname=othername \

It’s important to remember that Asciidoctor derives the manname and manpurpose attributes from the Name section by default. That’s why it’s not enough just to override the attributes when calling Asciidoctor.

However, if you want to make a well-formed man page from a document that doesn’t have a Name section, you can effectively insert one by setting the manname and manpurpose attributes from the CLI:

$ asciidoctor -b manpage \
  -a doctitle="README(1)" \
  -a doctype=manpage \
  -a manname=README \
  -a manpurpose="Information about this project" \

You can now view the README as a man page using the man command:

man ./README.1

Just remember that a well-formed man page requires both a name and a purpose.

Convert the man page to PostScript / PDF

Once you have created a man page, you can convert it to PostScript using the man command.

Let’s assume that the output file produced by the Asciidoctor man page converter is progname.1, where progname is the name of the command and 1 is the volume number. You can convert progname.1 to PostScript and redirect the output to using the following man command:

$ man -t ./progname.1 >

Alternately, you can redirect the output of the man command to ps2pdf to further convert it to PDF:

$ man -t ./progname.1 | ps2pdf - progname.pdf

Let’s now convert the example from earlier to PDF in this way:

$ man -t ./eve.1 | ps2pdf - eve.pdf

Using the same sequence of commands, you can convert Asciidoctor’s own man page to PDF:

$ asciidoctor -h manpage | man -t -l - | ps2pdf - asciidoctor.pdf

In this case, the -l - reads the man page content generated by the help mode of the asciidoctor command.

Keep in mind that the files in this section are not generated using Asciidoctor. If you want to generate PDF files directly from Asciidoctor, you may be interested in checking out Asciidoctor PDF. Another approach is to convert the AsciiDoc document to DocBook using the built-in DocBook converter (e.g., -b docbook), then convert that document to PDF using the DocBook toolchain.

Document attributes

Several built-in document attributes only affect the manpage doctype and output. These attributes (or the attributes from which they are derived) must be set in the document header.

Built-in document attributes for man pages
Attribute Description Value (as parsed from example above)


Can be set by overriding the doctitle attribute. Must include both the man page name and volume number.



Can be set by overriding the doctitle attribute. Must include both the man page name and volume number.



Alternative way to set the command name. Only used if manpurpose is also set.



Alternative way to set the command purpose.

converts AsciiDoc source files


Style the links in the man page output. A valid link format sequence.

blue R < >


The source to which the man page pertains. When producing DocBook, it becomes a DocBook refmiscinfo attribute and appears in the footer.



The version of the man page. Defaults to revnumber if not specified. When producing DocBook, it becomes a DocBook refmiscinfo attribute and appears in the footer. Not used by Asciidoctor.



Manual name. When producing DocBook, it becomes a DocBook refmiscinfo attribute and appears in the footer.

Asciidoctor Manual

See also

Refer to the AsciiDoc source of the Asciidoctor man page to see a complete example. The man page for Asciidoctor is produced using the man page converter. The man pages for git are also produced from AsciiDoc documents, so you can use those as another example to follow.