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Re: [Groff] troff(1) and info

From: Ted Harding
Subject: Re: [Groff] troff(1) and info
Date: Thu, 01 Nov 2001 10:40:55 -0000 (GMT)

On 01-Nov-01 Bernd Warken wrote:
> BTW, groff is a roff documentation system, so why use the TeX
> info system?
> Man pages are better IMHO, and the groff HTML interface is powerful
> enough to provide hyperlinked documentation.

... and I'm pleased to see that others have some sympathy for
the old way ...

And not just HTML (useful though it is).

You can use groff to make PostScript documents as we all know.

And, in a PostScript document, you can plant "pdfMarks" which
function as hyperlinks (and as other useful things such as pop-up
message boxes).

These do not show when you view the PostScript document itself
(except possibly if you happen to be using Display PostScript,
but I have no experience of this and maybe the mechanism in
Display PS is different).

However, when you properly convert the PS document to PDF,
these pdfmarks are then visible and active. Acrobat Distiller
is The One True Program for PS->PDF, but now ghostscript's
ps2pdf has reasonably good support for pdfMarks, as also
does Frank Siegert's interesting converter 'pstill' -- see

I've used pdfMarks several times, in a fairly primitve way
so far, and they work very well. It's easy to put them in
when you're composing a document in groff (just use the
"\X'ps: <PS code>'" resource). The main difficulty is learning
how pdfMarks work ...

Also, you have to make sure that there's a little bit of extra
PS code in the "prologue" which grops inserts at the beginning
of its PS output (which basically makes "pdfmark" a "no-op"
from the point of view of the PS interpreter).


NOW: As to the issue of groff vs info for documentation.

For certain purposes, I have no objection to the use of reference
systems such as 'info' which present the information in a
basically unformatted way, as for instance when you want to find
out how "ls" works (though, as before, I hate the way 'info'
makes you use it).

BUT: When it comes to learning how a document formatting
system like groff works, what the user wants is not _just_
the command-line options and the reference definitions
of the internal commands, but also, in many cases, examples
of what the output will look like. This is the whole point
of a program like groff. So you need _properly_ formatted
reference documentation.

For this, 'info' is a waste of time. Its main merit is that
it can provide (primitively) hyperlinked documentation on
a character-based console.

Grohtml is useful for formatted documentation, especially with
its facility for displaying bitmaps of things that HTML does not
easily or correctly handle in itself, and of course it allows use
of hyperlinks.

But a PDF file, with pdfMarks acting as hyperlinks etc.,
is a completely faithful representation of the PS document
from which it is derived with the added resources provided
by the pdfMarks.

I believe, therefore, that this is the way to go.

However, preparing such files for groff will not be a
light task.

A few years back, I began such a project. Then, thanks
especially to Werner's hard work, followed closely by
Gaius Mulley and later so many others, in advancing,
correcting and extending groff's capabilities, groff
itself got too far ahead of me!

If things reach a stage (as possibly they may soon)
where the functionality of groff can be considered
"stable" at least for the time being, then it may be
a good time to take it up again.

Best wishes to all,

E-Mail: (Ted Harding) <address@hidden>
Fax-to-email: +44 (0)870 167 1972
Date: 01-Nov-01                                       Time: 10:40:55
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