Writing Man Pages in HTML

HTML is a cool way to look at the Linux man pages. Here's how to do it.
Interfacing with Netscape

Recently I wanted to be able to issue man page requests from the command line to an already running Netscape browser—I wanted to replace the command-line man with Netscape. As you're probably aware, launching a large application such as Netscape (or emacs) is prohibitively expensive, so my preference is to communicate with an already running Netscape rather than start a new one for each request. Instructions for driving an already running Netscape from the command line can be found at:


You can either use a new Netscape to pass commands to an existing one—it exits after passing them on without launching any screens—or you can use a smaller sample C program (see the HTTP reference) to do the same job. The following bash script fragment will use either (preferring the smaller utility if it's available):

function nsfunc () {
 # If this user is running netscape - talk to it
 if ( /bin/ps -xc | grep -q 'netscape$' ) ; then
  if [ -x netscape-remote ] ; then
   # Use utility to talk to netscape
   exec netscape-remote -remote "openURL($1,new_window)"
   # Use netscape to talk to netscape
   exec netscape -remote "openURL($1,new_window)"
  # Start a new netscape.
  netscape $1 &

A bash script can call this function as follows:
nsfunc "http:/cgi-bin/man2html?who+1"
By using similar techniques, systems can base their help browsers on Netscape. Hopefully, similar capabilities will be built into some of the free browsers to provide alternatives (e.g., Lynx is a fast text-based browser).


Creating vh-man2html was a rewarding spare time effort. The Internet community provided the components and feedback necessary to get it built. It demonstrates one way in which old information can be repackaged for easier access. Linux provided an excellent development platform. All of the necessary components are available in Linux distributions and via ftp.

I'd like to thank Richard Verhoeven for creating his man2html translator and making it available to the Internet community. I'd also like to thank those people who took the time to send me the feedback that assisted with the development of vh-man2html.

Why Would You Want to Do This?

How Did it All Come Together?


Michael Hamilton has been working as a freelance Unix C/C++ developer since 1989. He tripped over one of Linus' postings back at the beginning of 1992, and has been hooked ever since. He can be reached at michael@actrix.gen.nz.