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Ronn builds manuals. It converts simple, human readable textfiles to roff for terminal display, and also to HTML for the web.

The source format includes all of Markdown but has a more rigid structure and syntax extensions for features commonly found in manpages (definition lists, link notation, etc.). The ronn-format(7) manual page defines the format in detail.

The *.ronn files found in the man/ directory show off a wide range of ronn capabilities:

As an alternative, you might want to check out pandoc which can also convert markdown into roff manual pages.


Build roff and HTML output files for one or more input files:

$ ronn man/ronn.5.ronn
roff: man/ronn.5
html: man/ronn.5.html

Generate only a standalone HTML version of one or more files:

$ ronn --html man/markdown.5.ronn
html: man/markdown.5.html

Build roff versions of all ronn files in a directory:

$ ronn --roff man/*.ronn

View a ronn file as if it were a manpage without building intermediate files:

$ ronn --man man/markdown.5.ronn

View roff output with man(1):

$ man man/ronn.5

The ronn(1) manual page includes comprehensive documentation on ronn command line options.


Some think UNIX manual pages are a poor and outdated form of documentation. I disagree:

  • Manpages follow a well defined structure that's immediately familiar. This gives developers a starting point when documenting new tools, libraries, and formats.

  • Manpages get to the point. Because they're written in an inverted style, with a SYNOPSIS section followed by additional detail, prose and references to other sources of information, manpages provide the best of both cheat sheet and reference style documentation.

  • Historically, manpages use an extremely -- unbelievably -- limited set of text formatting capabilities. You get a couple of headings, lists, bold, underline and no more. This is a feature.

  • Although two levels of section hierarchy are technically supported, most manpages use only a single level. Unwieldy document hierarchies complicate otherwise good documentation. Remember that Feynman covered all of physics -- heavenly bodies through QED -- with only two levels of document hierarchy (The Feynman Lectures on Physics, 1970).

  • The classical terminal manpage display is typographically well thought out. Big bold section headings, justified monospace text, nicely indented paragraphs, intelligently aligned definition lists, and an informational header and footer.

  • Manpages have a simple referencing syntax; e.g., sh(1), fork(2), markdown(7). HTML versions can use this to generate links between pages.

Unfortunately, figuring out how to create a manpage is a fairly tedious process. The roff/mandoc/mdoc macro languages are highly extensible, fractured between multiple dialects, and include a bunch of device specific stuff irrelevant to modern publishing tools.


Ronn is Copyright (C) 2010 Ryan Tomayko
See the file COPYING for information of licensing and distribution.