Alternatives to man pages

When I discovered Unix as a student, one of its most impressive features was the availability of the entire documentation through the man command. Compared with the other computers that I had use before, this online and searchable documentation was a major change. These Unix computers were also connected to the Internet, but the entire university had a few tens of kilobits per second of bandwidth and the Internet was not as interactive as it is today.

Today, when I explain the benefits of Unix to students, they do not feel impressed by the man pages anymore. They are used to have access to tons of information within less than a second from the Internet and man seems a prehistoric command. As a teacher, I’ve tried several approaches to encourage them to read manual pages, including multiple choice questions about man pages and hypertext links to man pages in the open-source introductory ebook that I wrote (in French) on computing systems.

I recently saw two interesting approaches that I plan to explore with bachelor students during the next semester.

TLDR is a set of very short examples on the Unix commands. These examples try to show the basic usage of the commands and could be used as a starting point for new students. This is an open-source project which could be extended by students. I often encourage students to propose extensions to the tools, software and documentation used for the courses. This motivates the bright students to explore the course topics even more…

There is a web interface on if you’d like to experiment with it.

Another interesting software is how2, available from It supports queries in natural language and provides answers and examples in the terminal.

Written on November 23, 2017