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Regarding man-pages and info help documentation:

Why do two such similar sources of documentation exist?
Sometimes a man-page is available and the info is not; or vice-versa.
I haven't yet latched on to the rhyme and reason behind it.

Maybe there is a significant difference between them, but even if there is, why do they both exist? It seems like unnecessary doubling up.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 30 down vote accepted

Man pages are the UNIX traditional way of distributing documentation about programs. The term "man page" itself is short for "manual page", as they correspond to the pages of the printed manual; the man pages "sections" (1 for commands, 2 for system calls, etc.) correspond to sections in the full UNIX manual. Support is still there if you want to print a man page to paper, although this is rarely done these days, and the sheer number of man pages make it just impossible to bind them all into a single book.

In the early '90s, the GNU project decided that "man" documentation system was outdated, and wrote the info command to replace it: info has basic hyperlinking features and a simpler markup language to use (compared to the "troff" system used for man pages). In addition, GNU advocates against the use of man pages at all and contends that complex software systems should have complete and comprehensive documentation rather than just a set of short man pages.

There are actually other documentation systems in use, besides man and info: GNOME and KDE have their own, HTML-based system, etc.

In the end, the form in which you get documentation depends on the internal policies of the project that provided the software in the first place -- there is no globally accepted standard.

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info never really took off, did it? –  UncleZeiv Oct 25 '10 at 17:53
1  
@UncleZeiv: run info without parameters to get an idea about how many applications use info-format documentation. –  JanC Oct 26 '10 at 2:47
    
Awesome. One question: who were the leading owners of these "traditional" Unix systems? FreeBSD? –  aditya menon Oct 25 '13 at 11:02

Info is the default format for documentation inside the GNU project, man is the much older traditional format for UNIX.

Info uses Texinfo as its source format, which is a bunch of macros for TeX, and that makes it much easier to also create "good-looking" printed versions or PDFs.

Generally, manpages are more about 1 specific topic (a command, a config file, a system function, ...) while info normally has more the structure of a combined manual, more like a book.

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man uses less to display the manual page which in turn uses vim keybindings while info uses emacs keybindings and standard emacs commands for search, quitting etc.

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The keybindings issue is interesting (so I googled)... It seems that info has a VI keybindings option: --vi-keys (Use vi-like and less-like key bindings) ... $ alias info='info --vi-keys' ... maybe? –  Peter.O Oct 25 '10 at 10:21

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