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Adding custom MAN pages

Recently I was faced with a new issue/challenge: adding custom man pages for a custom/user defined command. This being said, I started to dig into the configuration and structure of the man command.

I will not go too deep into the man theory, there is always Google for it, or the official manual pages:

man man

As I now know, after reading documentation, there are 9 section of documentation for each command. So, it means separate documentation file for each section.

In the following example I will create custom documentation for section 1 (Executable user programs and shell commands) and section 4 (Information on device files). I call the command dummy.

#The following commands create the default structure for custom man pages
cd ~/
mkdir ownman; mkdir ownman/man1; mkdir ownman/man4
cd ownman/man1
vi dummy.1 # Add some documentation here. Example: 1) Documentation for section 1
cd ../man4
vi dummy.4 # Add some documentation here. Example: 1) Documentation for section 4

Now that the structure is in place, the man pages for the the dummy command can be called. The -M option has to be used in order to specify the location of the man pages for the specific command.

man -M ~/ownman dummy
1) Documentation for section 1

 Manual page dummy(1) line 1/66 (END) (press h for help or q to quit)

The default section is 1, so it’s not necessary to be specified here. With specification, the command looks like this:

man -M ~/ownman 4 dummy
1) Documentation for section 4

 Manual page dummy(4) line 1/66 (END) (press h for help or q to quit)

The structure and the call is in place now. But still, it could be tiresome sometimes to remember the path to the man pages, especially if one were to declare multiple locations.

To add the ~/ownman location to the locations man is looking at by default, the configuration file needs to be edited. On Ubuntu this file is: /etc/manpath.config (for Red Hat and Red Hat derivatives, like CentOS and Fedora, the configuration file for man is /etc/man.config)

# need sudo rights for this, as the owner of the file is root
sudo vi /etc/manpath.config

Edit the file by adding a new entry in the MANDATORY_MANPATH section.


If there is a need to specify different man pages path for different command paths, another edit needs to be made, further down in the file. A new entry for MANPATH_MAP

MANPATH_MAP ~/custom_commands_location			~/ownman

Now the simple, straight forward command can be called:

man dummy
1) Documentation for section 1

 Manual page dummy(1) line 1/66 (END) (press h for help or q to quit)


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Restore lost admin group membership

I found myself recently in the awkward situation of replacing all the groups my user was part of, with a group I wanted to append to.
Due to the fact that I have installed VirtualBox, my user needed to be part of the vboxusers group. All good I thought, so I wanted to add that group to my user.

So I used the following Wrong command

sudo usermod -G vboxusers myuser

As per the help

usermod --help
-G, --groups GROUPS           new list of supplementary GROUPS
-a, --append                  append the user to the supplemental GROUPS

I have realised that I forgot to add the append option. So actually to add the new group to the existing list of groups.
The correct command would have been:

sudo usermod -aG vboxusers myuser

After my reboot, because the effect of the command is not visible until a logout/login is performed, I have found myself without sudo/admin rights. The result of the command:


was myuser and vboxusers. Great, no admin rights.

So here is what I did to solve this problem.

Boot up from the LiveCD. Hope you have one at hand. Doesn’t have to be the latest distribution.

Open the terminal and mount your root:

sudo mount /dev/sda1/mnt
sudo chroot /mnt

Note: instead of sda1 you should use the partition on which your root is mounted. If you are not sure about it, check in Disk Utility application (the default one on your liveCD.

Locate the groups:

cd /mnt/etc

The file which holds the groups is simply called group. But because you have recently changed this file with the wrong command, you need to check the backup file in order to determine which were your old groups, so that you can add them back. The backup file is group-.

Now, you have 2 options to go forward. The first one is to manually edit the group file to add your user against the groups (take the back-up file as an example). The second option is to simply re-add the groups to your user with the usermod command. This way you learn the right format of the command:

usermod -aG group user

Note: there is no need to use sudo in a liveCD session.

Now remove the liveCD and the reboot will make you a happy user 🙂

Thanks to fossfreedom and ccollins

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