The Lazy Person’s Guide to the Info Command

Most people who use Linux pretty quickly learn about man pages, and how to navigate them with their preferred pager (usually less these days).

Less well known are the info pages. If you’ve never come across them, these look like man pages, and contain similar information, but are invoked like this:

info grep

Over the past couple of decades I often found myself looking at an info page and wondering how to navigate it, hitting various keys and getting lost and frustrated.

What Do I Do Now?

I tried man info, but that didn’t tell me how to navigate the pages. More rarely I would try info info, but didn’t have the time or patience to do follow the tutorial there and then as I was busy trying to get some information, stat.

The other day I finally had enough and decided to take the time to sit down and learn it properly. It didn’t take that long, but I figured there was a case for writing down a helpful guide for new users that just want to get going.

The Bare Minimum

Here’s the bare minimum you need to read through an info page without ever getting lost:

  • ] – next page
  • [ – previous page
  • space – page down within page
  • b – page up within page
  • q – quit

If you want to get commands into your muscle memory as fast as possible, focus on these. It won’t get you round pages efficiently, but you won’t wonder how to get back to where you were, or how you got where you are. If you’re a very casual user, stop here and come back later when you get fed up of spinning forwards and backwards through pages to find something.

Try it with something like info sed.

Levelling Up

If you want to get to the next level with info, then these commands will help:

  • n – next page in this level
  • p – previous page in this level
  • return – jump to page ‘lower down’
  • l – go back to the last node seen
  • u – go ‘up’ a level

info has a hierarchical structure. There is a top-level page, and then ‘child’ pages that can have other pages at the same ‘level’. To go to the next page at the same level you can hit the n key. To go back to the previous page at the same level you hit p.

Occasionally you will get an item that allows you ‘jump down’ a level by hitting the return key. For example, by placing the cursor on the ‘Definitions’ line below and hitting return you will be taken to

* Introduction::                An introduction to the shell.
* Definitions::                 Some definitions used.

To return to the page you were last on at any point, you can hit l (for ‘last page’) and you will be returned to the top of that page. Or if you want to go ‘up’ a level, type u.

Still Interested?

If you’re still interested then you might want to read through info info carefully, but before you do here’s a couple of final tips to help avoid getting lost in that set of pages (which I have done more than once).

First, when you get stuck or want to dig in further, you can get help:

  • ? – show the info commands window
  • h – open the general help window

Confusingly, these options opens up a half-window that, in the case of h at least, gives no indication of how to close it down again. Here’s how:

  • C-x 0 – close the window

Hitting CTRL and x together, followed by 0 gets you out.

Why Bother?

You might wonder what the point of learning to read info pages is.

For me, the main reasons are:

  • They are often far more detailed (and more structured) than man pages
  • They are more definitive and complete. The grep info page, for example, contains a great set of examples, a discussion on performance, and an introduction to regular expressions. In fact, they’re intended to be mini books that can be printed off when converted to the appropriate format
  • You can irritate and/or intimidate colleagues by dismissing man page usage as ‘inferior’ and asserting that real engineers use info (joke)

Aside from anything else, I find getting fluent with these pieces of relative arcana satisfying. Maybe it’s just me.


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