PRINTCAP(5) FreeBSD File Formats Manual PRINTCAP(5)


printcapprinter capability data base




The Printcap function is a simplified version of the termcap(5) data base used to describe line printers. The spooling system accesses the printcap file every time it is used, allowing dynamic addition and deletion of printers. Each entry in the data base is used to describe one printer. This data base may not be substituted for, as is possible for termcap(5), because it may allow accounting to be bypassed.

The default printer is normally lp, though the environment variable PRINTER may be used to override this. Each spooling utility supports an option, -P printer, to allow explicit naming of a destination printer.

Refer to the 4.3 BSD Line Printer Spooler Manual for a complete discussion on how to setup the database for a given printer.


Refer to termcap(5) for a description of the file layout.
Name Type Default Description
af str NULL name of accounting file
br num none if lp is a tty, set the baud rate ( ioctl(2) call)
cf str NULL cifplot data filter
ct num 120 TCP connection timeout in seconds
df str NULL tex data filter (DVI format)
ff str \f string to send for a form feed
fo bool false print a form feed when device is opened
gf str NULL graph data filter ( plot(3) format
hl bool false print the burst header page last
ic bool false driver supports (non standard) ioctl to indent printout
if str NULL name of text filter which does accounting
lf str /dev/console error logging file name
lo str lock name of lock file
lp str /dev/lp device name to open for output, or port@ machine to open a TCP socket
mc num 0 maximum number of copies which can be requested on lpr(1), zero = unlimited
ms str NULL if lp is a tty, a comma-separated, stty(1)-like list describing the tty modes
mx num 0 maximum file size (in BUFSIZ blocks), zero = unlimited
nd str NULL next directory for list of queues (unimplemented)
nf str NULL ditroff data filter (device independent troff)
of str NULL name of output filtering program
pc num 200 price per foot or page in hundredths of cents
pl num 66 page length (in lines)
pw num 132 page width (in characters)
px num 0 page width in pixels (horizontal)
py num 0 page length in pixels (vertical)
rc bool false when sending to a remote host, resend copies (see below)
rf str NULL filter for printing FORTRAN style text files
rg str NULL restricted group. Only members of group allowed access
rm str NULL machine name for remote printer
rp str lp remote printer name argument
rs bool false restrict remote users to those with local accounts
rw bool false open the printer device for reading and writing
sb bool false short banner (one line only)
sc bool false suppress multiple copies
sd str /var/spool/lpd spool directory
sf bool false suppress form feeds
sh bool false suppress printing of burst page header
sr str NULL file name to hold statistics of each datafile as it is received
ss str NULL file name to hold statistics of each datafile as it is sent
st str status status file name
tf str NULL troff data filter (cat phototypesetter)
tr str NULL trailer string to print when queue empties
vf str NULL raster image filter

Each two-letter capability has a human-readable alternate name.

Short form Long form
af acct.file
br tty.rate
cf filt.cifplot
ct remote.timeout
df filt.dvi
du daemon.user
ff job.formfeed
fo job.topofform
gf filt.plot
hl banner.last
if filt.input
lf spool.log
lo spool.lock
lp tty.device
mc max.copies
ms tty.mode
mx max.blocks
nf filt.ditroff
of filt.output
pc acct.price
pl page.length
pw page.width
px page.pwidth
py page.plength
rc remote.resend_copies
rf filt.fortran
rg daemon.restrictgrp
rm remote.host
rp remote.queue
rs daemon.restricted
rw tty.rw
sb banner.short
sc job.no_copies
sd spool.dir
sf job.no_formfeed
sh banner.disable
sr stat.recv
ss stat.send
st spool.status
tf filt.troff
tr job.trailer
vf filt.raster

If the local line printer driver supports indentation, the daemon must understand how to invoke it.


The lpd(8) daemon creates a pipeline of filters to process files for various printer types. The filters selected depend on the flags passed to lpr(1). The pipeline set up is:

p pr | if regular text + pr(1) 
none if regular text 
c cf cifplot 
d df DVI (tex) 
g gf plot(3) 
n nf ditroff 
f rf Fortran 
t tf troff 
v vf raster image

The if filter is invoked with arguments:

if [ -c] -w width -l length -i indent -n login -h host acct-file

The -c flag is passed only if the -l flag (pass control characters literally) is specified to lpr(1). The Width function and length specify the page width and length (from pw and pl respectively) in characters. The -n and -h parameters specify the login name and host name of the owner of the job respectively. The Acct-file function is passed from the af printcap entry.

If no if is specified, of is used instead, with the distinction that of is opened only once, while if is opened for every individual job. Thus, if is better suited to performing accounting. The of is only given the width and length flags.

All other filters are called as:

filter -x width -y length -n login -h host acct-file

where width and length are represented in pixels, specified by the px and py entries respectively.

All filters take stdin as the file, stdout as the printer, may log either to stderr or using syslog(3), and must not ignore SIGINT.


When printing to a remote printer using rm, it is possible to use either if or of. If both are specified, of is ignored. Both filters behave the same except that they are passed different arguments as above. Specifically, the output filter is terminated and restarted for each file transmitted. This is necessary in order to pass the resulting size to the remote lpd(8).

If the -p flag was passed to lpr(1), pr(1) is not executed locally, but is requested of the remote lpd(8). Any input filtering via if will therefore happen before pr(1) is executed rather than afterwards.

There are some models of network printers which accept jobs from lpd(8), but they ignore the control file for a job and simply print each data file as it arrives at the printer. One side-effect of this behavior is that the printer will ignore any request for multiple copies as given with the -# flag on the lpr(1) command. The rc entry will cause lpd(8) to resend each data file for each copy that the user originally requested. Note that the rc entry should only be specified on hosts which send jobs directly to the printer.

If lp is specified as port@ machine (and rm is not in use), print data will be sent directly to the given port on the given machine.


When a print job is transferred to a remote machine (which might be another unix box, or may be a network printer), it may be useful to keep statistics on each transfer. The sr and ss options indicate filenames that lpd should use to store such statistics. A statistics line is written for each datafile of a job as the file is successfully transferred. The format of the line is the same for both the sending and receiving side of a transfer.

Statistics on datafiles being received would be used on a print server, if you are interested in network performance between a variety of machines which are sending jobs to that print server. The print server could collect statistics on the speed of each print job as it arrived on the server.

Statistics on datafiles being sent might be used as a minimal accounting record, when you want to know who sent which jobs to a remote printer, when they were sent, and how large (in bytes) the files were. This will not give include any idea of how many pages were printed, because there is no standard way to get that information back from a remote (network) printer in this case.


Error messages generated by the line printer programs themselves (that is, the lpd(8) and related programs) are logged by syslog(3) using the LPR facility. Messages printed on stderr of one of the filters are sent to the corresponding lf file. The filters may, of course, use syslogd(8) themselves.

Error messages sent to the console have a carriage return and a line feed appended to them, rather than just a line feed.


lpq(1), lpr(1), lprm(1), hosts.lpd(5), termcap(5), chkprintcap(8), lpc(8), lpd(8), pac(8)

4.3 BSD Line Printer Spooler Manual.


The printcap file format appeared in 4.2BSD.
October 11, 2000 FreeBSD