GROFF_TRACE(7) FreeBSD Miscellaneous Information Manual GROFF_TRACE(7)


groff_trace - groff macro package trace.tmac


groff -m trace [ options...] [ files...]

Elements in brackets denote optional arguments, and the ellipsis means that there can be any number of arguments of this kind.


The trace macro package of groff(1) can be a valuable tool for debugging documents written in the roff formatting language. A call stack trace is protocolled on standard error, that means, a diagnostic message is emitted on entering and exiting of a macro call. This greatly eases to track down an error in some macro.

This tracing process is activated by specifying the groff or troff command line option -m trace. This works also with the groffer(1) viewer program. A finer control can be obtained by including the macro file within the document by the groff macro call .mso trace.tmac. Only macros that are defined after this line are traced.

If some other macro package should be traced as well it must be specified after -m trace on the command line.

The macro file trace.tmac is unusual because it does not contain any macros to be called by a user. Instead, the existing macro definition and appending facilities are modified such that they display diagnostic messages.


In the following examples, a roff fragment is fed into groff via standard input. As we are only interested in the diagnostic messages (standard error) on the terminal, the normal formatted output (standard output) is redirected into the nirvana device /dev/null. The resulting diagnostic messages are displayed directly below the corresponding example.

Command line option








*** de trace enter: test_macro
*** trace exit: test_macro
*** de trace enter: test_macro "some" "dummy" "arguments"
*** trace exit: test_macro "some" "dummy" "arguments"
@+Example_font . Error no previous call to .Example

The entry and the exit of each macro call is displayed on the terminal (standard output) — together with the arguments (if any).

Nested macro calls










*** de trace enter: parent
*** de trace enter: child
*** trace exit: child
*** trace exit: parent
@+Example_font . Error no previous call to .Example

This shows that macro calls can be nested. This powerful feature can help to tack down quite complex call stacks.

Activating with .mso












*** de trace enter: after
*** trace exit: after
@+Example_font . Error no previous call to .Example

Here, the tracing is activated within the document, not by a command line option. As tracing was not active when macro before was defined, no call of this macro is protocolled; on the other hand, the macro after is fully protocolled.


The trace macros are kept in the file trace.tmac located in the tmac directory; see groff_tmac(5) for details.


A colon-separated list of additional tmac directories in which to
search for macro files; see groff_tmac(5) for details.


Copyright (C) 2002 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

This document is distributed under the terms of the FDL (GNU Free Documentation License) version 1.1 or later. You should have received a copy of the FDL on your system, it is also available on-line at the

This document is part of groff, the GNU roff distribution. It was written by


An overview of the groff system.
For details on option -m.
A viewer program for all kinds of roff documents.
A general description of groff macro packages.
A short reference for the groff formatting language.

A complete reference for all parts of the groff system is found in the groff info(1) file.

11 November 2014 Groff Version 1.19.2