We, developers, live much of our time within a shell. Modern CLIs output stunning help in a way before was not possible. Think of NPM or Heroku or the great GIT.

However we still have the man pages with their default style: black&white with some underline or bold.

So, we can change this luckily. It’s a feature, probably an ancient one, most of us don’t know or just forgot about it.

change it

standard man page VS. colorized man page

How to do that:

  • create a file called .LESS_TERMCAP: touch ~/.LESS_TERMCAP
  • edit the ~/.LESS_TERMCAP file with an editor: nano ~/.LESS_TERMCAP
  • fill ~/.LESS_TERMCAP with this:
    # Less Colors for Man Pages
     export LESS_TERMCAP_mb=$'\E[0;103m' # begin blinking
     export LESS_TERMCAP_md=$'\E[0;93m' # begin bold
     export LESS_TERMCAP_me=$'\E[0m' # end mode
     export LESS_TERMCAP_se=$'\E[0m' # end standout-mode
     export LESS_TERMCAP_so=$(tput bold; tput setaf 8; tput setab 3) # begin standout-mode - info box
     export LESS_TERMCAP_ue=$'\E[0m' # end underline
     export LESS_TERMCAP_us=$'\E[04;32m' # begin underline
     export LESS_TERMCAP_mr=$(tput rev)
     export LESS_TERMCAP_mh=$(tput dim)
     export LESS_TERMCAP_ZN=$(tput ssubm)
     export LESS_TERMCAP_ZV=$(tput rsubm)
     export LESS_TERMCAP_ZO=$(tput ssupm)
     export LESS_TERMCAP_ZW=$(tput rsupm)
  • open your ~/.bash_profile with an editor: nano ~/.bash_profile
  • add to ~/.bash_profile this:
    [[ -f ~/.LESS_TERMCAP ]] && . ~/.LESS_TERMCAP
  • reload the ~/.bash_profile (or restart the bash session): source ~/.bash_profile


Now you have colorized the man pages. It’s possible also to customize the colors, if you google a bit you’ll find the table of colors and the meaning of those variables.