The kernel sources contain functions and data structures which are documented, for instance in panic.c:

 *  panic - halt the system
 *  @fmt: The text string to print
 *  Display a message, then perform cleanups.
 *  This function never returns.
void panic(const char *fmt, ...)

Instead of going through the sources every time, it would be useful to view those APIs as manpages and leverage this existing documentation framework.

How do you install/make the kernel section 9 manpages(/usr/share/man/man9) which document the aforementioned functions and data structures?

  • 2
    Care to share the distro you're using?
    – tink
    Aug 5, 2014 at 2:36
  • Why are you so sure there are always man pages (especially updated) for every release?
    – mdpc
    Aug 5, 2014 at 2:39
  • 1
    @mdpc why wont a well maintained kernel will not have any man pages,i think my question is valid
    – kakeh
    Aug 5, 2014 at 2:43
  • 3
    "You need to install xmlto " seems like the place to start, no?
    – Braiam
    Aug 5, 2014 at 2:44
  • @Bralam updated the surprise :(
    – kakeh
    Aug 5, 2014 at 2:49

3 Answers 3


The content is parsed directly (see also this) from the source .c files1:

In order to provide embedded, 'C' friendly, easy to maintain, but consistent and extractable documentation of the functions and data structures in the Linux kernel, the Linux kernel has adopted a consistent style for documenting functions and their parameters, and structures and their members.

The format for this documentation is called the kernel-doc format. It is documented in this Documentation/kernel-doc-nano-HOWTO.txt file.

This style embeds the documentation within the source files, using a few simple conventions. The scripts/kernel-doc perl script, some SGML templates in Documentation/DocBook, and other tools understand these conventions, and are used to extract this embedded documentation into various documents. [...]

The opening comment mark "/**" is reserved for kernel-doc comments. Only comments so marked will be considered by the kernel-doc scripts, and any comment so marked must be in kernel-doc format.

Which means only such formatted comments can be extracted this way and that you could leverage the kernel-doc Perl script used by the make process:

kernel-doc [ -docbook | -html | -html5 | -text | -man | -list ]
  [ -no-doc-sections ]
  [ -function funcname [ -function funcname ...] ]
  c file(s)s > outputfile

and therefore that you are not limited to the mandocs target:

After installation, "make psdocs", "make pdfdocs", "make htmldocs", or "make mandocs" will render the documentation in the requested format.

There are also driver specific text files in the kernel repository/source. More generally, their Linux man-pages project (man1 through man8) is available for download. On a last note kernel.org also maintains some output documentation.

1. The kernel is not the only case where such a technique is used to generate manpages. GNU coreutils is one such other case; most of its manpages are generated using the output of command --help the content of which is in the usage function the utility source file ( 1 2 ).

  • make mandocs throws me Makefile:19: /Documentation/DocBook/media/Makefile: No such file or directory
    – kakeh
    Aug 6, 2014 at 17:44
  • yes i have it but Documentation/ is not present in /its present in /lib/modules/3.2.0-57-generic-pae/build/
    – kakeh
    Aug 7, 2014 at 3:04
  • @Shyam Those are the files for the modules etc., like the link to text files in my A. You can maybe try ./scripts/kernel-doc -man ./**/*.c >mydoc from the sources top directory and see if you can't put in all directly into one file by parsing the sources directly.
    – user44370
    Aug 7, 2014 at 3:16

Assuming you are using Ubuntu,

apt-get install linux-manual-3.2

or similar (pick the correct version). There is also another documentation package

apt-get install linux-doc

but this is html.

  • this doesnt show kernel api's documentation
    – kakeh
    Aug 6, 2014 at 17:18
  • @Shyam Example? Aug 6, 2014 at 17:22
  • 1
    On Arch(Bang) I have: linux-manpages 3.14-1 which contains the section 9 manpages! Thank you! An example is kcalloc.9.gz. There is about 4000 of them...
    – user44370
    Aug 7, 2014 at 2:39
  • @Faheem Mitha treid of viewing the man alloc_register_region but said no manual entry are docs different from man pages ??
    – kakeh
    Aug 7, 2014 at 3:07
  • @FaheemMitha i dont think kernel's low level api's are available with linux-doc !
    – kakeh
    Aug 7, 2014 at 3:09

Download the kernel source code and in the source dir execute

make mandocs

After the man documents have been made, execute

make installmandocs

This will install the manual pages into /usr/local/man/man9/. Now you can view man pages by typing man <api-name>, or if you are editing in vim just press K over the API name.

  • 1
    But the makefile in /usr/src/linux-headers-5.0.0-38/Makefile does not have rule mandocs neither installmandocs
    – Herdsman
    Apr 27, 2020 at 19:04

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