Groff (GNU troff) in 2022

August 10, 2022

Groff is a typesetting system similar to TeX. I was always intrigued by the cryptic syntax of man pages, which use the same software. I read an interesting article about someone trying to write their PhD using groff and was interesting in learning more. LaTeX has always felt a little bloated, so I have been interested in looking at alternatives. A while back Lout was on my radar, but usage of it has not seemed to take off.

Anyways, after installing groff, I had to decide what macro package to use. This document gives a good overview–the short advice was to use ms unless you are writing a novel (“then use mom”).

First I needed to find a document to typeset, and while maybe I could have used a blog entry, there isn’t much formatting in those, so I tried to convert my resume. Unfortunately, that proved to be slightly more complicated than I expected. I also likely made the wrong decision by choosing to use the mom macro package. The mom macro package has great documentation, and got my attention with its friendly macro names, but probably isn’t intended for a single page document with the formatting I’m trying to acheieve. I wasn’t able to reproduce the background colors I had in the tables, and the fonts are not as pretty as computer modern or what you get in Word.

The first step is to figure out how to invoke groff. My install through Guix has some convenience commands like pdfmom, but in general you would run it like this: groff -Tpdf -mom > resume.pdf && evince resume.pdf. This fits nicely in a makefile .PHONY target that gets executed when I press F2 in Emacs.

I decided to start things off with the mom boilerplate and a table showing my website on the left, my name centered, and my email on the right:

.TITLE "Timmy Douglas"
.SIZE -2
.TAB_SET 1 0 7i L
.TAB_SET 2 0 7.5i C
.TAB_SET 3 0 7.5i R
.TAB 1\*[TB+]
.PT_SIZE +10
Timmy Douglas\*[TB+]
.PT_SIZE -10

That part wasn’t too bad. The next part was a little more tricky. I wanted to have two columns with some tool and systems keywords (BTW this isn’t a final draft of my resume). The TAB_SET arguments are index, start offset, length, and alignment.

.TAB_SET 1 0 3.75i C
.TAB_SET 2 3.75i 3.75i C
.TAB 1
Some Languages Used
Some Systems Used
.TAB_SET 1 0 3.75i L QUAD
.TAB_SET 2 3.75i 3.75i L QUAD
.TAB 1
.ds TeX T\h'-.1667m'\v'.224m'E\v'-.224m'\h'-.125m'X
Bash, C, Common Lisp, C#, TypeScript, MSBuild, Python, Troff (this document), Smalltalk, SQL, \*[TeX]
.TAB 2
Windows, Linux, Visual Studio, VS Code, Emacs, Make, Docker, Kubernetes, Kustomize, Azure, AWS EC2/S3/Glacier

The use of .MCR, .MCR, and .MCX is important here. Without it, the mom tabular format would put the TAB 2 contents vertically aligned with the bottom of the TAB 1 contents. This way, they are on the same level:

Tools Systems
a, b c, d

The .ds macro creates a string that you can re-use and invoke with a shorthand. I found that TeX example somewhere.

The next section was work experience. I wasn’t able to find a good look, and landed on this:

.HEADING 1 "Work Experience"
\*[SLANT]Company Name: Title (Start date \(en Present)\*[SLANTX]
Some accomplishment or job duties

It was a little odd to me the endash has a parenthesis in it: \en(. I think the next steps would be to learn more about how the macros are written. On my comuter, I can find the mom macros in /gnu/store/g6pw8f6zi6yljasxigblaw3dl0g8v785-groff-1.22.4/share/groff/1.22.4/tmac/om.tmac. I think in a future exercise it might be interesting to learn the base troff language and how it works. While I’m not a huge fan of the look, I do appreciate the speed and small footprint.