GNU troff in 2022 part 2

August 13, 2022

In my last post, I described my first experience with GNU troff and how I tried using the mom macro set to typeset my resume as a way to learn it. Long story short, shortly after that post I wanted to try another take without using the mom macro set. I came upon this great set of troff resources. From that list, the original troff user’s manual, the troff tutorial, and the original tbl user’s manual were ones I started with. It encouraged me to start again in raw troff and using the -tbl flag to invoke the table preprocessor. (groff -Tpdf -tbl resume.nroff > resume.pdf)

In the troff tutorial, after Brian Kernighan introduces troff, he states the most important rule: “The single most important rule of using troff is not to use it directly, but through some intermediary. In many ways, troff resembles an assembly language — a remarkably powerful and flexible one — but nonetheless such that many operations must be specified at a level of detail and in a form that is too hard for most people to use effectively.”

Using the tbl preprocessor, I was able to revisit the first part of my resume where I listed my name and some buzzwords:

l  c  r.
\s10	\s30Timmy Douglas\s10
c | c
lw(3i) | lw(3.25i).
Recent Languages	Recent Systems
.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]
T}	T{
Windows, Linux, Visual Studio, VS Code, Emacs, Make, Docker, Kubernetes, Kustomize, Azure, AWS EC2/S3/Glacier

While it isn’t too much different from the first attempt, I think I enjoyed using tbl more than mom to layout the tables. tbl feels like a purpose-built language for creating tables, while mom macros were more like using C-like macros to write assembly.

I typeset the work experience and following sections by creating a macro for each title and another macro for the bullets under it:

.de JOB
.ps 14
.ti +0.0i
.de ITEM
.ps 10
.ti +0.25i

Then the rest flowed like this:

Company: Title (start date \(en end date)
some accomplishment etc etc
another accomplishment etc etc

I do like the idea of thinking about troff as an assembly language. With that and the unix mindset, I could imagine a future program I write generating troff as an intermediate language to create postscript, PDF files, man pages or even formatted text. It wasn’t too bad using raw troff directly if you are fine with keeping things simple.