Scroll to navigation

PRINTCAP(5) File Formats Manual PRINTCAP(5)


printcapprinter capability database




The printcap file is a simplified version of the termcap(5) database used to describe line printers. The spooling system accesses the printcap file every time it is used, allowing dynamic addition and deletion of printers. Each entry in the database is used to describe one printer. This database may not be substituted for, as is possible for termcap(5), because it may allow accounting to be bypassed.

The default printer is normally “lp”, though the environment variable PRINTER may be used to override this. Each spooling utility supports an option, -Pprinter, to allow explicit naming of a destination printer.

Refer to the 4.3 BSD Line Printer Spooler Manual for a complete discussion on how to set up the database for a given printer.


Refer to termcap(5) for a description of the file layout.

Type Default Description
af str
br num none if lp is a tty, set baud rate (ioctl(2) call)
cf str
df str (DVI format)
fc num 0 if lp is a tty, clear flag bits (⟨sgtty.h⟩)
ff str \f
fo bool false print a form feed when device is opened
fs num 0 if lp is a tty, set flag bits (⟨sgtty.h⟩)
gf str (plot(3) format)
hl bool false print the burst header page last
ic bool false supports non-standard ioctl to indent printout
if str
lf str /dev/console
lo str lock
lp str /dev/lp
ms str
mx num 1000 max file size (in BUFSIZ blocks); 0=unlimited
nd str
nf str
of str
pc num 200 price per foot or page in hundredths of cents
pl num 66 page length (in lines)
pw num 132 page width (in characters)
px num 0 page width in pixels (horizontal)
py num 0 page length in pixels (vertical)
rf str FORTRAN style text files
rg str
rm str
rp str ``lp'' remote printer name argument
rs bool false remote users must have a local account
rw bool false open printer device for reading and writing
sb bool false short banner (one line only)
sc bool false suppress multiple copies
sd str /var/spool/lpd
sf bool false suppress form feeds
sh bool false suppress printing of burst page header
st str status
tf str
tr str
vf str
xc num 0 if lp is a tty, clear local mode bits (tty(4))
xs num 0 if lp is a tty, set local mode bits (tty(4))

If the local line printer driver supports indentation, the daemon must understand how to invoke it.


If a printer is specified via (either local or remote), the lpd(8) daemon creates a pipeline of “filters” to process files for various printer types. The pipeline is not set up for remote printers specified via unless the local host is the same as the remote printer host given. The filters selected depend on the flags passed to lpr(1). The pipeline set up is:

p	pr | if	regular text + pr(1)
none	if	regular text
c	cf	cifplot
d	df	DVI (tex)
g	gf	plot(3)
n	nf	ditroff
f	rf	Fortran
t	tf	troff
v	vf	raster image

The if filter is invoked with arguments:

if [-c] -wwidth -llength -iindent -n login -h host acct-file

The -c flag is passed only if the -l flag (pass control characters literally) is specified to lpr(1). width and length specify the page width and length (from and , respectively) in characters. The -n and -h parameters specify the login name and host name of the owner of the job, respectively. The acct-file function is passed from the printcap entry.

If no if is specified, of is used instead, with the distinction that of is opened only once, while if is opened for every individual job. Thus, if is better suited to performing accounting. The of is only given the width and length flags.

All other filters are called as:

filter -xwidth -ylength -n login -h host acct-file

where width and length are represented in pixels, specified by the and entries, respectively. All filters take as the file, as the printer, may log either to stderr or using syslog(3), and must not ignore SIGINT.


Error messages generated by the line printer programs themselves are logged by syslog(3) using the LPR facility. Messages printed on stderr of one of the filters are sent to the corresponding file. The filters may, of course, use syslog(3) themselves.

Error messages sent to the console have a carriage return and a line feed appended to them, rather than just a line feed.


lpq(1), lpr(1), lprm(1), termcap(5), lpc(8), lpd(8), pac(8)

4.3 BSD Line Printer Spooler Manual.


The printcap file format appeared in 4.2BSD.

December 11, 1993 Debian