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Marking Words and Phrases

In Texinfo, you can mark words and phrases in a variety of ways. The Texinfo formatters use this information to determine how to highlight the text. You can specify, for example, whether a word or phrase is a defining occurrence, a metasyntactic variable, or a symbol used in a program. Also, you can emphasize text.

Indicating Definitions, Commands, etc.

Texinfo has commands for indicating just what kind of object a piece of text refers to. For example, metasyntactic variables are marked by @var, and code by @code. Since the pieces of text are labelled by commands that tell what kind of object they are, it is easy to change the way the Texinfo formatters prepare such text. (Texinfo is an intentional formatting language rather than a typesetting formatting language.)

For example, in a printed manual, code is usually illustrated in a typewriter font; @code tells TeX to typeset this text in this font. But it would be easy to change the way TeX highlights code to use another font, and this change would not effect how keystroke examples are highlighted. If straight typesetting commands were used in the body of the file and you wanted to make a change, you would need to check every single occurrence to make sure that you were changing code and not something else that should not be changed.

The highlighting commands can be used to generate useful information from the file, such as lists of functions or file names. It is possible, for example, to write a program in Emacs Lisp (or a keyboard macro) to insert an index entry after every paragraph that contains words or phrases marked by a specified command. You could do this to construct an index of functions if you had not already made the entries.

The commands serve a variety of purposes:

Indicate text that is a literal example of a piece of a program.
Indicate keyboard input.
Indicate the conventional name for a key on a keyboard.
Indicate text that is a literal example of a sequence of characters.
Indicate a metasyntactic variable.
Indicate the name of a file.
Indicate the introductory or defining use of a term.
Indicate the name of a book.


Use the @code command to indicate text that is a piece of a program and which consists of entire syntactic tokens. Enclose the text in braces.

Thus, you should use @code for an expression in a program, for the name of a variable or function used in a program, or for a keyword. Also, you should use @code for the name of a program, such as diff, that is a name used in the machine. (You should write the name of a program in the ordinary text font if you regard it as a new English word, such as `Emacs' or `Bison'.)

Use @code for environment variables such as TEXINPUTS, and other variables.

Use @code for command names in command languages that resemble programming languages, such as Texinfo or the shell. For example, @code and @samp are produced by writing `@code{@@code}' and `@code{@@samp}' in the Texinfo source, respectively.

Note, however, that you should not use @code for shell options such as `-c' when such options stand alone. (Use @samp.) Also, an entire shell command often looks better if written using @samp rather than @code. In this case, the rule is to choose the more pleasing format.

It is incorrect to alter the case of a word inside an @code command when it appears at the beginning of a sentence. Most computer languages are case sensitive. In C, for example, Printf is different from the identifier printf, and most likely is a misspelling of it. Even in languages which are not case sensitive, it is confusing to a human reader to see identifiers spelled in different ways. Pick one spelling and always use that. If you do not want to start a sentence with a command written all in lower case, you should rearrange the sentence.

Do not use the @code command for a string of characters shorter than a syntactic token. If you are writing about `TEXINPU', which is just a part of the name for the TEXINPUTS environment variable, you should use @samp.

In particular, you should not use the @code command when writing about the characters used in a token; do not, for example, use @code when you are explaining what letters or printable symbols can be used in the names of functions. (Use @samp.) Also, you should not use @code to mark text that is considered input to programs unless the input is written in a language that is like a programming language. For example, you should not use @code for the keystroke commands of GNU Emacs (use @kbd instead) although you may use @code for the names of the Emacs Lisp functions that the keystroke commands invoke.

In the printed manual, @code causes TeX to typeset the argument in a typewriter face. In the Info file, it causes the Info formatting commands to use single quotation marks around the text.

For example,

Use @code{diff} to compare two files.

produces this in the printed manual:

Use diff to compare two files.

and this in the Info file:

Use `diff' to compare two files.


Use the @kbd command for characters of input to be typed by users. For example, to refer to the characters M-a, write


and to refer to the characters M-x shell, write

@kbd{M-x shell}

The @kbd command has the same effect as @code in Info, but may produce a different font in a printed manual.

You can embed another @-command inside the braces of an @kbd command. Here, for example, is the way to describe a command that would be described more verbosely as "press an `r' and then press the RET key":

@kbd{r @key{RET}}  

This produces: r RET

You also use the @kbd command if you are spelling out the letters you type; for example:

To give the @code{logout} command, 
type the characters @kbd{l o g o u t @key{RET}}.

This produces:

To give the logout command, type the characters l o g o u t RET.

(Also, this example shows that you can add spaces for clarity. If you really want to mention a space character as one of the characters of input, write @key{SPC} for it.)


Use the @key command for the conventional name for a key on a keyboard, as in:


You can use the @key command within the argument of an @kbd command when the sequence of characters to be typed includes one or more keys that are described by name.

For example, to produce C-x ESC you would type:

@kbd{C-x @key{ESC}}

Here is a list of the recommended names for keys; they are all in upper case:


There are subtleties to handling words like `meta' or `ctl' that are names of shift keys. When mentioning a character in which the shift key is used, such as Meta-a, use the @kbd command alone; do not use the @key command; but when you are referring to the shift key in isolation, use the @key command. For example, write `@kbd{Meta-a}' to produce Meta-a and `@key{META}' to produce META. This is because Meta-a refers to keys that you press on a keyboard, but META refers to a key without implying that you press it. In short, use @kbd for what you do, and use @key for what you talk about: "Press @kbd{M-a} to move point to the beginning of the sentence. The @key{META} key is often in the lower left of the keyboard."


Use the @samp command to indicate text that is a literal example or `sample' of a sequence of characters in a file, string, pattern, etc. Enclose the text in braces. The argument appears within single quotation marks in both the Info file and the printed manual; in addition, it is printed in a fixed-width font.

To match @samp{foo} at the end of the line, 
use the regexp @samp{foo$}.


To match `foo' at the end of the line, use the regexp `foo$'.

Any time you are referring to single characters, you should use @samp unless @kbd is more appropriate. Use @samp for the names of command-line options. Also, you may use @samp for entire statements in C and for entire shell commands--in this case, @samp often looks better than @code. Basically, @samp is a catchall for whatever is not covered by @code, @kbd, or @key.

Only include punctuation marks within braces if they are part of the string you are specifying. Write punctuation marks outside the braces if those punctuation marks are part of the English text that surrounds the string. In the following sentence, for example, the commas and period are outside of the braces:

In English, the vowels are @samp{a}, @samp{e}, 
@samp{i}, @samp{o}, @samp{u}, and sometimes 

This produces:

In English, the vowels are `a', `e', `i', `o', `u', and sometimes `y'.


Use the @var command to indicate metasyntactic variables. A metasyntactic variable is something that stands for another piece of text. For example, you should use a metasyntactic variable in the documentation of a function to describe the arguments that are passed to that function.

Do not use @var for the names of particular variables in programming languages. These are specific names from a program, so @code is correct for them. For example, the Lisp variable texinfo-tex-command is not a metasyntactic variable; it is properly formatted using @code.

The effect of @var in the Info file is to change the case of the argument to all upper case; in the printed manual, to italicize it.

For example,

To delete file @var{filename}, 
type @code{rm @var{filename}}.


To delete file filename, type rm filename.

(Note that @var may appear inside @code, @samp, @file, etc.)

Write a metasyntactic variable all in lower case without spaces, and use hyphens to make it more readable. Thus, the Texinfo source for the illustration of how to begin a Texinfo manual looks like this:

\input texinfo
@@setfilename @var{info-file-name}
@@settitle @var{name-of-manual}

This produces:

\input texinfo
@setfilename info-file-name
@settitle name-of-manual

In some documentation styles, metasyntactic variables are shown with angle brackets, for example:

..., type rm <filename>

However, that is not the style that Texinfo uses. (You can, of course, modify the sources to TeX and the Info formatting commands to output the <...> format if you wish.)


Use the @file command to indicate text that is the name of a file, buffer, or directory, or is the name of a node in Info. You can also use the command for file name suffixes. Do not use @file for symbols in a programming language; use @code.

Currently, @file is equivalent to @samp in its effects. For example,

The @file{.el} files are in 
the @file{/usr/local/emacs/lisp} directory.


The `.el' files are in the `/usr/local/emacs/lisp' directory.


Use the @dfn command to identify the introductory or defining use of a technical term. Use the command only in passages whose purpose is to introduce a term which will be used again or which the reader ought to know. Mere passing mention of a term for the first time does not deserve @dfn. The command generates italics in the printed manual, and double quotation marks in the Info file. For example:

Getting rid of a file is called @dfn{deleting} it.


Getting rid of a file is called deleting it.

As a general rule, a sentence containing the defining occurrence of a term should be a definition of the term. The sentence does not need to say explicitly that it is a definition, but it should contain the information of a definition--it should make the meaning clear.


Use the @cite command for the name of a book that lacks a companion Info file. The command produces italics in the printed manual, and quotation marks in the Info file.

(If a book is written in Texinfo, it is better to use a cross reference command since a reader can easily follow such a reference in Info. See section @xref.)

Emphasizing Text

Usually, Texinfo changes the font to mark words in the text according to what category the words belong to; an example is the @code command. Most often, this is the best way to mark words. However, sometimes you will want to emphasize text without indicating a category. Texinfo has two commands to do this. Also, Texinfo has several commands that specify the font in which TeX will typeset text. These commands have no affect on Info and only one of them, the @r command, has any regular use.

@emph{text} and @strong{text}

The @emph and @strong commands are for emphasis; @strong is stronger. In printed output, @emph produces italics and @strong produces bold.

For example,

@strong{Caution:} @code{rm * .[^.]*} removes @emph{all}
files in the directory.
@end quotation

produces the following in printed output:

Caution: rm * .[^.]* removes all files in the directory.

and the following in Info:

     *Caution*: `rm * .[^.]*' removes *all* 
     files in the directory.

The @strong command is seldom used except to mark what is, in effect, a typographical element, such as the word `Caution' in the preceding example.

In the Info file, both @emph and @strong put asterisks around the text.

Caution: Do not use @emph or @strong with the word `Note'; Info will mistake the combination for a cross reference. Use a phrase such as Please note or Caution instead.

@sc{text}: The Small Caps Font

Use the `@sc' command to set text in the printed output in A SMALL CAPS FONT and set text in the Info file in upper case letters.

Write the text between braces in lower case, like this:

The @sc{acm} and @sc{ieee} are technical societies.

This produces:

The ACM and IEEE are technical societies.

TeX typesets the small caps font in a manner that prevents the letters from `jumping out at you on the page'. This makes small caps text easier to read than text in all upper case. The Info formatting commands set all small caps text in upper case.

If the text between the braces of an @sc command is upper case, TeX typesets in FULL-SIZE CAPITALS. Use full-size capitals sparingly.

You may also use the small caps font for a jargon word such as ATO (a NASA word meaning `abort to orbit').

There are subtleties to using the small caps font with a jargon word such as CDR, a word used in Lisp programming. In this case, you should use the small caps font when the word refers to the second and subsequent elements of a list (the CDR of the list), but you should use `@code' when the word refers to the Lisp function of the same spelling.

Fonts for Printing, Not Info

Texinfo provides four font commands that specify font changes in the printed manual but have no effect in the Info file. @i requests italic font (in some versions of TeX, a slanted font is used), @b requests bold face, @t requests the fixed-width, typewriter-style font used by @code, and @r requests a roman font, which is the usual font in which text is printed. All four commands apply to an argument that follows, surrounded by braces.

Only the @r command has much use: in example programs, you can use the @r command to convert code comments from the fixed-width font to a roman font. This looks better in printed output.

For example,

(+ 2 2)    ; @r{Add two plus two.}
@end lisp


(+ 2 2)    ; Add two plus two.

If possible, you should avoid using the other three font commands. If you need to use one, it probably indicates a gap in the Texinfo language.

Customized Highlighting

You can use regular TeX commands inside of @iftex ... @end iftex to create your own customized highlighting commands for Texinfo. The easiest way to do this is to equate your customized commands with pre-existing commands, such as those for italics. Such new commands work only with TeX.

You can use the @definfoenclose command inside of @ifinfo ... @end ifinfo to define commands for Info with the same names as new commands for TeX. @definfoenclose creates new commands for Info that mark text by enclosing it in strings that precede and follow the text. (7)

Here is how to create a new @-command called @phoo that causes TeX to typeset its argument in italics and causes Info to display the argument between `//' and `\\'.

For TeX, write the following to equate the @phoo command with the existing @i italics command:

@end iftex

This defines @phoo as a command that causes TeX to typeset the argument to @phoo in italics. @global@let tells TeX to equate the next argument with the argument that follows the equals sign.

For Info, write the following to tell the Info formatters to enclose the argument between `//' and `\\':

@definfoenclose phoo, //, \\
@end ifinfo

Write the @definfoenclose command on a line and follow it with three arguments separated by commas (commas are used as separators in an @node line in the same way).

The latter two arguments enclose the highlighted text in the Info file. A delimiter string may contain spaces. Neither the start nor end delimiter is required. However, if you do not provide a start delimiter, you must follow the command name with two commas in a row; otherwise, the Info formatting commands will misinterpret the end delimiter string as a start delimiter string.

After you have defined @phoo both for TeX and for Info, you can then write @phoo{bar} to see `//bar\\' in Info and see bar in italics in printed output.

Note that each definition applies to its own formatter: one for TeX, the other for Info.

Here is another example:

@definfoenclose headword, , :
@end ifinfo
@end iftex

This defines @headword as an Info formatting command that inserts nothing before and a colon after the argument and as a TeX formatting command to typeset its argument in bold.

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