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Current behaviour

Example: x-man-page://8/fsck_cs is misinterpreted as an http:// URL.

Proposal

Allow x-man-page:// URLs to be hyperlinked —

Motivations

Appropriateness. Referring to an http:// or https:// URL for an online copy of the page may present a manual that is too new or too old for the user's system. Linking to an x-man-page:// URL will ensure that the page, read in OS X, is proper for the system.

Ease of use. The settings used by Terminal in response to these URLs are more immediately user-friendly than, say, entering man grep at the command line. Windows such as those below respond normally to the close box, to Command-W, down, up, page down and up keys, scrolling and so on:

a screenshot of Terminal using its Man Page settings for intro (1)

a shot of Terminal using its Man Page settings for mdfind (1)

Assumptions

It will be possible to enable this feature discretely, in apple.stackexchange.com areas alone

  • other stacks might be less welcoming of link protocols that are operating system-specific.

The reader will use OS X when following a link that is intended to open Terminal.app

  • for this reason, I chose Ask Different for this meta question.

Questions of a type that might include x-man-page:// URLs are not likely to be migrated to any stack other than Ask Different.

Risks

Without OS X, a reader may be confused by links that their system can not handle. Minimise this risk by use of plain english. With the shortening workaround suggested by Kyle, any one of the following examples might be plain enough:

Verbosity and gobbledy-gook. This exists in some man pages, not all. If a person will be daunted by the content of a page, then he or she might prefer to read that content in a web browser (solutions such as Bwana are given in answers elsewhere).

However: most such content relates to use of Terminal, so I argue that there's value in encouraging uses that can make Terminal less daunting. Reading a page that can be scrolled and closed with ease is one such use case.

References

https://apple.stackexchange.com/a/24351/8546

8

All-in-all I like this idea, but I want to raise one point of concern. Generally speaking, a user who needs help accessing a man page has a high likelihood of being a user who will might be a little freaked out when clicking on a link opens a terminal session and causes pages (and pages and pages) of gobbledy-gook to appear. Discuss.

  • 2
    Understood. Reference to a manual page alone (without Ask Different) is rarely a substitute for more explanatory help (within Ask Different). The intention here is to make the interface to the proper point of reference — when required — more user-friendly. Allowing OS X to use the predefined Man Page settings is a reasonably consistent approach to easing use of Terminal. Concerning the gook and the potential for freakiness, I'll edit the opening question … – Graham Perrin Apr 1 '12 at 14:25
4

You could use a link shortener to link to the x-man-page URLs, like so:

x-man-page://8/fsck_cs

  • Interesting, thanks, but the workaround fails in some browsers … – Graham Perrin Mar 31 '12 at 17:41
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    @GrahamPerrin It works for me in Safari, Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. What browsers does it not work in? – Kyle Cronin Mar 31 '12 at 17:46
  • OmniWeb 5.11.1 (pictured) treats is.gd/kP7w5a as a bad URL. In another environment, "the page's address isn't valid.". – Graham Perrin Apr 1 '12 at 9:49
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I was also thinking that allowing x-man-page links would be convenient, but then I realized there is a major caveat that nobody has considered; if you're using any other operating system then these links become completely useless.

I'm often browsing stackexchange from iOS, or Linux. Without some type of user agent detection to redirect x-man-page links for non OS X users the cons quickly outweigh the pros. Even then the issue becomes needing to provide online man page links in addition to those native to OS X. I love having the ability to use x-man-pages, however, using OS X is not always an option even while I'm on askdifferent.com.

1

Linking between globally available web pages is better in the long term. Avoid the exclusive use of x-man-page links.

Unofficial Scheme

There are risks associated with any x- prefixed scheme. x- is non-standard and no browser vendor has any long term reason to continue support. If Apple decide that manual pages are deemed too complex for their customers, they can remove support for the x-man-page scheme without consequence. Remember how feed support was removed in OS X 10.9.

Hyperlinking

Linking to web pages reinforces the web and the notion of hyperlinked content. Linking between local and hosted content will break the easy crawling and indexing of Ask Different's content.

Linking locally assumes the reader is using a Mac running a specific version of OS X. What happens to those researching answers for others? They may be presented with outdated or too modern manual pages, as easily as we might link to an incorrect version today.

Versioned Manual Pages

Apple once hosted versioned manual pages. These pages have since been replaced by copies of only the latest edition of each page.

Is there is a stable host of versioned Mac OS X manual pages that we could link to?

This would address the versioning problem and remove the requirement to be browsing on a Mac with x-man-page scheme support.

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