Man pages are great. They can be a bit hard to read but when you’re trying to figure out a specific flag to ls (which has a lot of flags) it’s the best way to learn. Whenever I have questions about a command, I pop open a terminal and type

man <command>

Which now-a-days doesn’t return all that often. Most new commands you’ll install won’t have a man page. Take go. man go will return an error. But almost all commands support a help flag with -h.

$ go -h
Go is a tool for managing Go source code.


  go command [arguments]

The commands are:

  build       compile packages and dependencies
  clean       remove object files
  doc         show documentation for package or symbol
...etc etc

I found myself typing a lot of man go, getting an error, and then typing go -h. For not just go, but other commands as well. So I made a bash alias. In your .bashrc or similar file, this function changes what man does. It trys to run man for a given command and if that returns an error runs the command with -h.

function man_or_help() {
  # Run man with all the passed arguments to the function
  # \man will run the command with _no_ aliases. So it will work even if you aliased man to ls or something. You can do this with any command on a system with aliases you're unsure about, like `\ls` or `\rm`
  \man "[email protected]"

  # $? is a special variable that has the exit code of the last command. 0 is "success" and anything else means an error happened.
  if [ $? -ne 0 ]
    # $? was not equal to 0. So we try running the first argument with the standard help flag of `-h`.
    "$1" -h

# Instead of the normal man command, run the function we just made when you type man on the terminal.
alias man='man_or_help