Inverted manpages? - programs listed by function?

Derek Broughton news at
Wed Jul 19 14:00:26 UTC 2006

gabrielle harrison and Paul van den Bergen wrote:

> Hi All,
> One of the things that I have always found frustrating with computers, and
> especially when one starts with a new OS or programming language, is the
> mismatch between knowing something is possible and how to do it.
> for example, man or info pages give detailed instructions on how to
> configure a program. Alabi they do assume you know already what the terms
> all mean, but still it's useful.
> Howto documents tell you how to achieve a certain thing - usually in
> specific detail.
> between teh two I see a big need. A reverse lookup table, listing by
> function, all the programs that could be appropriate with a description of
> what they do (a many to many list, as it were)

To a (limited) degree, that's what apropos does - a program that's been
around since the dawn of Unix (approximately).  Admittedly, it only works
for programs you already have installed - but so does "man".

> e.g. say I want to construct a firewall, man -k firewall would not

derek at othello:~$ apropos firewall
guarddog (1x)        - firewall configuration utility for KDE

Of course, you get exactly the same ability in any of the package management
tools, or "apt:/search?firewall" (you need kio_apt installed for that),
with the advantage of it searching the repositories for programs that you
don't have installed.

> Say I want to look at setting up a firewall and don't quite know what I
> want to use or have it do. It would be nice to have a place I can look up
> firewall as a service and see a list of all the programs that perform that
> service and what their range of functionality is (and perhaps a list of
> related terms - though this would become obvious from context soon
> enough)...
> does such a thing exist? (other than wikipedia)

Probably not to the degree you'd like (not to the degree _I'd_ like!) but
these are the basic tools.

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