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[bug #64018] [man, mdoc] decide on a common base paragraph indentation

From: Ingo Schwarze
Subject: [bug #64018] [man, mdoc] decide on a common base paragraph indentation
Date: Sun, 9 Apr 2023 18:02:51 -0400 (EDT)

Follow-up Comment #1, bug #64018 (project groff):

The setting ".nr IN 7.2n" is present since the beginning of the groff
repository, i.e. groff-1.06, Sep 1 12:28:08 1992, file tmac/tmac.an .

The groff-1.01 released by James Clark on Mar 13 12:49:40 1991 and declared as
a "beta-test version" that is contained in 4.3BSD-Net/2 (Aug 20, 1991) also
contains ".nr IN 7.2n".

The 4.3BSD-Reno release (June 1990) does not yet contain groff (possibly
because groff did not yet exist in June 1990, not even as a beta release -
Wikipedia claims the first groff release was 0.3.1 in June 1990, without
specifying a source) and still uses Kernighan's non-free device independent
troff, licensed from AT&T.  It contains ".nr IN .5i" in the man macro set.

Consequently, it is almost certain that it was James Clark who changed from 5n
to 7n during the very early stages of groff development, and definitely
earlier than the 1.01 release.  In the CHANGES and ChangeLog files contained
in groff-1.01, i see no explanation of why he made the change.

I also consider it likely that AT&T troff never moved away from the 5n
default.  For example, UNIX v10 (1988) contains:


.if n .nr )M 5n
.nr IN \\n()Mu

I admit the following remains somewhat speculative unless we ask her, but it
seems likely to me that Cynthia used the 5n default for mdoc(7) because she
likely did not yet have access to groff when she started mdoc(7) development:
Reno already contains mdoc(7) macros, but no groff yet.  She once told me that
when she got access to groff, she liked it so much that she proposed to drop
support for Kernighan's troff in manual pages, but that proposal was vetoed by
other members of the CSRG, so the mdoc(7) macros remained compatible with both
roff implementations until the CSRG disbanded in 1995.

To summarize, it was likely James Clark who changed the indentation without so
much as providing a rationale, at least not one that survives to this day,
while it is mdoc(7) that upholds the original UNIX tradition in this respect.


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