mf, mf-nowin, inimf, virmf - Metafont, a language for font and logo
mf [options] [commands]
Metafont reads the program in the specified files and outputs font
rasters (in gf format) and font metrics (in tfm format). The Metafont
language is described in The Metafontbook.
Like TeX, Metafont is normally used with a large body of precompiled
macros, and font generation in particular requires the support of sev-
eral macro files. This version of Metafont looks at its command line
to see what name it was called under. Both inimf and virmf are sym-
links to the mf executable. When called as inimf (or when the -ini
option is given) it can be used to precompile macros into a .base file.
When called as virmf it will use the plain base. When called under any
other name, Metafont will use that name as the name of the base to use.
For example, when called as mf the mf base is used, which is identical
to the plain base. Other bases than plain are rarely used.
The commands given on the command line to the Metafont program are
passed to it as the first input line. (But it is often easier to type
extended arguments as the first input line, since UNIX shells tend to
gobble up or misinterpret Metafont’s favorite symbols, like semicolons,
unless you quote them.) As described in The Metafontbook, that first
line should begin with a filename, a \controlsequence, or a &basename.
The normal usage is to say
mf ’\mode=<printengine>; [mag=magstep(n);]’ input font
to start processing font.mf. The single quotes are the best way of
keeping the Unix shell from misinterpreting the semicolons and from
removing the \ character, which is needed here to keep Metafont from
thinking that you want to produce a font called mode. (Or you can just
say mf and give the other stuff on the next line, without quotes.)
Other control sequences, such as batchmode (for silent operation) can
also appear. The name font will be the ‘‘jobname’’, and is used in
forming output file names. If Metafont doesn’t get a file name in the
first line, the jobname is mfput. The default extension, .mf, can be
overridden by specifying an extension explicitly.
A log of error messages goes into the file jobname.log. The output
files are jobname.tfm and jobname.<number>gf, where <number> depends on
the resolution and magnification of the font. The mode in this example
is shown generically as <printengine>, a symbolic term for which the
name of an actual device or, most commonly, the name localfont (see
below) must be substituted. If the mode is not specified or is not
valid for your site, Metafont will default to proof mode which produces
large character images for use in font design and refinement. Proof
mode can be recognized by the suffix .2602gf after the jobname. Exam-
ples of proof mode output can be found in Computer Modern Typefaces
(Volume E of Computers and Typesetting). The system of magsteps is
identical to the system used by TeX, with values generally in the range
0.5, 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0. A listing of gf numbers for 118-dpi,
240-dpi and 300-dpi fonts is shown below.
MAGSTEP 118 dpi 240 dpi 300 dpi
mag=magstep(0) 118 240 300
mag=magstep(0.5) 129 263 329
mag=magstep(1) 142 288 360
mag=magstep(2) 170 346 432
mag=magstep(3) 204 415 518
mag=magstep(4) 245 498 622
mag=magstep(5) 294 597 746
Magnification can also be specified not as a magstep but as an arbi-
trary value, such as 1.315, to create special character sizes.
Before font production can begin, it is necessary to set up the appro-
priate base files. The minimum set of components for font production
for a given print-engine is the plain.mf macro file and the local
mode_def file. The macros in plain.mf can be studied in an appendix to
the Metafontbook; they were developed by Donald E. Knuth, and this file
should never be altered except when it is officially upgraded. Each
mode_def specification helps adapt fonts to a particular print-engine.
There is a regular discussion of mode_defs in TUGboat, the journal of
the TeX Users Group. The local ones in use on this computer should be
The e response to Metafont’s error-recovery mode invokes the system
default editor at the erroneous line of the source file. There is an
environment variable, MFEDIT, that overrides the default editor. It
should contain a string with "%s" indicating where the filename goes
and "%d" indicating where the decimal linenumber (if any) goes. For
example, an MFEDIT string for the vi editor can be set with the csh
setenv MFEDIT "vi +%d %s"
A convenient file in the library is null.mf, containing nothing. When
mf can’t find the file it thinks you want to input, it keeps asking you
for another file name; responding ‘null’ gets you out of the loop if
you don’t want to input anything.
ONLINE GRAPHICS OUTPUT
Metafont can use most modern displays, so you can see its output with-
out printing. Chapter 23 of The Metafontbook describes what you can
do. This implementation of Metafont uses environment variables to
determine which display device you want to use. First it looks for a
variable MFTERM, and then for TERM. If it can’t find either, you get
no online output. Otherwise, the value of the variable determines the
device to use: hp2627, sun (for old SunView), tek, uniterm (for an
Atari ST Tek 4014 emulator), xterm (for either X10 or X11). Some of
these devices may not be supported in all Metafont executables; the
choice is made at compilation time.
On some systems, there are two Metafont binaries, mf and mf-nowin. On
those systems the mf binary supports graphics, while the mf-nowin
binary does not. The mf-nowin binary is used by scripts like mktexpk
where graphics support is a nuisance rather than something helpful.
This version of Metafont understands the following command line
Use base as the name of the base to be used, instead of the name
by which Metafont was called or a %& line.
Print error messages in the form file:line:error which is simi-
lar to the way many compilers format them.
Disable printing error messages in the file:line:error style.
This is the old name of the -file-line-error option.
Exit with an error code when an error is encountered during pro-
-help Print help message and exit.
-ini Be inimf, for dumping bases; this is implicitly true if the pro-
gram is called as inimf.
Sets the interaction mode. The mode can be one of batchmode,
nonstopmode, scrollmode, and errorstopmode. The meaning of
these modes is the same as that of the corresponding commands.
Use name for the job name, instead of deriving it from the name
of the input file.
Sets path searching debugging flags according to the bitmask.
See the Kpathsea manual for details.
Enable mktexfmt, where fmt must be mf.
Disable mktexfmt, where fmt must be mf.
directory instead of the current directory. Look up input files
in directory first, the along the normal search path.
If the first line of the main input file begins with %& parse it
to look for a dump name or a -translate-file option.
Disable parsing of the first line of the main input file.
Pretend to be program name. This affects both the format used
and the search paths.
Enable the filename recorder. This leaves a trace of the files
opened for input and output in a file with extension .fls.
Use the tcxname translation table.
Print version information and exit.
See the Kpathsearch library documentation (the ‘Path specifications’
node) for the details of how the environment variables are use when
searching. The kpsewhich utility can be used to query the values of
If the environment variable TEXMFOUTPUT is set, Metafont attempts to
put its output files in it, if they cannot be put in the current direc-
tory. Again, see tex(1).
Search path for input and openin files.
MFEDIT Command template for switching to editor.
MFTERM Determines the online graphics display. If MFTERM is not set,
and DISPLAY is set, the Metafont window support for X is used.
(DISPLAY must be set to a valid X server specification, as
usual.) If neither MFTERM nor DISPLAY is set, TERM is used to
guess the window support to use.
A number of utility programs are available. The following is a partial
list of available utilities and their purpose. Consult your local
Metafont guru for details.
gftopk Takes a gf file and produces a more tightly packed pk font
gftodvi Produces proof sheets for fonts.
gftype Displays the contents of a gf file in mnemonics and/or images.
pktype Mnemonically displays the contents of a pk file.
mft Formats a source file as shown in Computer Modern Typefaces.
Encoded text of Metafont’s messages.
*.base Predigested Metafont base files.
The standard base.
The file of mode_defs for your site’s various printers
This manual page is not meant to be exhaustive. The complete documen-
tation for this version of Metafont can be found in the info manual
Web2C: A TeX implementation.
On January 4, 1986 the ‘‘final’’ bug in Metafont was discovered and
removed. If an error still lurks in the code, Donald E. Knuth promises
to pay a finder’s fee which doubles every year to the first person who
finds it. Happy hunting.
Donald E. Knuth, The Metafontbook (Volume C of Computers and Typeset-
ting), Addison-Wesley, 1986, ISBN 0-201-13445-4.
Donald E. Knuth, Metafont: The Program (Volume D of Computers and Type-
setting), Addison-Wesley, 1986, ISBN 0-201-13438-1.
Donald E. Knuth, Computer Modern Typefaces (Volume E of Computers and
Typesetting), Addison-Wesley, 1986, ISBN 0-201-13446-2.
TUGboat (the journal of the TeX Users Group).
Warning: ‘‘Type design can be hazardous to your other interests. Once
you get hooked, you will develop intense feelings about letterforms;
the medium will intrude on the messages that you read. And you will
perpetually be thinking of improvements to the fonts that you see
everywhere, especially those of your own design.’’
gftopk(1), gftodvi(1), gftype(1), mft(1), pltotf(1), tftopl(1).
Metafont was designed by Donald E. Knuth, who implemented it using his
Web system for Pascal programs. It was originally ported to Unix by
Paul Richards at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This
page was mostly written by Pierre MacKay.
Web2C 7.5.4 10 November 2001 MF(1)
Man(1) output converted with