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5.2 Page Geometry

roff systems format text under certain assumptions about the size of the output medium, or page. For the formatter to correctly break a line it is filling, it must know the line length, which it derives from the page width (see Line Layout). For it to decide whether to write an output line to the current page or wait until the next one, it must know the page length (see Page Layout).

A device’s resolution converts practical units like inches or centimeters to basic units, a convenient length measure for the output device or file format. The formatter and output driver use basic units to reckon page measurements. The device description file defines its resolution and page dimensions (see DESC File Format).

A page is a two-dimensional structure upon which a roff system imposes a rectangular coordinate system with its upper left corner as the origin. Coordinate values are in basic units and increase down and to the right. Useful ones are therefore always positive and within numeric ranges corresponding to the page boundaries.

While the formatter (and, later, output driver) is processing a page, it keeps track of its drawing position, which is the location at which the next glyph will be written, from which the next motion will be measured, or where a geometric object will commence rendering. Notionally, glyphs are drawn from the text baseline upward and to the right.33 The text baseline is a (usually invisible) line upon which the glyphs of a typeface are aligned. A glyph therefore “starts” at its bottom-left corner. If drawn at the origin, a typical letter glyph would lie partially or wholly off the page, depending on whether, like “g”, it features a descender below the baseline.

Such a situation is nearly always undesirable. It is furthermore conventional not to write or draw at the extreme edges of the page. Therefore the initial drawing position of a roff formatter is not at the origin, but below and to the right of it. This rightward shift from the left edge is known as the page offset.34 The downward shift leaves room for a text output line.

Text is arranged on a one-dimensional lattice of text baselines from the top to the bottom of the page. Vertical spacing is the distance between adjacent text baselines. Typographic tradition sets this quantity to 120% of the type size. The initial drawing position is one unit of vertical spacing below the page top. Typographers term this unit a vee.

Vertical spacing has an impact on page-breaking decisions. Generally, when a break occurs, the formatter moves the drawing position to the next text baseline automatically. If the formatter were already writing to the last line that would fit on the page, advancing by one vee would place the next text baseline off the page. Rather than let that happen, roff formatters instruct the output driver to eject the page, start a new one, and again set the drawing position to one vee below the page top; this is a page break.

When the last line of input text corresponds to the last output line that fits on the page, the break caused by the end of input will also break the page, producing a useless blank one. Macro packages keep users from having to confront this difficulty by setting “traps” (see Traps); moreover, all but the simplest page layouts tend to have headers and footers, or at least bear vertical margins larger than one vee.

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