Chapter 9. Printing

Putting information on paper is a vital function, despite many attempts to eliminate it. Printing has two basic components. The data must be delivered to the printer, and must be in a form that the printer can understand.

9.1. Quick Start

Basic printing can be set up quickly. The printer must be capable of printing plain ASCII text. For printing to other types of files, see Filters.

  1. Create a directory to store files while they are being printed:

    # mkdir -p /var/spool/lpd/lp
    # chown daemon:daemon /var/spool/lpd/lp
    # chmod 770 /var/spool/lpd/lp
  2. As root, create /etc/printcap with these contents:

    lp:\
    	:lp=/dev/unlpt0:\  (1)
    	:sh:\
    	:mx#0:\
    	:sd=/var/spool/lpd/lp:\
    	:lf=/var/log/lpd-errs:
    1 This line is for a printer connected to a USB port.

    For a printer connected to a parallel or "printer" port, use:

    :lp=/dev/lpt0:\

    For a printer connected directly to a network, use:

    :lp=:rm=network-printer-name:rp=raw:\

    Replace network-printer-name with the DNS host name of the network printer.

  3. Enable LPD by editing /etc/rc.conf, adding this line:

    lpd_enable="YES"

    Start the service:

    # service lpd start
    Starting lpd.
  4. Print a test:

    # printf "1. This printer can print.\n2. This is the second line.\n" | lpr

    If both lines do not start at the left border, but "stairstep" instead, see Preventing Stairstepping on Plain Text Printers.

    Text files can now be printed with lpr. Give the filename on the command line, or pipe output directly into lpr.

    % lpr textfile.txt
    % ls -lh | lpr

9.2. Printer Connections

Printers are connected to computer systems in a variety of ways. Small desktop printers are usually connected directly to a computer’s USB port. Older printers are connected to a parallel or "printer" port. Some printers are directly connected to a network, making it easy for multiple computers to share them. A few printers use a rare serial port connection.

FreeBSD can communicate with all of these types of printers.

USB

USB printers can be connected to any available USB port on the computer.

When FreeBSD detects a USB printer, two device entries are created: /dev/ulpt0 and /dev/unlpt0. Data sent to either device will be relayed to the printer. After each print job, ulpt0 resets the USB port. Resetting the port can cause problems with some printers, so the unlpt0 device is usually used instead. unlpt0 does not reset the USB port at all.

Parallel (IEEE-1284)

The parallel port device is /dev/lpt0. This device appears whether a printer is attached or not, it is not autodetected.

Vendors have largely moved away from these "legacy" ports, and many computers no longer have them. Adapters can be used to connect a parallel printer to a USB port. With such an adapter, the printer can be treated as if it were actually a USB printer. Devices called print servers can also be used to connect parallel printers directly to a network.

Serial (RS-232)

Serial ports are another legacy port, rarely used for printers except in certain niche applications. Cables, connectors, and required wiring vary widely.

For serial ports built into a motherboard, the serial device name is /dev/cuau0 or /dev/cuau1. Serial USB adapters can also be used, and these will appear as /dev/cuaU0.

Several communication parameters must be known to communicate with a serial printer. The most important are baud rate or BPS (Bits Per Second) and parity. Values vary, but typical serial printers use a baud rate of 9600 and no parity.

Network

Network printers are connected directly to the local computer network.

The DNS hostname of the printer must be known. If the printer is assigned a dynamic address by DHCP, DNS should be dynamically updated so that the host name always has the correct IP address. Network printers are often given static IP addresses to avoid this problem.

Most network printers understand print jobs sent with the LPD protocol. A print queue name can also be specified. Some printers process data differently depending on which queue is used. For example, a raw queue prints the data unchanged, while the text queue adds carriage returns to plain text.

Many network printers can also print data sent directly to port 9100.

9.2.1. Summary

Wired network connections are usually the easiest to set up and give the fastest printing. For direct connection to the computer, USB is preferred for speed and simplicity. Parallel connections work but have limitations on cable length and speed. Serial connections are more difficult to configure. Cable wiring differs between models, and communication parameters like baud rate and parity bits must add to the complexity. Fortunately, serial printers are rare.

9.3. Common Page Description Languages

Data sent to a printer must be in a language that the printer can understand. These languages are called Page Description Languages, or PDLs.

Many applications from the Ports Collection and FreeBSD utilities produce PostScript® output. This table shows the utilities available to convert that into other common PDLs:

For the easiest printing, choose a printer that supports PostScript®. Printers that support PCL are the next preferred. With print/ghostscript9-base, these printers can be used as if they understood PostScript® natively. Printers that support PostScript® or PCL directly almost always support direct printing of plain ASCII text files also.

Line-based printers like typical inkjets usually do not support PostScript® or PCL. They often can print plain ASCII text files. print/ghostscript9-base supports the PDLs used by some of these printers. However, printing an entire graphic-based page on these printers is often very slow due to the large amount of data to be transferred and printed.

Host-based printers are often more difficult to set up. Some cannot be used at all because of proprietary PDLs. Avoid these printers when possible.

Descriptions of many PDLs can be found at http://www.undocprint.org/formats/page_description_languages. The particular PDL used by various models of printers can be found at http://www.openprinting.org/printers.

9.4. Direct Printing

For occasional printing, files can be sent directly to a printer device without any setup. For example, a file called sample.txt can be sent to a USB printer:

# cp sample.txt /dev/unlpt0

Direct printing to network printers depends on the abilities of the printer, but most accept print jobs on port 9100, and nc(1) can be used with them. To print the same file to a printer with the DNS hostname of netlaser:

# nc netlaser 9100 < sample.txt

9.5. LPD (Line Printer Daemon)

Printing a file in the background is called spooling. A spooler allows the user to continue with other programs on the computer without waiting for the printer to slowly complete the print job.

FreeBSD includes a spooler called lpd(8). Print jobs are submitted with lpr(1).

9.5.1. Initial Setup

A directory for storing print jobs is created, ownership is set, and the permissions are set to prevent other users from viewing the contents of those files:

# mkdir -p /var/spool/lpd/lp
# chown daemon:daemon /var/spool/lpd/lp
# chmod 770 /var/spool/lpd/lp

Printers are defined in /etc/printcap. An entry for each printer includes details like a name, the port where it is attached, and various other settings. Create /etc/printcap with these contents:

lp:\				(1)
	:lp=/dev/unlpt0:\	(2)
	:sh:\			(3)
	:mx#0:\			(4)
	:sd=/var/spool/lpd/lp:\	(5)
	:lf=/var/log/lpd-errs:	(6)
1 The name of this printer. lpr(1) sends print jobs to the lp printer unless another printer is specified with -P, so the default printer should be named lp.
2 The device where the printer is connected. Replace this line with the appropriate one for the connection type shown here.
3 Suppress the printing of a header page at the start of a print job.
4 Do not limit the maximum size of a print job.
5 The path to the spooling directory for this printer. Each printer uses its own spooling directory.
6 The log file where errors on this printer will be reported.

After creating /etc/printcap, use chkprintcap(8) to test it for errors:

# chkprintcap

Fix any reported problems before continuing.

Enable lpd(8) in /etc/rc.conf:

lpd_enable="YES"

Start the service:

# service lpd start

9.5.2. Printing with lpr(1)

Documents are sent to the printer with lpr. A file to be printed can be named on the command line or piped into lpr. These two commands are equivalent, sending the contents of doc.txt to the default printer:

% lpr doc.txt
% cat doc.txt | lpr

Printers can be selected with -P. To print to a printer called laser:

% lpr -Plaser doc.txt

9.5.3. Filters

The examples shown so far have sent the contents of a text file directly to the printer. As long as the printer understands the content of those files, output will be printed correctly.

Some printers are not capable of printing plain text, and the input file might not even be plain text.

Filters allow files to be translated or processed. The typical use is to translate one type of input, like plain text, into a form that the printer can understand, like PostScript® or PCL. Filters can also be used to provide additional features, like adding page numbers or highlighting source code to make it easier to read.

The filters discussed here are input filters or text filters. These filters convert the incoming file into different forms. Use su(1) to become root before creating the files.

Filters are specified in /etc/printcap with the if= identifier. To use /usr/local/libexec/lf2crlf as a filter, modify /etc/printcap like this:

lp:\
	:lp=/dev/unlpt0:\
	:sh:\
	:mx#0:\
	:sd=/var/spool/lpd/lp:\
	:if=/usr/local/libexec/lf2crlf:\   (1)
	:lf=/var/log/lpd-errs:
1 if= identifies the input filter that will be used on incoming text.

The backslash line continuation characters at the end of the lines in printcap entries reveal that an entry for a printer is really just one long line with entries delimited by colon characters. An earlier example can be rewritten as a single less-readable line:

lp:lp=/dev/unlpt0:sh:mx#0:sd=/var/spool/lpd/lp:if=/usr/local/libexec/lf2crlf:lf=/var/log/lpd-errs:

9.5.3.1. Preventing Stairstepping on Plain Text Printers

Typical FreeBSD text files contain only a single line feed character at the end of each line. These lines will "stairstep" on a standard printer:

A printed file looks
                    like the steps of a staircase
                                                 scattered by the wind

A filter can convert the newline characters into carriage returns and newlines. The carriage returns make the printer return to the left after each line. Create /usr/local/libexec/lf2crlf with these contents:

#!/bin/sh
CR=$'\r'
/usr/bin/sed -e "s/$/${CR}/g"

Set the permissions and make it executable:

# chmod 555 /usr/local/libexec/lf2crlf

Modify /etc/printcap to use the new filter:

:if=/usr/local/libexec/lf2crlf:\

Test the filter by printing the same plain text file. The carriage returns will cause each line to start at the left side of the page.

9.5.3.2. Fancy Plain Text on PostScript® Printers with print/enscript

GNUEnscript converts plain text files into nicely-formatted PostScript® for printing on PostScript® printers. It adds page numbers, wraps long lines, and provides numerous other features to make printed text files easier to read. Depending on the local paper size, install either print/enscript-letter or print/enscript-a4 from the Ports Collection.

Create /usr/local/libexec/enscript with these contents:

#!/bin/sh
/usr/local/bin/enscript -o -

Set the permissions and make it executable:

# chmod 555 /usr/local/libexec/enscript

Modify /etc/printcap to use the new filter:

:if=/usr/local/libexec/enscript:\

Test the filter by printing a plain text file.

9.5.3.3. Printing PostScript® to PCL Printers

Many programs produce PostScript® documents. However, inexpensive printers often only understand plain text or PCL. This filter converts PostScript® files to PCL before sending them to the printer.

Install the Ghostscript PostScript® interpreter, print/ghostscript9-base, from the Ports Collection.

Create /usr/local/libexec/ps2pcl with these contents:

#!/bin/sh
/usr/local/bin/gs -dSAFER -dNOPAUSE -dBATCH -q -sDEVICE=ljet4 -sOutputFile=- -

Set the permissions and make it executable:

# chmod 555 /usr/local/libexec/ps2pcl

PostScript® input sent to this script will be rendered and converted to PCL before being sent on to the printer.

Modify /etc/printcap to use this new input filter:

:if=/usr/local/libexec/ps2pcl:\

Test the filter by sending a small PostScript® program to it:

% printf "%%\!PS \n /Helvetica findfont 18 scalefont setfont \
72 432 moveto (PostScript printing successful.) show showpage \004" | lpr

9.5.3.4. Smart Filters

A filter that detects the type of input and automatically converts it to the correct format for the printer can be very convenient. The first two characters of a PostScript® file are usually %!. A filter can detect those two characters. PostScript® files can be sent on to a PostScript® printer unchanged. Text files can be converted to PostScript® with Enscript as shown earlier. Create /usr/local/libexec/psif with these contents:

#!/bin/sh
#
#  psif - Print PostScript or plain text on a PostScript printer
#
IFS="" read -r first_line
first_two_chars=`expr "$first_line" : '\(..\)'`

case "$first_two_chars" in
%!)
    # %! : PostScript job, print it.
    echo "$first_line" && cat && exit 0
    exit 2
    ;;
*)
    # otherwise, format with enscript
    ( echo "$first_line"; cat ) | /usr/local/bin/enscript -o - && exit 0
    exit 2
    ;;
esac

Set the permissions and make it executable:

# chmod 555 /usr/local/libexec/psif

Modify /etc/printcap to use this new input filter:

:if=/usr/local/libexec/psif:\

Test the filter by printing PostScript® and plain text files.

9.5.3.5. Other Smart Filters

Writing a filter that detects many different types of input and formats them correctly is challenging. print/apsfilter from the Ports Collection is a smart "magic" filter that detects dozens of file types and automatically converts them to the PDL understood by the printer. See http://www.apsfilter.org for more details.

9.5.4. Multiple Queues

The entries in /etc/printcap are really definitions of queues. There can be more than one queue for a single printer. When combined with filters, multiple queues provide users more control over how their jobs are printed.

As an example, consider a networked PostScript® laser printer in an office. Most users want to print plain text, but a few advanced users want to be able to print PostScript® files directly. Two entries can be created for the same printer in /etc/printcap:

textprinter:\
	:lp=9100@officelaser:\
	:sh:\
	:mx#0:\
	:sd=/var/spool/lpd/textprinter:\
	:if=/usr/local/libexec/enscript:\
	:lf=/var/log/lpd-errs:

psprinter:\
	:lp=9100@officelaser:\
	:sh:\
	:mx#0:\
	:sd=/var/spool/lpd/psprinter:\
	:lf=/var/log/lpd-errs:

Documents sent to textprinter will be formatted by the /usr/local/libexec/enscript filter shown in an earlier example. Advanced users can print PostScript® files on psprinter, where no filtering is done.

This multiple queue technique can be used to provide direct access to all kinds of printer features. A printer with a duplexer could use two queues, one for ordinary single-sided printing, and one with a filter that sends the command sequence to enable double-sided printing and then sends the incoming file.

9.5.5. Monitoring and Controlling Printing

Several utilities are available to monitor print jobs and check and control printer operation.

9.5.5.1. lpq(1)

lpq(1) shows the status of a user’s print jobs. Print jobs from other users are not shown.

Show the current user’s pending jobs on a single printer:

% lpq -Plp
Rank   Owner      Job  Files                                 Total Size
1st    jsmith     0    (standard input)                      12792 bytes

Show the current user’s pending jobs on all printers:

% lpq -a
lp:
Rank   Owner      Job  Files                                 Total Size
1st    jsmith     1    (standard input)                      27320 bytes

laser:
Rank   Owner      Job  Files                                 Total Size
1st    jsmith     287  (standard input)                      22443 bytes

9.5.5.2. lprm(1)

lprm(1) is used to remove print jobs. Normal users are only allowed to remove their own jobs. root can remove any or all jobs.

Remove all pending jobs from a printer:

# lprm -Plp -
dfA002smithy dequeued
cfA002smithy dequeued
dfA003smithy dequeued
cfA003smithy dequeued
dfA004smithy dequeued
cfA004smithy dequeued

Remove a single job from a printer. lpq(1) is used to find the job number.

% lpq
Rank   Owner      Job  Files                                 Total Size
1st    jsmith     5    (standard input)                      12188 bytes

% lprm -Plp 5
dfA005smithy dequeued
cfA005smithy dequeued

9.5.5.3. lpc(8)

lpc(8) is used to check and modify printer status. lpc is followed by a command and an optional printer name. all can be used instead of a specific printer name, and the command will be applied to all printers. Normal users can view status with lpc(8). Only root can use commands which modify printer status.

Show the status of all printers:

% lpc status all
lp:
	queuing is enabled
	printing is enabled
	1 entry in spool area
	printer idle
laser:
	queuing is enabled
	printing is enabled
	1 entry in spool area
	waiting for laser to come up

Prevent a printer from accepting new jobs, then begin accepting new jobs again:

# lpc disable lp
lp:
	queuing disabled
# lpc enable lp
lp:
	queuing enabled

Stop printing, but continue to accept new jobs. Then begin printing again:

# lpc stop lp
lp:
	printing disabled
# lpc start lp
lp:
	printing enabled
	daemon started

Restart a printer after some error condition:

# lpc restart lp
lp:
	no daemon to abort
	printing enabled
	daemon restarted

Turn the print queue off and disable printing, with a message to explain the problem to users:

# lpc down lp Repair parts will arrive on Monday
lp:
	printer and queuing disabled
	status message is now: Repair parts will arrive on Monday

Re-enable a printer that is down:

# lpc up lp
lp:
	printing enabled
	daemon started

See lpc(8) for more commands and options.

9.5.6. Shared Printers

Printers are often shared by multiple users in businesses and schools. Additional features are provided to make sharing printers more convenient.

9.5.6.1. Aliases

The printer name is set in the first line of the entry in /etc/printcap. Additional names, or aliases, can be added after that name. Aliases are separated from the name and each other by vertical bars:

lp|repairsprinter|salesprinter:\

Aliases can be used in place of the printer name. For example, users in the Sales department print to their printer with

% lpr -Psalesprinter sales-report.txt

Users in the Repairs department print to their printer with

% lpr -Prepairsprinter repairs-report.txt

All of the documents print on that single printer. When the Sales department grows enough to need their own printer, the alias can be removed from the shared printer entry and used as the name of a new printer. Users in both departments continue to use the same commands, but the Sales documents are sent to the new printer.

9.5.6.2. Header Pages

It can be difficult for users to locate their documents in the stack of pages produced by a busy shared printer. Header pages were created to solve this problem. A header page with the user name and document name is printed before each print job. These pages are also sometimes called banner or separator pages.

Enabling header pages differs depending on whether the printer is connected directly to the computer with a USB, parallel, or serial cable, or is connected remotely over a network.

Header pages on directly-connected printers are enabled by removing the :sh:\ (Suppress Header) line from the entry in /etc/printcap. These header pages only use line feed characters for new lines. Some printers will need the /usr/share/examples/printing/hpif filter to prevent stairstepped text. The filter configures PCL printers to print both carriage returns and line feeds when a line feed is received.

Header pages for network printers must be configured on the printer itself. Header page entries in /etc/printcap are ignored. Settings are usually available from the printer front panel or a configuration web page accessible with a web browser.

9.5.7. References

Example files: /usr/share/examples/printing/.

The 4.3BSD Line Printer Spooler Manual, /usr/share/doc/smm/07.lpd/paper.ascii.gz.

9.6. Other Printing Systems

Several other printing systems are available in addition to the built-in lpd(8). These systems offer support for other protocols or additional features.

9.6.1. CUPS (Common UNIX® Printing System)

CUPS is a popular printing system available on many operating systems. Using CUPS on FreeBSD is documented in a separate article: CUPS

9.6.2. HPLIP

Hewlett Packard provides a printing system that supports many of their inkjet and laser printers. The port is print/hplip. The main web page is at https://developers.hp.com/hp-linux-imaging-and-printing. The port handles all the installation details on FreeBSD. Configuration information is shown at https://developers.hp.com/hp-linux-imaging-and-printing/install.

9.6.3. LPRng

LPRng was developed as an enhanced alternative to lpd(8). The port is sysutils/LPRng. For details and documentation, see http://www.lprng.com/.