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nano Command Manual

This manual documents GNU nano, a small and friendly text editor.

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1. Introduction

GNU nano is a small and friendly text editor. Besides basic text editing, nano offers many extra features like an interactive search and replace, goto line number, auto-indentation, feature toggles, internationalization support, and filename tab completion.

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1.1 Overview

nano +LINE [GNU long option] [option] [ file ... ]

The original goal for nano was a complete bug-for-bug compatible emulation of Pico, but nano's main goal is to be as compatible as possible while offering a superset of Pico's functionality. Also see See section Pico Compatibility, for other differences.

Email bug reports to nano@nano-editor.org.

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1.2 Command Line Options

nano takes the following options from the command line:

-B, --backup

When saving a file, back up the previous version of it to the current filename suffixed with a ~.

-D, --dos

Write file in DOS format.

-F, --multibuffer

Enable multiple file buffers, if available.

-I, --ignorercfiles

Don't look at $SYSCONFDIR/nanorc or ~/.nanorc, if nanorc support is available.

-K, --keypad

Do not use the ncurses keypad() call unless necessary. Try this flag if you find that the arrow keys on the numeric keypad do not work for you under nano.

-M, --mac

Write file in Mac format.

-N, --noconvert

Do not convert files from DOS/Mac format.

-Q [str], --quotestr [str]

Set the quoting string for justifying. The default is

^([ \t]*[|>:}#])+

if regular expression support is available, or "> " otherwise. Note that \t above stands for a literal Tab character.

-R, --regexp

Turn on regular expression search and search/replace.

-S, --smooth

Enable smooth scrolling.

-T [num], --tabsize=[num]

Set the displayed tab length to [num] columns.

-V, --version

Print the version number and copyright and quit.

-Y, --syntax=[str]

Specify a specific syntax highlighting from the .nanorc to use, if available.

-c, --const

Constantly display the cursor position and line number on the statusbar.

-h, --help

Print the usage and exit.

-i, --autoindent

Automatically indent new lines to the same number of spaces and tabs as the previous line.

-k, --cut

Makes ^K cut from the current cursor position to the end of the current line.

-l, --nofollow

When writing files, if the given file is a symbolic link it is removed and a new file is created.

-m, --mouse

Enables the use of the mouse to select text (currently only useful for running under the X window system).

-o [dir], --operatingdir=[dir]

Set operating directory. Makes nano set up something similar to a chroot.

-p, --preserve

Preserve the ^Q (XON) and ^S (XOFF) sequences so data being sent to the editor can be can be stopped and started.

-r [#cols], --fill=[#cols].

Wrap lines at column #cols. By default this is the width of the screen, less eight. If this value is negative, wrapping will occur at #cols from the right of the screen, allowing it to vary along with the screen width if the screen is resized.

-s [prog], --speller=[prog]

Invoke [prog] as the spell checker. By default, nano uses its own interactive spell checker that requires the spell program be installed on your system.

-t, --tempfile

Do not ask whether or not to save the current contents of the file when exiting, assume yes. This is most useful when using nano as the composer of a mailer program.

-x, --nohelp

In Expert Mode, the Shortcut Lists will not appear at the bottom of the screen. This affects the location of the statusbar as well, as in Expert Mode it is located at the very bottom of the editor.

Note: When accessing the help system, Expert Mode is temporarily disabled to display the help system navigation keys.

-v, --view

Do not allow the contents of the file to be altered. Note that this flag should NOT be used in place of correct file permissions to implement a read-only file.

-w, --nowrap

Do not wrap long lines at any length. This option overrides any value for -r.

-z, --suspend

Enable suspend ability of nano using the system's suspend keystroke (usually ^Z).

-a, -b, -e, -f, -g, -j

Ignored, for compatibility with Pico.


Start at line number LINE instead of the default of line 1.

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2. Editor Basics

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2.1 Entering Text

All key sequences in nano are entered using the keyboard. nano is a "modeless" editor. All keys with the exception of Control and Meta key sequences will enter text into the file being edited.

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2.2 Special Functions

Special functions use the Control key (displayed in the help and shortcut lists as ^) or the Meta key (displayed as M).

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2.3 The Titlebar

The titlebar is the line displayed at the top of the editor. There are three sections: left, center and right. The section on the left displays the version of nano being used. The center section displays the current file name, or "New Buffer" if the file has not yet been named. The section on the right will display "Modified" if the file has been modified since it was last saved or opened.

Special modes: When nano is in "File browser" mode, the center section will display the current directory instead of the filename. See section The File Browser.

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2.4 The Statusbar

The statusbar is located three lines from the bottom of the screen (or the bottom line in Expert Mode. See Expert Mode, for more info).

The Statusbar shows important and informational messages. Any error messages that occur from using the editor will appear on the statusbar. Any questions that are asked of the user will be asked on the statusbar, and any user input (search strings, file names, etc) will be input on the statusbar.

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2.5 Shortcut Lists

The Shortcut Lists are the two lines at the bottom of the screen which show some of the more commonly used functions in the editor.

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3. Online Help

The online help system in nano is available by pressing ^G. It is fairly self explanatory, documenting the various parts of the editor and available keystrokes. Navigation is via the ^Y (Page Up) and ^V (Page Down) keys. ^X exits the help system.

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4. Feature Toggles

Toggles allow you to change certain aspects of the editor that would normally be done via command line flags. They are invoked via certain Meta key sequences. See section Special Functions, for more info. The following global toggles are available:

Backup File Toggle (Meta-B)

toggles the -B (--backup) command line flag.

DOS Format Toggle (Meta-D)

toggles the -D (--dos) command line flag.

Multiple Files Toggle (Meta-F)

toggles the -F (--multibuffer) command line flag.

AutoIndent Toggle (Meta-I)

toggles the -i (--autoindent) command line flag.

Cut To End Toggle (Meta-K)

toggles the -k (--cut) command line flag.

Mouse Toggle (Meta-M)

toggles the -m (--mouse) command line flag.

Mac Format Toggle (Meta-O)

toggles the -M (--mac) command line flag.

Smooth Scrolling Toggle (Meta-S)

toggles the -S (--smooth) command line flag.

AutoWrap Toggle (Meta-W)

toggles the -w (--nowrap) command line flag.

Expert/Nohelp Toggle (Meta-X)

toggles the -x (--nohelp) command line flag.

Suspend Toggle (Meta-Z)

toggles the -z (--suspend) command line flag.

Open Previous File Toggle (Meta-<)

changes buffer to previously loaded file.

Open Next File Toggle (Meta->)

changes buffer to next loaded file.

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5. The File Browser

When reading or writing files, pressing ^T will invoke the file browser. Here, one can navigate directories in a graphical manner in order to find the desired file.

Basic movement in the file browser is accomplished with the arrow keys and page up/down. The behavior of the enter (or `s') key varies by what is currently selected. If the currently selected object is a directory, the file browser will enter and display the contents of the directory. If the object is a file, this filename and path are copied to the statusbar and the file browser is exited.

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6. Pico Compatibility

nano attempts to emulate Pico as closely as possible, but there are certain differences between the editors:

Search and Replace History

As of version 1.2.5 of nano, text entered as search or replace strings will be stored and can be accessed with the up/down arrow keys. Previously, nano offered a more consistent, but incompatible with Pico, method for entering search and replace strings. In the old method, previous entries would be displayed by default as editable text in front of the cursor, as opposed to being bracketed and uneditable as it is in Pico. The old behavior could be made compatible with Pico via the -p flag, but recent versions of Pico use the -p flag to preserve the XON and XOFF sequences within the editor. Since with the new method search and replace strings can still be edited by simply hitting the up arrow key once, the old method was removed completely.

Writing or Appending Selected Text to Files

Text selected using the Control-Caret (^^) key can be written out or appended to a new or existing file using the Writeout key (^O).


Many options which alter the functionality of the program can be "toggled" on or off using Meta key sequences, meaning the program does not have to be restarted to turn a particular feature of the editor on or off. Please see the internal help function (^G) for a list of what functions can be toggled for a particular version of nano. Also see See section Feature Toggles, though this may be out of date.

Cursor Position Display

The output of the "Display Cursor Position" in nano displays the given column position, as well as the row and total character position of the cursor.

Interactive Replace and Spell Checker

It is worth noting that the nano replace function is interactive, i.e. it does not stop after one search string is found and automatically replace it. The nano implementation will stop at each search string found and query whether to replace this instance or not. The internal spell checker operates similarly. Note that these is no way to force these functions to behave in the Pico fashion. As of version 1.2.5, misspelled words are sorted and trimmed for uniqueness in the internal spell checker such that the words 'apple' and 'Apple' will be prompted for correction separately.

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7. Building and Configure Options

Building nano from source is fairly straightforward if you are familiar with compiling programs with autoconf support:

if you are looking to optimize nano for size, you may want to consider the following command line options:


Disable the tab completion code when reading or writing files.


Disable the justify (^J)/unjustify (^U) functions in the editor.


Disable spell checker ability.


Disable the help function (^G). Disabling this option makes the binary much smaller, but makes it difficult for new users to learn more than very basic things about using the editor.


Disable the mini file browser (^T) when reading or writing files.


Disable all mouse functionality. This also disables the -m command line flag, which enables the mouse functions.


Disable setting the operating directory. This also disables the -o command line flag.


This option disables all the above. It also disables some of the larger internals of the editor, like the marker code (^^) and the cut to line (-k) option, which depends on the marker code to work properly. It also disables the function toggles.


Disable all word wrapping in the editor. This also eliminates the -w command line flag, as nonwrapping is then the default behavior.


Disables Native Language support. This will make the available GNU nano translations unusable.


Compiling GNU nano with Slang is supported, and will make the binary notably smaller than if compiled with ncurses or other curses libraries.

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About This Document

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