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Unix Printing

Some material is very old and may be incorrect today

© February 2003 Tony Lawrence

If you are coming from the Windows world, you are probably bewildered by the multiple kinds of printing schemes in Unix. There's lpd, System V, direct to port, smb, CUPS, LPRng and weird stuff that uses ftp, and probably more. Worse, there is no such thing as a printer driver in the same sense as you have in Windows.

The two major divisions are lpd and System V printing. Lpd uses the "lpr" command (though many also accept "lp") and the "/etc/printcap" file. System V uses "lp" and its own hierarchy of files (often at /var/spool/lp). Many systems have BOTH Lpd and Sys V style printing and may even mix the two together (as though you weren't already confused enough).

Most Unix/Linux systems can print to shared Windows printers though Samba or Tarantella's (SCO) Visionfs. Conversely, Unix or Linux systems can share printers that will appear in Network Neighborhood.

Unlike Windows, where the drivers are fed a structured printing language, you have to deal with conversions yourself: Postscript to HP, text to Postscript, etc. On some systems, this kind of thing can be handled more or less transparently - Linux systems are particularly good at that, but if you are having problems, it helps to know about things like Ghostscript (a utility that converst postscript to text or laser output) and other filters.

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-> Unix printing explained - it's not like Windows

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