I recently implemented man -K (full-text search over all manual pages) in man-db. This was inspired by a similar feature in Federico Lucifredi’s man package (formerly maintained by Andries Brouwer). I think I did a much better job of it, though. The man package just forks grep for every manual page; man-db takes advantage of the pipeline library I wrote for it a while back and does it entirely in-process (decompression requires a fork but no exec, while the man package has to exec gunzip as well).

The upshot is that, with a hot cache, man-db takes around 40 seconds to search all manual pages on my laptop; the man package (also with a hot cache) takes around five minutes, and interactive performance goes down the drain while it’s doing it since it’s spawning subprocesses like crazy. If I limit to a single section, the disparity is closer to 3x than 10x, but it’s still very noticeable. It’s interesting how much good libraries can do to help guide efficient approaches to problems.

Of course, a proper full-text search engine would be much better still, but that’s a project for some other time …