Why it's called less?

So why is it called less? Well, you may have heard the aphorism "less is more." This saying is true in our daily lives, but did you know it's also true for your computer?

In the 1980s, a popular terminal pager called more was frequently used to read in text line-by-line on a computer's terminal. The problem with more, however, was that more is not able to scroll backwards. As a result, Mark Nudelman wrote a "backwards more" program, which he named less. When asked why he chose the name, he cleverly replied:

because less is more - Mark Nudelman

When you type $ man grep on your terminal, the navigation is different from how onw would, say, inspect a file in Safari. For instance, you might be wondering how to close the man file. If you jumped for ⌃ C then you're not alone. However, pressing q is the keybinding to exit from the less pager, which is the program used to render the text output by the man command.

For this reason, the keybindings that work for the page produced by the command $ man grep will not change if you viewed, say, example.txt with the command $ less example.txt

If you don't know the less keybindings, then congratulations! I didn't either. For your convenience and mine, I've provided them below.

Conveniently, they are pretty compatible with vi. You can use the K & J keys to move down & up, the same way you would in vi. Since pagers are a read-only environment, less pegs the cursor at the last row. Alternatively, you can use vi's scrolling keys (⌃ E and ^ K) if you prefer, as these work in less as well.

Key-Binding Command
E or J Scroll down 1 line
Y or K Scroll up 1 line
< Jump to the beginning of the file
> Jump to the end of the file
5 G Go to line 5

Search Commands

You can type /pattern to search the current screen and below for matches to pattern. Pattern matching is performed using POSIX basic regular expression syntax.

Input Result
/pattern Forward search for pattern
?pattern Backward search for pattern
N Go to the next match
⇧ N Find the previous match


Any options you want to add to less on every invocation can be done by adding these options to the environment variable LESS. Each option can be separated by a $ for clarity.

Centering Search Results

If you don't like how searching for a string in less causes it to appear at the top of the pager, there's a setting that centers it. Add the option -j.5 to the command to cause this, or add it to the LESS environment variable.

less -j.5 ./example.txt