Using IFM

Running the program

IFM is run from the command line. The general form of the command is:

ifm [options] [file...]

On startup, IFM does the following. Firstly, the system initialization file is read. This sets defaults used by everyone. This file is called, and is found by searching a standard set of directories. You can adjust the search path by setting the environment variable IFMPATH.

Then, if you have a personal initialization file, that is read. This file is found in the directory specified by your HOME environment variable. It can be called .ifmrc or ifm.ini; if both exist, they are both read. You can use this file to customize the default variable settings for different types of output.

Then input from the file(s) on the command-line is read. If no files were specified, stdin is read. A filename equal to - also indicates that stdin should be read at that point.

If any of the -map, -items, -tasks or -show options was specified, the appropriate output is produced. If not, only a syntax check of the input is done.

When producing output, the output format specified by the -format option is used. If this was not specified, the first format in the list which supports this type of output is chosen.

Some of the output formats use additional library files to do their work. For example, the PostScript output format prepends a standard “prologue” file to all output. These files are found using the same search path as the system initialization file (see above).

Here’s a summary of the command-line options (which can be abbreviated), starting with the output options:

-m, --map [sections]

Draw a map of the game. You can optionally specify a list of the map sections to print. The list is a comma-separated set of map section numbers (starting from 1) and can include ranges. For example, the argument 1,3-5 would print map sections 1, 3, 4 and 5. If the list isn’t specified, all sections are printed.

New in version 5.0: Optional list of map sections.

-i, --items

Print a list of items which appear in the game.

-t, --tasks

Print a list of tasks required to solve the game.

-f, --format=FORMAT

Specify the output format.

-o, --output=FILE

Write to the specified file, instead of stdout.

Next comes the auxiliary options:

-I, --include=DIR

Prepend the specified directory to the library and include file search path. This option may be repeated.

-S, --style=STYLE

Set a global style. See Customization for more details. This option may be repeated.

New in version 5.0.

-s, --set VAR=VALUE

Set a customization variable. This overrides any settings in the input files. This option may be repeated.

New in version 5.0.


Don’t read your personal init file.

-w, --nowarn

Don’t print warnings.

-e, --errors=NUM

Print this many errors before aborting (default: 10). If set to zero, print all errors.

New in version 5.2.

Finally, here are the information options:


Show one of several types of information, and exit. The TYPE argument can be one of:


Show a list of all the map sections defined in the input. This is useful for finding the numbers of the map sections you want to print.

New in version 5.0.

Show the directories that are searched for library and include files.
Show a complete list of defined variables, in a format suitable for feeding back into IFM. See Output variables.
-v, --version

Print the program version.

-h, --help

Just print some usage information.

Types of output

IFM has three different types of output (a map, a list of items, and a list of tasks) and several different output formats, which are described in the following sections. Not all types of output are produced by each output format. The table below shows what’s available for each format.

Output PostScript Fig Tk Text Rec Dot Raw
Map Y Y Y        
Items       Y     Y
Tasks       Y Y Y Y

All the map output formats display map sections in the same way, so that what you get with one format looks much the same as another. [1]

PostScript maps (ps)

This produces a PostScript map suitable for printing. Several map sections may be printed per page, and the maps are printed over as many pages as it takes. Automatic packing is done to try to get a good fit on the page. Also, portrait or landscape is chosen depending on whichever gives the best fit. Fonts of room and item text are scaled to fit them in the room boxes, if required.

Fig maps (fig)

New in version 5.0.

This produces a map which can be read (and edited) by Xfig, and any other programs which understand Fig format. The map sections are packed to get a best fit automatically, in a similar manner to PostScript, but since Fig has no concept of pages, it is most useful when you’re printing each map section individually. There’s a utility program called ifm2dev which automatically does this.

Fig format is also useful if you want to print poster-sized maps over several pages. The -M option of fig2dev (part of the transfig package) will automatically do this.

Tk drawing commands (tk)

This produces map commands for input to tkifm, a simple graphical interface to IFM. It isn’t very useful to produce this output yourself—tkifm does that internally to build its map pictures. But you can control its display by setting variables in the usual way.

ASCII text (text)

This produces human-readable output for items and tasks. The output should be fairly self-explanatory.

Recording commands (rec)

This output produces a list of commands suitable for feeding to IF interpreters in playback mode. All the commands in the output are converted to uppercase.

In order for this to work properly, you have to give commands that the game will understand. The cmd attribute of rooms, links, joins and tasks can help with this. Currently there’s no item cmd attribute, so you have to make sure that the item description is recognized by the game (for get and drop commands). Also, if a task is implicitly done in the game without you having to type any commands (e.g., visiting a room), you can indicate this by using cmd none.

Of course, a recording will only play back properly in an interpreter if it provides correct game commands. Random events can’t be dealt with by IFM, and will probably cause playback to fail. But you can work around this with an interpreter that is able to fix the random seed at startup (e.g., Frotz. This should eliminate most (but not all) of the problems of randomness.

Task dependencies (dot)

New in version 5.0.

This produces a graph of the dependencies of tasks on each other, in Graphviz (dot) format. You’ll need to have Graphviz installed in order to display the graph.

Raw data (raw)

This produces raw data for all output formats, intended for use by other programs (and the IFM regression test suite). Each entry consists of a number of data lines, and is separated from other entries by a blank line. Each data line consists of an attribute, a colon, and its value. The attributes should be self-explanatory. [2]


You can change the appearance of many output features according to your taste. You do this by setting the values of the variables that control those features. This section tells you how to use variables—for a complete list of the customization variables available, see Output variables.

As a first example, the background colour of rooms is determined by the variable room_colour. Its default value is white. It can be changed like this:

room_colour = "beige";

Setting a variable like this will affect all output formats. But in some cases you don’t want to do that. A good example is the one above—if you don’t have a colour printer, you may not want to have beige rooms printed (they’ll come out greyish). To get around that, you can set variables that are specific to a particular output format:

tk.room_colour = "beige";

This says to set the variable to beige only if producing Tk output. The default for all other formats is still white.

You can also customize the appearance of individual rooms and links on the map, by using different display styles. A display style is just a group of variable settings with a given name. For example, suppose you’re making a map of Colossal Cave and want to mark rooms where you can refill your water bottle. You can define a style called, say, Water, like this:

style Water;
  room_colour = "light blue";

The values of variables that are set between the style and endstyle clauses only apply to things drawn in that style. Now, if you declare rooms like this:

room "At End Of Road";

room "Inside Building" style Water dir e go in;

then the room “Inside Building” will be drawn with a light blue background. You can customize individual links in a similar manner.

An alternative way to define a variable in a particular style is to use the in style clause, like this:

room_colour = "light blue" in style Water;

If a style only changes a single variable, this may be more convenient.

If you assign a style (say, called newstyle) to an object, but don’t define it anywhere in your input, then IFM will look for a file called using the standard search path. If the file exists, it is expected to define style newstyle. For example, you could put the Water style definition above into a file called somewhere on the IFM search path, and it would be read automatically. This is useful if, for example, you want to use the same style in several different maps.

You can define global styles using the --style command-line option; these apply to all IFM objects. Global styles are most useful when setting variables that affect the overall appearance of the output, in conjunction with the file search method described above (e.g., a file containing general colour and font definitions).

Predefined styles

IFM comes with a few predefined style files, as shown in the table below:

Style Scope Description
helvetica global Use Helvetica fonts everywhere in maps
reckless global Treat all tasks as safe when solving the game
verbose global Print verbose solver messages
puzzle room Mark room as containing a puzzle
special link Mark link as being special in some way

If you create any generally useful or nice-looking styles, you might want to send me a copy so I can include them with the next version of IFM. The Scope field indicates which type of IFM object it applies to. Styles that have global scope can meaningfully be used by the --style command-line option.

Environment variables

IFM uses the following environment variables:


A colon-separated list of directories to search for IFM files. These directories are searched before the standard directories.


Considered to be your home directory when looking for initialization files.


This section describes the possible error and warning messages which might be produced by IFM, and what they mean. Note that individual output formats may print their own errors and/or warnings. These lists only cover the standard ones.

Error messages

Here’s the list of error messages. If any errors occur, no output is produced.

error: invalid repeat count
You’ve given a repeat count of zero or less for a string or direction, which doesn’t make much sense.
error: no last room
You’ve given the very first room a dir clause.
error: no [type] referred to by 'last'
You’ve said last to refer to the last room, item or task that was defined, but none of that type of object have been defined yet.
error: no [type] referred to by 'it'
You’ve said it to refer to the last room, item or task tag that was mentioned in the current command, but no tags of that type of object have been mentioned.
error: no items referred to by 'them'
You’ve said them to refer to all the items mentioned in the current command, but no items have been mentioned.
error: [type] tag [name] already defined
You’ve given two similar objects the same tag name.
error: [type] tag [name] not defined
You’ve referred to a tag name that hasn’t been defined anywhere in the input.
error: [type] tag [name] not yet defined
You’re referring to a tag at a point where it hasn’t yet been defined, in a situation where it must be (e.g., the room from clause, or a command that modifies attributes of a previously-defined object).
error: can't modify [name] attribute
You’re attempting to modify an attribute of an object which can’t be changed once it’s set (e.g., a tag name). This is because it would create inconsistencies between objects.
error: can't link [name1] and [name2] -- different map sections
The rooms you’re trying to link are on different sections of the map, and have no spatial relation to one another. You might have forgotten to link a previous room in the list. Or you meant to use a join.
error: can't link [name] to itself without at least one direction
To link a room to itself, you need to specify at least one direction. Otherwise, the link goes nowhere.
error: links between [name1] and [name2] have differing lengths
You’ve defined more than one link or join between the given rooms, but given them different values for the length attribute. This isn’t allowed.
error: more than one task needs to follow [task] immediately
You’ve given two or more tasks an identical follow tag. Only one task can “follow” a given task.
error: [num] cyclic task dependencies
The game isn’t solvable because there’s one or more chains of tasks where each must be done before the next, but the last must be done before the first.
error: variable [name] is not defined
A customization variable needed by an output format is not defined. You should only see these errors if you have modified or overridden the system initialization file. The remedy is to define the variable somewhere.

Warning messages

Here’s the list of warning messages. If only warnings occur, then output is still produced.

warning: attribute [attr] ignored -- no implicit link
You’ve given a room with no dir clause an attribute that is associated with that link (e.g., oneway). Most likely you’re putting the attribute in the wrong place—if you want, say, a join to have one of these attributes, you must define it using the standalone join command instead.
warning: link from [name1] to [name2] outside grid
The destination room for a link is not in a compass direction from the last specified position.
warning: rooms [name1] and [name2] overlap
The coordinates of the specified rooms are the same.
warning: room [name] crossed by link line between [name] and [name]
A link line passes through the coordinates of a room.
warning: room [name] has multiple [dir] links
More than one link connects to the specified room in a particular direction.
warning: can't solve game ([num] tasks not done)
The game is unsolvable according to the current set of tasks. This can be due to part of the map being inaccessible, or IFM stupidly choosing the wrong order of doing things. Hopefully the latter shouldn’t happen very often.
warning: can't solve game ([num] tasks ignored)
The game is unsolvable because you’re explicitly ignoring tasks and/or items, using the ignore attribute.
warning: no matching style command
You’ve used endstyle without a matching style. You probably have too many endstyle commands.
warning: unexpected style: [name] (expected [name])
You’ve used endstyle with an argument that doesn’t match the argument of the corresponding style. You might have missed out another endstyle somewhere, or have too many.
warning: style [name] referenced but not defined
An object in your input uses the specified style, but it isn’t defined anywhere and the style definition file doesn’t exist in the search path (or if it does, it doesn’t define the required style).
warning: [syntax] is obsolete -- use [phrase] instead
You’ve used an obsolete syntax. Consult the documentation and then try the suggested alternative instead. Note that multiple uses of the same obsolete syntax only result in a single warning.


[1]Well, that’s the goal anyway. But there are still some very minor differences.
[2]Programmer-speak for “I couldn’t be bothered to document it.”