Desktop FreeBSD Part 5: Printing

By Ed Hurst | Posted at 8:45 PM

As a writer, the only reason I ever got that first computer was because it was far more efficient than a typewriter, and certainly more readable than my own handwriting. The sheer volume of what I've turned out over the years would be impossible for me to manage on paper. Add to that all the stuff written by others that I wanted to save, and it boggles the mind. Even though most of what I've written is read by others online, I still have to produce paper copies from time to time. That means I have to translate my electronic files into readable paper copies. That first computer would have been nearly useless to me without the attached printer.

Open Source printing is one of the most powerful systems, yet remains an ugly kludge in some ways. When multi-user computing was born, printing was either from machines that were merely automated typewriters ("raw" printers) or the work of fancy type-setting printers. These two elements remain the heart of Open Source printing. It is not built into the system, but is an add-on if you need it. I no longer print very much, but when I do, it needs to be clean and readable.

You should have gotten most of the basic packages when you elected to install KDE. It comes with CUPS, which is the main printer control software. With recent improvements in CUPS and how it has been ported to FreeBSD, it's now quite easy to set up. Much depends on your printer. The best place to learn how CUPS will handle your printer is to visit the Free Standards Group database to see if your printer will work with CUPS, and any peculiarities. For example, my HP DeskJet works fine with the standard HP drivers (HPIJS). It might offer more features if I were to install the newest HPLIP driver system from HP, but it's a real boondoggle on FreeBSD, and doesn't always work without breaking something else.

While there at the Free Standards Group site, click on the link for "Printer information" and read up on recommended drivers. Then look for the input boxes which allow you input a request for the best driver for any particular supported printer. They will produce for you the latest version of the driver as a PPD file. Save it, then gzip it:

gzip Printer-Driver.ppd

Copy it to the appropriate directory under /usr/local/share/ppd/. For example, HP DeskJet drivers go in /usr/local/share/ppd/HP/. If you have an oddball driver, simply drop it in the ppd directory. CUPS should still be able to find it.

This assumes the most common types of hardware, which means a printer connected via a USB cable. If you are using an older parallel printer cable, you can skip the "devfs" items in 2, 3 and 4 below. Make sure the printer is plugged in appropriately and turned on.

1. Make sure the original BSD printer commands do not conflict with those provided by the CUPS package. The built-in BSD commands are in /usr/bin, but those for CUPS are in /usr/local/bin:

mv /usr/bin/lp /usr/bin/bak.lp
mv /usr/bin/lpr /usr/bin/bak.lpr
mv /usr/bin/lprm /usr/bin/bak.lprm
mv /usr/bin/lpq /usr/bin/bak.lpq

Should you ever need to undo this, it's a simple matter of renaming these files back by removing the "bak." from the names.

2. In /etc/rc.conf, add

devfs_rulesets="/etc/defaults/devfs.rules /etc/devfs.rules"

3. Then create /etc/devfs.rules. In that file:

add path 'ulpt*' user root group cups mode 664

4. Run the command

/etc/rc.d/devfs restart

5. Next, run the command

/usr/local/etc/rc.d/cupsd start

You should see a response indicating it's running.

6. Run this command to use Kongqueror as root:

konqueror http://localhost:631/admin

This should open the CUPS administrative webpage on your system. For the most part, it's a simple matter of reading the instructions and following the steps provided. Basically, five items:

a. You will be asked to give the printer an internal name. Most of the time, "lp" is the best choice.

b. The location is whatever you find useful, but standard choices are "local" or "USB" and so forth.

c. Description is the place to give the proper marketing name. That might be "Brother HL-1440" or "HP DJ-5440" and such.

d. Device is the electronic interface. For USB printers, that's "/dev/upt0" for the first printer. Some older printers can make your FreeBSD system choke, even crash. If that happens, try the parallel cable connection. Using the older parallel printer cables, that would be "/dev/lpt0" -- be aware there may be a slew of error message when using some printers about IRQ 7. You'll have to read up on that; I can't summarize it here. However, I can warn you now you'll need to do a few things summarized here.

e. Driver: In the drop-down search for the driver you installed from the Free Standards Group website. Once you've selected it, the browser page should indicate it's ready to go. Print a test page and see what you get. Users can do some fine tuning under KDE Control Center, under Peripherals > Printers. In the lower left corner, select the CUPS printer queue. Click on the "lp" in the printer device list window, and on the last tab -- "Instances" -- click the "Settings" button and examine the options. For most modern HP inkjets, there's not much you need to do, because the printer will detect the paper and adjust settings automatically. Other brands of printer may do the same.

If it all works more or less as expected, you're done.

Ed Hurst is Associate Editor of Open for Business.

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4 comments posted so far.

Re: Desktop FreeBSD Part 5: Printing

Very interesting article. Thank you.

Posted by tomas peñalver - Jun 12, 2007 | 3:17 PM

Re: Desktop FreeBSD Part 5: Printing

Thanks. I always wondered why CUPS could not see the parallel port, the link you provided to Roland’s page did the trick.

Posted by Antonios - Jun 13, 2007 | 7:00 PM

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Posted by grUNIX - Aug 16, 2007 | 8:07 AM

Re: Desktop FreeBSD Part 5: Printing

So, what exactly is wrong with the built-in BSD-commands?

Together with /usr/ports/print/apsfilter it is far easier to get going than CUPS.

At least that’s what I experienced.

Posted by Oliver Heesakkers - Aug 31, 2007 | 11:29 PM