typing Using LibreOffice from the command line

Leverage these powerful command line options to get the most out of LibreOffice Writer.

LibreOffice has all the productivity features you’d want from an office software suite, making it a popular open source alternative to Microsoft Office or Google Suite. One of LibreOffice’s powers is the ability to operate from the command line.

Before we look at some hidden features of LibreOffice commands, you need to understand how to use options with applications. Not all applications accept options—aside from the basics like the --help option, which works in most Linux applications.

$ libreoffice --help

This returns descriptions of other options LibreOffice accepts. Some applications don’t have many options, but LibreOffice has a few screens worth, so there’s plenty to play with.

Here are five useful things you can do with LibreOffice at the terminal to make the software even more useful.

1. Customize your launch options

You can modify how you launch LibreOffice. For instance, if you want to open just LibreOffice’s word processor component:

$ libreoffice --writer  # starts the word processor

You can open its other components similarly:

$ libreoffice --calc    # starts the Calc spreadsheet
$ libreoffice --draw    # starts an empty Draw document
$ libreoffice --web     # starts and empty HTML document

You also can access specific help files from the command line:

$ libreoffice --helpwriter
screenshot of LibreOffice Help on Fedora Linux
LibreOffice Help on Fedora Linux

Or if you need help with the spreadsheet application:

$ libreoffice --helpcalc

You can start LibreOffice without the splash screen:

$ libreoffice --writer --nologo

You can even have it launch minimized in the background while you finish working in your current window:

$ libreoffice --writer --minimized

2. Open a file in read-only mode

You can open files in read-only mode using --view to prevent accidentally making and saving changes to an important file:

$ libreoffice --view example.odt

3. Open a document as a template

Have you ever created a document to use as a letterhead or invoice form? LibreOffice has a rich built-in template system, but you can make any document a template with the -n option:

$ libreoffice --writer -n example.odt

Your document will open in LibreOffice and you can make changes to it, but you won’t overwrite the original file when you save it.

4. Convert documents

When you need to do a small task like converting a file to a new format, it can take as long for the application to launch as it takes to do the task. The solution is the --headless option, which executes LibreOffice processes without launching the graphical user interface.

For example, converting a document to EPUB is a pretty simple task in LibreOffice on the desktop—but it’s even easier with the --convert-to command line option:

$ libreoffice --headless --convert-to epub example.odt

Using wildcards means you can convert dozens of documents at once:

$ libreoffice --headless --convert-to epub *.odt

You can convert files to several formats, including PDF, HTML, DOC, DOCX, EPUB, plain text, and many more.

5. Print from the terminal

You can print LibreOffice documents from the command line without opening the application:

$ libreoffice --headless -p example.odt

This option prints to the default printer without opening LibreOffice; it just sends the document to your printer.

To print all the files in a directory:

$ libreoffice -p *.odt

More than once, I’ve issued this command and then run out of paper, so make sure you have enough paper loaded in your printer before you start.

You can also print files to PDF. There’s usually no difference between this and using the --convert-to-pdf option but it’s easy to remember:

$ libreoffice --print-to-file example.odt --headless

Bonus: Flatpak and command options

If you installed LibreOffice as a Flatpak, all of these command options work, but you have to pass them through Flatpak. Here’s an example:

$ flatpak run org.libreoffice.LibreOffice --writer

It’s a lot more verbose than a local install, so you might be inspired to write a Bash alias to make it easier to interact with LibreOffice directly.

Surprising terminal options

Find out how you can extend the power of LibreOffice from the command line by consulting the man pages:

$ man libreoffice

This article is adapted from Supercharge LibreOffice with command line automation. Republished with permission from Don Watkins.