Every child in our culture learns the shapes of letters at an early age. Precisely what are those shapes, though? A single letter may be formed in many different ways. For instance, consider the letter P that begins the title of this chapter. In the chapter title font, this letter looks different than it does at the beginning of the second sentence of this paragraph. This, in turn , is different from a variant such as an italic P. These are examples of different fonts in use. A font is a design for all the characters in the alphabet, usually in both upper- and lowercase, as well as numbers and supporting characters such as punctuation symbols. A few exotic fonts aren't alphabetic at all; they contain nothing but special symbols. In any event, fonts are critical for modern computers because users today expect to be able to select from among many different fonts when using highly textual programs like word processors and Web browsers. Sometimes this ability is extremely important, as in electronic publishing tasks . In other cases, it's more of a convenience, as when you select a font for reading your e-mail.
One approach to font handling that's possible with Linux is to use a font server. This is a server that has access to a collection of fonts, and can deliver those fonts to clients on a network. It might at first seem that a font server is fairly pointless ”after all, individual computers handle their own fonts quite well in the Windows and MacOS worlds , and even Linux systems are configured this way by default. There are situations, though, in which a font server can ease your administrative tasks or help you achieve goals that might not otherwise be achievable. To use a font server, it helps to understand something about the file formats used to store fonts, because these formats can be used in different ways and have different plusses and minuses. Most Linux font servers handle a limited set of tasks, defined as part of the X Window System. A few, though, expand on this set of tasks. Some programs, such as some word processors, rely upon these expanded font servers to help them do their jobs.