Nowadays, in corporate offices where there are typically several office printers per floor, sending a file to a printer does not result in any additional pages identifying the print job, at least by default; it is expected that people would walk to the printer immediately and will be able to find their printouts and to leave other people's jobs alone, without wasting paper for cover pages.

I vaguely remember the time in the late 80s or early 90s when SunOS or an early version of Solaris would, by default, print a cover, or "header", page with the user name, the date and time when the job was submitted, the file name or (stdin), etc. Except the user name, most of that information was pretty much useless. A remnant of the past, perhaps, when it was useful?

Earlier still, when mainframe operators had to correlate line printer output to batch jobs, how did the printout covers/trailers look like? What kind of information for the operator and the user was included there?

  • 3
    From (vague) memory, when printing to a line printer VMS printed a cover sheet with the job name in large (~10 line) characters along with the username and timestamp (on a single line). Feb 4, 2021 at 6:58
  • @AlexHajnal That's it, no statistical information?
    – Leo B.
    Feb 4, 2021 at 7:43
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    Most printers and printer drivers for shared printers can still print a header page - It's just not done anymore to protect the environment.
    – tofro
    Feb 4, 2021 at 8:34
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    @LeoB. "footer" usually means "a line at the bottom of each page", that's different from "at the end". Just as "header" means "a line a to the top of each page", which is different from the cover page.
    – dirkt
    Feb 4, 2021 at 9:33
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    Dates and times were not useless - when you've got a stack of printouts of the same file, it's useful to be able to tell which version you're looking at. Feb 4, 2021 at 13:15

1 Answer 1


That question is rather wide, as there wasn't a mainframe OS but many. Equally important, headers were not made by the OS, but whatever SPOOL system was used. And there were many.

Here a typical MVS(ish) cover page:

enter image description here

Depending on organisational structure of OS and SPOOL-system a cover (or SPOOL) page may include:

  • Job Name
  • User Name
  • Account Number

These three were quite often 'enlarged' for easy selection

  • Process ( Task) ID
  • Computer Name
  • OS name
  • Job Date/Time
  • Job Number
  • Printout Date/Time
  • SPOOL File Name and Type
  • Spool-ID
  • Spool-In and Spool-Out Times

Some customer specific data may include items for delivery like

  • Recipients Name
  • Department Name
  • Room Number
  • Phone Number

Keep in mind, companies/institutions that had mainframes were usually not self employed in a basement, but rather large with many in house users. In early times IT departments did patch the spool system used in wired ways to modify header pages to fit their needs. In later years spool systems offered exit functions to enhance these pages in standardized ways.

It's important to keep in mind that all these are meta data not data produced in the run itself. Such will always be part of the printed data, not any cover page - although, depending on OS, they can be put on separate pages as well (as part of the content printed).

The distribution of data between a first and last page again depends on the OS, but as well on data type. Everything known ahead of printing is usually printed on the first page - which is in case of spooling is most information. The last page usually only repeats information.

To support distribution/filing most spoolers usually did put all information on the upper half of the first page (see picture), leaving the lower half for enlarged text or alike. To understand this, it's necessary to imagine how folded paper works:

  • Every other page comes out face down.

On which page a printout starts is random, so 50% end up with their first page on a page-down page (*1). For distribution (*2) and filing this is not really satisfying. With all information in the upper half, printouts that started on face-down page, could have their top page folded, so all data is again visible right away.

Another way to handle this (as Another-Dave mentions) was to simply print the (first) cover page twice. Now, independent of the way the paper came out, there was always at least one cover page printed on an 'even' page.

Another detail about cover pages was that they usually started and ended with multiple lines (usually 3) of X. This proved helpful when a printed stack was to be separated into single jobs to be delivered to its owner. It made finding cover pages easy when flipping (scanning) thru the stack. More so, with less than perfect adjusted pages these X-ed lines covered the perforation, making it visible even without flipping thru.

When high speed lasers came into use (late 70s/early 80s) this was turned into a black rectangle crossing from the cover page over to the next page, making it a definite feature to be seen right away.

So yeah, there are less obvious details of hidden in plain sight :))

*1 - Couldn't fit more page on the line :)

*2 - Usually by young ladies (or, more often grumpy old man) pushing a cart with printouts, card stacks and tapes around the building.

  • Unless I'm imagining it, I think our MVS spooling system always started jobs on a "face up" page. I've no idea if that was a local mod or not. People rarely used a mainframe printer to make a 2 or 3 page document, so the amount of paper wasted on occasional blank pages was negligible. The key information on the splitter sheet was the batch job ID (user name, account number, etc) and the date and time, printed huge lettering as in the image.
    – alephzero
    Feb 4, 2021 at 12:43
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    @alephzero I would be realy interested in how a line printer could detect whats a 'face up' page is mounted/how to advance until one is reached. Serious.
    – Raffzahn
    Feb 4, 2021 at 12:52
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    Systems I've used coped with the face up/down issue by printing two copies of the job burst page. Also, printing "over the perforations" produced a mark that could be seen viewing the pile of paper edge-on, thus helping operators to split it up. Feb 4, 2021 at 13:21
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    I remember that, at university, when the printer hammered out those series of lines full of asterisks, it would make a characteristic sound that told you that a header page was coming out. At one company I worked for, you had to walk up to a counter where somebody would hand you the printouts you had ordered. They were individually wrapped in plastic.
    – Nimloth
    Feb 4, 2021 at 17:09
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    I was doing an internship at a telephone company (in Canada). The plastic bag was transparent, but of course you couldn't see much beyond the first page without opening the bag. This was not described to me as a data security measure, I've always thought it was just someone's idea of convenience, late-1980s style.
    – Nimloth
    Feb 4, 2021 at 19:24

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