Getting started with latex
What is LaTeX?
LaTeX (pronounced lay-tech or lah-tekh) is a markup language for typesetting documents similar to how HTML is one for web sites.
LaTeX has advantages over What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) editors such as Microsoft Word because with LaTeX you provide the content, and LaTeX takes care of the layout. Separation of content from typesetting results in documents that are consistently and beautifully formatted. Furthermore, because LaTeX markup is of plain text format (unlike more complex file formats produced by WYSIWYG editors, like
.docx), LaTeX files are lightweight and can be easily kept under version control.
LaTeX documents are typically compiled to PDF files so that consistency in layout is retained across different viewers, and for printing.
LaTeX is especially popular in academic writing due to its rich support for typesetting equations, cross-referencing figures and tables, and citations and bibliographies.
Installation and Setup
You can choose between major distributions of LaTeX:
- TeX Live (Windows, Linux, and OS X), the standard, cross-platform distribution.
- MacTeX (Mac) A packaged version of TeX Live made for OS X with some Mac-specific tools
- MiKTeX (Windows) A separate distribution entirely that
All distributions are more or less equivalent in an ideal world. TeX Live has the advantage of being available on all platforms and thus has much better community support. MiKTeX can take advantage of Windows-specific features. For licensing reasons, MiKTeX will also distribute a few packages that TeX Live will not.
In all cases, the full install is recommended. Specifically, using MiKTeX's download-on-command feature will hang/crash many editors.
- Download the most recent TeXLive
install-tl-windows.exefrom their website.
install-tl-windows.exeand follow the instructions.
- Download the most recent MiKTeX installer from their website.
- Run the installer and follow the instructions.
Mac OS X (TeXLive)
- Download the most recent MacTeX from their website.
MacTeX.pkgand follow the instructions.
Linux users have two options:
- Install via your distribution's package manager (usually several releases behind)
- Install from upstream (released yearly, updated often)
Using Package Managers
- Arch Linux:
pacman -S texlive-most
apt-get install texlive-full
yum install texlive
Note that using this method means that you will be dependent on that package's maintainer for the distribution for updates. These packages will often be several releases behind the most recent distribution, often meaning critical updates will be missing. It's almost always best to install from upstream. Also note that the distribution's package manager will probably not recognize the direct installation and could try to install it when one installs other related support packages.
Installing from Upstream
Download the most recent TeXLive
install-tl-unx.tar.gzfrom their website.
Extract the files from the archive with
tar -zxvf install-tl-unx.tar.gz.
Change into the downloaded folder with
./install-tland follow the instructions.
TeXLive should now be installed under
YEARis the four digit year (e.g.
2016). In this way, it is possible to have multiple TeXLive versions alongside each other and switch between them by changing your PATH variable.
Open this folder and check the
binfolder. It should contain a subfolder, which (depending on your platform) will be something like
Add the TeX Live binary folder to your path with
YEARis the four digit year (e.g.
PLATFORMis your platform (e.g.
The LaTeX installation is now complete. To test it, create a new file with your favorite text editor, name it
test.tex and add the following content:
Now, open the console or terminal, navigate to the folder where you saved
test.tex and run
(Note that your editor may have facilities to run this for you.)
This creates several new files, including
test.pdf. This is the output document, and looks like this:
Congratulations, you have successfully installed LaTeX, and created your first LaTeX document!
While you can create LaTeX documents using any editor and compiling using the console, there exist several plugins for widely used editors to simplify creating LaTeX documents, and there are specialized LaTeX editors. An exhaustive list of LaTeX editors is available on TeX.SE (the StackExchange site, dedicated to TeX, LaTeX & Friends).
The most widely used editors, according to this list, are:
- The Emacs editor with the AUCTeX extension.
- The Vim editor with the LaTeX-suite plugin.
- Texmaker – a specialized LaTeX IDE.
- TeXstudio – another LaTeX IDE.
- TeXworks – one more LaTeX IDE.
While experienced users of Emacs or Vim may want to stick to their editor (whose plugins provide a host of functionality unavailable elsewhere), a specialized IDE might be easier to install/use for beginners. The last three on the list have a preview function where one can see the results of the compilation of the document.