It offers programmable desktop publishing features and extensive facilities for automating most aspects of typesetting and desktop publishing, including numbering and cross-referencing, tables and figures, page layout, bibliographies, and much more. LaTeX was originally written in 1984 by Leslie Lamport and has become the dominant method for using TeX; few people write in plain TeX anymore. The current version is LaTeX2ε.
Table of contents
LaTeX is usually pronounced "LAY-tech" or "LAH-tech" (IPA: [ˈleɪtɛx], [ˈlɑtɛx]), where ch represents the sound of ch in German Bach or Scottish loch: the last character in the name is actually a capital chi, as TeX derives from Greek technê. Leslie Lamport, the LaTeX creator, has said he doesn't favor or deprecate any pronunciation. It is traditionally printed with the special typographical logo shown on this page. In media where the logo cannot be precisely reproduced in running text, the word is typically given the unique capitalization LaTeX to avoid confusion with the word latex.
The typesetting system
LaTeX is based on the idea that authors should be able to concentrate on writing within the logical structure of their document, rather than spending their time on the details of formatting. It encourages the separation of formatting from content, whilst still allowing manual typesetting adjustments where needed. By keeping the formatting details in a separate file from the text, it is often regarded as superior to word processors and most other desktop publishing systems, which allow trivially easy visual layout changes but tend to intertwine content and form so tightly that consistency and automation are often difficult. LaTeX also provides great flexibility in formatting while maintaining the identity of structure, which purely structural systems like SGML and XML do not directly address.
LaTeX can be arbitrarily extended by using the underlying macro language for developing custom formats. For example, there are numerous commercial implementations of the whole TeX system (which includes LaTeX), and vendors may offer extra features like phone support and additional typefaces. LyX is a visual document processor that uses LaTeX for a back-end. A number of popular commercial DTP systems use modified versions of the original TeX typesetting engine. The recent rise in popularity of XML systems and the demand for large-scale batch production of publication-quality typesetting from such sources has seen a steady increase in the use of LaTeX.
The image below shows an example of a LaTeX input (left) and output (right).
LaTeX was originally most commonly used by mathematicians and scientists, amongst whom it remains the favored tool for writing papers, preprints, and books. Because of the underlying TeX system, originally developed for documents with mathematics, laying out mathematical expressions is considered to be easier, and the resulting typesetting of higher quality, than any competing document-processing systems. Many scientific journals and other publishers provide free LaTeX packages which implement their "in-house" typesetting styles.
The popularity of LaTeX in the technical and academic communities is perhaps partly due to its early availability on Unix systems, and the comparative unavailability of competing word processors on those platforms until recently. But from an early stage LaTeX was available on a wider range of hardware and software than any other program, and versions are now available for almost any system from PDAs to desktop PCs to supercomputers.
LaTeX is less popular than mainstream desktop publishing software outside the technical communities for several reasons. It is regarded as hard to learn for people with no previous experience of markup languages. Although it is very easy to customise the appearance of articles, books, and reports, using only a handful of instructions, it remains basically a typesetter for automating document production, not a manual page design program, so performing complex visual layouts incorporating multiple images is difficult. Another barrier to usage for many is the asynchronous interface used in most free versions, where editing is done in a different window from the typeset display. Several commercial implementations, however, use a synchronous typographic display like other DTP systems (as does the non-commercial and open source LyX).
LaTeX is free software. It has a peculiar license called LPPL, not compatible with the GNU General Public License, that allows redistribution and modification, but requires that modified files carry a modified filename. This ensures that files that depend on other files will produce the expected behavior and avoids problems similar to DLL hell. A new version of the LPPL that will be compatible with the GPL is in the works.
Because LaTeX markup code can be hard to remember and/or time consuming, there are a few front ends to help:
- LyX WYSIWYM (What you see is what you mean) IDE
- Kile IDE designed mainly for KDE
- TeXmacs A Scientific TeX IDE
- TeXnicCenter IDE designed for MSWindows users under GPL
- WinShell Freeware IDE for Windows 9x/NT4.0/2000/XP
- WebTex A free MiKTeX/CGI driven web front end
- WinEdt Shareware IDE for Windows 9x/NT4.0/2000/XP.
- TeXShop A free front end for Mac OS X, with editor and output window.
- The TeX Users Group
- comp.text.tex Newsgroup for (La)TeX related questions
- #email@example.com #latex IRC chatroom at FreeNode servers
- The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX2e, or LaTeX2e in 131 minutes (2.16 MB pdf file)
- The UK TeX FAQ List of questions and answers that are frequently posted at comp.text.tex
- LaTeX Primer A basic guide to LaTeX
- The AMS Short Math Guide for LaTeX, a concise summary of math formula typesetting features
- TeX on Mac OS X Guide to using TeX and LaTeX on a Mac
- Text Processing using LaTeX
- The (La)TeX encyclopaedia
- Hypertext Help with LaTeX
- LaTeX Tutorials: a Primer (PDF)
- Getting to Grips with LaTeX Latex tutorials taking you from the very basics towards more advanced topics.
- LaTeX, Emacs etc. for your PC A useful and step-by-step guide to getting Miktex and Emacs working together on a Windows PC.
Tutorials in LaTeX – Free manual distributed by the India TeX Users Group (TUG).
- The Comprehensive TeX Archive Network Latest (La)TeX-related packages and software
- TeX Directory Structure, used by many (La)TeX distributions
- Natural Math converts natural language math formulas to LaTeX representation
- Obsolete packages and commands
- MikTex A popular and up-to-date TeX (including LaTeX) implementation for Windows.