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[comp.text.tex] (La)TeX FAQs and answers: links and pointers

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Table of Contents 

 * What is TeX? 
 * Where can I obtain TeX?
 * What is LaTeX/AMS-TeX/ConTeXt/Texinfo/etc.?
 * What is CTAN?
 * Where can I find information about TeX user organizations?
 * Where can I find a _real_ FAQ?


 * What is TeX ?

TeX is a typesetting program designed for high-quality composition
of material that contains a lot of mathematical and technical
expressions.  It has been adopted by many authors and publishers who
generate technical books and papers.  It was created by Professor
Donald Knuth of Stanford University, originally for preparation of
his book series "The Art of Computer Programming".  TeX has been
made freely available by Knuth in a generic form.
For more information about Donald Knuth, see:

TeX produces a "DeVice Independent" (DVI) file as output.  This file
contains only positioning information and pointers to fonts, text
characters and rules, and must be translated to a device-specific
form for printing or display.

TeX implementations are governed by the principle that the same input
should produce the same output, modulo font availability and output
device resolution.  All implementations wishing to call themselves
"TeX" must pass a "trip test" that assures adherence to these

TeX has been tailored for and installed on almost every platform
(computer + operating system) that one can imagine, and is available
as freeware, shareware and commercial implementations.  The TeX program
is usually accompanied by other software to form a complete and usable
system.  This software is not listed in this FAQ; see below for
references to where more information can be found.


 * Where can I obtain TeX ?

To get started with TeX, including downloading the software, see:


 * What is LaTeX/AMS-TeX/ConTeXt/Texinfo/etc. ?

The TeX program itself is a macro compiler.  This engine is always
required when processing any of the macro systems described below.

TeX input consists of a stream of mixed commands and text.  Commands
can be defined for many purposes, not the least important of which
is to permit input to be structured in a logical manner, allowing an
author to concentrate on content rather than on typographic appearance.

The most popular such macro set is LaTeX.  This tool provides several
predefined document classes (book, article, report) with extensive
sectioning and cross-referencing capabilities, and auxiliary tools for
such processes as bibliography and index creation.  Originally created
by Leslie Lamport, LaTeX is now maintained by a small group of
volunteers headed by Frank Mittelbach and Chris Rowley.  The current
version identifies itself when it starts up as LaTeX 2e; older versions
may still exist, but are not recommended for creating new documents.
The current LaTeX distribution is always available from CTAN (see below).
The LaTeX home page:

AMS-TeX and AMS-LaTeX are macro collections developed at the American
Mathematical Society for preparing publications containing extensive
mathematical content.  AMS-TeX works directly with TeX, and AMS-LaTeX
works on top of LaTeX.  More information on these collections can be
found at the AMS web site,; they are also
mirrored at CTAN.

ConTeXt is an independent macro package which has a basic document
structuring approach similar to LaTeX.  It also supports creating
interactive PDF files and has integrated MetaPost support, among many
other interesting features. 
The ConTeXt home page:

Texinfo is the documentation format created by the GNU project.  This
macro set is designed to generate both print and on-line output (an
"Info file", HTML, plain text, ...) from a single source file.
Texinfo is integrated with GNU Emacs, and emacs can be used (but
is not required) both to read Info files and create Texinfo source.
The Texinfo home page:

See the section "Where can I find a real FAQ?" for pointers to more


 * What is CTAN ?

CTAN is the Comprehensive TeX Archive Network.

CTAN consists of several primary hosts and many more mirror sites.
The backbone sites coordinate their holdings with the intention that
the material at one site is never more than 24 hours out of phase
with the primary host of record.  All primary hosts and mirror sites
are connected to the Internet and are accessible by anonymous FTP;
most sites are also accessible via the World Wide Web.

At present, these are the primary CTAN hosts:

    host             CTAN root       Sponsor/location
    -----------------------------------------------------------------   /tex-archive    DANTE, e.V. (Germany)     /tex-archive    Cambridge University (U.K.)     /tex-archive    TeX Users Group (Vermont, U.S.A.)

A current list of all CTAN sites can be found in the file CTAN.sites
located in the CTAN root area on all of these hosts, for instance,

Another useful way of accessing the wealth of available TeX packages is
via the TeX Catalogue:

In general, CTAN references are specified relative to the CTAN root.
Thus, a file referred to as CTAN:info/latex.hlp would be found in
/tex-archive/info/latex.hlp on the core sites; the root isn't
necessarily in the same place at mirror sites.

One web interface to CTAN (each host above has its own) can be found at

This page contains a link to the CTAN search facility, and will also
help you identify a CTAN site close to your location.

See also:


 * Where can I find information about TeX user organizations ?

The oldest such organization, the TeX Users Group (TUG), currently
has its office in Portland, Oregon, USA.  TUG publishes a
journal, TUGboat, sponsors an annual meeting and other conferences, 
supports the TeX Collection software project, including TeX Live,
and other activities.  The TUG home page:

There are many "local" TeX user groups.  The oldest and largest of
these are in western Europe, and most have their own web sites:

    DANTE (Germany): 
    GUTenberg (France):
    NTG (Netherlands):
    UK TeX User's Group (UK):

New groups are formed from time to time.  A comprehensive list is at

Please consider joining the group best for you.


 * Where can I find a _real_ FAQ ?

As may be fairly obvious by now, the present collection of information
is not going to answer any technical questions about using TeX or finding
particular TeX tools.  There are several resources much better equipped
and maintained for that purpose.

There are several FAQ collections available in various languages and
formats.  Anyone with a specific question about TeX and friends is
directed to one of those sources.

In English, the FAQ of record has been compiled and is maintained by
volunteers from the UK TeX Users Group.  A searchable on-line version
can be found at

A printable version is available from CTAN, at

    help/uk-tex-faq/newfaq.pdf (for A4 paper)
    help/uk-tex-faq/letterfaq.pdf (for U.S. letter-size paper)

French (La)TeX FAQs can be found at (older, HTML) and (newer, PDF)

The French group, GUTenberg (Groupe des Utilisateurs francophones de
TeX) has a web site called the (La)TeX navigator, "Une encyclopedie
(La)TeX", at

A German "DE-TeX-/DANTE-FAQ" is posted monthly to the newsgroup
de.comp.text.tex, and is available at the usual FAQ archives as well
as in de.answers and news.answers.  A copy can also be found at

The Spanish group, CervanTeX, also has a FAQ, available at


For a large collection of links to documentation, implementations,
packages, and other items of general TeX interest, see:


This file is posted monthly to comp.text.tex, and archived in the
usual newsgroup archives.  It will be updated as necessary, but not
extended; maintenance of a comprehensive FAQ for all phases of TeX is
beyond the capability of a single person.  The pointers given above
should be more than adequate to help one find answers to most frequently
asked questions; other questions can be directed to the newsgroup.

Originally compiled by Barbara Beeton.
Please send comments to

Last updated 17 August 2008.
Please send comments to

Last updated 17 August 2008.
Originally compiled by Barbara Beeton.
Please send comments to

Last updated 19 February 2010.

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