LaTeX vs. MiKTeX: The levels of TeX
A friend asked us once, “Should I use LaTeX or MiKTeX?”
In various guises, this is a common question, seemingly innocent, but
actually betraying a fundamental confusion about the levels of operation
in the TeX world. As a further confusion, the word “TeX”
can be used to refer to any of a myriad of items at any level. Starting
at the top:
Live, … These are the large collections of TeX-related
software to be downloaded and installed. When someone says “I
need TeX on my system”, they're usually looking for a
- Front ends:
Emacs, TeXworks, TeXShop, TeXnicCenter, WinEdt, … These editors are what you use to
create a document file. Some (e.g., TeXShop) are devoted to TeX
specifically, others (e.g., Emacs) can be used to edit any sort of file.
TeX documents are independent of any particular editor; the actual TeX
typesetting program itself does not include any sort of editor
- Engines: TeX,
pdfTeX, XeTeX, LuaTeX, … These are the actual
executable binaries which implement the different TeX dialects. The
LaTeX format is implemented with both the pdfTeX (pdflatex) and
XeTeX (xelatex) engines, for example. When someone says
“TeX can't find my fonts”, they usually mean an engine.
plain TeX, pdfLaTeX, … These are the TeX-based languages in which
you actually write documents. When someone says “TeX is giving me
this mysterious error”, they usually mean a format.
has meant “LaTeX2e” for many years now.)
… These are add-ons to the basic TeX system, developed
independently, providing additional typesetting features, fonts,
documentation, etc. The CTAN sites
provide access to the vast majority of packages in the TeX world.
TeX source files can be typeset into several different output
formats, depending on the engine. Notably, the pdfTeX engine (despite
its name) can output both DVI and PDF
At a high level, the output format that gets used depends on the
program you invoke. If you run latex (which implements the
LaTeX format), you will get DVI; if you run pdflatex (which
also implements the LaTeX format), you will get PDF.
To get HTML, XML, etc., output, the tex4ht
program is commonly used. This utility uses TeX to do its job, but the
TeX engines themselves do not implement HTML output.
ConTeXt is a special case,
straddling levels. It contains a format at the level of plain TeX and
LaTeX, but unlike the other formats, it is invoked via a separate
utility (e.g., texmfstart) which then indirectly runs a TeX
engine. This makes it possible to support a wide array of advanced
features, such as integrated graphics and XML input, since the startup
utility can control the flow of processing.
Of course, this short web page is only a brief introduction to the
basics. Here are some pointers to further information.
$Date: 2012/12/20 23:48:35 $;