A Brief Introduction to the LaTeX Typesetting Environment/Introduction

Chapter 1: Introduction edit

Anyone in the sciences will no doubt have seen at least one example of a novel or journal article written in LaTeX. Surprisingly though it is not common for a university to offer a course in how to use the program. Fortunately it's not particularly difficult to pick up and for most purposes there already exist packages and templates for creating standard, commonly used document styles.

Nevertheless, using LaTeX is a challenge at first since, for most people, it's a new paradigm in creating a document. Unlike Microsoft Word or OpenOffice like programs, what you see is not necessarily what you get. If you're typing a document in Word you see immediately what the printed page is going to look like; in the LaTeX environment this isn't the case at all. You have the ability to control nearly every aspect of the final product and there isn't much clicking and dragging involved.

What LaTeX lacks in apparent simplicity it more than makes up for in its ability to typeset elegant mathematical equations - which is really its primary purpose; technical and scientific documents. If you're used to a word-processor like program then you'll know the ability to add, say, a fraction requires opening a separate application to format the equation and then adding it to the document, usually in an awkward format such as an image file or a strange and difficult to wrestle with proprietary filetype.

If one wanted to typeset, say, that a function f, being a function of x and y, is equal to the ratio of y to x, one would simply type:


Which would give you a non-numbered equation that looks like so:  

The only thing that may be initially confusing is that what you see in the document you edit, namely the .tex file, would be the slightly ugly bit between the dollar signs. Until the document was typeset which is something we will discuss later in this chapter.

Typesetting Applications edit

This author has used Apple OS X and Microsoft Windows to run LaTeX typesetting applications. Since this is a crash-course, rather than a long and drawn out exposition on the environment, we shall discuss the relevant details of only two applications, one for each of the aforementioned operating systems.

The reader is greatly encouraged to look for their own typesetting applications and add them to the list below titled User Suggested Typesetting Applications. The two suggested here are the two that the author is familiar with, knows how to install, and are similar enough in design and layout that the rest of the book can be written with instructions that will prove valid (in most cases) for both applications.

Developer(s)Christian Schenk
Stable release2.9 / October 9, 2010; 13 years ago (2010-10-09)
Written inC, C++, Pascal
Operating systemWindows (stable), GNU/Linux (development)
Development statusActive
TypeTeX, LaTeX
License"several free"[1]
MacTeX Distribution
Developer(s)MacTeX TeXnical working group
Stable releaseMacTeX-2011 / July 4, 2011; 12 years ago (2011-07-04)
Operating systemMac OS X 10.4 - 10.7
PlatformPPC and Intel
Size1.7 GB
Available inEnglish
Development statusActive
TypeTeX Live redistribution
Licensemixed free licenses

For Windows and OS X respectively we have:

  • MikTEX (Personally tested and functioning on Windows XP and above)
  • MacTEX (Personally tested and functioning on OS X 10.5 and higher)

You may notice that the names are eerily similar, the author suspects this is merely a coincidence.

Again, these are only the applications which this book is written to work with explicitly in terms of instructions, however other applications should be similar in command scheme and function but that author cannot guarantee this. If you have an application you'd prefer to try go for it, that's half the fun of learning a new program.

Installation Instructions edit

We shall now discuss, briefly, how to install and start the applications mentioned in the previous section. More in depth instructions are available on the website of the respective applications.

MiKTEX edit

The MiKTEX webpage actually has excellent instructions of their own. To download the package itself, use the MikTEX homepage and download the latest version. As of currently, MikTEX 2.9 is the current version and from their installation instructions webpage, here is a step-by-step guide.

The installation is fairly self-explanatory and one of the main advantages of MikTEX is that it is able to automatically load packages that aren't included in the initial download when they're needed, simplifying everything from the standpoint of the user. The installation is the same way, one executable file to launch an installer. Select your options and you're done.

Downloading and Installing MiKTeX 2.9

What's new

Please read the release notes, before you install MiKTeX 2.9.

Special considerations

The following Windows platforms are supported:

Windows 7 Windows Vista with Service Pack 2 (all editions except Starter Edition) Windows XP with Service Pack 3 (all editions except Starter Edition) Windows Server 2008 R2 Windows Server 2008 with Service Pack 2 Windows Server 2003 R2 Windows Server 2003 with Service Pack 2 Please note that MiKTeX 2.9 does not work on legacy Windows systems (Windows 9x/Me/NT/2000).

It is possible to install MiKTeX 2.9 side-by-side to an existing MiKTeX 2.8 installation.

You have the option to create a shared MiKTeX 2.9 installation. Use this option if you are the administrator of your computer and if you want to install MiKTeX for all users. This option is not available if you are logged into a limited user account.


You must uninstall a previous version of the 2.9 series, if it exists. To do so, start the "Add or Remove Programs" tool, select the MiKTeX 2.9 entry and click the Remove button. It is recommended that you choose the "Tidy up thoroughly" option on the first wizard page.

Installing a basic MiKTeX system

"Basic MiKTeX 2.9" Installer To install a basic MiKTeX system, download and run the "Basic MiKTeX" installer. MiKTeX has the ability to install missing packages automatically, i.e., this installer is suitable for computers connected to the Internet.

When you have installed MiKTeX 2.9, it is recommended that you run the update wizard in order to get the latest updates.

Installing the complete MiKTeX system

You use the MiKTeX Net Installer to download all MiKTeX packages and install a complete MiKTeX system. See the section Installing MiKTeX in the MiKTeX manual, for more information.

—MikTEX Installation Guide, MikTEX Website

MacTEX edit

If you're using a Macintosh then you'll probably be more interested in the LaTeX software designed to run on your platform. One easy solution is to go with the MacTEX distribution. Just like MikTEX for the PC, MacTEX is fairly simple to install. Here's a simple set of instructions that'll get you up and running your own distribution of MacTEX:

  1. Go to http://www.tug.org/mactex/2011/ and download the latest version
  2. Once the download is complete, go to your downloads folder (or wherever you saved the file) and unzip the file you downloaded
  3. Double-click the .dmg file to mount it
  4. It will now appear as though there is a disk in your computer so go to the desktop and open the disk that appeared
  5. In the disk's directory you will find an installer file, double click and run this
  6. Follow all the guided instructions on the screen
  7. Restart your computer

Congratulations, you now have MacTEX installed on your machine. There are a variety of individual programs installed with this package but the program you'll want to use to typeset things is called TeXShop.

User Suggested Typesetting Applications edit

If you're reading this document and have a typesetting application that you use and love, please add it to this list.

References edit

Typesetting: The Basics