Starting out with TeX, LaTeX, and friends

Do you want to begin working with the TeX typesetting system? Most people start out by downloading free versions of the needed software, and a tutorial. This page gets you to the most popular choices.

Step one: Get a distribution

You first need a collection of the software. Such a collection is called a distribution, and comes with TeX, LaTeX, pdfTeX, ConTeXt, BibTeX, and everything else that will help you to perform TeX's magic on your computer. Each distribution also comes with programs that run only on one type of computer platform, so make your choice from the list below.

  • Windows Get proTeXt. It is easy to install because it uses a .pdf file with links so you can read about your options and then click on the right one. It is based on the MiKTeX distribution, so you can easily manage TeX packages. And it includes other components that help you work with your TeX system.
  • Unix-type systems, including Linux The best choice here is TeX Live, which contains many packages and programs. It is freely available over the Internet or on CD/DVD; see the web page for details. Note that most systems have TeX as an installation option, so you might already have it or be able to easily get it using your system administration package management tool: RPM, or DEB, or whatever.
  • Macintosh The natural package here is gwTeX for MacOS X. And, check out the MacTeX distribution.

Step two: Get documentation

Almost everyone starting TeX today uses the LaTeX macro package. The most-often recommended tutorial is (Not So) Short Guide to LaTeX2e; this document has many translations. Another is the Indian TeX group's LaTeX primer and a third with more of a slant toward the possibilities in a TeX system is Formatting Information by Peter Flynn.

Many people get a TeX system to write mathematical text. For that, you should get documentation for the American Mathematical Society's AMS-LaTeX package.

You might also be interested in a comprehensive list of symbols and a tutorial on graphics.

Steps beyond: know where to go

As a TeX user you will have many resources to help you get your work done. First, TeX is popular and there are probably many people near you who have experience with it. There are also plenty of helpful people on the Internet discussion group comp.text.tex. You are most welcome to join a users group. There are many books available. Robin Fairbairns's English FAQ is authoritative, clear, and up to date. And this site, CTAN, is our community's archive; if you are looking for something then chances are good that we have it.

But wait, there's more!

To help beginners, this page lists only the most popular choices. The definitive list of all choices, including commercial options, is maintained by the TeX Users Group.