LaTeX is one of the most popular markup languages for academic and professional use. Chances are, you are reading a LaTeX document whenever you come across either a textbook or a journal article. This is because LaTeX is a highly flexible language that can easily adapt to any situation — the logic that your document is based on stays the same across formats.
If you want to take advantage of these features of LaTeX to create documents yourself, take a look at some of the best cross-platform LaTex editors below.
Why Use a LaTeX Editor?
You can easily create a LaTeX document with nothing but a text editor and a command line tool. However, doing it this way can be difficult for a regular user, because a text editor lacks a number of features that can be helpful when dealing with LaTeXcode.
For example, a basic text editor does not provide you with a list of available functions. This means that you need to either have the LaTeX manual handy or know what you are doing. Further, a text editor does not warn you of any mistakes that you make during writing. It is only when a compile fails that you know something went wrong.
This is where a LaTeX editor comes in useful. It’s a program that integrates code writing and compiling into one utility. It also has features such as syntax highlighting, libraries, and PDF viewers.
Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux
Texmaker is one of the most well-known LaTeX editors. It’s a two-panel editor that displays the result of your code in one of the panels. This can be especially helpful if you are including figures and tables in your documents.
Further, Texmaker also includes a number of useful features, such as:
- Support for full Unicode documents: This is beneficial if you are either writing in a language with a different script or using math symbols with your articles.
- Code folding: Easily hide parts of your documents such as
\beginby collapsing them. This is helpful when you are writing large documents such as manuals, books, and reports.
- Code completion: This is similar to what an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) does. Whenever you write a piece of LaTeX code, Texmaker suggests functions that you might want to use.
Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux
TeXstudio is a brilliant LaTeX editor that you can use with any modern operating system. It is a two-panel editor that displays the result of your code almost instantly.
It also features an assistant for inserting pictures and tables, removing one of the biggest issues that a user faces when learning to write in LaTeX.
TeXstudio also has a “link overlay” feature that allows you to hover your cursor over any link in your document and see its contents. This is useful when you want to view a reference without having to scroll to its section in the document.
The editor also allows you to edit different parts of a file at the same time, which comes in handy when you want to either insert text in multiple sections or fix a table’s formatting.
LyX is an intuitive cross-platform LaTeX editor that allows you to directly edit a LaTeX document, which means that you do not need to learn any LaTeX code to start creating documents.
Therefore, LyX can be useful if you need to use LaTeX but you do not want to invest the time in learning its syntax. LyX makes this possible by creating its own system of menus and functions that mimics a regular word processor. O course, LyX is also capable of handling most of the standard LaTeX functions.
LyX allows you to insert images and tables. It also lets you manage references through BibTeX, which is useful if you are writing articles, because it’s easy to cite and arrange your references within the program.
Unlike other editors, LyX allows you to directly edit images and tables in the document, further bridging the gap between a word processor and a LaTeX editor.
LyX also provides a document history system by creating snapshots of the document that you are editing. This provides you with the ability to jump through the changes you have made over time.
Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux
Kile is a great IDE for editing LaTeX documents. It is a single-panel editor that focuses on providing what you need to efficiently use LaTeX.
To make this possible, Kile forgoes some comfortable features such as an interactive PDF viewer and direct document editing. Instead, it offers a number of other features that you will not find in a usual LaTeX editor:
- A tree browser: this allows you to navigate a document’s structure as if the tree branches are files in your computer, which can be useful if you are editing a large document that uses plugins.
- A file browser: this enables you to jump between different TeX files in a directory, which you’ll appreciate if you are working on multi-file documents such as books.
- Customization tools: Kile allows you to customize your LaTeX build tools, giving you control over the process of how your documents are made. For example, Kile allows you to use both PDFLaTeX and LaTeXtoHTML to create a PDF and HTML output of the same document.
Available on: Web
Overleaf is an online LaTeX editor that allows you to create and edit LaTeX documents straight from your browser.
Being a web-based LaTeX editor allows Overleaf to offer unusual features such as real-time collaboration and cloud backups. These can be useful if you want to work with other people on LaTeX documents. Apart from that, Overleaf sports a number of useful features such as:
- Journal-ready templates: Overleaf works with multiple publishers to provide templates for article submissions.
- The latest version of the TeX engines: this means that you do not need to think whether you need to update LaTeX or not.
- An error message system
- Documentation: Overleaf provides articles for the most common issues as well as tips for using LaTeX.
To start using Overleaf, go to their registration webpage. From there, sign up for a free account, which gives you 1GB of storage space. If you are currently a student, check if your university already offers Overleaf as a service. Otherwise, see if there are any discounts for student users.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is it possible to compile a LaTeX document using different engines?
Yes! It is possible to use different engines for your LaTeX documents. However, this will largely depend on the LaTeX editor that you are using.
For example, in Kile you can switch to a different engine to compile your document by pressing “Build” and then “Compile” in the menu bar. From there, you can click the engine that you want and Kile will compile your document using that.
2. Is it possible to convert my documents to anything other than HTML?
Yes! At its core, LaTeX is just a markup language. It is a way of describing how text is displayed on a piece of paper. However, this markup language can be extended to represent anything other than a piece of paper.
For example, you can use the LaTeX syntax to create custom presentations using Beamer (a LaTeX document class). Further, it’s also possible to use this same syntax to create elaborate macros where the format of a document changes based on the content you place in it.
3. Which LaTeX Editor should I pick as a beginner?
A novice LaTeX user who only needs to use it for simple documents would find LyX a particularly good choice. It has all the bells and whistles of what makes LaTeX great and beautiful but also has the ease of use of modern word processors.
Image credit: Unsplash
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