Word processors are great. They can handle basic composition jobs such as writing letters and essays. However, word processors cannot easily handle documents with custom layouts and graphs.
This is because word processors such as Microsoft’s Word and Libreoffice’s Writer are not designed for those tasks. As such, this can be incredibly limiting if you want to create documents with unusual formats and symbols.
Knowing that, one way to get around this problem is by using a flexible document language such as TeX. From there, you can then use a preparation program such as LaTeX to output your TeX file into a printable document.
What is TeX and LaTeX?
TeX is a typesetting and formatting language developed by Donald Knuth in 1978. Unlike modern “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) text processors, TeX is similar to the source code of a program.
This source code then tells a typesetter how to compile and publish a TeX file. Doing it this way allows you to easily modify a document and separate its parts as files and directories. In turn, this can be incredibly useful if you are working on a big project such as with technical documents, manuals and books.
On the other hand, LaTeX is an offshoot of the TeX language. It was developed by Leslie Lamport in 1985. Since then, it has become the most popular version of TeX today.
Below we will show you some of the best LaTeX editors for Linux today.
One of the most professional and well-known LaTeX editor today is TeXmaker. This is a simple, two-panel editor that allows you to write the LaTeX code and immediately see the results on an adjacent panel.
TeXmaker also includes a number of scripts that will assist you in creating tables and figures. This makes TeXmaker attractive to beginners as it reduces the code that you will write to create a document.
Further, TeXmaker also includes features such spellcheck and multi-language support. Lastly, if you want to switch from Linux to Macbook, you’ll be able to, thanks to cross-platform support.
At the moment, TeXmaker is available to the GNOME desktop. As such, if you are using Ubuntu, installing it is incredibly easy through apt:
sudo apt install texmaker
LyX is one of the oldest LaTeX editors still alive today. Despite that, it has one of the most intuitive way of editing LaTeX documents – you can edit your documents in a WYSIWYG format.
Instead of editing the code, you directly edit the final document. This can be especially useful if you want to use LaTeX but you do not want to write LaTeX code.
However, one of the biggest issues with LyX also stems from its WYSIWYG approach. Unlike TeXmaker, LyX opted to use its own syntax when doing complex structures. This means that there is still a learning curve in using LaTeX’s more powerful features.
Because of that, LyX is more appropriate for simple documents such as essays and communication letters.
Similar to TeXmaker, LyX is also available in Debian and Ubuntu through apt:
sudo apt install lyx
Unlike TeXmaker and LyX, Kile does not automatically display the final document. Instead, Kile expects you to write and compile the code before you see any of your work.
In that regard, you can consider Kile similar to an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) rather than a text editor.
While this might seem archaic, this allows Kile to be as flexible as possible. For example, it is easy to create complex tables in Kile through the use of its function library.
Since Kile is an IDE for LaTeX, it also supports Tab Completion and Syntax Highlighting. This can be especially useful if you are still learning the basics of writing code.
Further, Kile also natively supports BibTeX. This is a bibliography management program that runs alongside LaTeX. As such, Kile can also be helpful if you are writing academic articles and you want your citations to register as you write them.
With that, Kile is available in Debian and Ubuntu through apt:
sudo apt install kile
TeXmaker fans will find using TeXstudio familiar. TeXstudio originally forked from TeXmaker in 2009 due to a lack of openness to adopting new features and support.
That is exactly what TeXstudio offers: a template system, integrated assistance for inserting complex figures and some of the usual features such as PDF preview. Further, TeXstudio also have syntax highlighting to help you keep track of your code as you go.
If you like how TeXmaker works and you are looking for a fine-tuned editing experience, you will find TeXstudio a better fit for you. This is thanks to a wider set of options to customize the UI and automation tools.
You can install TeXstudio in Debian and Ubuntu through apt:
sudo apt install texstudio
Gummi is a simple yet beautiful LaTeX editor. It is a two-panel editor similar to TeXmaker and TeXstudio. However, unlike both of those, Gummi distills the core experience to its basics.
This means that there is little to no fluff included with Gummi. There are no complex functions, no additional menus and no macros.
This makes Gummi highly accessible for novice LaTeX users since it only takes the code that you have and display it in a screen. This approach also makes Gummi incredibly lightweight which, in turn, makes it easy to run even in old hardware.
However, this simplicity is also Gummi’s downside. It does not have any means to track files across a directory and it does not have any autocomplete functions. Despite that, Gummi is still useful for simple documents such as essays and letters.
You can install Gummi in Debian and Ubuntu through apt:
sudo apt install gummi
TeXworks is a simple TeX editor that focuses on giving a single interface for non-technical users. Similar to Gummi, it is also a two-panel editor that does not have any additional features.
This approach, in turn, allows it to be both lightweight and compatible across different operating systems.
Further, TeXworks also allows you to write and compile code for different TeX engines. This means that you can use it for writing PDFLaTeX and ConTeXt documents.
This can be useful if you are using different TeX engines and you want a single interface for writing and compiling documents.
With that, you can install TeXworks in Debian and Ubuntu through apt:
sudo apt install texworks
Overleaf is a beautiful, cloud-based LaTeX editor. Unlike the previous editors, Overleaf is an online editor that you can access from your web browser. This means that you can run Overleaf from anywhere as long as they can run a modern web browser.
Being an online editor, Overleaf also allows you to share and collaborate on documents with other people. This is useful if you are working on an academic article with multiple people and you want a single place for writing.
Further, Overleaf also works with schools to provide a template for journals. These features, as such, make Overleaf an attractive option for writers that want to submit their work to publications.
You can start using Overleaf today by going through their registration page.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. I want to create a LaTeX document from my text editor. What programs should I use?
There are a number of ways to compile a LaTeX document from scratch. However, the most common way of doing this is by obtaining a copy of the TeXLive distribution. This is a bundle of software that contains all the programs and packages that you need to create and publish LaTeX documents.
If you are using Debian or Ubuntu you can install the full TeXLive distribution through apt:
sudo apt install texlive-full
Once installed, you can then run the
pdflatex program to produce a printable PDF from your TeX file. For example, if I want to create a PDF of my TeX-formatted essay I can run the following command:
2. What is the difference between LaTeX and XeTeX?
As discussed above, LaTeX is a document preparation system. This means that it deals with the process of laying out the content of a TeX file. This content is then sent to a typesetting engine such as PDFLaTeX which creates a print-ready document in either PDF or PostScript format.
On the other hand, XeTeX is an engine for Unicode documents. This means that XeTeX allows you to easily use Unicode characters natively in your documents without the need to use escape characters.
Image credit: Unsplash
Our latest tutorials delivered straight to your inbox