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Formatting Information — An introduction to typesetting with LATEX

Chapter 1: Writing documents

Section 1.2: Choosing your LATEX processor

Before you go any further there is one configuration you might want to change. As you may have seen in the list in the Preface, there isn’t just one flavour of LATEX:


For many years, there was only LATEX, which (like TEX) produced a .dvi (Device-Independent) file, which had to be converted to Postscript or PDF in an additional step;


In the 1990s, Hàn Thế Thành developed PDFTEX, which (along with PDFLATEX) produced PDF directly, as well as adding benefits like microtypographic adjustments;


More recently, Jonathan Kew developed XƎLATEX, which not only recognises UTF-8 characters directly, but can also use your system’s natively-installed fonts as well as those which come with LATEX.

In this book I am going to recommend that you use XƎLATEX if your editor can be set to use it, unless you have a compelling reason not to. In my view the ability to handle natively-installed system fonts as well as UTF-8 characters sets it well above the other processors.

However, there are still some good reasons not to. These include:

  • a few (decreasingly few) packages which positively require a processor which creates a .dvi file;

  • some specific packages rely on raw Postscript features which need DVI-to-Postscript conversion first, before the PS output can be converted to PDF;

  • toolchains which depend on .dvi files;

  • not all editors yet make it easy to select XƎLATEX as the processor

Figure 1.1: Some LATEX editors being configured to use XƎLATEX


There is a separate but related question of choosing a bibliographic formatter (old-style BIBTEX .bst files or the more recent biblatex package) and which bibliographic processor to choose (bibtex or biber). If your documents don’t use bibliographic references, this will not be a concern for you.

The relationship is that the biblatex package and the biber program, like XƎLATEX, deal natively with UTF-8 characters, whereas the .bst files and the bibtex processor have known problems with multibyte (accented and non-Latin) characters, making the reference and citation of works in many languages difficult, if not impossible. We will be dealing with this choice in more detail in §

  1. Some which are straightforward are shown in Figure 1.1