In this chapter…
LATEX documents are all plaintext files. This means printable characters only (in whatever writing system is native to your language and culture), no hidden internal binary gubbins like fonts or formatting (except for spaces and linebreaks). If you haven’t seen a plaintext file before, it looks like this:
This means printable characters only (in whatever writing system is native to your language and culture), no hidden internal binary gubbins like fonts or formatting (except for spaces and linebreaks).
By comparison, wordprocessor files saying the same thing often actually look something like this inside:
@A@[@O@B@@@@@@@h@@PñÿB@h@@@M@D@e@f@a@u@l@t@ @S@t@y@l@e@@@ *$A3@B*@OJC@QJC@CJX@mHIXsHIXKHA@PJD@nHDHtHDHJE@aJX@_H9D@@ @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@F@þ_A@BAF@@@G@H@e@a@d@i@n@g@@@M@O@S€ð A@X@OJF@QJF@CJ\@PJD@JE@aJ\@.@BPA@BA.@@@I@T@e@x@t@ @B@o@d@
The big advantage of plaintext is not just that it’s readable; it’s that the files can be copied, downloaded, or uploaded to any computer system running LATEX and they will typeset exactly the same. Because they are plain text they cannot corrupt your system, and they cannot be used for hiding virus infections in the way that binary (coded non-plaintext) files can be. Everything you can see is in the file and everything in the file is there for you to see: there is nothing hidden or secret and there are no manufacturers’ proprietary ‘gotchas’ like suddenly going out of date with a new version or imposing selective Digital Restrictions Management (DRM), leaving you unable to open your files.
So, you may ask, if LATEX files are all plaintext, how does LATEX know how to format them? The answer is that it uses markup: a system of labels which identifies what’s what in your document. LATEX and its packages recognise the labels and know how to format them, so you don’t usually need to add formatting by hand unless you want to do something very special or invent something out of the ordinary.