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Formatting Information — An introduction to typesetting with LATEX

Appendix A: Installation

Section 5: Installation problems

It’s always annoying when a program that’s supposed to install painlessly causes trouble, and none the more so when everyone else seems to have been able to install it without problems. I’ve installed TEX hundreds of times and very rarely had any difficulties, but these are a few of the occasions when I did.

Bad hard disks

If you are using Microsoft Windows, you should run a scan and defragmentation of your hard disk[s] before you start. It should take under an hour on a modern machine unless you have a very large disk, but it may need overnight on an older machine. Clean your DVD drive if it has been in heavy use. TEX is made up of a very large number of very small files, so there is a lot of disk activity during an installation. Microsoft Windows runs very slowly when installing a lot of small files, so be patient.

On any system, if you are installing a new hard disk for your typesetting work, you have the chance to reformat it beforehand. Pick the smallest granularity (cluster size) possible, usually 1024 bytes (1Kb). This minimises the space needed for systems with a very large number of very small files like TEX has, and may help improve the speed and reliability of the system.

Windows Registry errors

This only affects Microsoft Windows users. The Registry is where Microsoft wants software companies to store details of all the programs you install. Unfortunately the Registry is grossly abused by marketing departments to try and foist undesirable links on you, the user. You will see this with many commercial programs, where a particular type of file you’ve been able to double-click on for years suddenly runs a different program. Some programs install obsolete or broken copies of program libraries (DLL files), overwriting ones which were working perfectly. Worse, the viruses, trojans, and worms which typically infect unprotected Windows systems can leave unwanted links to web pages, or change some of the ways in which Windows operates. The overall effect can be that the whole machine slows down, or that files which are expected to do one thing do another. The best solution is a thorough Registry clean-out, using one of the many free or commercial programs available for the purpose.

Use the latest versions

Before installing, check the CTAN web site at for the latest version of ProTEXt (Windows), MacTEX (Macs), or TEX Live (all platforms) for the latest copy of the installation program. Just occasionally a bug slips through onto the production DVD, and although it’s always fixed and notified on comp.text.tex, that’s a high-volume newsgroup and even the sharpest eyes may miss an announcement.

Unix and GNU/Linux users will always get the latest repository copy from their system’s package manager, but this may not be the absolute latest copy of TEX (see the note ‘Unix and GNU/Linux installers’ above for why). If you are installing on Unix manually from the TEX Collection DVD instead, check on CTAN for an updated version of the file

Stick to the defaults

Unless you’re a computer scientist or a software engineer, I very strongly suggest you never change or fiddle with the default directories for installation. I know some of them look odd, but they’re that way for a purpose, especially when it comes to avoiding folder names with spaces in them, like the notorious C:\Program Files. Although most modern systems cope happily with spaces in filenames and directory names when using a graphical user interface, they are always A Bad Idea, especially for programs which can be run from scripts (TEX is one). Spaces and other non-alphanumeric characters should therefore be avoided like the plague (they are forbidden in web addresses [URIs] for the same very good reason: the people who designed them knew the pitfalls). It may look snazzier to put the installation in My Cute $tuff, but please don’t: you’ll just make it harder to find, harder to fix problems, and more embarrassing if you have to explain it to someone else trying to help you.

64-bit Windows

The MiKTEX distribution for Windows is a 64-bit system. Support for the earlier 32-bit distribution was ended in 2022.

Locked systems

If you want to install ProTEXt on a computer in a lab or other group environment where the disk storage is locked down, and where the Administrator is unwilling or unavailable to install it for you, there are a couple of choices:

  • Install it on a Universal Serial Bus (USB) stick that you can unplug and carry with you. That way your LATEX installation is always with you. If you use it on another computer where the USB device mounts as a different disk letter, you will need to configure it so that it can ‘see’ where it is in the directory system.

  • If you cannot install it at all, because the Windows Registry is also locked, and the Administrator is unwilling or unable to install it for you, you may be able to install it in a virtual container (eg Windows eXPerience (XP) as a virtual image inside Windows 7). It will be slow, and it may be missing some facilities like alternate character sets, but it will execute.

Bear in mind that shared systems in large companies, universities, and similar organisations do usually prohibit software being installed by the user (you) because of security issues over viruses, support, maintenance, and other factors. If you feel your institution needs a network installation of LATEX, ask your Administrator or IT Centre to contact the TEX Users Group or any local use group (see the appendix ‘User Groups’ below), who may be able to help.