Basic concepts for LaTeX typesetting system

Last revision October 15, 2004

Table of Contents:
  1. Features of LaTeX
  2. Basic layout of a LaTeX document
  3. Required parts of a LaTeX input file
  4. Basic LaTeX topics
    1. LaTeX environments
    2. LaTeX modes
    3. Special symbols in the input file.
    4. Running LaTeX
  5. LaTeX by example
  6. LaTeX Frequent Questions

Design of the TeX system

TeX is a computer typesetting system created by Prof. Donald Knuth of Stanford University. It is a complete programming language oriented to typesetting tasks. TeX is a "markup language". Special typesetting commands are interspersed within the actual text of a document. A "tex" program is then run to read the document with its markup commands, and produce an appropriately formatted output. TeX produces output in a "device independent" format which is then further processed by other programs that convert it to specific printer languages, such as PostScript. TeX is actually a family of programs consisting of:

plain TeX

The basic language interpreter documented in "The TeXBook". This is a complete low-level typesetting language, but it also contains many predefined higher-level macros, so it is possible to use it directly without another macro package. Equation and table handling are builtin. It was designed to do an especially good job of typesetting complex mathematical expressions.


A complete set of higher-level macros for TeX that aid preparation of entire documents. Especially good for longer documents: professional papers, theses, books. Equation and table handling are builtin.


Separate program works with LaTeX to produce formatted bibliographies and reference lists.


Separate program works with LaTeX to format text for slides or overhead transparencies.


A locally written program on Pangea to run either plain TeX or LaTeX on your input file and send the output to a choice of printers.

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