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I have a few questions regarding these three:

  1. What is the difference between those three outputs?

  2. Does it make any difference in how my code is processed or just how it is displayed? What's the closest one to the "real" output?

  3. Is there any benefit from using one over another?

I know there is a question about a list of viewers (Output viewers for use with LaTeX), and what I'm actually more interested in is why do we have these choices? It seems to me that perhaps there is a reason for size, portability or something else...

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Downvote because you obviously didn't check out Wikipedia's entries on PDF, PostScript and DVI. And you seem to ignorant of history. – Martin Schröder May 6 '13 at 9:16
@MartinSchröder yes, that's precisely why I'm asking... to get the information directly from people that, like you, have worked with this long before I came into the TeX word (or even perhaps were part of the development) and have way more knowledge than me – Mario S. E. May 6 '13 at 9:49
See also…. – lhf Jan 24 '14 at 20:48

4 Answers 4

DVI is TeX' own DeVice Independent format, it isn't understood outside the TeX world.

PostScript was Adobe's first own "device independent" format (it is a vector format, really a program to define what to paint on the page). PDF (Portable Document Format) is a development by Adobe on PostScript to make it more compact and add other capabilities. PDF is the de facto standard format for electronic documents.

I'd suggest you use pdflatex or such to generate PDF directly. Going DVI --> PDF looses some capabilities (and is a extra step).

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Just a remark to question 2: The closest in terms of printing is probably PostScript (.ps). That's what laser printers understand directly and what is usually sent to the printer when you press "print" in your PDF reader.

Nevertheless, pdfTeX with PDF is certainly the output format of choice these days (e.g., since it has the beautiful microtype).

DVI is still useful, e.g., if you want to convert TeX to SVG with dvisvgm.

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Is there ever a reason to use dvisvgm instead of pdf2svg? – mrc Oct 24 at 17:35
@mrc dvisvgm supports hyperlinks, for instance. – Alex Nov 2 at 9:28

concerning the outputs: in the meanwhile, this question is answered in prior entries.

concerning point 2, it seems that there is a difference due to the package microtype (see practical difference link).

concerning the real output: if you define the printing version as real output, then maybe a pdf will be closest to the real output. for instance, if you submit a ps (or dvi) file to a printing shop, then maybe they would reject this file extension.

concerning benefit: if you work alone, then you can choose it (tool and file extension) on your own. if you are working within a team, then the decision could be pdf. especially if non-LaTeX users have to read the output. pdflatex directly generates a pdf. when using latex (and dvi), you have to use an additional command for generating a pdf.

apart of that: in my case, pstricks was used with latex, but there exits a package which provides support for pdflatex.

pstricks in pdflatex

dvi - pdf

practical difference

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xelatex can detect itself, if it should use xdvi with an additional run of xdvipdfmx or directly pdf. Both cases needs no interaction with the user. – Herbert May 6 '13 at 10:53

Briefly, because your question is nontrivial, so an answer might be huge.

  1. DVI = DeVice Independent: output format of original Knuth's TeX

    PDF (Adobe): now output format of pdfTEX

    PS (PostScript): PostScript is a language, describing a page (I know that it is a simplification).

  2. For example, some graphic inclusions are not aviable in some of these outputs (well, some version of TeX&Co. compilers).

  3. It is rather a matter of TeX compiler and packages and fonts used. For example, it is difficult to write in many languages in the original TeX.

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