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Does there exists a version of \newcommand, something like \extranewcommand{\foo}{bar} which does defines \foo to stand for bar regardless of whether \foo has been previously defined? Of course, if \foo is undefined, one can use \newcommand{\foo}{bar}, and if it is defined, one can use \renewcommand{\foo}{bar}. However, in either case, one has to know which version to use: if one chooses wrong, the document won't compile. What I am interested in is if there exists a similar command (or perhaps a combination of commands, etc.) which will work in either situation.

As a rationalisation for the question, below are two situations in which I would find this command useful. Of course, the change is very minor, but it adds up over time, I think.

  1. One doesn't always know what commands are already defined. Sometimes, it happens that a newly defined command happens to also be something defined in some standard package. For instance, one wants to use \operatorname{Im} for the image of a linear operator, so it is convenient to declare \newcommand{\Im}{\operatorname{Im}}. However, \Im is already a fancy symbol for the imaginary part, so a renewcommand is needed instead. I never use the mentioned imaginary part symbol, so it would be nice if I could just forget that it exists (but I can't). (Of course, this issue can be solved by compiling, noticing the error and adding "re" in front of "newcommand"; but, there are a lot of other such clashes that happen.)
  2. I use a lot of commands used only "locally" (I'm not sure if it's a good coding practice, but I find it useful). For example, if I have a set S which occurs in many places in the text, I would often declare \newcommand{\Set}{S} or even \newcommand{\S}{S}, so that I can easily change the symbol S to another one if I feel like it. This potentially leads to renewing commands quite frequently, which is not that much of a problem. However, if a block of text with a \newcommand moves, then also a prefix re has to move. (Again, it is not much of a problem, but I find it a nuisance).
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please be very careful! an author redefined \i to be a math function, failing to notice that one of the items in the bibliography was by a russian author whose transliterated name required \i (for use with a breve). it took a ridiculously long time for the production team to figure out (1) why there was a message that math mode was required, and (2) change all the other instances of \i to something else (and hoping that no mistakes were made in the process). – barbara beeton Aug 18 '13 at 14:08
up vote 21 down vote accepted

There is \providecommand that defines a macro if it is not yet defined. Together with \renewcommand you have your "\extranewcommand":

\renewcommand{\foo}[1]{bar: #1}

Or you can switch to the plain TeX primitives (other syntax!), e.g.:

\long\def\foo#1{bar: #1}

(\renewcommand and friends without star use \long\def and if the star form is given, \def without \long is used. Also the parameters are specified differently.)


A definition of the "requested" \declarecommand that calls \providecommand and \renewcommand together:


  % \let#1\@empty % would be more efficient, but without error checking


\declarecommand*{\foo}{\typeout{foo 1: \meaning\foo}}
\declarecommand{\foo}{\typeout{foo 2: \meaning\foo}}
\declarecommand*{\foo}[1]{\typeout{foo #1: \meaning\foo}}



foo 1: macro:->\typeout {foo 1: \meaning \foo }
foo 2: \long macro:->\typeout {foo 2: \meaning \foo }
foo 3: macro:#1->\typeout {foo #1: \meaning \foo }
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To be equal to renewcommand & friends, it should be \long\def\foo#1 – Marco Daniel Aug 18 '13 at 13:07
And one could define \newcommand\declarecommand[1]{\providecommand{#1}{}\renewcommand{#1}} – egreg Aug 18 '13 at 13:21
@MarcoDaniel: The star forms of \renewcommand and friends use \def without \long. – Heiko Oberdiek Aug 18 '13 at 13:28
@egreg: Done, a bit more elaborate because of the star forms. – Heiko Oberdiek Aug 18 '13 at 13:44
@HeikoOberdiek I had already upvoted your answer. ;-) – egreg Aug 18 '13 at 13:45

You can put

\newcommand{\foo}[1]{to be renewed}

in your preamble and then

\renewcommmand{\foo}[1]{whatever #1}

wherever you like.

If \foo happens to be defined when you start out, you'll find that out and can choose another name, or renew in your preamble.

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