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I want to have a box, aligned based on top border. I can do this with minipage[t], but i would have to specify the width, which i do not want. What is thus the simplest way to have a top-aligned box, with dynamic width?

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The varwidth package provides varwidth which is exactly like minipage, but shrinks to the natural width of it's contents. Is this what you're after? If not, please provide more detail - perhaps in the form of an image. – Werner Dec 21 '11 at 7:44
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Here is a short example showing the difference between varwidth (from the varwidth package) and other fixed-width boxes like \parbox and minipage:

enter image description here

\usepackage[landscape]{geometry}% http://ctan.org/pkg/geometry
\usepackage{varwidth}% http://ctan.org/pkg/varwidth
Some text \fbox{\parbox[t]{0.25\textwidth}{in here \rule{5em}{1pt} \par and here}}\ 
Some text \fbox{\begin{minipage}[t]{0.25\textwidth}in here \rule{5em}{1pt} \par and here\end{minipage}}\
Some text \fbox{\begin{varwidth}[t]{0.25\textwidth}in here \rule{5em}{1pt} \par and here\end{varwidth}}

Note how the width for each box is specified as 0.25\textwidth. However, only the last shrunk down to the natural width of the contents.

Shrinking is a natural process in terms of boxing. Enlarging in a similar context as above is less natural, since one would not know where to start breaking lines.

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thanks for the hint "varwidth" . – nicolas roy Dec 21 '11 at 8:36
@nicolasroy: Yes, you need to know what to search for in order to find things - slightly catch-22-ish. :) – Werner Dec 22 '11 at 19:25

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