• How do the various LaTeX compilers (LaTeX, XeLaTeX, PDFLaTeX, ???, ConTeXt, fill-in-the-gap) differ?
  • Is there an authoritive list of all currently available LaTeX-related compilers?
  • Which are the most popular, most freq. used compilers?
  • Why do they exist?
  • What for are they used?
  • For which purpose would I choose which compiler?

E.g., I was just reading that using \setmainfont{Arial} would necessitate switching the compiler (from LaTeX to, for instance (?), XeLaTeX). To me as a beginner in search of sense and meaning and orientation, that's mildly confusing: I "only" switch the Font, and I already need to switch to a different compiler. Also, I'd like to be (made) aware of the trade-off involved, and be able to make an informed rather than a random decision...


ps: I'm new to LaTeX, and the following could be applicable:

  • a case for a "community question" (or "big list")
  • a duplicate question

though the following questions don't seem to be that general in scope:

Of the above, most are really helpful and worth reading. A slight shame that they're not consolidated into one or two succinct Q&A's: one beginner-friendly, another geared at an experts' bleeding-edge discussion.

Other related, helpful, non-SX link(s):

Engines: TeX, pdfTeX, XeTeX, LuaTeX, … These are the actual executable binaries which implement the different TeX dialects. The LaTeX format is implemented with both the pdfTeX (pdflatex) and XeTeX (xelatex) engines, for example. When someone says “TeX can't find my fonts”, they usually mean an engine.


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