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I ran into a feature missing because its package was out to date and started the MikTeX update utility for the first time after installing MikTeX in February. The updater found dozens of packages that can be updated. Among these packages were several that I have used extensively over the last few months.

Do I risk breaking my existing documents by updating my packages? Or do updates typically support backwards compatibility?

  • 4
    yes and yes. Package authors almost always take compatibility very seriously but any update of any software has risks of breakage. – David Carlisle May 28 '15 at 21:13
  • 3
    Search this site for questions regarding bundledoc and arlatex if you want help creating "future-proofed" documents. – jon May 28 '15 at 21:15
  • I recently updated MikTeX after years of using it without update. The only problem I faced was that the fleqn option in the documentclass was not working anymore. Otherwise things were fine. – jak123 May 29 '15 at 11:02
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Generally speaking, there’s always a risk that something will break and the usual caveats thus apply: never update on a deadline, check that the output of your document is satisfactory, etc.

That said, backward compatibility is, as David says in the comment, a primary concern of package developers. TeX and its associated programs have always been presented as very good at compatibility (sometimes a little bit too much, maybe), and it’s one of the system’s great strength. If your first installation dates from February this year it’s very recent with respect to the overall age of TeX and LaTeX, and you should be absolutely fine updating all the packages.

Obviously, we’ll need to know which packages you mean in order to give more details. The package authors may very well have documented the changes too.

  • I suppose the best practice then would be to check the changelogs for the packages I'm using. – Emory Bell May 29 '15 at 16:22
  • @EmoryBell At least the ones that are most important to you, yes. Again, if you could give some more information about your documents and the packages you’re using are we can probably give you more detailed help. – Arthur Reutenauer May 29 '15 at 16:28
6

Unfortunately, yes.

Breaks can come from several sources:

  • Sometimes, packages you have used are retired (and no longer in the default distribution) or withdrawn altogether.
  • Packages may have incompatible changes (hopefully documented, but it will take some time to adapt your document to the new conventions)

Linux distribution often tend to have a fine-grained packaging of TeX, LaTeX, and friends, and an update of the Linux distro can become a real adventure because the packaging has changed; including a search of the needed style files in the package manager. SuSe has dropped the TeX distribution altogether, so you need a CTAN DVD in addition to your SuSe installation media.

Minor issues are:

  • Internal commands have changed and the new version of the package cannot work with the temporary files of the old version. Deleting all auxilliary files and compiling your document anew helps here.

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