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The TeX Live installer gives the option, checked by default, to "install font/macro source tree". The documentation states simply that omitting these files is "not recommended", with no further explanation.

Presumably they are useful to have on hand for writing or modifying macro packages and LaTeX classes. What use, if any, is there to installing them if the user will never do anything other than using existing packages and so on to write documents? For example, are they ever required for debugging?

  • Welcome! There is a somewhat fine line between 'I want to tweak this bit' and 'I want to write a package'. It isn't just those who wish to publish packages.... That said, if you are short of disk space and have a reasonable connection to the internet when you need it, I can't imagine you'll miss them. And you probably won't even if you don't. – cfr Dec 8 '15 at 3:08
  • Right. I'll rephrase the question slightly. – Kenneth Hanson Dec 8 '15 at 7:41
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    They could be useful for debugging. For example, it would be easier to find certain kinds of problems using the source files for my font packages than using the installed files. This is only true in certain cases and it is not required, but it would be much easier. For example, reproducing a .pl or .vpl from the source produces a file with comments, whereas converting back from the .tfm or .vf produces one with no comments. – cfr Dec 8 '15 at 13:18
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    The sources are distributed mainly because of legal issues about licenses. However, in many cases the source is a .dtx file where the code is commented and documented, so it's a good resource to have when trying to make sense of a command or to modify one. – egreg Dec 8 '15 at 14:11
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Based on the comments to this question and some further research it seems that the practical purpose of having the sources lies in their comments, which are missing from what I'll call the "distributed" versions. Being able to see the comments with the code can help with debugging as well as figuring out how a command works, even if you have no interesting in writing or modifying LaTeX packages.

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