Where would be a good place to start learning ConTeXt if you haven't got a lot of experience under your belt yet? Any place online or in a bookstore is welcome, provided that the reading is well-structured, well-written and beginner-friendly.

I know there is quite a heap of "official documentation", including "ConTeXt, an excursion", the official handbook and the contextgarden.net Wiki.

Still, often ConTeXt novices find it very difficult to get a good start with the documentation provided -- the command syntax seems to work sometimes, sometimes not; some commands work well with each other, others only in a specific order (which isn't documented anywhere) and some don't work with each other at all etc. The consequence is that there is a lot of experimenting with the code while the focus should be on the topic to be published itself.

This question would love to get RTFM answers, so please point out any Ms which should TF be R.

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    "ConTeXt, an excursion" is what I'd recommend to a beginner. I had troubles with fonts, the internal state of the Context system, and trying to use not very well documented features early on, but not the command syntax or conflicts between commands: do you anything in particular in mind? – Charles Stewart Sep 7 '10 at 13:17
  • That's one of my points: There are commands which have nothing in terms of documentation but a syntax statement with names to the possible arguments. I find these syntax statements to be hard to read because this format is quite unique to ConTeXt. Maybe it would be easier to read for me were it in GNU syntax or something. – Olfan Sep 7 '10 at 15:31
  • As for conflicts: One of my first tries was to set up a page layout, and the various possible options to define all those areas and margins and headers and footers turned out to work only in a certain sequence and some of them seemed to disable or undo others even though there was no hint in the handbook in this regard and they were not related in any logical manner. – Olfan Sep 7 '10 at 15:34
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    What is GNU syntax? – TH. Oct 11 '10 at 10:51
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    What I referred to as GNU syntax is the notation style which you typically get when viewing the synopsis sections in Un*x man or info pages, like in command [optional] choice-a|choice-b. You can easily see which options are mandatory and which are optional, which exclude each other etc. This may not be an officially correct name for what I mean, I just got to know that notation concept by that term. – Olfan Oct 11 '10 at 15:21

The PRAGMA Advanced Document Engineering site has a lot of documentation and examples on the finer details of how to use ConTeXt for particular applications and effects. I discovered it during a search for documentation on how to use Layers for cover layouts, which lead me to the excellent PDF It's in the details.

  • This is indeed a great compilation of documentation. Accepted, because a) it covers a very wide range of topics, b) is fairly recent and updated, c) is less obvious to find than the Wiki and mailing list, and d) to promote it to the top of the list for easier finding even though it came very late and has only few upvotes (yet). – Olfan Nov 30 '10 at 10:17

Shameless plug: I write a regular (rather semi-regular) article series in tugboat on specific ConTeXt topics aimed at beginners. Articles so far:

  • Thank you a lot for these links, Aditya, even though a paid tugboat membership may not seem very attractive to the typesetting neophyte. For those who don't want to wait until the article is old enough to be available to the public, the article about conditional processing is available to non-members in printed format for $12 worldwide, so you don't have to be an active member to get just that. I don't have enough reputation yet to add this to your answer myself, though. – Olfan Sep 10 '10 at 11:17
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    The article sources are here: github.com/adityam/context-articles. I also try to merge these with the ConTeXt wiki. The articles on conditional processing is at wiki.contextgarden.net/Modes – Aditya Sep 10 '10 at 15:12
  • Thanks Aditya. Just read your article in recent TUGboat, on including images . I like these "beginner" articles since I am a "beginner" – Eric Brown Apr 24 '13 at 5:43

The context reference manual is somewhat outdated, but we are (slowly) working on improving and extending it. It is a community project, and three chapters have already been improved:

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    Thank you for linking to these, they're actually a lot friendlier than my local copies already. Especially useful (for me) in the page design manual are the parts that warn about options which don't have an effect on paper documents or which do have an effect but not actually alter the paper layout. Creating layouts according to lectorate's demands has become much easier now. – Olfan Sep 8 '10 at 11:33

Generally I first check for an answer in the wiki, if I can't find, I just ask in the mailing list.

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    So do I. There are a lot of people however who shy away from asking beginners questions in a mailing list. Still, of course, the Wiki and mailing list are important sources of information -- thank you for pointing them out. – Olfan Sep 8 '10 at 11:49

ConTEXt Reference Manual by Hans Hagen, Taco Hoekwater. (Source: contextgarden manual page - see for updated chapters)

enter image description here

  • This is an excellent reference. Note that it is a work in progress and has been for a long time: Taco has slowly been adding very high-quality content for some years now. There is no comparable source, e.g., for the content on fonts in chapters 5 and 6. – Charles Stewart Mar 7 '13 at 13:27

For beginners, the top 10 guide is really great!


  • That's a very nice teaser, thanks for the link. – Olfan Nov 29 '10 at 9:56
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    The link is offline. – Henri Menke Jun 6 '16 at 7:55
  • @HenriMenke: I updated the link – Aditya Jun 7 '16 at 17:16

The list of all options to various commands are described in

This list is auto-generated and only lists the options without any description. It is also available for the different language interfaces: Dutch, German, Czech, Italian.

The Command Reference on the ConTeXt wiki contains a similar list. This list is not exhaustive, but the options for most of the common commands are explained in detailed.


For folks stumbling over this question: Henri wrote a guide to the ConTeXt documentation available at the moment (September 2018): The definitive guide to ConTeXt MkIV documentation.

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