I am considering using the command line option -output-directory=<some/path> so that the temporary files do not clog my working directory but are also available for subsequent builds. This will also eliminate a lot of unnecessary Dropbox activity.

However, I also produce some temporary files of my own, so would like to be able to access what the output-directory was specified as on the command line.

So, in the MWE below, how do I set the value of the macro \OuptutDirectory so that I can correctly determine the names of my temporary files?


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\def\OuptutDirectory{????}% <--- How do I determine this?


    My temp file is \MyTempFile.
  • 1
    I don't think there's a variable in pdftex that keeps the value of the output directory.
    – egreg
    Feb 20, 2016 at 11:42
  • As a kind of workaround you can set openout_a or something to write to any directories (for example /tmp/) then hard code it; or use tex.stackexchange.com/a/513810/250119 -- scontents to not use temporary file at all.
    – user202729
    Nov 2, 2021 at 2:51
  • @user202729: Thanks for the link to the scontents pacakge. I wasn not aware of that package. Nov 2, 2021 at 7:34

2 Answers 2


I set up, in a working directory, the file a.tex containing




I created a temp subdirectory and called

pdftex -output-dir=temp a

and the temp.txt file was created in the temp directory:

> ls -R .
a.tex   temp/

a.log       temp.txt

There's no variable that can be accessed from within pdftex that holds the output directory path, as far as I know.

Of course you can emulate it by passing the definition of \OutputDirectory from the command line:

pdftex -output-dir=temp "\def\OutputDirectory{./temp}\input a"
  • So that explains why some of my temp files were in the temp directory and not others -- I was using \immediate\write18 and getting the shell to create some related files. I guess I'lll use the "emulate" solution... As always, thanks - much appreciated. Feb 20, 2016 at 12:23
  • The last line is a gem luring the newbies into the programming side of TeX. Thanks, @egreg ! Mar 20, 2019 at 23:25
  • @LovesProbability Even better: if you define an environment variable TEMPDIR, you can call pdftex -output-dir=$TEMPDIR "\def\OutputDirectory{./$TEMPDIR}\input a", so this is scriptable.
    – egreg
    Mar 20, 2019 at 23:36

New solution starting from TeX Live 2024 ($TEXMF_OUTPUT_DIRECTORY)

Just access the environment variable named $TEXMF_OUTPUT_DIRECTORY. Use sys_get_shell: https://tex.stackexchange.com/a/62032/250119 . Credit: https://tex.stackexchange.com/a/707351/250119 .

Solution using currfile-abspath

Using currfile-abspath detailed in https://tex.stackexchange.com/a/54894/250119 (see the note regarding -recorder flag), it's possible to use \currfileabsdir to get the output directory, using the facts that

  • Writing to a file will write it to the output directory by default
  • \input searches in the current -output-directory first
%! TEX program = xelatex


% write the content to a temporary file `test.tex`
\iow_new:N \myfile
\iow_open:Nn \myfile {test.tex}
\iow_now:Nn \myfile {
    \tl_set:Nx \myoutputdir {\currfileabsdir}
\iow_close:N \myfile

% execute the content of that file
\input {test.tex}

% print the obtained output directory path to the PDF



It does require a temporary file, however.

Note that if in one compilation there is -recorder, then in the following compilation there's no -recorder, I think it's impossible to detect the change --
currfile-abspath package gets it wrong as well.
Attempting to write to \jobname.fls might do something, but on Windows I think multiple write to the same file is not allowed.
One option is to randomize the file name, but that does not work on MiKTeX (recorder file not updated online) and clutters the file system.

Note that you may want to rename test.tex to something sufficiently obscure, and possibly check if the file exists before writing. If you're not careful you might overwrite some important file.

Alternative using ps to get current process's command-line arguments

(because of some permission issue this does not work on Overleaf, but otherwise should work on most POSIX systems)

\sys_get_shell:nnN {ps~-o~args=~-p~$(ps~-o~ppid=~-p~$$)} {\cctab_select:N \c_other_cctab} \l_data_tl

Then \l_data_tl consist of the command-line of the TeX process (e.g. pdflatex --output-directory=/a/b/c main.tex) but note that all the characters will have "other" catcode including spaces.

From this, parsing the string to get the output directory is a standard exercise. Note that the relevant flag might be written as...

-output-d /path
-output-directory /path
--output-directory /path

As far as I can tell these are all the variants (all prefixes of output-directory longer than or equal to output-d are accepted), although I haven't checked with e.g. texdoc pdftex-changes.

Another alternative using find to look for the log file

Refer to David Carlisle's answer. Not recommended.

Another alternative

(completely untested)

if you don't have -recorder, first write the file then refer to How to obtain absolute path of a file (or maybe file_get_full_name function in expl3, I'm not sure) to get the path of the file. (although this might fail, output-directory is not necessarily searched in by kpsewhich)

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