As I think is the norm, I've been using MacTeX on my MacBook, but tex live on my Windows computer. But as of this year, MacTeX no longer supports Mac OS X versions older than 10.10. My MacBook is "early 2008" and can't run OS X above 10.7.

My options are now to install either the new tex live 2017 or the old MacTeX 2016 on my MacBook.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of running an old version of MacTeX vs. a new version of tex live in Mac OS X?

  • 2
    TeX Live 2017, of course. It's not really so difficult to install it.
    – egreg
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 14:26
  • @egreg I wasn't really concerned about the installation process, but the user experience afterwards, with respect to functionality.
    – Sverre
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 14:28
  • 3
    If you stay with MacTeX 2016 you get no update to packages.
    – egreg
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 14:28
  • I've been using TeX Live on a Mac since at least 2010 (I noticed a ~/.texlive2010 directory the other day). As I understand it, Mac TeX just adds some additional GUI programs. I think those can be installed separately, if you use them. And I'm pretty sure you can point them at your TL installation.
    – TH.
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 14:56
  • 4
    I don't think you can install the new TeX Live on your Macbook. MacTeX is TeX Live. Someone has to compile the sources and create the binaries, and that's the MacTeX group. They also choose to distribute them with some other useful stuff, but they are identical. So there are no pre-10.10 binaries available AFAIK.
    – Alan Munn
    Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 15:08

2 Answers 2


For most purposes, MacTeX is the Mac distribution of TeX Live. As with all other platforms, groups of volunteers compile new binaries for TeX Live every year, and the MacTeX group is responsible for compiling the binaries for the Mac. They also choose to distribute some other useful GUI program along with the TeX Live distribution including TeX Live Utility, BibDesk, and TeXShop and TeXWorks. These programs plus the TeX Live distribution constitute what is called MacTeX.

This year, because of increasing difficulties in providing compiled binaries for eight different versions of the OS (including versions that still ran on PPC machines), the group decided to support only versions of the MacOS for which Apple is still releasing security updates. At time of writing, this means that they will support Yosemite (10.10), El Capitan (10.11), and Sierra (10.12) and the upcoming High Sierra (10.13).

So there is no MacTeX compiled TeX Live that you can install on such an old machine, I'm afraid.


However, it seems that binaries for older versions of the Mac are still being compiled, and therefore it does seem to be possible to to install a current version of TeX Live using the TeX Live net installer.

The basic directions for the Mac are found here:

However, since so few Mac users install MacTeX this way, there seems to be very little other information about how this works. Having never used the net installer, I don't know how it goes about identifying the correct binary for your machine. There may also be issues with getting an up-to-date Ghostscript as well.

@egreg confirms here that he has managed to get TL2017 binaries running on OS 10.7 (Lion) in a preliminary test.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Joseph Wright
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 6:03

Note that rather than speculate on whether or not binaries are available, anybody who has TeX Live 2017 installed on any machine can just ask TeX Live Manager (tlmgr) which architectures are currently available.

tlmgr platform list


tlmgr: package repository http://mirror.ox.ac.uk/sites/ctan.org/systems/texlive/tlnet (verified)
Available platforms:
(i) x86_64-linux
Already installed platforms are marked with (i)
You can add new platforms with: tlmgr platform add PLAT1 PLAT2...
You can remove platforms with: tlmgr platform remove PLAT1 PLAT2...
You can set the active platform with: tlmgr platform set PLAT

which shows that binaries are available even for PPC Macs. x86_64-darwinlegacy is presumably older Intel Macs, with x86_64-darwin being newer Intel Macs. The OP still needs to figure out exactly which systems these refer to, of course, but the listing shows that binaries are almost certainly available for the OP's system.

Of course, the OP cannot get this information in this way, but most of those hazarding guesses in comments and suggesting the OP needs to compile from source certainly could :-).

There is, of course, probably no reason why the OP can't install MacTeX 2016 and TeX Live 2017. Some of the GUI goodies may be useless, but many will not. This will provide a better-tested (because more widely used) fallback TeX in case the current one causes problems at any point.

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