I am trying to create a document template that would be used by many people where the end users can control certain values but most of the template style can be controlled centrally. Imagine a (simplified) directory structure that looks something like this:

├── latex
│   ├── front_pages.tex
│   ├── packages.tex
│   └── preamble.tex
├── Makefile
├── src
│   └── user_config.tex
├── sty
│   └── department_thesis.sty
└── user_thesis.tex

The idea is to have the template have distinct end user editable files (user_config.tex) and the rest be the centrally controlled "template" files (the whole thing is going to be used as a Git submodule) that the end user should never have to touch. If I want the end user to be able to control certain things though inputs in user_config.tex is there a "best" or most "LaTeX-ic" way of doing this by creating end user accessible variables with \newcommand?

For example, if I want to define a command in department_thesis.sty that the end user will then use as a "variable" in user_config.tex that will then actually get used in front_pages.tex what are people's suggestions on how to best do this?

Would it be something like

# department_thesis.sty


# user_config.tex
\AuthorFirstName{Graduate} % End user puts in their name here


# front_pages.tex
\authorfirstname % Here it is actually being used

Or is it better style to think in the mindset of setters/getters?

# department_thesis.sty


# user_config.tex
\SetAuthorFirstName{Graduate} % End user puts in their name here


# front_pages.tex
\AuthorFirstName % Here it is actually being used

Or is none of this a good way of thinking about the problem of wanting an end user to have control over certain values while being able to control the rest of the document's style centrally?

  • 2
    In general I prefer key-value syntax for such things. So the user get a command \templatesetup{firstname=Matthew, lastname= Feickert,...} Such a setup is easy to use and easy to extend. – Ulrike Fischer Jun 8 '18 at 20:12

I made the following for my handin-package. The code in the answer is different as according to the edits:

Edit 1: \@macroname@noerror now will now not give an error when default value is not set.

Edit 2: Code behaves identically, but added comments and removed some repetitions for compactness. Also added an example usecase of the generated \ifset@ macro.

I suspect that printing the command name to the page might be unwanted behaviour. To remove this just remove the line that contains the comment %<- Print command name to page.. Furthermore: read the comments. Everything is explained in some detail :)

  %%% Usage:
  %%% The text you enter would be a macro:
  %%%: \settable{hello}
  %%%:  if now \@hello is called,
  %%%:  a warning is displayed with
  %%%:  the text "\hello not set"
  %%%: \hello{world}
  %%%: if now \@hello is called, it prints "world"
  %%%: \@hello@noerror gives the returning
  %%%: content and empty without error if no content set.
  \let\ea = \expandafter
    %%% example call \settable[actionIfNotSet(default action)]{macroName}
    %%% i.e. #1: is what to do if called and not set and
    %%% #2 is the macroname
    %------ Example case ------%
    % The comments assume that someone called
    % \settable[world]{hello}
    %------ Code ------%
    % First define the \hello command. The code below
    % is equivalent to
    % \def\hello##1{
    %   \def\@hello{##1}
    %   \def\@hello@noerror{##1}
    % }
    \ea\def\csname #2\ea\endcsname##1{
      \ea\def\csname @#2\endcsname{##1}
      \ea\def\csname @#2@noerror\endcsname{##1}
      \ea\def\csname isset@#2\endcsname{1}%<- Used by \ifset@hello. Explained below:
    % Now \hello is a callable macro.
    % Next: create the command to check if \hello is defined.
    % usage: \ifset@hello{User has set the macro}{User has not set the macro}
    % Below is equivalent to
    % \def\ifset@hello##1##2{
    % \ifcsname isset@hello\endcsname% <- if the macro \isset@hello exists. \isset@hello is defined when \hello is called
    %   ##1%
    % \else
    %   ##2%
    % \fi
    % }
    \ea\def\csname ifset@#2\endcsname##1##2{
    \ifcsname isset@#2\endcsname%
    % Now, make a macro to hold the default value and
    % define it to be the given optional argument (\@nil by default, "world" in the
    % example). The code below is equivalent (in the example case)
    % to \def\default@hello{world}
    \ea\def\csname default@#2\endcsname{#1}%
    % Check if optional argument is given (e.g. if it is equal to \@nil)
      % If no default value given, then set e.g. \@hello@noerror to be an empty value.
      % The very first version of this answer would not have the below line.
      \ea\def\csname @#2@noerror\endcsname{}%
      % Also, if the opt arg is not given we define the default behaviour,
      % \default@hello in the example case
      % to print a console warning, as well as printing the macro name to the page
      \ea\def\csname default@#2\endcsname{
        {\@latex@warning{\@backslashchar #2 not given}}% <- Console warning
        \textbackslash #2% <- Print command name to page.
      % If default value given, then set the \@hello@noerror to that value.
      % Since "world" was given as optional in the example case, this will be
      % the same as \def\@hello@noerror{world}
      \ea\def\csname @#2@noerror\endcsname{#1}%

    % We now define the usage macro \@hello:
    \ea\def\csname @#2\endcsname{
      \csname default@#2\endcsname
  % A summary of generated macros
  \ifset@hello{     %<-  Prints "User did not set hello"
    User did set hello
    User did not set hello
  \@hello@noerror   %<- Empty value. Does nothing extra by default.
  \@hello           %<- Gives warning message "\hello not given", and prints "\hello" on page.
  \hello{world}     %<- Sets \@hello and \@hello@noerror to "world"
  \ifset@hello{     %<- Prints "User did set hello"
    User did set hello
    User did not set hello
  \@hello           %<- Prints "world"
  \@hello@noerror   %<- Prints "world"
| improve this answer | |
  • This is extremely nice and does essentially exactly what I wanted. Thank you. Do I have your permission to use the above code snippet in this thesis template project (licence BSD-3-Clause) if I properly attribute it to you and link to your handin package? – Matthew Feickert Jun 8 '18 at 20:27
  • Sure! Go ahead! I'd love if you'd link to it somewhere, but no pressure :) – Andreas Storvik Strauman Jun 8 '18 at 20:31
  • It's originally distributed with the LPPL-1.3c-Licence :) – Andreas Storvik Strauman Jun 8 '18 at 20:37
  • Ah, so if I try to use the noerror behavior in the example above I get an Undefined control sequence. Any thoughts on why (I'm using TeX Live 2017 and LuaLaTeX)? ! Undefined control sequence. \@hello@noerror ->\@nil – Matthew Feickert Jun 9 '18 at 20:32
  • @MatthewFeickert That happens if the default value is \@nil. You can either remove the \@nil from the default optional argument or use \settable[]{commandname}. No error is intended as no warning shown to the user, heh. Misnamed I guess :) – Andreas Storvik Strauman Jun 10 '18 at 10:19

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