I discovered catchfile here and now I would like to understand how works this package. Below some tests with \foreach or \@for



Test 1:\foreach \i in \mylist {\hspace{\i cm}\i} 



Test 2:\foreach \i in \tempa{\hspace{\i cm}\i} 


Test 3:\@for\i:=\tempa\do{\hspace{\i cm}\i}

\def\tempb{\@@input mylist.dat } 

% I know this is not the right way but I always find it difficult to explain

Test 4: this is the content : \tempb  
% \foreach \i in \tempb 
% {\hspace{\i cm}\i}    %  

Test 5:\@for\i:=\tempb\do{\hspace{\i cm}\i} 


% last try ! and it works
Test 6:\foreach \i in \tempc{\hspace{\i cm}\i}   


A) Test 4 does not work. but why Test 2 with \CatchFileDef works ? It would be interesting to have a clean explanation about this kind of problem !

B) Now why Test 6 works ?

  • 1
    I would rather check the source code of this package instead to understand how it works. AFAIK, you need some e-TeX trickery like \everyeof{\noexpand} or similar to avoid an error triggered by the end of the file. The package however also allows for catcode adjustments for the input file, IIRC. Mar 20, 2012 at 18:54
  • The result of Test 5 is strange but the test compiles with \def\tempb{\input{mylist.dat}} but I got an error directly with \edef\tempb{\input{mylist.dat}}. I need to write \expandafter\def\expandafter\tempb{\input{mylist.dat}} but in this case the test 5 does not compile Mar 20, 2012 at 19:29
  • You're missing the fact that \CatchFileDef has three arguments.
    – egreg
    Mar 20, 2012 at 23:10
  • yes I compile with \CatchFileDef{\tempa}{mylist.dat}{} but I forgot why I removed {} . Mar 21, 2012 at 5:31

2 Answers 2


The definition of \CatchFileEdef might be simplified into

   \xdef\@temp{\@@input #2\space}%

but Heiko Oberdiek adds to this many checks. The \everyeof{\noexpand} is necessary to neutralize the implicit empty line that TeX adds to every file it inputs. The \@@input command is the primitive \input, which is expandable (with null expansion); the final \space is there for coping with the conventions of TeX regarding \input (primitive): a space is looked for and ignored. The third argument is used to add settings when inputting the file, for instance to \endlinedchar.

With \xdef everything is expanded (it's \global\edef), but then #1 is defined only locally.

More complicated is \CatchFileDef, because one wants to expand only \@@input and not what is actually input. The unabridged version is

  \expandafter\CatchFileDo\@@input #2\relax}
  \lccode65=64 % lowercase('A') = '@'
  \lccode66=64 % lowercase('B') = '@'
  \catcode65=8 % catcode('A') = subscript
  \catcode66=3 % catcode('B') = math shift

The tokens \CatchFileEOF are two @, the first with catcode 8 and the second with catcode 3 (that nobody is supposed to have in a file) and, essentially, what is executed with \easyCatchFiledef{\my}{file}{} is

\CatchFileDo<contents of file.tex>@@\CatchFileFinish

because the \expandafter before \CatchfileDo will expand \@@input and present TeX with the contents of file.tex. In the lines above @@ represent the \CatchFileEOF special delimiter tokens.

Actually catchfile.sty contains code for the case when \unexpanded is not what is in the present version of e-TeX, but this is irrelevant for the discussion. A clever job by Heiko, as usual.


The \CatchFileDef macro works AFAIK with some e-TeX trickery. Without that you get an error if you use TeX's \input (renamed to \@@input within LaTeX) inside an expandable context like \edef. In this case an error like "End of file detected while ..." is triggered.

Your test 4 doesn't work because you are using \@@input in a simple \def here:

\def\tempb{\@@input mylist.dat } 
\foreach \i in \tempb {..}

Note that \tempb does not contain the content of the file but rather the \@@input macro with the filename, which is not good for \foreach. It's like using \foreach \i in {\@@input mylist.dat} {..}, which doesn't make much sense. You would need to use \edef instead to expand the \@@input before so that \tempb does contain the file content first. However, this does not work as mentioned above.

Test 6 works as because you define the macro \tempc with the comma-separated content directly, just inside an input-file, which doesn't make any difference here. Does test 5 work for you? It would be more surprising for me.

  • 1
    I try to read the source code of catchfile.sty but it's not easy to understand. Mar 20, 2012 at 19:37
  • The e-TeX trick used is \everyeof.
    – egreg
    Mar 20, 2012 at 23:12

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