I hope I will not be flamed for this question, but I have been out of the loop for the last five years. Therefore my question is: what do you consider the most important changes to LaTeX in the last five years, or asked differently: if you hadn't used LaTeX those past five years, where would you set priorities to relearn it. The aim is to publish scientific papers in Economics with advanced mathematic typesetting and preferably integration of output from R (so sweave is already on my mind).

A small addendum: Which distribution do you prefer? Out of habit I have downloaded MiKTeX, but maybe there is something decisively better out there?

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    Thanks for the answers, especially to Aditya - those are all new ones to me. I think i have a good start with that. Hyperref was around at my times, though I didn't use it much, at university we used to hand in the papers on paper. I had a look at XeTeX, looks nice. I was surprised that I still can't use € out of the box, but thats not that important. I clicked on answered, but of course, any additions are wellcome to the list.
    – Owe Jessen
    Nov 4, 2010 at 18:18
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    The canonical choice today seems to be MikTeX for Windows and TeX Live for Unix-y OSes (or MacTeX which is afaik a repackaged version of TeX Live for better system integration on Macs).
    – Caramdir
    Nov 7, 2010 at 16:14
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    Related question about MiKTeX vs. TeX Live: tex.stackexchange.com/questions/20036/…
    – doncherry
    Aug 30, 2011 at 13:02

13 Answers 13


The biggest change has been that now pdftex is the default engine for latex. However, unless you write packages, you do not need to be aware of the differences. There is also a lot of momentum in LaTeX3, but most of the code is used behind the scenes by other packages. Again, unless you are a package writer, you do not need to learn anything new here.

Many new and interesting packages have appeared:

  • beamer for presentations
  • tikz for drawing (although I think that they were around 5 years ago)
  • biblatex for bibliography (not so important if you are in sciences)
  • mathtools for math (fixes and improves lot of amsmath environments)
  • breqn for automatic line breaking in display math.
  • .... I am sure there are other packages that I am missing
  • Nice answer: I think these would be my 'top picks' also :-)
    – Joseph Wright
    Nov 4, 2010 at 17:15
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    @mpg: I think hyperref has been around a long time (the copyright notice says 1992-2001 S. Rahtz, 2001-2010 H. Oberdiek)
    – Joseph Wright
    Nov 4, 2010 at 17:48
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    Wow, I didn't even know about mathtools and breqn. Learn something new every day. Nov 4, 2010 at 18:00
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    In my opinion, one important theme is that we have many "big gorillas" now: listings has pretty much superseded all other highlighting/verbatim packages, enumitem does the same for a dozen or so packages that solve single aspects of lists, tikz is on a good path of doing the same for cross-format graphics, and biblatex is biblatex. We might really be looking into a time when you are back to "these are the 15 packages you need to know" (but every one of them has a 150+ pages manual). Nov 18, 2010 at 21:36
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    Why do say biblatex is not important for people in sciences? I'd say it is very important.
    – Matthias
    Nov 7, 2011 at 11:45

Aditya has mentioned packages, and Jan has mentioned engines, but there has also been lots of infrastructure developments that make dealing with LaTeX more convenient:

  • A new cross-platform editor, TeXworks, that (I think) is the easiest way to get started with LaTeX because of its simple interface and embedded PDF viewer
  • For TeX Live, an update mechanism so you (usually) never need to install packages manually again
  • SyncTeX, used by TeXworks and other editors to allow you to jump from a position in a source document into the corresponding location in the PDF output
  • Restricted shell escape, which (as of TeX Live 2010) automatically converts EPS to PDF behind the scenes so you can write \includegraphics{foo.eps} in a pdfLaTeX document

In addition, some other recent-ish tools that haven't been mentioned yet:

  • xindy for multilingual indexing
  • The Asymptote drawing program
  • siunitx
  • countless others :) but you'll discover them if you need them

There has even been a new version of TeX, which is interested for historical reasons but you won't notice the difference.


Maybe another thing to mention is that thanks to new engines, like xetex and luatex, we now have access to many more fonts than before, and it is possible to use many features of the OT fonts. I am not sure what is the timeline, and how much of this was available five years ago, though. I only became aware of this relatively recently.

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    XeTeX was first included in TeX Live 2007. It has been available for some time before, but only for the Mac at the beginning. LuaTeX appeared in TeX Live 2008 (but also was available independently before), and in MikTeX only on month ago (octobre 2010). So, they are pretty much new.
    – mpg
    Nov 4, 2010 at 17:44

From a slightly different angle, I would add this very site, which had known major growth for its first year.


See my presentation on TeX in the 21st century. And if you find it interesting, please upvote this answer.

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    Is there a specific reason you're asking for upvotes? I don't think we want to get a habit of requesting votes started; I suggest reverting this edit. Also, we prefer answers to be self-contained, i.e. of course you can link to your presentation but please supply one or two paragraphs or a list summarizing the main points of your presentation.
    – doncherry
    Nov 7, 2011 at 17:52
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    @doncherry: I can understand the sentiment, but as of now I count >100 downloads of the PDF and not one comment or upvote. So many readers and nobody found my answer useful? Nov 7, 2011 at 17:58
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    Ah, I see. There might be a number of readers who are not registered and thus can't vote. I personally would've upvoted if the answer had been self-contained since I consider voting partially to be about form as well.
    – doncherry
    Nov 7, 2011 at 18:02
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    @Martin Schröder: The presentation is a good summary about the current status of LaTeX, but it is also very technical and does not emphasize what is new. Nov 7, 2011 at 18:55

Besides biblatex (already mentioned by Aditya), bibliography management has also been advanced by biber which is in the process of replacing bibtex/bibtex8 as backend program. biber (which needs biblatex as LaTeX frontend) provides full unicode support and does away with bibtex's capacity issues. Since 2011, biber is included in TeXLive and MiKTeX.


Not LaTeX specific, but to me the only relevant new development in TeX world is LuaTeX and whatever is built around it (notably ConTeXt MkIV). Well, if not for LuaTeX I'd not be using *TeX at all myself.


I know everyone is excited about LuaTeX but as I don't know Lua I have been enjoying PerlTeX, which is probably only about 5 years old. (I see a date in 2006)

That said, Beamer/TikZ/PGF is incredible and is so huge in scope that it cannot be mentioned enough. The pgffor command for nice for-loops is worth it in itself, and pgfkeys for key-value pairs, helps bring LaTeX a lot closer to being a proper programming language (or at least one that mere mortals can use/understand). Edit: A silly example: 99 bottles.

I also like to promote the script Impressive for displaying your Beamer-based presentation.

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    Impressive indeed seems impressive, but hasn't seen active development for quite some time... Sep 26, 2011 at 21:15
  • @MartinSchröder, which hasn't seen development? TikZ is being updated constantly, my fav new feature is align keyword allows breaking text in nodes. If you mean PerlTeX, neither Perl nor TeX has seen major incompatible changes in a while. Sep 26, 2011 at 22:15
  • I mean Impressive, where the last minor update is nearly a year and the last major update is four years old. Sep 27, 2011 at 6:59
  • @MartinSchröder, I think the same is mostly true of Impressive, though I know the python world has had a bit of upheaval moving to v3. Truth be told I haven't used Impressive as much, since in truth it is just eye candy (with the excepion of the overview). Sep 27, 2011 at 14:22

From a practical perspective, I guess a major change is that 5 years ago, it seemed that most people were still using latex + dvips + ps2pdf, and some people still preferred PostScript to PDF.

Nowadays, almost everyone just runs pdflatex.

(Of course, in part this is connected to the introduction of pdftex as the default engine, tikz as a replacement for pstricks, and other new features mentioned in other posts. But this also reflects the fact that the world around TeX has changed, too.)


There is another cross-platform "IDE" for LaTeX (or even just plain TeX called TeXMaker. I guess I like it a lot since it reminds me so much of a typical coding IDE. Has a lot of command-completion, real-time spell-checking, ability to open a second file (read-only) in a side-by-side window to make it easier to copy and paste from another document etc.

I am also fond of the package memoir which replaces many of the standard documentclass types as well as providing fancy title-page and fancy chapter headings. I don't do math (I write novels) but memoir supports all standard LaTeX math environments and you can easily include other packages to extend its functionality.

I'm also very fond of the TeXLive distribution for its "everything but the kitchen sink" completeness and its update mechanism.

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    Addendum: There's a fork of TeXMaker called TeXstudio formerly TexMakerX. Nov 7, 2011 at 11:07
  • The feedback from my students is, that Texstudio is fun to use and has all necessary feature. Whereas TexWorks is too complicated. Nov 7, 2011 at 13:14
  • Formerly complex macros often had a lot of parameters and optional parameters. It was difficult to learn and remember the order of all these parameter. Only some packages like graphicx have had <key>=<value> syntax. But current packages often use <key>=<value> syntax not only for parameters of macros but even for package options and class options.
  • LaTeX team recommend e-TeX engine for LaTeX, distributions even uses pdfTeX with e-TeX features. So we can use primitives like \dimexpr ...\relax, \unexpanded, \detokenize, \scantokens that make life (and answers) much easier.
  • There are a lot of new books and documents (e.g. Obsolete commands and options) about LaTeX for beginners and for experienced users.
  • Several package manuals has been translated.
  • You don't need to participate in usenet to contact the LaTeX community. You need only a www browser to find excellent help here. ;-)

tabu is a nice later addition, hopefully a way out of the jungle of various tabular improvements.

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    Sorry, I just flagged that as not-an-answer, because (not looking at the link, I though you referred to the document) I didn't understand it correctly. Maybe you could reword the answer to make it clearer that you think that the tabu package is one of the most important changes to LaTeX.
    – Caramdir
    Nov 6, 2011 at 19:12
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    Are you satisfied now? ;-)
    – eudoxos
    Nov 7, 2011 at 10:48

As noted above, biblatex(/biber) is a fantastic improvement over classic bibtex. Most notably it provides proper unicode and multi-language support and a sane "latex-ish" way to define and customise citation and bibliography styles (a welcome change from the backwards stack-based language used in bibtex style files, which still hurts my brain just thinking about it), all while preserving the familiar bibtex database format.

I also think XeTeX (+fontspec) are great improvements.

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