I updated my TeXlive distribution a couple times in the past week, and now I get this error when I include package expl3 (or any other package that includes it, such as fontspec). Before the updates it was working fine. Am I missing any package that should be installed? I tried searching for l3backend-pdfmode.def, but I found no results.

λ lualatex a
This is LuaTeX, Version 1.10.0 (TeX Live 2019) 
 restricted system commands enabled.
LaTeX2e <2018-12-01>

luaotfload | main : initialization completed in 0.042 seconds
Document Class: article 2018/09/03 v1.4i Standard LaTeX document class

! LaTeX Error: File `l3backend-pdfmode.def' not found.

Type X to quit or <RETURN> to proceed,
or enter new name. (Default extension: def)

Enter file name: 
! Emergency stop.
<read *> 

l.282   }

 379 words of node memory still in use:
   2 hlist, 1 rule, 1 dir, 3 kern, 1 glyph, 4 attribute, 48 glue_spec, 4 attrib
ute_list, 1 write nodes
   avail lists: 2:9,3:3,4:1,5:2,7:2,9:2
!  ==> Fatal error occurred, no output PDF file produced!
Transcript written on a.log.
  • 6
    The code has been moved to a dedicated package. Install the l3backend package. Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 9:18
  • That works. I tried to tlmgr search l3backend but I forgot that it only searches locally by default, and I did not find anything.
    – Claudio
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 9:33
  • May I ask how you update your texlive? Whenever I update I also get all the new packages, and thus aren't missing stuff like this module split.
    – daleif
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 17:01
  • @daleif tlmgr update --all, possibly also tlmgr update --self if it complains. However, this was a minimal installation, so maybe that package should have been pulled in by some collection that was not installed (I am assuming, I am not sure how tlmgr works exactly)
    – Claudio
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 19:52
  • That might explain it (that it was missing from a collection) as I always install everything
    – daleif
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 19:53

3 Answers 3


Since the July 1st, 2019 release of the LaTeX3 kernel, the driver-specific code contained in the l3backend module was moved to a dedicated package in CTAN, and now l3backend is a dependency of l3kernel.

The description of l3backend on CTAN says:

The func­tions here are de­fined dif­fer­ently de­pend­ing on the en­gine in use. As such, these are dis­tributed sep­a­rately from l3k­er­nel to al­low this code to be up­dated on an in­de­pen­dent sched­ule.

So if you updated l3kernel only without installing l3backend as well you'll get an error like this:


! LaTeX Error: File `l3backend-<driver-name>.def' not found.

Type X to quit or <RETURN> to proceed,
or enter new name. (Default extension: def)

Enter file name: 

and the solution is to install the missing l3backend package.

  • 2
    The package was already installed but I still get the error... I'm using texlive 2019 on Linux... Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 15:01
  • 1
    @Taekwondavide If l3backend is correctly installed the error should disappear. How did you install the package? What happens if you type tlmgr info l3backend in a terminal? Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 19:57
  • 1
    @Taekwondavide Did you update with tlmgr update --all? If you didn't, try it: it should update all packages and install missing ones. Does kpsewhich -a l3backend-pdfmode.def return something? If nothing works, I suggest you ask a new question, more people will see it :-) Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 20:52
  • 1
    @Taekwondavide Hm... try running mktexlsr to generate the filename database for kpathsea. Run kpsewhich -a l3backend-pdfmode.def again after that. Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 23:14
  • 1
    @Taekwondavide Great :D I don't use the --gui much, so I don't know what it does, but apparently it didn't (for some reason) run mktexlsr after updating. mktexlsr generates the filename database which kpsewhich uses to locate the files in TeXLive. I imagined this was the problem after you said the file was there but kpsewhich didn't find it (just parroting for future readers: I'm afraid this problem will keep happening for some time :-). Commented Jul 18, 2019 at 23:37

For Windows:

  1. Open the MikTeX Console
  2. Check for Update
  3. Updates > Update Now
  4. Search l3backend package
  5. Install the package
  • 4
    This is exactly what I was looking for. :D
    – Octfx
    Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 8:42
  • 3
    Solved it for me perfectly. Thanks!
    – liamcomp
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 14:54
  • 1
    When I update, I get something went wrong while checking for update. Invalid argument: path="C:\Users\id917977\AppData\Local\MiKTeX\2.9\miktex/data/le\df2c24cb21984fa85003c1ecc818ff83.fndb"
    – aan
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 13:27
  • Does adding \usepackage{l3backend} to the preamble of your document tell MikTeX what it should be looking for to avoid manual package installation?
    – rbrignall
    Commented Nov 5, 2019 at 10:51
  • Similar process for Mac (High Sierra): 1. Press CMD + Space Bar to search 2. Serach & Open MikTeX Console 3. Click "Reopen as Administrator" 4. Check for Updates 5. Updates > Update Now. I personally didn't need to install anything additional. Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 20:12

For MikTeX under Linux (Ubuntu), all that is required to

  1. sudo miktex-console

  2. Choose Switch to MiKTeX administrator mode

  3. Choose Check for updates under Updates.

MiKTeX will automatically install l3backend and other missing packages when needed.

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