I was wondering if it's worthwhile, or if it is even advisable, to upgrade to "vanilla" TeX Live instead of the older version in the Ubuntu repository?

As the story goes, I was trying to create an article in APA-style 7th edition using the apa7 document class, which the class documentation claims is contained in TeX Live. However, TeXstudio prompted File 'apa7.cls' not found. Turns out the current version in Ubuntu 19.10's repository is 2019.20190710-1, and hasn't been updated since last year, before APA 7th ed. was released.

Now, the newest version of TeX Live needs to be downloaded, installed, and maintained manually. Is it therefore worth the trouble, and could this cause comtaibility issues with the current setup?

  • 1
    In this specific situation you may want to consider updating: AFAIK apa7 uses biblatex-apa for the bibliography. Old versions of biblatex-apa implement the bibliography and citation style from the 6th edition of the manual. Only versions of biblatex-apa released after 2019-11-23 (v9.0) implement the 7th edition style (the 6th edition style is available in biblatex-apa6). In theory it might be possibly to only install biblatex-apa, but if your biblatex is too old you might end up having to manually update biblatex, Biber and all its dependencies as well.
    – moewe
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 5:20
  • In general, though it depends on what you expect from your TeX system: If you want to be able to use the newest features in packages that are still actively developed and want all the bug fixes, you probably need vanilla TeX live. If you are OK with using older package versions and value stability more than bug fixes, stick with the TeX live from the Ubuntu sources. If it really is from 2019, it's not too bad. (But LTS versions may settle you with very old LaTeX.)
    – moewe
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 5:42
  • @moewe That's good to know. I just assumed the bibliography formatting would be updated according to APA 7th ed. I also recall now I ran into problems with Koma-script earlier due to the version being outdated, and had to install the latest version (of Koma) manually. It seems TeX Live has it's own updater though, so I guess it would be fairly simple to keep vanilla up-to-date once it's installed? Will I run into trouble by installing vanilla TeX Live without removing distro version or when re-compiling documents I'm working on? Commented May 7, 2020 at 10:25
  • 1
    The document class apa7 delegates the bibliography formatting to biblatex-apa (an independent package/style). Depending on your version of biblatex-apa you will get 6th or 7th edition APA style (basically whichever was the current version when you installed biblatex-apa). Yes, when you have vanilla TeX live it is straightforward to keep the system up to date (see tex.stackexchange.com/q/55437/35864). But keep in mind that TeX live still requires yearly 'upgrades' that should be performed via new installation.
    – moewe
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 14:39
  • 1
    Erm, no. I would need to see a minimal example that reproduces the error. (See tex.meta.stackexchange.com/q/228/35864). Before you embark on a long debugging journey, though: Delete all temporary files (.aux, .bbl, .bcf, ...) and recompile from scratch. Maybe the problem just occurs because of a leftover auxiliary file that was written with different package versions. If that doesn't help: Ask a new question with MWE (see link) and upload the complete .log file to a text-sharing website.
    – moewe
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 21:12

3 Answers 3


In general you need not update to the newest ("vanilla") TeX live if you are happy with your current TeX system. Many packages in the TeX world have been stable for years (the popular citation package natbib for example has not been changed since 2010), some others will only have received carefully crafted, small fixes for very specific bugs.

But there is a number of actively developed packages that get updated substantially from time to time (biblatex, polyglossia, ...). If you use one of those packages very extensively, it may be useful to keep your system up to date.

It might be important to note that the TeX world as a whole is not stationary. There are occasions where some new (sometimes big) development comes along. Davislor points out that TeX live 2020 comes with HarfBuzz support for LuaLaTeX: That is a big deal for many people who write in non-western scripts.

So you don't have to update. Many people are perfectly happy with older TeX live versions (in particular the TeX live from the Ubuntu repositories). But if you want to use new features, you will have to make sure to regularly update your system.

Considering that some Ubuntu LTS versions are supported for five years and they usually get an updated TeX live (nominally) from the year before they are released, a TeX live 2019 from July 2019 is not too bad in spring 2020.

It is perfectly possible to have several versions of vanilla TeX live installed in parallel, since they go into different folders. You can then switch between them by adjusting your PATH variable accordingly. (MacTeX for macOS even has a nice GUI for that.) In theory it should also be possible to install vanilla TeX live alongside your system TeX live, but then it might be more tricky to keep your paths in order. (I don't think I know of anyone who has vanilla TeX live alongside a system-installed TeX live, but I know of many people who have many TeX live installs from different years.)

If you run an update, there is always the risk that you may run into compatibility issues. Generally, my advice would therefore be not to update or upgrade close to an important deadline. But more often than not updates have no or only very small (and easily fixable) impact. Of course the occasional bug or backwards incompatible change sneaks in. Bugs are usually reported and fixed quickly, so if you find anything don't hesitate to contact the developers. For backwards incompatible changes authors usually suggest workarounds and are happy to help with the transition.

If you want to update, don't let the possibility that there might be some issues scare you. Make sure you have a bit of time to test and sort everything out.

It is a good idea to clear the auxiliary/temporary files (.aux, .bbl, .bcf, .toc, ...) for your document after an update. Those files are written by specific package versions and a package update might mean that a different format is expected. Usually problems with the auxiliary files produce very strange looking errors, but they are easily resolved by deleting the auxiliary files and recompiling.

For your specific case of apa7 and 7th edition APA style, I think the best choice is to upgrade to TeX live 2020 and keep it updated as long as that is feasible (deadlines permitting).

apa7 was only recently added to TeX live and was not part of TeX live in July 2019. This means you would have to install the class manually. Manual installations are always a bit tricky, because you are then responsible to manually check and updated all dependencies as well.

And this is not a theoretical concern. apa7 does not implement citations and bibliographies in APA style. Instead it recommends to use biblatex and specifically biblatex-apa. biblatex-apa is one of the most complete implementations of APA citations and bibliography style in the TeX world. When the 7th edition of the APA manual was released, biblatex-apa switched from implementing 6th edition APA style to 7th edition. That is to say versions of biblatex-apa from before November 2020 (versions below v9.0) implement 6th edition APA style, versions from after November 2020 (v9.0 and above) implement 7th edition APA style. (6th edition APA style is still available from biblatex-apa6.) This means that you also need to update biblatex-apa when you manually install apa7 to get citations and bibliography formatted as expected. But biblatex-apa depends on biblatex and Biber. A current version of biblatex-apa should be run together with biblatex v3.14 and Biber v2.14 (released in December 2019). So you will have to update those two as well. This is considerable effort.

Here it seems much, much better to just install the current vanilla TeX live 2020. Then apa7, biblatex-apa, biblatex and Biber will or can be installed in matching (current) versions.

  • natbib is maybe not a great example because it also has lots of unfixed bugs since 2010. Commented May 8, 2020 at 6:47
  • Also I wouldn't call tikz “actively developed”. It is actively maintained but no real development is taking place. Commented May 8, 2020 at 6:48
  • @HenriMenke Removed tikz. If you have a suggestion for a natbib replacement, I'll be happy to hear it. But for now I left it in, since it is true that it hasn't been updated (and even though there may be bugs it is still widely used - I haven't seen that many complaints about it).
    – moewe
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 6:50
  • @HenriMenke I'm always interested in bibliography/citation-related matters. Do you happen to have a few links at hand for some of the natbib bugs you are thinking about (or some search keywords)? (A search for natbib and "bug" obviously returns a lot of false positives, but I found tex.stackexchange.com/q/155777/35864.)
    – moewe
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 7:02
  • Here is one of them: dpaste.com/19AQWYB (expires in 10 days) I have not posted it here but submitted the patch 5 years ago to the maintainers. Commented May 8, 2020 at 7:08

Well, that's really up to you. Personally, I install texlive always from the installer script. (https://www.tug.org/texlive/) I never use the default packages. In particular, on Ubuntu, they can be quite old.

Having said that, I only update the installed packages if there is a bug that affects me, or there is a new package that I need. In general, package changes happen relatively rarely. So updating is often not worth it.

Also, the texlive installs are really slow and take several hours (full install).

  • Thanks for the info. I found a way to manually install apa7.sty. For now, I haven't encountered any clear advantage of installing the newest version, so I think I'll stick with the distro default version. Btw, by installer script, do you mean the tarball on the netinstall page? Commented May 6, 2020 at 23:01
  • Yes, when you download the zip or tar-file there is an executable script inside (The installer script: install-tl). This script guides you through the installation process.
    – Stefan
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 14:53

The main new feature in TeX Live 2020 that I actually use is the HarfBuzz renderer integrated into luatex. If you answer a lot of questions on TeX.SX, though, you’ll definitely want to test your MWEs on the latest version.

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