I commonly find myself facing the same task of streamlining complex data entry for classes I write. I alway use the same front end. Data is entered and stored in variables, then a processing command uses the information in those variables to produce a complex formatted output.

For a simple example

\name{The name goes here}

\descr{The description goes here}

\tablecontents{column a}{column b}{column c}{column d}

\note{The note goes here}


Upon calling \makeentry whatever data was entered into the 'variables' would be used.

Over the years, I have made multiple backends, one in basic latex, one in expl3, and now most recently one in lua. Each has its own issues. I pretty quickly moved from basic latex to expl3 because handling any form of logic was a nightmare, and it took roughly 3 times the code to do the same thing.

I have issues with expl3 as there is so much erroneous stuff that goes into coding for it. And looking at old code looks like it came out of some sort of cypher. Dealing with all the strange data structures (looking at you token lists and sequences) is very tedious. And dealing with all the :Nn made me want to die.

Here is an example of my variable storage command in expl3

\tl_new:N \name %delcares the variable \name

\NewDocumentCommand{\name}{s+m} {%set command for names
    \tl_set:Nn \itemname {#2}

Lualatex seemed to offer a golden solution, a "real" programing language. The same code above can be handled with this.

function myluafile.setname(alpha)
    name = alpha

function myluafile.getname()

And then the adjoining code in your .tex would be

\directlua{myluafile = require("myluafile")}%this links the .lua


But diving further and I found myself wanting to build formatting in latex (because, you know, thats what its for) which actually would have required passing variables into lua, parsing them, passing them back to latex, storing them with expl3 variables, and then formatting them. I get around this by psudo processing them in lua and spitting gigantic print sequences back that latex then reads correctly, like so

local function buildnamedtable()
    --Table settings for un-named entrys, D D D T
    tex.print("\\newcolumntype{N}{>{\\hsize=0.4\\linewidth \\raggedright\\arraybackslash}X}%")
    tex.print("\\newcolumntype{C}{>{\\hsize=0.15\\linewidth \\centering\\arraybackslash}X}%")
    tex.print("\\newcolumntype{T}{>{\\hsize=0.3\\linewidth \\raggedright\\arraybackslash}X}%")
    tex.print("\\begin{center}\\begin{tabularx}{0.98\\linewidth}{ N C C C T }")
    tex.print("& \\textbf{b} & \\textbf{c}& \\textbf{d}& \\textbf{e}\\\\")
    for k=0, (count - 1), 1 do
        if tocolorline[k] then
        tex.print(a[k] .. "&" .. b[k] .. "&" .. c[k] .. "&" .. d[k] .. "&" .. e[0] .. "\\\\")

Needless to say this feels very wrong, but it works. I'd say its better than dealing with expl3, but its not perfect, the joining commands between lua and latex seem to have problems. In particular im having trouble with the latex side of the storage commands \newcommand{\name}[1]{\directlua{myluafile("#1")}}. It seems if you try to pass complicated strings, such as those with backslashes \ quotes " single quotes ' or percent symbols % it up and dies. The error handling is also atrocious.

Is there a better way to do what I am trying to do? I am looking for input as to how others handle these kind of circumstances, as surely I cannot be the only one. I understand that the responses may be very opinionated, but that is exactly the kind of input I am looking for. I feel like my solutions up till now are all flawed in one way or another.

Edit: I have added clarity to the specific problem I mentioned about complicated strings. As well as added the corresponding getname function.

  • Using something like [=====[]=====] instead of "" allows you to avoid escaping characters every single time. Do you have your Lua code?
    – user193767
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 3:42
  • Im sorry but can you explain that again? I have no idea what you mean by [=====[]=====]. Yes I have the code. In this case it is as simple as function myluafile.getname() tex.print(name) end
    – Bob
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 3:47
  • Yes, see, if you type tex.print([==[\textbf{Hello}]==]) you don't need to use the escape character \
    – user193767
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 3:50
  • Btw, you're using tables whose definition is not included in your example, e.g. tocolorline, so your code remains a bit obscure
    – user193767
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 3:54
  • 1
    Im sorry there was a miscommunication. The last, large code block with the table was a separate example. My issue seems to be with this \newcommand{\name}[1]{\directlua{myluafile("#1")}}
    – Bob
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 3:56

2 Answers 2


Using the luacode package what do you want is possible. Basically \luastringN avoids any expansion, so it occurs on the TeX side. You can now pass complex arguments.

%!TEX program = lualatex
function setname(str)
    name = str


\name{"Jerky" comes from Quechua \emph{charqui}}\getname

enter image description here


Now you have another choice: functional package. The package provides LaTeX2 interfaces for expl3. But the evaluation of composite functions is from inside to outside, which is the same as Lua language. Also you can make every function become a group, so that the values of local variables will be reset after the function.



\PrgNewFunction \name {m} {%
  \TlSet \lNameTl {#1}%

\PrgNewFunction \getname {} {%
  \TlUse \lNameTl




\name{"Jerky" comes from Quechua \emph{charqui}}\getname


enter image description here

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