This is not about glossary package. :-) I was wondering whether there is a list of common terms you come across as a not-so-advanced user, defined already. Currently what we have are many books containing commands. But is there any compilation of all (that may be confusing for some) terms such as macro, command, style files, class files etc. ? If there isn't already, I was thinking of creating one—an alphabetically ordered document with definitions and simple examples. This would help users understand the technically advanced answers here in too. If you think there isn't such a source, let me know the terms you would like to see included!

  • I'm not quite sure what you mean by this glossary. How about CTAN or TeXdoc? – Count Zero Jun 3 '12 at 21:20
  • I had in mind a non-specialised document for starters, perhaps referencing to TeXdoc items for details. Yep CTAN would be defined, surely as one of the terms :-) – Abhimanyu Arora Jun 3 '12 at 21:28
  • It isn't alphabetically ordered, but my definitions chapter defines common terms. – Nicola Talbot Jun 10 '13 at 15:13
up vote 62 down vote accepted

The following is an attempt at creating a glossary of (La)TeX-related terms. The definitions are intentionally very short. If there are related question that ask about the term are tags corresponding to the term, links are provided.

This is a CW answer, so please add additional terms and/or definition and fix any errors you might find.

  • active character:
  • AMS-TeX: A →macro system based on →plain TeX designed to support the input of mathematical notation, including display material, in a manner comfortable for a user familiar with the language of mathematics.
  • AMS-LaTeX: A "translation" of →AMS-TeX into →LaTeX syntax, with the addition of several →document classes and related →packages conforming to the style specifications of the American Mathematical Society. Cf. , , and
  • argument: A command acts on a variable which is itself made of a set of characters. This variable is called the argument
  • AUCTeX: An interface for writing and formating →TeX, →LaTeX and →ConTeXt documents in the GNU Emacs text editor. Cf.
  • biber: External program used for sorting bibliography data. Designed to be used with biblatex. See bibtex vs. biber and biblatex vs. natbib and
  • biblatex: LaTeX package offering advanced bibliography formatting possibilities. See bibtex vs. biber and biblatex vs. natbib and
  • BibTeX: External program used for sorting bibliography data and formatting it. Usually used in conjunction with a bibliographic package such as natbib or biblatex. See bibtex vs. biber and biblatex vs. natbib and
  • big point: A →dimension unit where 1 inch = 72 big points. See also →point. Note that outside of the TeX world a big point is usually simply called a (PostScript) point.
  • box:
  • catcode: short for →category code.
  • category code: Each →character is assigned a character code that tells TeX how to interpret it. See What are category codes? and What do \makeatletter and \makeatother do?. Cf. .
  • character:
  • character class:
  • .cls: see →document class.
  • class: see →document class.
  • command: Usually used synonymously with →macro and →control sequence.
  • comment: An uncompiled string, starting with %, generally used for making notes and making code understandable to others and oneself. Blocks of sentences can be made comments by using a separate package.
  • compilation: The process of turning (TeX) →source code into an →output format. Cf.
  • Computer Modern: The →font family created by →Donald Knuth for use with →TeX, based on Monotype 8A, the font used in the original printings of his book series The Art of Computer Programming.
  • ConTeXt: A →format that aims to provide a modern alternative to →LaTeX. Cf.
  • ConTeXt Mk II: The previous version of →ConTeXt, based on →pdfTeX. Cf.
  • ConTeXt Mk IV: The current version of →ConTeXt, based on →LuaTeX. Cf.
  • control sequence: The original term given by →Donald Knuth to what is now more often called a →macro. Control sequences are of two kinds: →control words and →control symbols.
  • control symbol: A →control sequence that consists of a backslash plus one non-letter, e.g. \,.
  • control word: A →control sequence that consists of a backslash plus one or more letters, e.g. \i or \input.
  • counter:
  • CTAN: The Comprehensive TeX Archive Network; a network of file servers that contain most things related to →TeX, e.g. the →engines, major →formats and →LaTeX →packages. Available at
  • DANTE: The German-speaking →TeX User Group called "Deutschsprachige Anwendervereinigung TeX e.V.", visit
  • definition: The association of a meaning or →expansion to a →control sequence (= →macro). In →plain TeX this may be accomplished by \def or \let; in →LaTeX the recommended mechanism is to use \newcommand or \renewcommand.
  • dimension:
  • distribution: A complete set of TeX binaries, associated scripts and external programs and packages. There are two major distributions: →TeX Live (cross platform) and →MiKTeX (Windows). →MacTeX is a version of TeX Live for the Mac. Cf.
  • document class: Is a file containing the general layout of a →LaTeX document. It is loaded with \documentclass{⟨name⟩}, typically at the first line of the document. Examples are letter, article, book, memoir and the →KOMA-Script classes. Cf. and
  • Donald E. Knuth: The author of →TeX.
  • .dtx:
  • DVI: The device independent file format, the original output format of →TeX. Can be viewed with a DVI-viewer, but is usually converted to →PostScript or →PDF. Cf.
  • encoding: Usually used in reference to either →font encoding or →input encoding.
  • engine: A program that can →compile →TeX →source code. The major engines besides →Donald Knuth's original TeX (now in version 3.1415926) are →pdfTeX, →LuaTeX and →XeTeX. See The differences between TeX engines.
  • environment:
  • error:
  • ε-TeX (often written as e-TeX): An extension to →TeX that is supported by all modern →engines and →distributions. Cf.
  • expansion:
  • float: A type of →environment, used to separate content such as tables, diagrams or pictures from rest of the document. Its position in the final document might not be exactly where it is placed in the →source, as it can “float” to a different location in the document based upon options defined in the document and where →LaTeX (or →ConTeXt) thinks it fits best. Cf.
  • font:
  • font encoding: A mapping between source characters and glyphs in a particular font. See fontenc vs inputenc and
  • format:
  • fragile: A →command that will expand when used in a →moving argument in such a way as to cause problems or failure is said to be "fragile". See →protect.
  • group:
  • input encoding: A mapping between keystrokes and characters in a source document. See fontenc vs inputenc
  • JabRef: A reference manager for →BibTeX. Cf.
  • Knuth: See →Donald E. Knuth.
  • KOMA-Script:
  • LaTeX: A commonly used →format of →TeX. Cf.
  • LaTeX2ε (often written LaTeX2e): The current version of →LaTeX.
  • LaTeX 3: The next version of →LaTeX. It has been in development for some time and, while significant progress has been made, the release date is yet unknown. Cf.
  • LaTeX Project Public License:
  • Latin Modern:
  • Leslie Lamport: The original author of →LaTeX.
  • LPPL: The →LaTeX Project Public License.
  • LuaTeX: An →engine that includes the Lua scripting language to make programming in →TeX easier. It also includes support for →Unicode and →OpenType fonts. It is based on →pdfTeX and is needed to use →ConTeXt Mk IV. Cf.
  • LyX: A document processing system that provides a GUI front-end to LaTeX. Cf.
  • macro: Basically anything in the →TeX →source code that starts with a backslash \. They are processed by TeX by first →expanding them and then processing the remaining →primitives. A synonym of →control sequence. Cf.
  • MacTeX: A →distribution for Mac OS, based on →TeX Live. Cf.
  • microtype: a →package that allows for subtle and detailed adjustments of spacing and character positioning.
  • MiKTeX: A →distribution for Windows. Cf.
  • moving argument: The →argument of a →macro that stores its contents in auxiliary files and re-inserts them on later →compilation runs. The argument is thus expanded multiple times asynchronously.
  • OpenType font:
  • output format:
  • package (LaTeX): A file (or collection of files) that extend or change the capabilities of →LaTeX. Packages are used in a document by adding \usepackage{⟨package-name⟩} in the →preamble. Cf. and .
  • package (generic): A collection of files and documentation that is present on →CTAN or in →distributions. It can be a LaTeX package, LaTeX class, collection of fonts etc.
  • parameter:
  • PDF: The Portable Document Format is a commonly used file format for electronic documents. It is usually created by →TeX by converting a →DVI file or by using →pdfTeX. Cf.
  • pdfTeX: A →TeX →engine that can produce →PDF output directly. It also supports the →ε-TeX extensions and →microtype. Current distributions use pdfTeX even when creating a →DVI file. Cf.
  • pgf: (for “portable graphics format”) is a set of macros for generating graphics. Usually it is not used directly, but rather through the nicer syntax provided by its companion →TikZ. In the TikZ/pgf package, pgf is referred to as the “basic layer“, while TikZ is a “frontend layer”. Cf.
  • Plain TeX: Is the original →format created by →Donald Knuth. It provides some additional →commands, but far less than →LaTeX or →ConTeXt do. Cf.
  • point: Also called “printer's point” or “TeX point”. The basic typographic →dimension unit, where 1 inch = 72.27 points. See also →big point. Note that outside of the TeX world, point usually refers to a big point.
  • PostScript: A programming language best known as a page description language used by laser printers. The →PSTricks suite of packages allow Postscript "specials" to be incorporated into TeX documents, allowing access the full power of the Postscript language. PostScript is often used as an intermediary step when creating a →PDF document.
  • preamble: Is the part of a →LaTeX document before \begin{document} where the user sets the specification of the document as a whole and the →packages to be loaded for the →commands to come later in the body. Cf.
  • primitive: A command already defined by →TeX when it starts up. Ultimately all macros reduce to primitives. The majority of them correspond to commands executed in the inner parts of →TeX, but some never reach that stage because they behave similarly to macros in that they're expandable (conditionals and \expandafter are of this type). They are somewhat similar to the keywords in a programming language.
  • protect: A mechanism to prevent a →fragile →command from being expanded when used in a →moving argument. This can be applied ad hoc using the command \protect or when defining the command with \DeclareRobustCommand.
  • proTeXt: A software bundle for Windows consisting of the →distribution →MiKTeX, the editor TeXstudio (earlier versions had TeXnicCenter instead), Ghostscript and GSView. It aims to provide an easy way of installing a complete setup to new LaTeX users. Cf. and What to download, proTeXt or MiKTeX?.
  • PS: see →PostScript.
  • PSTricks: A set of macros that allow the inclusion of →PostScript drawings directly inside TeX or LaTeX code. It is originally the work of Timothy Van Zandt and in recent years it has been maintained by Denis Girou, Sebastian Rahtz and Herbert Voß. Cf.
  • robust: The technique of writing →macros to be safe to use in a →moving argument; i.e. one whose behavior does not change if it is →expanded multiple times.
  • semantic markup:
  • source code:
  • space:
  • .sty: see →package.
  • style file: A term that is not officially used in →LaTeX2e. Can refer either to a →package or a →document class.
  • template:
  • terminal:
  • TeX: A typesetting language and processor. Cf.
  • TeX by Topic: A book by Victor Eijkhout that describes, mainly for →macro writers, the structure of →TeX and its →commands in chapters “concerned with relatively small, well-delineated topics“.
  • texdoc: A command line utility for accessing documentation. For example, texdoc ⟨package⟩ will show the documentation for ⟨package⟩. It is also available online at Cf.
  • TeX Live: A →distribution maintained by →TUG. Available for all major PC operating systems. Cf.
  • The TeX Book: The book by →Donald Knuth that describes how the →TeX typesetting system works, and how to use it.
  • TikZ: (Coordinate-based) package that enhances graphic-building capabilities. It is a frontend to →pgf. Cf.
  • token:
  • TrueType font:
  • TUG: The →TeX User Group, an organization representing the interests of TeX users worldwide. Visit
  • TUGboat: The journal of →TUG.
  • Type 1 font:
  • Unicode: A character set enabling the use of most of the world's writing systems in a single document. UTF-8 is a popular encoding for storing Unicode documents. The Unicode standard is maintained by the Unicode Consortium.
  • warning:
  • XeTeX: A modern →engine that supports →Unicode and →OpenType fonts. Cf.

See also File extensions related to LaTeX, etc

  • 4
    A lot of valuable information might already be in our tag wikis, which should in some way be taken into account here. – doncherry Jun 4 '12 at 1:16
  • 3
    @CountZero: Not every term corresponds to a tag. But improving the tag wikis is always a good idea :) – Caramdir Jun 4 '12 at 14:59
  • 2
    @CountZero: I'd suggest to do it just the other way round: Keep the descriptions here really short, but link to the tag wiki if there is a good one (if not, make one, maybe); all in the spirit of – doncherry Jun 4 '12 at 15:11
  • 3
    I've also been adding links to canonical questions on the site regarding the definitions if they're available. – Alan Munn Jun 4 '12 at 16:17
  • 6
    Once developed, this list might make a nice addition to the documentation available on CTAN? – doncherry Jun 5 '12 at 0:22

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