It's 2021.

I want to write a book in LaTeX, no restrictions from any publishers. I do not want to write packages.

I read the terms LaTeX3 (now part of LaTeX itself?), XeLaTeX, LuaLaTeX, ..., but actually I have no idea what superseded what or if these are all different forks that progress independently.

Is there anything I gain from NOT using pdfLaTeX?

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    Fonts: Unicode/system fonts are available in xelatex/lualatex. Access to internals: lua code in lualatex.
    – Cicada
    Jul 15, 2021 at 15:26
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    The question in the title and the one in the text are not quite the same. Does anything beat pdftex? Sure, luatex can do more. But if you don't specifically need its features, then there is no gain at all in using it. Rather drawbacks.
    – campa
    Jul 15, 2021 at 15:34
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    for the most part the input for pdflatex lualatex and xelatex are the same so you don't have to choose in advance. Your font choice may lead you to luatex or xelatex (if you want to use system fonts, or non latin characters) but otherwise just use whichever you prefer Jul 15, 2021 at 17:22
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    You should probably change the title though as that is open to closing the question as "Opinion based" Some people might say Word, or indesign or ... Jul 15, 2021 at 17:24
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    @campa really depends on your definition of "beating", speed wise, pdfTeX is pretty far ahead of LuaTeX and XeTeX. Feature wise you're right, LuaTeX is the leading player here.
    – Skillmon
    Jul 15, 2021 at 17:54

2 Answers 2


You wrote,

It's 2021. I want to write a book in LaTeX. ... Is there anything I gain from NOT using pdfLaTeX?

I think the answer ultimately depends on how you define the term LaTeX. If you restrict the term to be functionally equivalent to pdfLaTeX, i.e., the joining of the pdftex engine and the LaTeX2e format, and if you thus choose not to talk about the capabilities of the xetex and luatex engines, then you might as well as write your document in a way that makes it compilable under pdfLaTeX. (Of course, these days many documents that compile just fine under pdfLaTeX will also compile just fine under LuaLaTeX or XeLaTeX.

Conversely, if you do intend to talk about the capabilities of the xetex and luatex engines -- and, frankly, why wouldn't you? After all, it's 2021... -- and if you intend to provide some practical examples of code that makes use of the additional capabilities of XeTeX and/or LuaTeX, you've just given yourself permission NOT to use pdfLaTeX...


If you have a choice of what engine to use, I would recommend LuaLaTeX. That has better support for modern fonts, OpenType features, and all the world’s languages than any other engine. It lets you use a much broader repertoire of math symbols and alphabets than is possible in PDFLaTeX. It also supports some packages that I think improve the appearance of a document considerably, such as microtype font expansion with Unicode fonts. But if you did want to use a legacy 8-bit math font, you still can.

  • My memory may be failing me here, but I believe that pdfLaTeX does support microtype; that's one of the features highlighted in Thanh's dissertation. tug.org/TUGboat/tb21-4/tb69thanh.pdf Jul 15, 2021 at 20:21
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    @BarbaraBeeton I think Davislor means that microtype is available for lualatex, I don't remember if it works with xelatex
    – daleif
    Jul 15, 2021 at 21:10
  • @daleif -- Oh, I agree that LuaLaTeX provides more than pdfLaTeX, but this formulation seems to imply that pdfLaTeX is lacking the feature that's highlighted in the title of the dissertation. (I don't remember about XeTeX either.) Jul 15, 2021 at 21:25
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    @daleif -- I'm sure it wasn't intentional. (But I always seem to read things in the most misunderstandable way. Maybe that's why I've been moderately successful as an editor.) Jul 15, 2021 at 21:47
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    LuaLaTeX has some show-stopping issues though. For example, it won't break after en- and em-dashes, whether they're input TeX-style as --/--- or as Unicode characters –/—. pdfLaTeX breaks after TeX-style inputs but not Unicode input while XeLaTeX breaks after either.
    – Don Hosek
    Jul 16, 2021 at 2:59

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