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I installed texlive, but I changed my mind and now I would like to install texlive-full. I'm wondering if I can just install texlive-full now, and it will just skip over everything that's already installed and fill in the rest, or if that will mean I two separate versions installed, texlive and texlive-full. If it's the latter, I think it would probably be best to just start over with a clean slate, so that I don't have a bunch of unnecessary junk cluttering up my computer.

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    What exactly did you do when you installed texlive? It sounds like you're using Ubuntu or similar if you just installed some of their texlive Ubuntu packages, installing texlive-full will install the rest of them
    – daleif
    Sep 28, 2021 at 5:33
  • list out the steps you followed for the install for a fruitful answer -- do note your dependencies will/ may change
    – js bibra
    Sep 28, 2021 at 5:41
  • It just add packages to the already installed. BTW, installation with Linux packages most probably will install an outdated version. To install a Full TeX Live distro, consider the vanilla installation, in /usr/local for instance. This will not replace anything, because installation and updates are beside the apt ecosystem, so before install it purge all texlive .deb packages.
    – Fran
    Sep 28, 2021 at 8:52

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Both texlive and texlive-full1 are meta-packages, which means that they don't have any files of their own and consist only of dependencies, i.e., these packages basically install the dependent packages and nothing else.

On the package details pages you can see that texlive has three packages, texlive-fonts-recommended, texlive-latex-base and texlive-latex-recommended. All three packages are also included in texlive-full, with many others. Therefore, when installing first texlive and then texlive-full, then the dependency checking for texlive-full will skip those three packages (because they are already installed) and install the others.

1The links are for the current Ubuntu LTS (20.04). This distribution contains TeX Live 2019, so two years behind the latest release (TL 2021). For normal use this is generally fine, however you might come across a new package or an answer here on TeX.SE that uses functionality which is not available in TL2019. On the other hand you will not have to deal with newly introduced errors, backwards/cross-package compatibility issues, and the need for frequent updates that vanilla users encounter (and at the point that Ubuntu starts packaging TL2021 these issues are likely to be mostly ironed out).

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