There is a commit on pgf that removes useless % at the end of lines. This commit appears to have broken pgf-plots. Why is this? User hmenke states that

the fact that it worked previously is a bug.

and provides a fix, but I don't understand what's going on.

% is the marker for comments, so how could an extra % at the end of a line change the behavior of a program? Why did theis extra % cause pgf-plots to work?

  • 1
    This fix broke pgfplots because it stopped expanding something that was accidentally expanded previously. Apr 23 at 8:41

2 Answers 2


Old version before the fixes you mention.

  \advance\tikz@expandcount by -1%
    \tikzerror{Giving up on this path. Did you forget a semicolon?}%

What's the problem? When \tikz@expand is expanded, TeX finds (line breaks just not to produce a too long line)

\advance\tikz@expandcount by -1\ifnum\tikz@expandcount<0\relax
\tikzerror{Giving up on this path. Did you forget a semicolon?}

and its processing rules require that \ifnum is expanded because there might be another digit coming along. What happens? Suppose the current value of \tikx@expandcount is 2. Then the \ifnum test returns false and TeX sees

\advance\tikz@expandcount by -1\else\let\pgfutil@next=\tikz@@expand\fi

Note that the \advance instruction is still pending. Now `\else is expanded and TeX sees

\advance\tikz@expandcount by -1\let\pgfutil@next=\tikz@@expand\fi

No digit comes along and the \advance instruction is finalized. Then TeX proceeds with


Suppose, on the contrary, that the value of \tikz@expand is 0. The \ifnum test will return false, because the \advance instruction hasn't been finalized yet. The wrong path would be followed! Indeed \pgfutil@next would become \tikz@@expand instead of the wanted \tikz@finish after the error message.

How to correctly write that code?

  \advance\tikz@expandcount by -1
    \tikzerror{Giving up on this path. Did you forget a semicolon?}%

Note that I removed the useless \relax, which can be simply replaced with a space (the endline). The rule when TeX is looking for a number is that the search for digits proceeds with macro expansion and ends when something unexpandable that's not a digit is found. A space is not a digit and TeX will gobble it (it won't gobble any other token in the same situation).

Using % characters in other places (where I removed them) denotes poor command of TeX's syntax rules.


The end of the line is in this context space for TeX. When there is space after a number, TeX knows that it is a point to stop reading the number parameter (well, \relax is a stronger option). In the other case, TeX may assume that also the next command is, e.g., a part of the argument.

  • Thank you. And how is the % at the end of the line interpreted?
    – usernumber
    Apr 23 at 6:53
  • @usernumber It comments out everything, including the end of the line (which in this case cannot be interpreted as space). Apr 23 at 6:55

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