The plain TeX format defines


This sets \showboxbreadth and \showboxdepth to \maxdimen, which is effectively 230−1 = 1,073,741,823.

But \showboxbreadth and \showboxdepth are “integer parameters”, so aren’t they supposed to be set to 231−1 = 2,147,483,647? Consider, say, an hbox containing 230−1 pairs of \kern1sp\kern-1sp (231−2 kern items).

1 Answer 1


Arguably, but latex follows plain tex here, \maxdimen is just standing for "something big" If you really have a box with more than 2^30 nodes the chance that you want to do \showbox output is... slim, so it makes little difference in practice, and back then saved using up tokens for another "big number".

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