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When I started using a unix based system it was very natural to install MacTeX, since the installation of it is more "windows-like", though the installation package is huge. Later I was introduced to MacPorts, and recently Homebrew, which also provide easy ways of installing LaTeX on my system. However, I find myself unable to distinguish the practical differences between these alternatives and argument for using one or the other.

  1. Does MacTeX, MacPorts and Homebrew provide different versions of LaTeX?
  2. Downloading and maintaining tex-libraries with MacTeX is quite easy and automatized through the TexLive utility. Are there similar solutions if one choose to install LaTeX with MacPorts or Homebrew?
  3. Are there advantages/disadvantages with using one or the other solution?
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5 Answers 5

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It is possible to install MacTeX with homebrew using Homebrew Cask via

$ brew tap caskroom/cask
$ brew cask install mactex

Since that basically downloads the MacTeX.pkg from ctan it should not be different from the usual manual installation.

If you would like to install without the GUI, you can

$ brew cask install mactex-no-gui

[edit] Homebrew 2.2.6

Skip the brew tap caskroom/cask or the following error occures:

Error: caskroom/cask was moved. Tap homebrew/cask-cask instead.

If you do what it's says, you will get:

Error: caskroom/cask-cask was moved. Tap homebrew/cask-cask-cask instead.

You can continue to do what it tells you, until you realize that you should look for help online. I think it is a fun, yet unhelpful error message, maybe there is a good reason for it. Just go ahead and do

$ brew cask install mactex

Edit 2021

brew has once again changed its syntax for this. You should now be using

$ brew install --cask mactex
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  • 10
    The only benefit here is remembering that you have it installed on your system, and having an easy, one-command way of uninstalling it again later: brew cask uninstall mactex. Jan 21, 2016 at 3:25
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    (The basictex package is also available.) Jan 21, 2016 at 3:26
  • basictex doesn't contain morderncv for instance
    – Dorian
    Mar 19 at 21:34
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  1. Homebrew does not provide any version of LaTeX:

    $ brew search latex
    latex-mk     latex2html   latex2rtf    pplatex      rtf2latex2e
    
    If you meant `latex' precisely:
    
    Installing TeX from source is weird and gross, requires a lot of patches,
    and only builds 32-bit (and thus can't use Homebrew deps on Snow Leopard.)
    
    We recommend using a MacTeX distribution: http://www.tug.org/mactex/
    

    Macports' texlive port and MacTeX are both based on the latest TeXlive distribution, MacTeX is very complete (https://www.tug.org/mactex/whatsinthepackage.html) whereas you have much more granularity with all the texlive-* ports of macports (https://www.macports.org/ports.php?by=name&substr=texlive).

  2. With macports, all the above mentioned packages can be installed/updated through the usual port install and port update commands. However, if you need a package that is not pre-packaged by macports then you get absolutely no help (but I doubt that there are many).

  3. I used to use the macport-based texlive distribution, since it allowed me to avoid downloading stuff I didn't need (BibDesk or Excalibur for instance). Now I'm using homebrew and MacTeX, which is better integrated with MacOS X in general (fonts for instance). Disk-space (bandwidth) vs. integration.

Basically both are good solutions so it mostly depends on what else you do… I switched from macports to homebrew for reasons not at all related to TeX, hence my switch in TeX providers.

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  • 4
    With respect to the reasoning behind Homebrew dropping its tex-live formula, read github.com/mxcl/homebrew/issues/1087 May 15, 2013 at 19:16
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    This post is no longer accurate. brew uninstall --force brew-cask; brew update; brew cask install Caskroom/cask/mactex
    – Tommy
    Mar 29, 2016 at 14:08
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    Update 2020: brew cask install mactex is what the search command tells you to do now.
    – ayman
    Jun 7, 2020 at 22:47
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I just installed MacTeX with homebrew.

brew install Caskroom/cask/mactex

That provided me with /Application/TeX, containing TeXShop program and the utilities.

However, I am missing the pdflatex tool from command line, and that also produces errors in the TeXShop program:

After searching a little bit around, I found out that the missing utilities were actually bundled with MacTeX, and located in Library/TeX/Distributions/.DefaultTeX/Contents/Programs/texbin.

Great! I will just create a symbolic link to from that location to /usr/texbin. Turns out that I cannot (even with root), create files in /usr on a modern Macintosh (since El Capitan), because of the System Integrity Protection. I considered disabling it with csrutil, but choose rather to try to symlink the required binaries into /usr/local/bin.

ln -s /Library/TeX/Distributions/.DefaultTeX/Contents/Programs/texbin/pdflatex /usr/local/bin 

Did the trick for me.

*note I found a issue in the brew/caskroom repo that might be related. https://github.com/caskroom/homebrew-cask/issues/20592 Feel free to update this answer if it gets fixed

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  • If you want to use TeXShop, just change the Path Settings under Engine in Preferences to /Library/TeX/texbin.
    – Holene
    Apr 20, 2016 at 8:33
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I installed LaTeX with MacPorts as an experiment. It seems to be working really well. I installed the main packages with:

sudo port install texlive texlive-latex-extra

which got most of it and took around 15 minutes.

I like to use TeXShop so I installed that as well:

sudo port install texshop3

which requires some reconfiguration to work with the MacPorts LaTeX. In its preferences, in the Engine tab I change the path for both (pdf)TeX and Distiller (ghostscript) to /opt/local/bin. In the Misc tab I changed the names of the Tex and Latex programs to xetex and xelatex respectively.

(I also changed the default encoding to UTF-8).

2021 Update: These days, I use brew, following the instructions in the answer above.

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Talking about MacPorts:

  1. Are there advantages/disadvantages with using one or the other solution?

Advantage of MacPorts

Its latex integrates better & easier with other MacPorts packages. Especially, if you already use MacPorts, sticking to the MacPorts package makes it easy to maintain your ecosystem (like upgrading / uninstalling dependencies).

Moreover, you can save a lot of disk space by having more fine-grained control over which TeX packages you install. Homebrew-Cask just grabs the whole mactex distribution which can consume ~15GB on disk. With Macports on the other hand, you can consume less than 1GB or just a few GB depending on what you install. It's certainly more lightweight.

Disadvantage of MacPorts

On the other hand, a disadvantage is that some apps cannot find the latex software suit, as @Manuel commented.

I've got errors (something works from terminal, but not from TeXWorks, TeXShop, TextMate, …)

To overcome this, you need to set the (la)tex paths manually. Some apps let you set paths in Settings menu, while for others you may put the correct paths in ~/.profile and launch the apps from Terminal.app.

Another problem, as @Alan mentioned, is that managing packages absent in MacPorts is tricky. I'd install these extra packages inside my user directory to keep them separate from MacPorts.

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  • 3
    I could put more information on advantages and disadvantages of MacTex / MacPorts (or Homebrew) if someone thinks its worth.
    – Dean
    May 12, 2016 at 4:11

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