Getting Started with LaTeX

To work with LaTeX, you’ll need a way of compiling your .tex files to PDFs. You could just use the pdflatex program on the Andrew Unix servers (usage: pdflatex myfile.tex) to compile your PDFs, but then you’d have a tough time viewing PDFs.

Luckily, there are plenty of easier options for both online and offline development.

Online - ShareLaTeX

A lot of people at CMU use an online LaTeX client called ShareLaTeX. It’s incredibly easy to get started working on this site. Just create a free account, create a “New Project”, and you’ll bring up an editor where you can edit and compile your LaTeX side-by-side. It’s very quick and easy.


Unfortunately, sometimes the Internet goes down. If this happens when you’re doing your homework on ShareLaTeX at the last minute, you’re out of luck. However, we can install LaTeX locally so that we never run into this problem!


To install LaTeX on OS X, install MacTeX. It’s a huge (2.4GB) download, but it contains everything you need to do LaTeX offline. It comes with two major interfaces to compiling LaTeX.


This is a graphical LaTeX editor. It’s similar to ShareLaTeX in the sense that you get a side-by-side view of the LaTeX source and the PDF. It also contains a bunch of convenience menus for code snippets and templates.


MacTeX also installs the command line program pdflatex which compiles a LaTeX source file to a PDF. The usage is really simple:

$ pdflatex homework.tex

That command will generate the file homework.pdf in the same directory. Working offline on the command line has a lot of benefits. For more information on why it’s so cool, see this blog post.


Linux users can download LaTeX from their package manager if it isn’t installed already. The package is probably called texlive. On Debian/Ubuntu/Linux Mint and similar distros:

$ sudo apt-get install texlive

If you have a different system, you might have to Google to figure out the right package, but you’re probably responsible enough to figure it out.

You may also want to check out the above sections on OS X offline development for some LaTeX editing options.


If you’re on Windows, you should install MikTeX. TeXnicCenter is a good LaTeX editor for Windows.

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