Five LaTeX editors for Linux in 2021

Today, we are going to learn about five different solutions for LaTeX editing on Linux (though many of the solutions below are actually cross-platform). What are the solutions available to us in this fine year of 2021? Let’s take a look:

1. LaTeX Workshop plugin for Visual Studio Code

For a long time, I used Vim with the VIM-LaTeX plugin (more on that below). But recently, I’ve switched to Visual Studio Code with James Yu’s LaTeX Workshop plugin. This plugin has many outstanding features like snippets, custom compilation, SyncTeX and reverse search, and PDF viewing. You also get all the power of Visual Studio Code’s excellent text manipulation facilities.

Visual Studio Code…yes, it’s from Microsoft

One downside is configuring a lot of it involves editing a configuration file. Also, Visual Studio Code doesn’t come with a spellchecker! I tried installing a few spellchecking plugins and none of them worked really well. And while Visual Studio Code is pretty, it is not lightweight and frequently makes my fans spin up.

Still, I like it.

2. Vim with VIM-LaTeX

The next option is the Vim editor with VIM-LaTeX. This is quite a powerful option with snippets. It has some really cool features like out of the box greek letter expansion, so typing a backtick+a gives you alpha, etc. It also must be configured using a text file but is pretty usable out of the box.

Vim. Enough said.

The only downside to this, aside from having to use the obscure Vim of course, is that Vim scrolls by line in file. But, in LaTeX files, paragraphs are lines in a text file. So if you’re scrolling through your file to read it over, it will scroll by paragraphs! It makes the scrolling really choppy. This isn’t a criticism of the plugin; rather, it is a feature of Vim. This annoying aspect of Vim is what made me switch to Visual Studio Code and LaTeX Workshop.

3. Texmaker

Texmaker is an all-in-one cross-platform solution. Meaning, you don’t need to download and editor and then install a bunch of random plugins hoping they work. It also has a ton of features that Visual Studio Code and Vim with their respective plugins lack. It has a toolbar of commonly used LaTeX symbols and a bunch of built-in document creation wizards (for Beamer presentations, letters, etc.). Basically, Texmaker helps you a lot with writing LaTeX by helping you with LaTeX commands visually. You can just click on symbols and discover ones you never knew existed.

Texmaker. I resized the program so it’s easier to see. It doesn’t usually look this cramped.

For beginners in LaTeX, Texmaker is far more user-friendly than both Visual Studio Code and Vim. (Well, Vim is never user-friendly. It eats kittens.)

In a similar vein, you might also like to check out TeXstudio a significant fork of Texmaker.

4. Gummi

The Gummi editor is a very basic LaTeX editor without many features. It just has syntax highlighting and some document compilation features. I think it is promising, and I like the fact that it is uncluttered and easy to get started, but larger projects might benefit from a more fully-featured editor.

The Gummi Editor. Cute name

5. LyX

I hesitated to include LyX. It is not just an editor but a complete document preparation system and it is WYSIWYG. So you type your document directly instead of editing LaTeX code. Therefore, it is a heresy to the one true sect of TeX. Just joking.

Actually, it is a little confusing if you’re used to using LaTeX code directly, but it might be beneficial to some, and some people actually really like it. So give it a try, if you dare.

Conclusion

If you want something that will help you with symbols and has most of the features you need built in, go with Texmaker or TeXstudio. Otherwise, go with LaTeX Workshop on Visual Studio Code.

7 Comments

  • Elizabeth Henning says:

    LyX is actually WYSIWYM, not WYSIWYG. Another “heretical” solution is to use some other document software that you like (word processor, markdown, rtf, etc.) and then use pandoc to export it to LaTeX when it’s at the point that it’s ready to typeset. Nerdcred aside, how often does someone else really need to get into your code?

    • Jason Polak says:

      Yes, you are technically correct about YM vs YG. I was wondering if someone was going to point that out.

      For me, it does not make sense to write documents in anything but LaTeX directly, and after learning it, it seems the most intuitive way to typeset documents. That’s why I didn’t even want to mention LyX. Also, with regard to code, at least I prefer having clean LaTeX code because it helps me get into it later…I do frequently have to access my documents. I have actually tried pandoc (for a different, non-math related project) and it was quite painful to figure out how it worked and get the LaTeX output just right.

      • Elizabeth Henning says:

        I use Scrivener and export via MultiMarkdown and once it’s set up it works fine. I really need the additional features of a complete writing environment to get anything done.

        A bigger problem from the standpoint of “conforming” is that I use Unicode mathematical characters instead of markup and compile with XeLaTeX. For some reason no one else seems to do this even though I think it makes a lot of sense. It’s certainly no harder to remember a codepoint than a LaTeX command.

        • Jason Polak says:

          Yes, PDFLaTeX’s biggest disadvantage is the lack of suppose for unicode. Typing in accents with commands like \’ really seems quite antiquated. But XeLaTeX works pretty much like regular LaTeX. Why do you use unicode math characters though? Just curious. Is it so that the exported output in Multimarkdown can be used directly? Quite an unusual workflow…if you do that, why use XeLaTeX in the first place instead of pandoc direct to PDF/HTML?

          • Elizabeth Henning says:

            I have a learning disability which makes it difficult for me to read markup, so ??? is much less painful than \alpha \otimes \beta. Another advantage is that Unicode math can be copied into anything without needing to be rendered.

            I also need to have a system that makes it possible for me to skip around and work on multiple things at once while keeping things organized. Plus, it’s helpful for me to be able to use a lot of color while I am writing. All of the text/LaTeX editors I know of are too much like just using a typewriter (but I’m open to suggestions).

            The main issue with using XeLaTeX is that not many mathematicians even know what it is and certainly don’t compile with it. And I think the arXiv *still* doesn’t accept XeLaTeX source files. I’m gratified that you’re asking–you have no idea how many times I’ve been told that I need to “get used to” writing in a LaTeX editor. People in other fields don’t believe me when I tell them about the judgment that gets dumped on me over something this trivial.

          • Jason Polak says:

            That definitely makes sense. Unfortunately, aside from LyX, most systems are text-editors-with-buttons. There is also Compositor for MacOS that is similar to LyX in its visual editing WYSIWY(G/M) style (not sure what it is really), though it doesn’t look like it offers colours and I haven’t tried it. It looks like with that program you still have to type some symbols, but they are then rendered.

  • Elizabeth Henning says:

    Hmm, ok, looks like your font is missing those characters.

    I forgot to answer your last question: Because I am required to produce “LaTeXed” output in order to pretend to be a normal human being.

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