Alternatives To The Latex Minimal Class For Minimal Working Examples

Getting Started with Minimal LaTeX Document Classes

When creating a new LaTeX document, the standard document class used is typically the article class. However, for creating a minimal working example to demonstrate LaTeX capabilities or troubleshoot issues, the base article class contains more code than necessary.

Using a more lightweight document class alternative for your minimal example can simplify compilation and reduce package conflicts. In this article, we will cover the problems with using the standard LaTeX article class as a minimal working example, overview some common lightweight alternative classes, discuss configuring document metadata and customization options, talk about compilation methods, and make recommendations for different use cases when crafting minimal LaTeX documents.

The Problem with the Standard LaTeX Article Class

The base article document class in LaTeX provides a general structure and layout for preparing manuscripts and papers with sections, headings, tables, figures, and other common components. However, for demonstrating a LaTeX concept where document structure is not the focus, including all settings and parameters of the article class introduces excessive code.

Specifically, the article class contains definitions for font sizes, margins, spacings, floats, bibliographies, and more that are not necessary in a minimal working example. This can obscure the key concepts you want to showcase and introduce dependency issues if incompatible packages are loaded.

Additionally, the article class is geared heavily towards academic papers and typesetting documents for print rather than digital distribution. It may enforce two-column layouts, odd page headers, and other attributes not ideal for online LaTeX examples.

Lightweight Alternatives to the Article Class

There are a number of alternative LaTeX classes that provide only bare essential document structure without all the extras in the article class. Some popular options include:

The memoir Class

The memoir class is designed to provide a foundation for writing books and longer documents like theses and advanced technical documents. As such, it does not set margins, fonts, headers, or other attributes, leaving you with only the core components needed to structure sections, paragraphs, and basic typesetting elements.

The tufte-book Class

Inspired by Edward Tufte's principles on information design, the tufte-book class omits all page layout defaults and provides an unstyled document with structural elements for crafting documents optimized for explaining complex information.

The scrartcl Class

From the KOMA-script bundle, scrartcl offers a simplified article class alternative without many of the traditional documentclass settings. It leaves styling almost entirely up to the user, while providing sectioning, paragraphs, and font handling.

For even lighter weight classes with nearly no configuration, options like minimal and standalone are also sometimes used for focused LaTeX examples.

Configuring Document Metadata

When using a minimal document class, metadata like the title, author, and date may need to be specified where the article class would define them. This depends on if and how the document class handles them by default.

The \title, \author, and \date Commands

Most classes provide \title, \author, and \date commands to set this document info separate from preamble class configuration. You can include these in your example heading area to demonstrate metadata handling explicitly.

The \maketitle Command

To generate a formatted title area from the metadata set with \title, \author, and \date, the \maketitle command can be used where you want this content to display.

Adding Custom Packages and Styles

Since minimal classes avoid setting defaults, you'll likely need to include some additional packages and CSS files to demonstrate styling and formatting capabilities in context.

The datetime Package

To expand date formatting provided by \date, add the datetime package. It offers additional date display options to better adapt to locales and preferred styles.

The hyperref Package

Nearly any LaTeX example for online use will benefit from adding the hyperref package for cross references and links. Be sure to include this early in your preamble to avoid issues.

A Layout Package

A layout package like geometry allows configuring page margins and paper size without a configured documentclass. This helps set the dimensions for display styling and formatting.

A CSS Preamble File

When publishing LaTeX online with htlatex or tex4ht, having a CSS file allows styling without LaTeX macros. Link this in your document preamble before hyperref to make styling easier.

Compiling Minimal LaTeX Documents

With fewer packages and configurations, minimal LaTeX files should process faster. But you still need an appropriate LaTeX engine and compile tools suited to output goals, whether print or online content.

LaTeX Engines

Using an engine like pdfLaTeX for PDFs and direct LaTeX for simplified DVI output removes overhead needed for more advanced features. Luatex and xetex offer Unicode and modern font support if needed.

LaTeX Compliation Tools

Prefer makefiles, latexmk, or simple command chains to manage document processing. Avoid higher level tools like TeXworks or LaTeX editors that add code not strictly needed for a minimal example.

Tex4ht for HTML Output

To publish minimal examples online with styles, tex4ht config files help LaTeX integrate with HTML and CSS. This avoids LaTeX only visual formatting.

Troubleshooting Issues with Minimal Classes

Using a minimal document class can introduce different issues than the standard article class. Here are some common problems and solutions.

Unknown Metadata Errors

Without defined title, author, and date values, errors may occur. Make sure to set metadata with \title, \author, and \date commands.

Missing Class Options

If sections, paragraphs, fonts, or other expected output doesn't display properly, the document class may lack key options enabled. Refer to package documentation for available options.

Style and Layout Problems

Since style is not set by default, formatting and style issues require explicitly adding CSS, layout packages, themes and style files to configure display as needed.

Recommendations for Different Use Cases

Depending on the specific purpose and output requirements, some minimal class choices and customizations work better than others.

Code Examples

For demonstrating LaTeX macro usage, layout and styling needs are low. The standalone or minimal classes speed compile times and simplify previews.

Package Documentation

When showing a new package in use, include real-world metadata via \title and \author. Use SCRartcl for section structure with geometry for sizing.

Templating and Style

To showcase styling capabilities, a CSS file imported into the memoir class with dummy text and sections works well to demonstrate templates.

Formatting Examples

For focused examples outputting PDFs, memoir with common font, math, and table packages gives reliable text and layout control.

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