Mastering The Texmf Tree: A Guide To Latex File System Structures

Understanding the TEXMF Tree

The TEXMF tree is the centralized file system structure used by TeX distributions to organize LaTeX packages, fonts, documentation, and other files. Learning how to navigate and customize the TEXMF tree is essential for LaTeX power users who want finer control over their LaTeX setup.

The TEXMF file system contains key directories such as tex/, fonts/, and doc/ that dictate where certain files reside. Modifying your TEXMF tree involves creating local trees, setting environment variables, and registering new search paths. Best practices include localizing changes and avoiding conflicts with upstream TeX distributions.

Advanced usage scenarios are enabled by features like TeX Live's scheme-infraonly method and multi-user TEXMF trees on servers. Troubleshooting missing files or packages can be aided by tools like kpathsea debugging.

Key Directories in the TEXMF Structure

The tex/ Folder for TeX Inputs

The tex/ folder contains LaTeX macro packages (.sty files), LaTeX classes (.cls files), LaTeX template files (.tex files), and BibTeX files (.bib files). This folder organizes the vast collection of upstream LaTeX files and custom LaTeX files installed by the user.

Macro packages provide reusable LaTeX macros for formatting or functionality. Classes define the structure and design of LaTeX documents. Template files offer pre-built LaTeX documents that users can customize. Bibliographies are stored as .bib files holding reference metadata.

The fonts/ Folder for Fonts

The fonts/ folder houses font files in formats like PostScript (.pfb files), TrueType (.ttf files), and OpenType (.otf files). The LaTeX font search path relies on this folder to locate fonts used in documents.

Scalable PostScript and TrueType/OpenType fonts contain glyph outlines that are rendered at arbitrary sizes. Bitmap fonts like PK fonts (.pk files) are fixed-size fonts tuned for output resolution.

The doc/ Folder for Documentation

The doc/ folder stores documentation files related to LaTeX packages, classes, and fonts. Documentation types include package documentation (.dtx source files), rendered documentation (.pdf files), and text readme files.

Package documentation embedded as comments in .dtx files can be rendered to .pdf files using LaTeX. Standalone text readmes supplement documentation with additional details.

Customizing your TEXMF tree

Creating a Local TEXMF Tree

A local TEXMF tree lets users install custom LaTeX files without modifying the core TeX distribution. This approach avoids file conflicts and allows custom packages to persist across updates.

A TEXMF folder can be created in the user's home directory or other locations. Standard TEXMF sub-folders like tex/, fonts/, doc/ should be created to mirror the structure.

Setting the TEXMFHOME Environment Variable

The TEXMFHOME environment variable configures the root path to a user's local TEXMF tree. Setting this variable registers the custom TEXMF tree with the TeX file search process.

In Linux/macOS, TEXMFHOME can be set in shell config files like ~/.bashrc. In Windows, it can be set in the Environment Variables control panel.

Adding New Paths with kpathsea

The kpathsea library manages LaTeX file search paths. New user-defined TEXMF folders can be registered with kpathsea using the environment variable TEXMFLOCAL.

TEXMFLOCAL augments the main TEXMF search path without replacing critical directories. This allows custom package installs isolated from the system-level tree.

Best Practices for Modifications

Keeping Changes Localized

Limiting customizations to the user's local TEXMF tree and avoiding modifications to system-level TEXMF folders prevents issues. Importing system changes during TeX updates may lead to file conflicts or errors.

Local trees grant flexibility for users to install custom packages, fonts, and docs without administration rights or system config edits.

Avoiding Conflicts with TeX Distributions

Before installing custom files, check if they will conflict with existing packages/fonts in the TeX distribution. Name conflicts can cause issues with file loading order and overrides.

Use subdirectory structures like tex/latex/{user-folder} to namespace custom packages separately from system latex/. Check for font name conflicts as well.

Advanced Usage Scenarios

TeX Live’s scheme-infraonly Method

TeX Live offers a scheme-infraonly method to store packages centrally rather than duplicate them in each user's TEXMF tree. Central files are stored under /usr/local/texlive/texmf-local.

With scheme-infraonly set, only key infrastructure like font config and tex config files reside in the user's TEXMF tree. This reduces redundancy while facilitating file sharing.

Multi-user TEXMF Trees on Servers

Centralized multi-user TEXMF trees can be deployed on servers running LaTeX build jobs. This consolidates custom plugins, packages, and fonts in a common repo available system-wide.

Multi-user trees must balance customizations for publishing groups while avoiding conflicts. Access controls and change validation help manage shared resources.

Troubleshooting Issues with the TEXMF Tree

Debugging using kpathsea

kpathsea supports debugging modes to log search paths checked and files found/not-found during file lookups. Debug levels range from basic path info to advanced diagnostics.

Debug logs help identify missing folders in the search path or issues with file permissions. Mismatched bitness between library paths and executables can also cause "file not found" errors.

Resolving Missing Files and Packages

Common causes for missing files include invalid TEXMF paths, missing local texmf trees, and forgetting to refresh the FNDB. Running mktexlsr fixes the FNDB and locates new additions.

Check environment configs, verify custom TEXMF folders exist, check permissions, confirm FNDB rebuild, and inspect debug logs to pinpoint sources of missing file errors.

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