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Configuring LaTeX

Note: unless you're a heavy LaTeX user it's very unlikely that you'll need to know what's on this page. Proceed at your own risk!

Using non-system packages

If you use \usepackage{foo} latex will look for a file called foo.sty in one of several directories. It will use the first foo.sty it finds, displaying the location on screen. If you want to use packages that aren't centrally stored, you need to tell latex where the packages are. By default it will look in the current directory, but you may want to keep all your extra files elsewhere. The list of directories searched can be controlled using the TEXINPUTS environmental variable. If you type

   echo $TEXINPUTS

on a Unix system you'll see if/how it's been set for you. Mine is currently



  export TEXINPUTS=~/tex//:

before using latex will make latex search in your ~/tex/ directory before looking at system files. Note that in this context

  • '//' means 'search subdirectories recursively'.
  • if you miss out the first or final ':' only your files will be searched

If there's a file called ls-R in any of these directories it will contain a list of files under that directory. LaTeX will use this list rather than search the directories, so if you have many files under ~/tex/ you can speed things up by typing "mktexlsr ~/tex". This creates a ~/tex/ls-R file which lists all the files under the ~/tex/ directory so that latex doesn't have to do an extensive file search. You still need to modify the TEXINPUTS environmental variable as above, and you may also need to change the TEXMFDBS environmental variable - this controls where latex looks for ls-R files. Typing

  export TEXMFDBS=~/tex//:

should be enough.

Using texmf.cnf

When latex starts it reads configuration information from a file called texmf.cnf. You can find where that is by typing

   kpsewhich texmf.cnf

You may be able to override some of the parameters there by creating a texmf.cnf file of your own. For more information read the file - it's commented.


If files aren't being found or latex is slow you might want to try debugging. latex and associated programs make use of the same facility to search for files. You can run the facility independently to determine configuration details -

  • kpsewhich --show-path=ls-R - shows where ls-R files are sought.
  • kpsewhich --show-path=tex - shows where .tex files are sought.
  • kpsewhich -debug=32 packagename.sty - shows which packagename.sty file is used - and why.
  • kpsewhich --progname=latex packagename.sty - shows which packagename.sty file will be used by latex (different latex-related programs may use different paths)

Sysman notes

  • On SuSE machines, /sbin/conf.d/SuSEconfig.texlive is run at boot time (I think). This re-creates ls-R files etc.
  • The texmf.cnf file will indicate where local additions should go. Typing
        grep -m 1 TEXMFLOCAL $(kpsewhich texmf.cnf)
    should tell you where to put files.