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What is ConTeXt?

ConTeXt is a macro package created by Hans Hagen of Pragma-Ade; it started as a production tool for Pragma (which is a publishing company). ConTeXt is a document-production system based, like LaTeX, on the TeX typesetting system. Whereas LaTeX insulates the writer from typographical details, ConTeXt takes a complementary approach by providing structured interfaces for handling typography, including extensive support for colors, backgrounds, hyperlinks, presentations, figure-text integration, and conditional compilation. It gives the user extensive control over formatting while making it easy to create new layouts and styles without learning the TeX macro language. ConTeXt’s unified design avoids the package clashes that can happen with LaTeX.

ConTeXt also integrates MetaFun, a superset of MetaPost and a powerful system for vector graphics. MetaFun can be used as a stand-alone system to produce figures, but its strength lies in enhancing ConTeXt documents with accurate graphic elements.

ConTeXt allows users to specify formatting commands in English, Dutch, German, French, or Italian, and to use different typesetting engines (PDFTeX, XeTeX, Aleph and LuaTeX) without changing the user interface. ConTeXt continues to develop, often in response to requests from the user community.

The development of LuaTeX was originally driven by ConTeXt, almost from the start of its project. Nowadays, ConTeXt it is distributed in two versions — mark two (files with extension .mkii) which runs on PDFTeX but is not under active development, and mark four (files with extension .mkiv) (which runs on LuaTeX and is where development happens).

ConTeXt has a large developer community (though possibly not as large as that of latex), but those developers who are active seem to have prodigious energy. Support is available via a WIKI site and via the mailing list. A “standalone” distribution (a TeX distribution with no macros other than ConTeXt-based ones) is available from http://minimals.contextgarden.net/ — it provides a ConTeXt system on any of a number of platforms, executing either mark ii or mark iv ConTeXt.

Note that CTAN does not hold the primary distribution of ConTeXt — potential users should refer to ConTeXt ‘garden’ site for details of the current distribution. CTAN holds a copy of ConTeXt but makes no claim about its “up-to-date”ness. Likewise, CTAN holds a few contributed ConTeXt packages, but many more are to be found via the ConTeXt garden.

ConTeXt distribution
macros/context/current (or browse the directory); catalogue entry
ConTeXt packages selection
macros/context/contrib (or browse the directory)

This answer last edited: 2014-05-30


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This is FAQ version 3.28, released on 2014-06-10.