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Finding (La)TeX files

Modern TeX distributions contain a huge array of various sorts of files, but sooner or later most people need to find something that’s not in their present system (if nothing else, because they’ve heard that something has been updated).

But how to find the files?

Modern distributions (TeX Live and MiKTeX, at least) provide the means to update your system “over the net”. This is the minimum effort route to getting a new file: ‘simply’ find which of the distributions ‘packages’ holds the file in question, and ask the distribution to update it. The mechanisms are different (the two distributions exhibit the signs of evolutionary divergence in their different niches), but neither is difficult — see “using MiKTeX for installing” and “using TeX Live for installing”.

There are packages, though, that aren’t in the distribution you use (or for which the distribution hasn’t yet been updated to offer the version you need).

Some sources, such as these FAQ answers, provide links to files: so if you’ve learnt about a package here, you should be able to retrieve it without too much fuss.

Otherwise, the CTAN sites provide searching facilities, via the web: at Dante with http://dante.ctan.org/search.html, at Cambridge with http://www.tex.ac.uk/search.html.

Two search mechanisms are offered: the simpler search, locating files by name, simply scans a list of files (FILES.byname — see below) and returns a list of matches, arranged neatly as a series of links to directories and to individual files.

The more sophisticated search looks at the contents of each catalogue entry, and returns a list of catalogue entries that mention the keywords you ask for.

An alternative way to scan the catalogue is to use the catalogue’s “by topic” index; this lists a series of topics, and (La)TeX projects that are worth considering if you’re working on matters related to the topic.

In fact, Google, and other search engines, can be useful tools. Enter your search keywords, and you may pick up a package that the author hasn’t bothered to submit to CTAN. If you’re using Google, you can restrict your search to CTAN by entering

site:ctan.org tex-archive <search term(s)>

in Google’s “search box”. You can also enforce the restriction using Google’s “advanced search” mechanism; other search engines (presumably) have similar facilities.

Many people avoid the need to go over the network at all, for their searches, by downloading the file list that the archives’ web file searches use. This file, FILES.byname, presents a unified listing of the archive (omitting directory names and cross-links). Its companion FILES.last07days is also useful, to keep an eye on the changes on the archive. Since these files are updated only once a day, a nightly automatic download (perhaps using rsync) makes good sense.


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URL for this question: http://www.tex.ac.uk/cgi-bin/texfaq2html?label=findfiles

Comments, suggestions, or error reports? - see “how to improve the FAQ”.

This is FAQ version 3.27, released on 2013-06-07.