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So you’ve been sent a TeX file: what are you going to do with it?
You can, of course, “just read it”, since it’s a plain text file,
but the markup tags in the document may prove distracting. Most of
the time, even TeX experts will typeset a TeX file before
attempting to read it.
So, you need to typeset the document. The good news is that TeX
systems are available, free, for most sorts of computer; the bad news
is that you need a pretty complete TeX system even to read a single
file, and complete TeX systems are pretty large.
TeX is a typesetting system that arose from a publishing project (see
“what is TeX
and its basic source is available free from its author. However, at
its root, it is just
a typesetting engine: even to view or to
print the typeset output, you will need ancillary programs. In short,
you need a TeX distribution
— a collection of
TeX-related programs tailored to your operating system: for details
of the sorts of things that are available, see
“commercial TeX distributions
But beware — TeX makes no attempt to look like the sort of
WYSIWYG system you’re probably used to (see
“why is TeX not WYSIWYG
while many modern versions of TeX have a compile–view cycle that
rivals the best commercial word processors in its responsiveness, what
you type is usually markup
, which typically defines a logical
(rather than a visual) view of what you want typeset.
So there’s a balance between the simplicity of the original
(marked-up) document, which can more-or-less be read in any
editor, and the really rather large investment needed to install a
system to read a document “as intended”.
Are you “put off” by all this? — remember that TeX is good at
producing PDF: why not ask the person who sent the TeX file
to send an PDF copy?
This answer last edited: 2012-10-10
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URL for this question: http://www.tex.ac.uk/cgi-bin/texfaq2html?label=readtex
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This is FAQ version 3.26, released on 2013-02-25.