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One can reasonably say that PDFTeX is (today) the main stream of
TeX distributions: most LaTeX and many ConTeXt users nowadays use
PDFTeX whether they know it or not (more precisely, they use
PDFTeX extended by
So what is PDFTeX?
PDFTeX is a development of TeX that is capable of generating
typeset PDF output in place of DVI. PDFTeX has
other capabilities, most notably in the area of fine typographic
detail (for example, its support for
optimising line breaks
but its greatest impact to date has been in the area of
PDFTeX started as a topic for Hàn The Thành’s Master’s thesis,
and seems first to have been published in TUGboat
18(4), in 1997
(though it was certainly discussed at the TUG’96 conference in
While the world was making good use of “pre-releases” of PDFTeX,
Thành used it as a test-bed for the micro-typography which was the
prime subject of his Ph.D. research. Since Thành was finally
awarded his Ph.D., day-to-day maintenance and development of
PDFTeX 1.0 (and later) has been in the hands of a group of
PDFTeX maintainers (which includes Thành); the group has managed
to maintain a stable platform for general use.
Development of PDFTeX has mostly stopped (only bug fixes, and
occasional small development items are processed): future development
is focused on LuaTeX
This answer last edited: 2011-05-28
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This is FAQ version 3.28, released on 2014-06-10.