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Producing LaTeX documents

On this page, you will learn how to use BSD Owl Scripts to:

  • Produce simple LaTeX documents and publish them on the file system.
  • Install or publish LaTeX documents.
  • Produce LaTeX documents in various output formats.
  • Produce drafts of LaTeX documents.
  • Produce documents having more than one source file.
  • Produce documents including METAPOST figures.
  • Produce standalone figures with METAPOST.
  • Produce documents including BibTeX bibliographies
  • Produce an index for a LaTeX document.
  • Produce documents having parts that need to be automatically generated, like tables or database reports.
  • Deal with documents whose source spans across several directories.
  • Deal with a huge number of documents.

There is a useful program called latexmk whose functionality partially overlaps what BSD Owl Scripts offers. These tools are however built under distinct, complementary perpsectives. Indeed latexmk focuses on the very production of a document, while BSD Owl Scripts allows to integrate the production of this document in the context of the production of a full project. The integration of latexmk in BSD Owl Scripts is planned.

Foreword — Working with TeX or LaTeX

There is multiple TeX formats in use, plain TeX and LaTeX are examples of such formats. The LaTeX format enjoys a wide community of users, so the module is used in examples. However most of the following also applies to the module supporting plain TeX. It is easy to write a customised version of to support other TeX formats, if required. Some paragraphs in the sequel document mechanisms specific to, they are explicitly identified as such.

Produce simple LaTeX documents

Assume the file script.tex holds our manuscript. We put it in a directory dedicated to our document, and create a Makefile file (note the leading capital) with the following content:

DOCUMENT=		script.tex
.include ""

Our document's directory now contains the paper.tex file and the Makefile described above. We visit this directory with our shell and issue the make command:

% make
make build
===> Multipass job for script.pdf (aux)
latex script.tex
This is pdfeTeX, Version 3.141592-1.21a-2.2 (Web2C 7.5.4)
entering extended mode
LaTeX2e <2003/12/01>

If our manuscript has no error, we end up with the following object files in our working directory:

% ls
Makefile    script.log
script.aux  script.tex
script.pdf  script.toc

Once we are done with these objects, we can clean the directory with the make clean mantra:

% make clean
rm -f script.pdf script.log script.aux script.toc

Cleaning the directory is an optional step, but it prevents our storage and your archive media to end up filled with unused data, that can be quickly recreated on demand. While DVI files are usually very small, a few hundred kilobytes, the PS or PDF objects are often much larger.

Install or publish documents

Before we clean up your working directory with the make clean mantra, we may wish to store the document we created in some adequate place of the local file system. This step is called installation of our document, because it is analogous to the installation of a program we freshly compiled. We can require the installation of our document with the make install command, but we must first tell make which place is actually adequate. This is done by assigning the DOCDIR variable with the path to the directory we want our files to be copied to, as displayed by the following Makefile:

DOCUMENT=		script.tex
DOCDIR=			${HOME}/doc/report
.include ""

We can then proceed with the make install command:

% make install
install -d /home/michi/doc/report
install -o michi -g michi -m 440 script.pdf /home/michi/doc/report

In comparison with the manual approach for storing the object in a safe place with the cp command, we save retyping the target directory name the next time we update our document. But delegating this easy step to the Makefile has other benefits:

  • It eases the organisation of our document sources library.
  • It scales to a large number of documents, see Working with a large number of documents below.
  • In draft-mode, a time stamp identifying the compilation time or the last modification time is automatically added to the file name, see below.

Produce LaTeX documents in various output formats

The TeX tool chain is capable of producing electronic documents in several formats. Commonly used formats are DVI, PostScript (PS) and PDF. The TEXDEVICE variable governs the format of documents produced with the help of Its value is usually pdf, so that will produce a PDF file from our source. Other possible values are ps or dvi. If we configured a PostScript printer TEXPRINTER with the texconfig program, we also can use as a value in TEXDEVICE, it will instruct dvips to use the settings for TEXPRINTER when translating our DVI file to PostScript. It is also possible to list several output formats in TEXDEVICE, like dvi pdf ps.TEXPRINTER1 ps.TEXPRINTER2.

Produce drafts of LaTeX documents

Some formats or macros need our manuscript to be processed several times by TeX or LaTeX before we obtain the final version of our document. The module enforces multipass treatment of the manuscript, because LaTeX needs this to produce correct cross references created with label and ref commands within our document. The module will not do multiple treatment of our manuscript unless we set the variable MULTIPASS to a list of names, each element giving its name to a pass. The choice of these names does not have a real importance, as they are only displayed to the user.

In the early stages of existence of a document, updates are likely to be frequent and it is thus desirable to avoid the lengthy multiple passes processing. BSD Owl Scripts has a draft mode for this. To enable the draft mode, we add a statement USES+= draft to our Makefile, as shown by the following example:

DOCUMENT=		script.tex
USES+=			draft
.include ""

When we have finished polishing your manuscript, we can remove the USES+= draft assignment from the Makefile, our paper is then ready for a last make run producing the final version of our document. If we are satisfied with it, we can install it.

When working on a document, it might be useful to keep copies of the objects we produced at some special point of your work. For instance, picture ourselves sending a copy of our work to a friend. Our friend will read our paper with attention and send us back his comments, but in the meanwhile, we kept on improving our document. When we receive the comments of our friend, we will compare them to the document we sent him. It is therefore useful to keep a copy of it. The best way to do this is to use a RCS, a special software keeping track of the various revisions of a file. Those who do not use such a system and want to try one might be interested in git, especially if they are relying on EMails to organise your collaborative work.

When working with the USES+= draft setting, the name of installed documents is modified to display the time when make install was run. This should help to identify the produced version. If we use a git or subversion to keep track of the revision of our files, we should modify the USES+= draft statement to USES+= draft:git or USES+= draft:svn. If we do so, the time of the last commit and its identifier (the short hash for git and the revision number for subversion) is used to identify the produced version. This is much more useful than the time at which make install was run since it unambiguously identifies a state of our repository.

Produce documents having more than one source file

If we are working on a complex document, we certainly will split our sources into several files. Usually one file per chapter, or per section, plus a main file containing the preamble and many input statements to instruct LaTeX to read all of the files representing the document's contents.

Assume that our document is split into a main file galley.tex and two other files part1.tex and part2.tex. Our galley.tex certainly looks like this:


A suitable Makefile is then:

DOCUMENT=		galley.tex
SRCS=			part1.tex
SRCS+=			part2.tex
.include ""

Produce documents including METAPOST figures

Modules and comes with a nice support for METAPOST. This is something worth noting, since METAPOST is often the right tool to be used for drawing figures appearing in TeX documents, but support for it is missing in many GUI editors for LaTeX.

These modules assume that METAPOST source does not manipulate the values of the variables prologues, outputtemplate and outputformat. They set-up these variables so that:

prologues := 3;
outputtemplate := "%j-%c.mps";

These setting are appropriate when working with modern versions of METAPOST and the graphicx LaTeX package. The first declaration parametrises the inclusion of fonts in the output, while the second reconfigures the names used for output.

Assume we prepared illustrations for our article with METAPOST, and split our illustrations into two files and To let handle the production of our figures, we add SRCS statements to your Makefile:

DOCUMENT=		galley.tex
SRCS=			part1.tex
SRCS+=			part2.tex
.include ""

We then type in make at the shell prompt. The will figure out how many illustrations are present in each file, and produce the image files required by our TEXDEVICE. For instance, if our TEXDEVICE is pdf, and contains two figures introduced by beginfig(1) and beginfig(2), we end up with four files

% ls *.{mps,pdf}

The files ending in .mps are intermediary files in PostScript format, and the remaining ones are PDF files suited for inclusion in our document.

Using the graphicx package, inclusion is as easy as it should be:


Discovering METAPOST. It seems that many people do not know about METAPOST. For those interested in discovering it, the first good news is that this program is included by many (if not all) TeX distributions, hence it is probably already available on their system. The second good news is that they can easily find plenty of information and examples of its use on the WWW. For instance, the TeX users group has a page on its website devoted to this tool. The list they will find there is pretty long, so let me add that I especially like the introduction written by André Heck, it might also be a good starting point for them.

Produce standalone figures with METAPOST

The module allows the creation of METAPOST pictures in the following formats: Encapuslated PostScript, PDF, PNG and SVG. Assume that we prepared two series of illustrations in files and and we want to produce them in each of the aforementioned formats. The corresponding Makefile is:

MPDEVICE=		eps pdf png svg
.include ""

Produce documents including BibTeX bibliographies

BSD Owl Scripts support the preparation of bibliographies with BibTeX. First, we must be sure that the program TeX will find the bibliographic databases we enumerated in our document with bibliography statements. It is customary to gather these bibliographic databases in some directory, for instance ${HOME}/share/bib. To let BibTeX find these files, it is enough to add ${HOME}/share/bib to the content of the variable BIBINPUTS. If our bibliographic databases are scattered among several directories, we just need to let each of them appear in the value of the variable BIBINPUTS:

DOCUMENT=		galley.tex
SRCS=			part1.tex
SRCS+=			part2.tex
BIBINPUTS=		${HOME}/share/bib
BIBINPUTS+=		${.CURDIR}/morebib
USES+=			bibtex
.include ""

We note that the make clean mantra will leave intact the BBL file produced by BibTeX. This is because we sometimes need to send this file to our publisher rather than an unprocessed BibTeX database. Hence the make clean or make distclean will leave our document's directory in the state we want to have it when we want to redistribute it. To get rid of the BBL file as well, we need to use the more powerful mantra make realclean.

Produce an index for a LaTeX document

If an index must be prepared for a LaTeX document with the program makeindex a USES+=index statement must be added to the Makefile, as displayed by the following example:

DOCUMENT=		galley.tex
SRCS=			part1.tex
SRCS+=			part2.tex
USES+=			index
.include ""

Several documents in the same directory

While it is often a good idea to reserve a directory for each of your documents, we might have some reasons to keep several documents in the same directory. We have your reasons and they are probably good ones, so BSD Owl Scripts will do its best to help us.

We assume that we have two documents whose sources are living in the same directory, let's say an article and an abridged version of this article. These manuscripts share a macro file macro.tex, but are otherwise rather independent from LaTeX's point of view. The text of the article is split across two files, section1.tex and section2.tex. The abridged version has just one text file summary.tex. The Makefile we use looks like this:

DOCUMENT=		article.tex
DOCUMENT+=		summary.tex

SRCS=			macros.tex

SRCS.article.tex=	section1.tex
SRCS.article.tex+=	section2.tex

.include ""

Produce documents having automatically generated parts

Assume we are working on a document containing a table whose content is likely to change several times and will need to be updated. Such a table could be a budget: when the corresponding project evolves, so does the budget. It can be quite tedious to type in a table in LaTeX, and updating it might even be trickier. In such a situation, it is a good idea to write a program reading the raw data of our table and writing a LaTeX table displaying our data and everything we want to compute from it. Such a program is usually very easy to write, because we only need to deal with text files all of the time. The awk programming language could be a natural choice here but actually, almost any programming language would fit pretty neatly.

So we have gathered the raw data of our table in the file table.raw and written a small filter gentable that will read that table data and write for us a LaTeX table on its standard output. In our manuscript, we use the name table to refer to the file containing the generated table. Here is our Makefile:

DOCUMENT=		galley.tex

table.tex: gentable table.raw
	./gentable < table.raw > table.tex


.include ""

If we send your files to someone else, he will maybe not want to run our program gentable, so it is better to list table.tex in REALCLEANFILES rather than in CLEANFILES: we can clean your directory with make clean, archive its contents and send the archive to someone else without handling the generated table.tex in a special way.

Of course, we can compute some text or a METAPOST picture, or pretty-print a piece of code, or whatever, instead of generating a table!

Note that if you take advantage of the OBJDIR feature of BSD Owl Scripts, the production rule for table.tex should actually be:

table.tex: gentable table.raw
	${.CURDIR}/gentable < ${.ALLSRC:M*.raw} > ${.TARGET}
.include ""

The special variables .CURDIR, .ALLSRC and .TARGET are aware of the mechansisms involved in the use of OBJDIR.

Deal with documents whose source spans across several directories

Some workflows may prescribe that our source files are not located in a single directory, but disseminated across the file system.

A reason for doing this could be that our organisation uses a custom document class for its letters, where some picture appears. We do not want to copy the picture file in each of the folders hosting our letters, nor do we want to have a symbolic link to the picture in each of our directories because the file is irrelevant to our work: we just want to not even know anything about the existence of this picture. The solution to this problem is to rely on the TEXINPUTS variable, its content is a list of directories searched by TeX for its input files.

Another reason motivating the dissemination of source files in several directories could be the preparation of a large document such as a book. If the files for each chapter are in separated directories, it is easy to process an isolated chapter with LaTeX during the preparation of the manuscript, for the purpose of proofreading. TeX must find all these files when it processes the main file including all the chapters, which is achieved by setting TEXINPUTS to an appropriate value, as explained in the sequel.

We can set the TEXINPUTS variable in our environment or in our Makefile, or even write a custom Makefile template including this setting. The role of this variable for TeX is pretty similar to the role of the PATH environment variable for the shell.

Assume that the picture visually impersonating our organisation is saved in ${HOME}/share/texmf/tex/organisation/visual.eps. In order to let TeX look for files in the folder containing the picture, we add a TEXINPUTS statement to our Makefile, like this:

DOCUMENT=		galley.tex
TEXINPUTS=		${HOME}/share/texmf/organisation
.include ""

If we now run make in the folder containing this Makefile, we will see an output similar to the following in our terminal:

% make
make build
===> Multipass job for galley.pdf (aux)
env TEXINPUTS=".:${HOME}/share/texmf/organization:" pdflatex galley.tex
This is pdfeTeX, Version 3.141592-1.21a-2.2 (Web2C 7.5.4)

Let us take a look at the TEXINPUTS assignment which is part of the env command. Its difference with respect to the declaration in the Makefile above means that TeX will also look for files in the current directory (this is what the initial dot stands for) and all standard TeX locations (this is what the final colon stands for).

If we want to have absolute control on the value of TEXINPUTS, we must add the assignment USES+=texinputs:strict in our Makefile. If it reads this statement BSD Owl Scripts will refrain from adding the initial dot and the final colon to our TEXINPUTS declaration.

The supporting macros for METAPOST also understand TEXINPUTS and USES+=texinputs:strict. There is an analogous variable MPINPUTS governing the look up of METAPOST input files, it is accompanied with an USES+=mpinputs:strict option. If we want to have our TeX program and our METAPOST program to be run with different values for TEXINPUTS, we can pass the correct value to METAPOST through the MPTEXINPUTS variable, this variable is also accompanied by an USES+=mptexinputs:strict option.

Deal with a huge number of documents

We demonstrate how to use the module to organise a collection of documents. For the purpose of the example, we assume that we are preparing an electronic journal and want to distribute each article of the journal as a separate electronic document. We use the following simple organisation:

  1. We prepare a directory holding each issue of our journal, for instance ~/journal.

  2. Each issue of the journal is represented by a subdirectory.

  3. Each article of the journal is represented by a subdirectory of the directory corresponding to the issue it belongs to.

Assume we already have several articles, as demonstrated by the following commnad output:

% find ./journal -type f

Names like galdal, arathlor are the names of fictional authors of articles of our journal. Each submission has a directory containing the text article.tex of the article and a Makefile similar to those described on this page which can be used to build the matching article.

Each of these Makefiles can actually be as simple as

DOCUMENT=		article.tex
.include ""

To orchestrate the preparation of all our articles with BSD Owl Scripts we just need to write additional Makefiles:


Each Makefile basically contains the list of subdirectories where make should descend to actually build, install or clean. So the file ./journal/Makefile should contain:

PACKAGE=		journal

SUBDIR=			issue-2013-1
SUBDIR+=		issue-2013-2
SUBDIR+=		issue-2013-3
.include ""

The file ./journal/issue-2013-1/Makefile should contain:

SUBDIR=			01-galdal
SUBDIR+=		02-arathlor
.include ""

The remaining files ./journal/issue-2013-2/Makefile and ./journal/issue-2013-3/Makefile can be similarly prepared. With these settings, the targets all, build, clean, distclean, realclean and install are delegated to Makefiles found in the subdirectories listed by SUBDIR.

The variable SUBDIR_PREFIX can be used to define a customised installation path for each article, so that the Makefile building a document could be

DOCUMENT=		article.tex
DOCDIR=			${HOME}/publish/journal${SUBDIR_PREFIX}
.include ""

With this setting, the document ./journal/issue-2013-1/01-galdal/article.pdf will be installed as ${HOME}/publish/journal/issue-2013-1/01-galdal/article.pdf and so on. It is possible to tweak this in all possible ways to use arbitrary naming schemes for installed articles.

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