Online LaTeX Editors

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The ShareLaTeX platform always requires that you register, and it comes with various pricing models. The free-of-charge version does not allow for collaborative project work with other registered users. The collaboration feature is part of the pay-to-play versions. These versions also maintain a document history for restoring earlier versions of a document, and they permit you to incorporate various online data storage services.

After registering and logging in, you can set up your first project. This can be done with an empty project, you can upload locally saved files, or if you are working with a paid version of the platform, also files from an online storage location. There are, in addition, a multitude of templates from which you can select a project. Figure 3 shows ShareLaTeX with the example from Listing 1.

Figure 3: The functions offered by the ShareLaTeX platform extend far beyond the requirements of a minimal example. This platform can even be used for complex projects.

The templates are primarily oriented to the needs of students and university faculty. Among other things, they include templates for bibliographies, books, theses, presentations, letters, resumes, business cards, class schedules, and barcodes. Many of the templates observe style guidelines for various colleges.

At its most basic, a project consists of a single LaTeX file. It can also contain multiple files and perhaps even images. There is a function for you to set up subfolders in a project where you can put things like images you have collected for storage.

The online editor ShareLaTeX offers a large variety of functions. One example would be tallying the word count for a project, something that is important in the university setting where there is often a minimum and maximum word count prescribed for an assignment. A spellcheck for various languages is also available. The autocomplete function simplifies use of the LaTeX commands. It would be great if there were a functions list that let you instantly add commands and LaTeX environments from the list.

The choices for generating a PDF file from your project include LaTeX, PDFLaTeX, XeLaTeX, and LuaLaTeX. ShareLaTeX also generates logfiles, which makes a search for errors easier. You can display the PDF file that has been generated with either the integrated viewer or with a locally installed PDF viewer. All of the documents that have been generated, as well as all of the project files, can be downloaded, so they can be archived locally.

The fee-based versions let you share projects with other registered users. You can decide whether these other users have read and write permissions. The documentation includes an introduction to LaTeX that is helpful for newbies and also a description of working with ShareLaTeX.

In general, ShareLaTeX makes a solid impression. Due to the template offering, it is especially well suited for academic clientele. It is too bad that collaborative work on projects is only available in the fee-based versions.


Like ShareLaTeX, Overleaf is also definitely better if you register. There are three price models to choose from. The free-to-use version limits the amount of online storage and the number of files per project, but it does support sharing projects with other users who can have read and write permissions. The fee-based versions let you integrate Dropbox, provide a document history for restoring earlier versions of documents, and let you secure a project. The platform offers student discounts.

As soon as you have registered and logged in, you can set up your first project. Depending on what you want, you can start with an empty project, upload locally stored files, or select from the large variety of templates. These include templates for articles, bibliographies, theses, books, presentations, calendars, resumes, and letters. Overleaf cooperates with the LaTeX Templates website [7], so you can open templates you find there directly in Overleaf.

A project consists of one or multiple LaTeX files and can also include images. subfolders inside of a project make file organization easier. The LaTeX editor integrates a preview, which displays changes to the LaTeX file in the completed document immediately (Figure 4). If you want to generate a PDF document from the project code, you can select from among LaTeX, PDFLaTeX, XeLaTeX, and LuaLaTeX. It is possible to download the generated PDF file, as well as the entire project.

Figure 4: Already in its free-use version, Overleaf makes it possible to collaboratively work on LaTeX documents and also use Git to synchronize project data between the server and local computer.

The fontspec [8] package lets you use several different fonts. Some well-known fonts are already available in Overleaf. You can upload your own from you computer. Comments are created in LaTeX files with the LaTeX command % or alternatively using a separate function in the editor that lets other users answer your comments.

The editor shows error messages as LaTeX runs. You can use the logfile to find the causes. An icon bar contains functions for use with editing and searches, as well as a small selection of LaTeX commands that you can insert with a press of the button. The autocomplete in LaTeX code makes it easier to use the commands. There is also a spellchecker for various languages.

Overleaf permits collaborative work even in the free-to-use version. Here the platform assigns three links to each project. One of these allows access for editing; the second contains a read permission. The third is a Git link via which you have the option of downloading project data from Overleaf as desired or synchronizing local changes to the project with the server(see the "Synchronizing Files with Git" box). The disadvantage is that anybody who knows the link has access to the project. Secured projects are those without links and are only available in the fee-based versions.

Synchronizing Files with Git

A Git link that is assigned to every Overleaf project allows the project to use Git [9] to synchronize between the server and a local computer. This makes it possible to also work on a project offline.

To synchronize, you should create or open a project and click in the header bar on the Share button. A dialog will appear where you will find the Git link for your project under the Clone With Git option. Now you should set up a local directory for the project using the mkdir from the command line and download the project from the server to this directory using:

git clone Git-Link

After making changes locally to the files, prepare them for the transfer to the server by using:

git commit -am "change"

Then you upload them with git push . If you have set up a new file locally that does not yet exist on the server, you can add it with git add <file> . Changes to the files on the server are downloaded to the local directory with git pull . Instead of using the command-line command, you can also use a graphical user interface for Git [10].

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