Finessing LaTeX installations on Linux

TeX Live

For as long as I’ve used Linux,1 I’ve used TeX Live as my TeX distribution. The first time around, after consulting the internet (possibly this very helpful thread), I decided to just get everything I might ever need at once and installed texlive-full. But that’s criminally large, it took up 5 GB of space.2 So the second time around,3 I decided to install something smaller. Which brings us to the issue of installing the bits and pieces that eventually even the large and relatively comprehensive texlive-latex-extra lacks.4

The problem

There are a million ways the internet suggests one might install a single package. Well, this thread suggests four, anyways.

You might try to use tlmgr, which should be easy, because it’s built in to TeX Live. I tried it, but immediately ran into a wall of version incompatibilities. Installing packages specifically through apt seems plausible, but that means finding the package and hoping it’s not bundled with others I already have, creating chaos. Manual installation looks convoluted and painful, and I would sooner give in to texlive-full than download and pass more .sty files around (if that would even work generally).

So, I decided to figure out why tlmgr wasn’t working.5 Looks like apt’s Tex Live is older than the most up-to-date version. I didn’t like the idea of trying to install TeX Live with something other than apt,6 so I ruled that out. Then I found someone explaining how to tell tlmgr to use an older repository which matched the TeX Live version I have.7 First, you need to add the right repository for your version,

tlmgr repository add<year>/tlnet-final

then, set it as the default

tlmgr option repository<year>/tlnet-final

I don’t think you need to remove the old8 useless repository, but I did. You can see what it is with tlmgr list and remove it with tlmgr repository remove <repo>.

The only wrinkle here being you still need to know what the package is actually called, and that may well not be what you put in \usepackage{}. You may want to run tlmgr --verify-repo=none install <package> to avoid complaints.

Update: that this is the “only” wrinkle may have been a slight understatement. I needed9 LuaTeX for some slides I was working on, but while it was installed I got nothing but errors trying to use it. Eventually I figured out that this was a missing package, luaotfload, but tlmgr wouldn’t install it.10 In the end, an additional installation was required, sudo apt install texlive-luatex came with what was needed to make things work right.

  1. Well, as long as I’ve used it relatively seriously. We had a fling in high school, but I had even less idea what I was doing then than I do now. So, that is to say, not that long. 

  2. It didn’t help that I made poor sizing choices when partitioning, and gave / a mere 20 GB that filled up in no time at all. 

  3. When I finally stopped dragging my feet and updated to an OS that was going to be supported for more than another month or two. 

  4. I will not surrender and take the easy way out without at least a bit of smashing my head into walls. Even though re-partitioned to give myself more working room. 

  5. I know it was trying to tell me, but errors make more sense after you’ve figured out the meaning than when you’re staring at the output. 

  6. I have had too many weird updating issues on this computer to be cavalier about adding more to the pile. The software updater has never worked quite right. 

  7. It feels like this is something tlmgr should be able to figure out, if it knows the error’s cause, but who am I to argue? 

  8. Well, new, actually, but old as in “being replaced.” 

  9. I am very attached to Fira Sans, okay? With the Metropolis theme it makes for some very elegant slides. 

  10. Apparently tlmgr won’t do installations that require anything that doesn’t live in texmf-dist when in “user mode.” But that’s the only mode available on Ubuntu, so it’s a total nonstarter, despite what the devs say on GitHub. Yes I lost nearly two hours of my life to these less-than-transparent errors.