Getting Started: Install Tectonic

Let’s start out by making sure that Tectonic is installed on your system.

Even this step will be very different than what you might be used to with other TeX systems. To install a normal TeX system such as TeXLive, you normally need to download gigabytes of support files and set them up in a complex directory hierarchy. Tectonic, on the other hand, is distributed as a single executable file. That one file not only combines the functionality of many standard TeX programs, it also can download the many necessary support files on the fly. This makes Tectonic super easy to install.

The quickest way to get started is to download the latest release from GitHub, or to install a packaged version if one is available. If you’d like to see detailed instructions, go to the How To Install Tectonic guide. But the short version of the GitHub approach is that you should:

  1. Click through to the most recent non-preview release
  2. Download the .tar.gz or .zip file that corresponds to your computer’s operating system and CPU type
  3. Unpack that archive to obtain the tectonic executable file. (Or, tectonic.exe on Windows.)
  4. Put that file in the appropriate location so that you can easily run it from your computer’s command prompt.

That’s all there is to it! You’ll know that you’re set up when you can go to your computer’s command prompt and run:

$ tectonic --help

and the result is that you get a printout of information about different options and arguments that you can pass to the Tectonic program. (Here and elsewhere we’ll use a convention of a leading $ to indicate a command that you should run at your computer’s command prompt. You don’t type the dollar sign itself.)

To be explicit, Tectonic does not invoke an external latex program, and Tectonic is not a “wrapper” for (La)TeX. Tectonic is the LaTeX program. This is essential. The goals of the Tectonic project involve a fundamental transformation of how we use TeX to create technical documents, and it is not possible to achieve that without radical surgery to the heart of how TeX has traditionally operated.