Making TeX Simple With TexPad

In one of my previous articles, I wrote about LyX, an easy way to produce documents in TeX without any prior knowledge of the typesetting language. However, for anyone with a knowledge of TeX, LyX can seem a little limited in its functionality and can, sometimes, be complicated to use. To really appreciate the power of TeX and what it can really do (especially if you do a lot of writing), it is worth taking some time out and learning the typesetting language (which is a lot simpler than it actually seems!).

There are quite a few TeX editors out there for the Mac however most of them are simply ports of native Windows or Linux editors and don’t really make use of OS X’s design and functionality. However, this has now changed. Independent developers Valleta Ventures have come up with TexPad, a native TeX editor for OS X with some handy features that make TeX editing a breeze. Let’s take a closer look.

Getting Started

TexPad is available exclusively from the Mac App Store and works on all Macs running OS X 10.6 and upwards. Before you start running TexPad, you will need a TeX distribution installed on your Mac which helps process and render the documents. A good free one is MacTex, which is available here, however leave some time for downloading and installing it (the file size is roughly 2 GB).

MacTex

MacTex is a great, free TeX distribution for OS X

Once you’ve installed MacTex and run TexPad for the first time, you are greeted by the splash screen, which gives you the option of starting a new .tex file or continue working on a previous one. If your TeX distribution installed successfully, then you should see a little green tick and the location of the distribution on the splash screen as well (if not, try reinstalling the distribution again).

TexPad splash

The splash screen of TexPad

Creating A Document

To start creating a new document in TexPad, simply click on New .tex file and the editor pops up, where you can start creating your document.

Texpad Main

The main screen of TexPad

In TeX, before you start writing your document, you have to define the type of document that you are writing, which helps the TeX system define the formatting (such as titles). You can either do this via typing it out or clicking on File > New From Template, which gives you the choice between an article, book, letter, report or presentation; the most commonly used templates. If you are going to type it out, the TeX command which would create an article (a standard document with a title and author), would look something like this:


\documentclass[11pt]{article}
\begin{document}
\end{document}

All of your TeX code for the document you are writing should lie in between \begin{document} and \end{document}. Any commands in TeX (known as control sequences) start with a backslash (\) and TexPad makes it easy to see commands by highlighting them in a different color.

TexPad Commands

TeX commands are highlighted in blue, making them a lot easier to see

Auto-Complete

TexPad features a built-in library of most TeX commands and when you type in a control sequence, a little menu pops up giving you a list of commands possible. This can save you a lot of time in the long run as it avoids you typing out the same commands over and over again.

TexPad Autocomplete

The auto-complete function in TexPad

Error Correction

One of the most frustrating features about typing in TeX is any errors are not flagged up straight away, and most TeX editors do not explain what the problem is or where it is. This can be a real pain when you have been typing away at a document for 3 hours then having to spend an extra hour going through the document finding all the errors. TexPad makes this a thing of the past. Any errors are flagged up before the rendering process (i.e., turning the TeX document from meaningless code into a formatted document) and you can easily correct them before you carry on.

TexPad Error

Any errors in your TeX coding are flagged up during the rendering process

In the above example, I deliberately inserted the command (line 36) \usebox without any definition after it, for example: \usebox{cmd} thereby causing an error. TexPad flagged up the error during the rendering process, allowing it to be corrected.

Typeset View

Once you’ve rendered (or, in TeX-speak, typeset) your document (hopefully without any errors), it will be displayed in a separate window on the right of your TeX code.

TexPad Rendered

Once a document has been rendered (or, alternatively, typeset) a preview of it appears to the right of your code

After your document has been typeset, you can either carry on editing it further or you can e-mail, save or print it as a PDF if you have pdfLaTeX installed (this is included in most TeX distributions, including MacTex). Bear in mind that before you typeset a document, you have to save it onto your hard disk first.

Final Thoughts

TexPad is a great, native Mac OS X TeX editor and works really well. The simple interface and helpful built-in features (such as auto-completion of TeX commands) make it a worthy candidate as a fantastic TeX editor on OS X and one that you don’t really mind parting with fourteen dollars for.

There are free alternatives out there, but they don’t perform with the flair of TexPad (the program is even optimized for Lion with a full-screen view) and if you do a lot of writing in TeX, then it really will become an incredibly useful utility that you won’t want to be without.


Summary

A native TeX editor for OS X featuring built-in templates and instant error correction.

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  • http://hugochisholm.me Hugo Chisholm

    Really enjoying all your coverage of TeX (and the like) lately. I was afraid it was a near-dead language a year or two ago when I finally got into it.

    Keep it up!

  • http://mactua.net MathiasB

    I’ve reviewed Texpad for another site a month ago, and yes, it’s an awesome app!
    It works’ great and I typed already a lot of docs on it.

    There are still small thing that can be improved but overall it’s nice!

  • http://www.drezha.me.uk Drezha

    Agreed, Texpad is the best TeX app I’ve found on OSX.

    I think a note on the responsiveness and helpfulness of the developers should be noted as well. I’ve got in touch a few times and they’ve been nothing but helpful, courteous, polite and I couldn’t recommend this app enough.

    For me, the biggest killer point for this app is the ease of switching to PDF view without having to drop out the app to view the pdflatex results. And that’s a WHOLE page view of the PDF – other apps do the split screen but make it damn hard to quickly change between just Tex, split screen and PDF, unlike Texpad.

    • http://mactua.net MathiasB

      Yes indeed, the developers are very helpful and always fast. I had some nice contact with them!

  • Aleksander

    Another great tex app I used to get into TeX was Latexian. It is great in the way that it flags errors, and you can set it up for live preview. This makes you see the pdf in real time as your writing tex. Great way to learn LaTeX!!!

  • Bram

    Actually TextMate still is my app of choice for writing my texts and generating my pdfs. http://macromates.com/

  • molecule-eye

    I’ve purchased the app but have stopped using it due to a couple of serious issues. First, synctex support is miserable. There’s no syncing from source to output and the syncing from output to source is incredibly flaky. I don’t think it EVER works right. Second, building a file with the cursor set at some location in the source causes the output to jump to some apparently random place. I can’t figure it out. I guess it should jump to where the cursor in the source is placed (but that would be odd since it doesn’t support syncing in that direction) if it jumped at all, but I think the best thing here would be the output position to just STAY PUT! It doesn’t need to jump around, and it shouldn’t.

    If these two serious flaws were sorted out I would recommend the app to colleagues but presently I feel like I threw 14 bucks down the drain.

  • JC

    I will check this app out, but I prefer Latexian, and suggest it to anyone doing extensive work in Latex.

  • Enrico

    Indeed, LaTeXian is a far superior and more mature product. The GUI of LaTeXian is oriented towards users, and not towards the LaTeX engine like TeXpad. I’m using heavily LaTeX since 23 years, and LaTeXian made me eventually switch away from my editor for all this time: emacs :-)

  • http://polpoinodroidi.com Andrea Piccinelli

    @molecule-eye: you actually can sync your position from source to PDF: you simply have to Cmd-click the source and the PDF becomes in sync.

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