Emacs and AUCTEX to edit LaTeX documents

Some years ago, one of the problems I had when I was migrating my desktop to GNU/Linux was finding a development environment for LaTeX. For those who don’t know LaTeX, it’s worth checking out. It is a “document preparation system” widely used for producing mathematical and scientific texts due to its high typographic quality.

By the time I was using MS Windows, I used TeXnicCenter to edit LaTeX projects. Despite its limitations, it did its job well done. On GNU/Linux, I initially tried the Kile editor. Although I consider it an excellent editor, I missed a basic feature: spell correction on the fly (those red marks that are shown under the words when they are spelled incorrectly). Perhaps I had this problem because I was trying to use Kile with GNOME as it was originally developed to be used with KDE.

Because of this issue, I started looking for other options to edit LaTeX files and I found out a very nice solution with Emacs and AUCTEX. At first, I was avoiding using Emacs because I’ve heard it was an editor that was difficult to use. I must admit that it is necessary some training to get used to the way of working with Emacs but in the case of editing LaTeX files, its worth the effort.

AUCTEX is an extension package to ease the process of editing LaTeX files on Emacs. With AUCTEX, many processes are automatized. To insert a block that defines an environment, such as equation, for instance, you only need to type “C-c e” followed by the command equation. After that, some parameters will be requested, such as the label to be used with the equation, and finally the environment will be created. The bibliographic citations and cross-references can be easily inserted in the text with the commands “C-c [” and “C-c (” respectively. One of the most impressive features, which I haven’t seen in any other editor, is the capability to preview mathematical equations, tables and figures inside the editor. This feature can speed up the process of setting the sizes of these elements as it eliminates the need of compiling the whole project to check the result.

Besides these features, AUCTEX has many other modes. Using it with some other programs makes it possible to have a very practical development environment for LaTeX documents. The following video shows some features of Emacs with AUCTEX. Although it is a little old and in italian, it is worth watching to have an idea of the possibilities.

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