LaTeX on Mac OS X

[2008-04-07] apple, latex, mac
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Update 2012-04-04: Brought several smaller things up to date, added a conclusion.

LaTeX on Mac OS X is a very pleasant experience, because both LaTeX and the operating system have excellent support for PDF. That means that you’ll be able to use a “PDF-only” workflow (with the occasional bitmap graphics thrown in). In this post, I describe my favorite setup for LaTeXing on the Mac.

Getting started

  • Installation: The best way is to use the MacTeX distribution (TeX Live on Mac OS).
  • SyncTeX: Enables jumping between corresponding locations in PDF and LaTeX source. Aquamacs and Skim support it out of the box. SyncTeX has been created as a replacement for the older PDFSync.


Aquamacs is a Mac OS X version of Emacs that comes with all the great Emacs LaTeX editing packages such as AucTeX and RefTeX.
  • Overview with screen shots: “Editing LaTeX with Aquamacs”.
  • Options → Option Key: Change if you need the option key for special characters (e.g.: backslash on German keyboards or French accents).
  • Command → Jump to PDF (or command-shift-click or C-c C-c "J)ump To PDF"): Uses SyncTeX to go to that part of the PDF that corresponds to the cursor position in the LaTeX source.
  • M-x longlines-mode: Avoids inserting hard line breaks (e.g. via auto-fill). This used to be a big problem when you wanted to edit LaTeX source in both Emacs and other GUI editors. Tip: You can remove intra-paragraph line breaks via unfill-region (but this does not work if each line of the paragraph is indented with spaces).


Apart from being able to annote PDFs (which the Leopard Preview app does really well now, too), Skim is also the perfect LaTeX PDF viewer, because it updates its contents in the background whenever the PDF file changes and it supports SyncTeX.
  • Enable SyncTeX with Aquamacs: “Preferences → Sync → PDF-TeX Sync support”.
  • More information on PDF syncing: “TeX and PDF Synchronization – skim-app”.
  • Jump to LaTex: command-shift-click.

Tips and tools

Tricks and tricks:
  • Mac OS Spaces: I don't usually need them, because an application often suffices as a substitute for a space when it comes to grouping windows. But if you combine two different applications, such as Aquamacs and Skim, spaces are very handy.
  • Check out my other LaTeX posts.
Other LaTeX programs (see also external extensive list):
  • Integrated GUI LaTeX editors: If you are not into Emacs, you'll probably want to take a look at TeXShop and iMacTeX.
  • GraphViz: Check out the Mac OS X GUI application. It exports PDF which is easy to integrate in LaTeX.
  • dot2tex: a LaTeX-friendly converter from Graphviz to PGF/TikZ commands, with support for LaTeX (math!) labels and arrows.
  • BibTeX: BibDesk (Mac OS X only) or JabRef (Java).
  • jPicEdt (Java): Graphical eepic editor.


Emacs is very hard to beat, because RefTeX does so many things: It shows you the table of contents in the editor, with live links; it lets you change the “depth” of several sections via the TOC (e.g. to turn several subsections into sections); it lets you search your BibTeX database from the editor and insert the citation you have found; etc. I find it hard to work without these features, but many people happily use Eclipse, TextMate, Sublime or other text editors for their LaTeX needs. At the very least, you should make sure that SyncTeX works with your editor.