The Lumber Room

"Consign them to dust and damp by way of preserving them"

Collaborative work with LaTeX

with 5 comments

All things considered (after trawling through more than a dozen pages of Google results, that is), I’ve arrived at the conclusion that the best way [as of 2006-10-11] to work on LaTeX documents collaboratively is to use a CVS or Subversion repository, and let everyone commit changes to it.

There seems to be a MediaWiki plugin for collaborative LaTeX, but it needs some attention to security issues…

Someone asked around, and put up an extremely useful summary.

There’s a very short CVS tutorial here.

Update[2007-11-25]: For some reason, the PracTeX journal had three articles about LaTeX+Subversion in 2007-08: LaTeX Document Management with Subversion, Version Control of LaTeX Documents with svn-multi, and Subversion and TextMate: Making collaboration easier for LaTeX users. It’s a good idea to pick the simplest solution that works for you. I haven’t read those articles, but we did use LaTeX in a (somewhat) collaborative way (we weren’t sharing the work much, so it’s not clear the others saw any good in it) for two of our courses, here and here. The websvn interface is a bit crufty; we were using the commandline interface.

The work cycle was as below: (in case you’ve never used version control and don’t know what it is, this will show you that it’s simple after all!)

[Don’t use these URLs; they won’t work for you, of course.]

How to use the algcomp-notes subversion repository.

==Initial setup (only once)==
    svn checkout working-dir	

==Work cycle (each time)==
    svn update     # to get the latest version from the repository
Now work with your files as you usually would. After you're done, do:
    svn diff          #optional: to see what you have changed
    svn commit -m "some message, for the history"

Extra files you create in the directory are ignored. To add a new file, use:
    svn add [filename]

That’s all there is to it (apart from setting up — or getting someone to set up — the repository and access to it in the first place. Ask your sysadmin :-)

Update[2008-02-05]: Gobby is a collaborative text editor, and can be used with LaTeX, as this screenshot shows. Someone even wants to use Darcs’s Theory of Patches, and give it proper Undo etc… and at that point we are back to the version control solution, but with a good version-control system and a simple GUI for doing things.

Update[2008-03-25]: Here is a post by an actual mathematician using version control.

I do think it would be a great idea for someone to provide a version-control service for collaborative LaTeX documents over the internet. They could go further and make it easy to edit LaTeX in a browser, and we would have something along the lines of Google Docs.

Update [2009-10-03]: Some other things worth a mention: online LaTeX editors like MonkeyTex (but no one really likes editing in anything other than their familiar environment), a page at Wikibooks based on one of the PracTeX articles mentioned above, and, coming Real Soon Now, support for LaTeX in Google Wave.(link.)

Update [2010-05-11]: Some more things to mention: ScribTeX (see comments below), and LaTeX-lab, a plugin for Google Docs.

Update [2010-06-23]: Also see this Mathoverflow thread called Tools for Collaborative Paper Writing.


Written by S

Wed, 2006-10-11 at 20:50:53

5 Responses

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  1. Hi, I’ve recently set up a website which does exactly what your last paragraph asks – A version controlled collaborative online LaTeX editor. The site is at . It started off as a way to fulfill my own needs but it seems there is enough demand for something like this for it to be worth making public. Hopefully others will find it useful as well.

    James Allen

    Wed, 2009-01-07 at 16:49:42

  2. Cool! I took a look at ScribTeX and it is certainly somewhat useful, as it stands… A few things that would make it more useful: (1) being able to see the “log” of TeX compilation, in case there is an error (2) Being able to view PDFs in the browser without a PDF plugin, e.g. using some LaTeX-to-HTML rendering or using images, as at (3) Most importantly, being able to simply “upload” a file and see changes with the existing version, ideally with as much automatic intelligent merging as possible. (Like version-control systems.)


    Wed, 2009-01-07 at 19:41:37

  3. […] a platform, so you can run it on your own servers. Now someone add a LaTeX compiler to it, and collaborative work with LaTeX will finally be […]

  4. […] what we get is this and this and this and the […]

  5. Another collaborative (browser based) LaTeX solution can be found at

    It provides all (basic) functions that a desktop-based solution has like PDF generation and preview, templates, log-files, backups, HTTPS, file upload, etc.

    Peter Herbert

    Fri, 2011-05-27 at 03:24:47

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