TeXstudio – A cushty yet nerdy LaTeX frontend
Updated: October 9, 2019
Many a person in the modern world have had, at some point in their life, to write a document of some
sort, usually a CV, and then send it to other people for professional scrutiny. Others have braved
their luck writing books and articles, or creating presentations. Many have tried, but few had
If you want to write a nicely styled document, you need, well, style. Or rather
styles. Ever since computer graphics became powerful enough to show
fancy stuff on your screen, document writing has gone from text to a vomit of figures and colorful
objects mixed with words in one messy bundle. But if you want to do it right, you want content and
style separation. In essence, this is HTML and CSS, and to be fair, this is your modern word processor
with the use of styles. Or if you’re feeling really adventurous –
LaTeX. Or if you’re feeling bold and lazy, then maybe LyX. Then, there’s
another candidate – TeXstudio, and we shall discuss it today.
The road to PDF
In the end, you want to have a nicely styled and – more importantly – consistent document you
can share with other people with minimal embarrassment. The major difference between classic word
processors and TeX frontends is that the latter force you to use content-style separation. You don’t
get the luxury of manually mangling your documents beyond recognition.
Over the years, I’ve tried and reviewed many different tools of this nature.
LyX is my favorite – and a good baseline for this review. I’ve also tried
Kile, and it was also fairly decent. Now, there are other programs, one being
TeXstudio. Going about using Discover in Kubuntu, go figure, I stumbled across this application, I
liked what it said in the description and the screenshot was nice, so I installed the program and
started testing in earnest.
The interface is similar to most other frontends – a bit busy, but it makes sense after a few
seconds. Once you load the document, the raw code (TeX) will be displayed in the center, with a message
log for your operations just below. In the left pane, you can load various other elements, like symbols
and equations, and in the right, you can show the preview of your rendered document.
I decided to start ambitiously – my
Linux Kernel Crash Analysis book, which I’ve originally created in
2010-2011 using LyX. The final product comes out as a 182-page PDF, with several dozen images and
tables inside it. I’ve also shared with you two tutorials on
LaTeX and LyX
tips and tricks, which explain the fine details of what I used
to make the book prettier – nice headers and footers, table and bullet list styling, and other fancy
TeXstudio loaded the file just fine (it took a few seconds to parse everything), and I could
instantly view the final render. It looks identical to what LyX did, and the only difference – at this
point – seemed to be the use of the file extension (.lyx versus .tex that TeXstudio expects). But this
was quite cool. After all, we’re talking a non-trivial project created by another program, almost a
Powerful features all around
TeXstudio can be intimidating – especially if you don’t know much about TeX or LaTeX. The interface
has loads of options, and many of them do require advanced knowledge of the subject matter. The program
lets you work directly with SVN (no Git), you can convert your text/code, use super-advanced
bibliography, macros, and more.
The configuration sub-menu comes with still more options. You do need to know what you’re doing,
otherwise, you may end up changing some of the delicately balanced defaults, and your documents won’t
behave as they should, and you won’t know why.
New document & presentation wizard
I decided to try the wizard mode next – this is a really cool thing. TeXstudio lets you create
several templates, including a very cool concept of presentations (slides), based on the Beamer
package. However, when I tried to preview the presentation, I hit an error.
File `pgfcore.sty’ not found. RequirePackage
This looks quite similar to the problems I faced with missing packages in a Windows installation of
LyX. I then used
MiKTeX as my LaTeX package manager, and it would download packages on the
fly, based on declarations in my documents. I couldn’t find anything similar to that here, and even the
Packages Help returned nothing.
After some rigorous Internet searches, I learned that this error can be worked around by installing
the extra TeX packages package [sic], which brought in some 180 MB worth of data. But the bigger
question of how to elegantly replenish the missing pieces still remains, so there might be a follow-up
article sometime soon. On Kubuntu:
sudo apt-get install texlive-latex-extra
And then, I had the default presentation show up correctly:
But this is only the beginning. I spent a good few minutes reading the online documentation on
Beamer, and there was a lot to learn. In fact, lots of packages come with super-detailed descriptions
that reflect their functionality, and each one demands your respect. There are no shortcuts here.
The plot thickens
I tried PDF export next – and learned this was slightly more difficult and less intuitive than LyX.
What you need to do is basically build & compile your document. This may sound wrong, when you
think about it. Well, with the crash book rendering fine, I thought, yeah, let’s do it. Except I got a
This error is a bit misleading – it can create a sense that the pdflatex is missing – but in fact,
the program is complaining that it cannot find the actual file with the .tex extension. Remember, I was
using .lyx for my original book, and this is what I loaded here. OK, no problem. I created a copy of
the file with the expected extension and loaded it again. And there were lots of errors. So while
TeXstudio had no issue loading LyX files, which I find quite impressive on its own, the compilation to
PDF or PS is a different thing, it seems. Like I said, no shortcuts.
TeXstudio is a complex, powerful program, and it definitely appeals to my sense of nerdonics. It’s
rich in features, and it can take a while before you figure everything out – prior knowledge with
similar software definitely helps. But then, I think LyX is friendlier and simpler, especially for
beginners. With TeXstudio, there were a few errors throughout my test, which ought to be handled a bit
more gracefully. Beamer sounds like a great thing, but then, frankly, most people will make do with
Powerpoint, for better or worse.
I definitely intend to spend more time learning TeXstudio, as it may come handy in technical work
now and then. Plus, there’s the simple joy of mastering difficult tools, which then magically turn
repetitive burdens into simple tasks. It’s all about the optimization of energy. I believe I’m already
there with conventional tools as well as LyX, so this ought to be an interesting experiment. For
document lovers among you, this software definitely warrants some extended testing. We’re done.