10 years TeX Live in Debian

I recently dug through my history of involvement with TeX (Live), and found out that in January there are a lot of “anniversaries” I should celebrate: 14 years ago I started building binaries for TeX Live, 11 years ago I proposed the packaging TeX Live for Debian, 10 years ago the TeX Live packages entered Debian. There are other things to celebrate next year (2017), namely the 10 year anniversary of the (not so new anymore) infrastructure – in short tlmgr – of TeX Live packaging, but this will come later. In this blog post I want to concentrate on my involvement in TeX Live and Debian.

TeX Live/Debian

Those of you not interested in boring and melancholic look-back onto history can safely skip reading this one. For those a bit interested in the history of TeX in Debian, please read on.

Debian releases and TeX systems

The TeX system of choice has been for long years teTeX, curated by Thomas Esser. Digging through the Debian Archive and combining it with changelog entries as well as personal experiences since I joined Debian, here is a time line of TeX in Debian, all to my best knowledge.

Date Version Name teTeX/TeX Live Maintainers
1993-96 <1 ? ? Christoph Martin
6/1996 1.1 Buzz ?
12/1996 1.2 Rec ?
6/1997 1.3 Bo teTeX 0.4
7/1998 2.0 Ham teTeX 0.9
3/1999 2.1 Slink teTeX 0.9.9N
8/2000 2.2 Potato teTeX 1.0
7/2002 3.0 Woody teTeX 1.0
6/2005 3.1 Sarge teTeX 2.0 Atsuhito Kohda
4/2007 4.0 Etch teTeX 3.0, TeX Live 2005 Frank Küster, NP
2/2009 5.0 Lenny TeX Live 2007 NP
2/2011 6.0 Squeeze TeX Live 2009
5/2013 7.0 Whezzy TeX Live 2012
4/2015 8.0 Jessie TeX Live 2014
??? ??? Stretch TeX Live ≥2015

The history of TeX in Debian is thus split more or less in 10 years teTeX, and 10 years TeX Live. While I cannot check back to the origins, my guesses are that already in the very first releases (te)TeX was included. The first release I can confirm (via the Debian archive) shipping teTeX is the release Bo (June 1997). Maintainership during the first 10 years showed some fluctuation: The first years/releases (till about 2002) were dominated by Christoph Martin with Adrian Bunk and few others, who did most packaging work on teTeX version 1. After this Atsuhito Kohda with help from Hilmar Preusse and some people brought teTeX up to version 2, and from 2004 to 2007 Frank Küster, again with help of Hilmar Preusse and some other, took over most of the work on teTeX. Other names appearing throughout the changelog are (incomplete list) Julian Gilbey, Ralf Stubner, LaMont Jones, and C.M Connelly (and many more bug-reporters and fixers).

Looking at the above table I have to mention the incredible amount of work that both Atsuhito Kohda and Frank Küster have put into the teTeX packages, and many of their contributions have been carried over into the TeX Live packages. While there haven’t been many releases during their maintainership, their work has inspired and supported the packaging of TeX Live to a huge extend.

Start of TeX Live

I got involved in TeX Live back in 2002 when I started building binaries for the alpha-linux architecture. I can’t remember when I first had the idea to package TeX Live for Debian, but here is a time line from my first email to the Debian Developers mailing list concerning TeX Live, to the first accepted upload:

Date Subject/Link Comment
2005-01-11 binaries for different architectures in debian packages The first question concerning packaging TeX Live, about including pre-built binaries
2005-01-25 Debian-TeXlive Proposal II A better proposal, but still including pre-built binaries
2005-05-17 Proposal for a tex-base package Proposal for tex-base, later tex-common, as basis for both teTeX and TeX live packages
2015-06-10 Bug#312897: ITP: texlive ITP bug for TeX Live
2005-09-17 Re: Take over of texinfo/info packages Taking over texinfo which was somehow orphaned started here
2005-11-28 Re: texlive-basic_2005-1_i386.changes REJECTED My answer to the rejection by ftp-master of the first upload. This email sparked a long discussion about packaging and helped improve the naming of packages (but not really the packaging itself).
2006-01-12 Upload of TeX Live 2005-1 to Debian The first successful upload
2006-01-22 Accepted texlive-base 2005-1 (source all) TeX Live packages accepted into Debian/experimental

One can see from the first emails that at that time I didn’t have any idea about Debian packaging and proposed to ship the binaries built within the TeX Live system on Debian. What followed was first a long discussion about whether there is any need for just another TeX system. The then maintainer Frank Küster took a clear stance in favor of including TeX Live, and after several rounds of proposals, tests, rejections and improvements, the first successful upload of TeX Live packages to Debian/experimental happened on 12 January 2006, so exactly 10 years ago.


Right from the beginning I used a meta-packaging approach. That is, instead of working directly with the source packages, I wrote (Perl) scripts that generated the source packages from a set of directives. There were several reasons why I choose to introduce this extra layer:

  • The original format of the TeX Live packaging information (tpm) were xml files that were parsed with an XML parser (libxml). I guess (from what I have seen over the years) I was the only one ever properly parsing these .tpm files for packaging.
  • TeX Live packages were often reshuffled, and Debian package name changed, which would have caused a certain level of pain for the creation of original tar files and packaging.
  • Flexibility in creating additional packages and arbitrary dependencies

Till now I am not 100% sure whether it was the best idea, but the scripts remain in place till now, only adapted to the new packaging paradigm in TeX Live (without xml) and adding new functionality. This allows me to just kick off one script that does do all the work, including building .orig.tar.gz, source packages, binary packages.

For those interested to follow the frantic activity during the first years, there is a file CHANGES.packaging which for the years from 2005 to 2011 documents very extensively the changes I made in these years. I don’t want to count the hours the went into all this 😉

Development over the years

TeX Live 2005 was just another TeX system but not the preferred one in Debian Etch and beyond. But then in May 2006, Thomas Esser announced the end of development of teTeX, which cleared the path for TeX Live as main TeX system in Debian (and the world!). The next release of Debian, Lenny (1/2009), already carried only TeX Live. Unfortunately it was only TeX Live 2007 and not 2008, mostly due to me having been involved in rewriting the upstream infrastructure based on Debian package files instead of the notorious xml files. This took quite a lot of attention and time from Debian away to upstream development, but this will be discussed in a different post.

Similarly, the release of TeX Live included in Debian Squeeze (released 2/2011) was only TeX Live 2009 (instead of 2010), but since then (Wheezy and Jessie) the releases of TeX Live in Debian were always the latest released ones.

Current status

Since about 2013 I am trying to keep a regular schedule of new TeX Live packages every month. These helps me to keep up with the changes in upstream packaging and reduces the load of packaging a new release of TeX Live. It also bring to users of unstable and testing a very up-to-date TeX system, where packages at most lack 1 month of behind the TeX Live net updates.


As most of the readers here know, besides caring for TeX (Live) and related packages in Debian, I am also responsible for the TeX Live Manager (tlmgr) and most of upstream’s infrastructure including network distribution. Thus, my (spare, outside work) time needs to be distributed between all these projects (and some others) which leaves less and less time for Debian packaging. Fortunately the packaging is in a state that making regular updates once a month is less of a burden, since most steps are automatized. What is still a bit of a struggle is adapting the binary package (src:texlive-bin) to new releases. But also this has become simpler due to less invasive changes over the years.

All in all, I don’t have many plans for TeX Live in Debian besides keeping the current system running as it is.

Search for and advise to future maintainers and collaborators

I would be more than happy if new collaborators appear, with fresh ideas and some spare time. Unfortunately, my experience over these 10 years with people showing up and proposing changes (anyone remembers the guy proposing a complete rewrite in ML or so?) is that nobody really wants to invest time and energy, but search for quick solutions. This is not something that will work with a package like TeX Live, sized of several gigabyte (the biggest in the Debian archive), and complicated inner workings.

I advise everyone being interested in helping to package TeX Live for Debian, to first install normal TeX Live from TUG, get used to what actions happen during updates (format rebuilds, hyphenation patters, map file updates). One does not need to have a perfect understanding of what exactly happens down there in the guts (I didn’t have in the beginning, either), but if you want to help packaging and never heard about what format dumps or map files are, then this might be a slight obstacle.


TeX Live is the only TeX system in wide use across lots of architectures and operating systems, and the only comparable system, MikTeX, is Windows specific (also there are traces of ports to Unix). Backed by all the big user groups of TeX, TeX Live will remain the prime choice for the foreseeable future, and thus also TeX Live in Debian.

6 Responses

  1. tlmgr is a great addition to TeXLive. You did a great work by conceiving and developing it which is a great assistance to users to install and upgrade packages. My only request to you is that you might consider an option to upgrade to a newer version of TeXLive when TL is released every year. Fresh install is a hassle that could be avoided. Or am I missing anything?

    • Hi CVR,
      thanks for your comment. Since years there is a rather easy upgrade method by using the tlmgr-update-latest.sh. It is not as streamlined as you might want to think, but it should actually work. Also direct updates via tlmgr were possible (as far as I remember).

      Windows is a different – and broken – world, here I don’t see a way, and I don’t have enough knowledge, time, energy, and free time to investigate better solutions on Windows.

  2. Martin says:

    Just a \huge, no, a \Huge, thank you for maintaining TeX Live in Debian!

  3. Faheem Mitha says:

    Thank you for maintaining TeX Live in Debian for all these years, Norbert. I’m sorry you have to do it all by yourself.

  4. Boris says:

    Thank you from a very happy user!

  1. 2016/01/12

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