Suggested feature: Portable document archive

Mojca Miklavec mojca.miklavec.lists at
Sun Dec 29 09:25:36 CET 2019

Dear Simon,

On Sat, 28 Dec 2019 at 21:29, Simon Heisterkamp wrote:
> I'm the author of the MikteX feature suggestion 424:
> I am open to contributing to the effort but would likely need substantial support from experience developers of tex-live.
> The MS Word .docx format is actually a zip archive with xml files and folders for resources such as pictures. The idea here is to do the same for .tex sources.
> Call the archive something like .pta (portable Tex archive), and support creating, opening editing and typesetting this file directly from MikTeX (and tex-live).

My guess is that this could be much easier to write if you only target
a single engine (I have LuaTeX in mind, including any of its recent
variants) than if you need to support the gazillion of other programs
(some of which have been barely touched or changed since the

LuaTeX already has a built-in support for zip files, and ConTeXt
already supports providing a single zip with the full TEXMF tree with
resource files as an alternative to having the standard extracted
installation, so I could imagine that supporting something like
"context document.pta" to magically compile everything might be almost

But then you would need *A LOT* more work to also:
- properly port it to LaTeX
- support "all" the major viewers and text editors
- write a really nice GUI with drag-and-drop functionality to
manipulate the files (add and remove pictures & other packages)
- make sure that Overleaf etc. can import and export it
- potentially ensure that google drive / gmail know how to display the contents
to make it really useful, else it becomes just another file that users
have no idea what to do with it.

While I find the idea nice in principle (I share the concerns raised
by Johannes), this can only work if you are really willing to spend a
lot of effort yourself, and even if you get help (not impossible, but
not if you would need handholding on each step), you would still need
to figure out the huge majority yourself. This can only help users if
you really create great user experience and take care of all the
details, including platform-specific ones (like for example: having
extracted structure like which "behaves like a single
file" on different operating systems and can be double-clicked to be
opened with a GUI editor).

> Proposed properties:
> a zip archive with all sources necessary to typeset a TeX document.
> renamed to something other than .zip to discourage non-technical users from editing directly. Suggestion: .pta
> MikTeX (and tex-live) support for working with this file directly. (like MS Word works with .docx archives) In particular guarantee that the archive can always be typeset again after moving and copying to another installation of MikTeX (and tex-live).
> Use a somewhat strict structure for names and locations inside the archive. This will simplify development of the feature. Unsupported uses can always fall back to ordinary .tex source files.
> a “make-file” (inside the archive) for standardized typesetting with one click - no setup required at all by users who only want to make minor changes to a document.
> archive can contain non-standard dependencies, i.e. packages, pictures, styles.
> archive can contain the typeset pdf document. Costs extra size file, but gains accessibility. This makes it very easy to write “viewer” applications for every conceivable system out there - they simply pull the pdf out of the archive.
> Use cases:
> non-technical persons are comfortable with a document being one file.
> file can be copied and moved around while maintaining a guarantee that it can be typeset when needed.

Not necessarily.
Unless you also bundle the binary and all the packages and fonts,
there is no guarantee that the document can be typeset again, at least
not necessarily in the fully reproducible way.
It may always happen that a package gets removed from TeX Live, that
fonts get renames, or that two packages start conflicting with each
(I mean: it's not any worse nor any better than what you have now.)

> this could greatly assist in spreading the use of latex outside of technical academic fields.
> Aspects that need more thought:
> when editing creates typesetting errors, the archive could maintain a "last successfully typeset" pdf for the viewers, alternatively it could present a "corrupted" pdf file. Another approach could be to forbid saving to the archive format if the document cannot be typeset.
> Feel free to use and share this idea however you want.
> I don’t have the time to develop this myself,

That's contrary to what you said at the top?

> but would love to use the feature at the engineering company where I work.

How many man-years would the company be willing to fund to implement
such a feature?

> Best regards,
> Simon


PS: this is not really something that concerns MikTeX or TeX Live
alone. It's something that would need to be an independent

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