LaTeX Setup and Tutorial

Setup and Tutorial for Using LaTeX with TextPad/MiKTeX/Yap


LaTeX works like this:

  • First, you use a text editor (we'll be using TextPad) to create a LaTeX document foo.tex (note: "foo" is standing in for your file name).

  • Then, you run a LaTeX compiler (we'll be using MiKTeX) to turn the file foo.tex into three files: foo.aux, foo.log, and foo.dvi.

  • Finally, you need to use some kind of viewer/previewer (we'll be using Yap) to view or print the pretty formatted file foo.dvi.

    You will do everything from TextPad, which we will set up to control MiKTeX and Yap. This document will take you through the steps of downloading, installing, configuring, and working with MiKTeX, TextPad, and Yap. Be sure to follow ALL of the directions below, IN ORDER. Consider this the first test of your logical thinking abilities!

    I recommend that you print out this document so that you can refer to it easily and check off steps as you do them. Don't be afraid to send me email or an instant message if you get really stuck. (Double-check that you have Actually Followed The Directions before you do this!)

    Downloading and installing MiKTeX

    1. Go to

    2. Choose the "miktex 2.4" link from the Download/Install menu on the left (NOT the "Status" menu).

    3. At the top of the page, select the link "small-miktex=2.4.1705.exe".

    4. Pick a nearby download mirror and download the file; choose "Save", and save the file to your Desktop.

    5. After it finishes downloading, double-click on the file to open it; the Setup Wizard will now open.

    6. Go through "Next" a few times, keeping the defaults - don't change anything at all. I mean it! Are you changing something? Stop it!

    7. Setup Wizard will do stuff for a while, moving files around and stuff; click "Next" when it stops, and then "Finish".

    8. Throw away (put in Recycle Bin) the installer "small-miktex-2.4.1705.exe" that is on your Desktop.

    9. Please note that MiKTeX is a shareware product. For a voluntary $15.00 donation they will provide direct email support; see their registration page.

    Downloading and installing TextPad

    1. Go to

    2. Choose one of the English downloads and save the file to your Desktop. It will be called something like "txpeng473.exe".

    3. Double-click on the file to run the installer. Agree to the license and type in your name if requested, but leave all other defaults as they are.

    4. Throw away (put in Recycle Bin) the installer "txpeng473.exe" that is on your Desktop.

    5. Please note that TextPad is a shareware product. Single-user registration is $30.00; see their registration page.

    Configuring TextPad to run LaTeX

    1. Open TextPad. (It should be in your list of program files from the Start menu. You might want to make a shortcut from your Desktop.)
    2. Open the preferences page by going to the Configure menu and selecting "Preferences..."
    3. At the bottom of the left-hand column of the preferences pages, you will notice the word "Tools". Select it. You will now see the following:
    4. Click the "Add" button on the upper right and select "DOS Command".
    5. You'll see the following text box, into which you'll type "latex".
    6. Hit OK, and then select "DOS Command" again, but this time type "yap" into the text box. After hitting OK again, you should see this:
    7. Hit the "Apply" button, and you'll see this: (you may need to click the box next to "Tools" in order to see the two new entries in the left-hand column.)
    8. Now select the "latex" entry in the left-hand column, and edit the text boxes, check boxes, etc., to make it look exactly like this (note there is a space between "latex" and "$File" in the Parameters text field):
    9. (Seriously, does your window look EXACTLY like that? With the same boxes checked? Double-check please!)

    10. Now select the "yap" entry in the left-hand column, and edit the text boxes, check boxes, etc., to make it look exactly like this (note there is a space between "yap" and "$BaseName.dvi" in the Parameters text field):
    11. Finally, click "OK". You should now be able to see your two new commands under the Tools menu:

    Configuring TextPad to colorize LaTeX documents

    1. With TextPad open, select menu Configure --> New Document Class

    2. For Document Class Name, type "latex" and hit "Next".

    3. For Class Members, type "*.tex" and hit "Next"

    4. Click "Enable Syntax Highlighting".

    5. For Syntax Definition File, select "LaTeX.syn".

    6. Hit "Next" and then hit "Finish".

    Creating a simple document using LaTeX

    Now we're finally ready to write a document in LaTeX. The instructions below will take you through the process of creating a very simple document.
    1. Write: In the TextPad program, type this:

      Hello universe!

    2. Save: Save this file as "universe.tex" to whatever directory you choose. Be sure the extension is "tex" and NOT "txt". Also be sure to select "All Files" under the "Save as Type" menu before you save.

    3. Compile: From the "Tools" pulldown menu in TextPad, choose "latex". This will cause a black window to appear. If there are no compiling errors in your .tex file, then some typing will appear in the black window and the black window will close. Now in the same directory where you saved universe.tex should be three new files: universe.aux, universe.log, and universe.dvi. These files will be updated every time you run latex on universe.tex. Take a moment now to go to your directory/folder and check.

      POSSIBLE PROBLEM: If only the file universe.tex is there then it is possible that your system does not know where MiKTeX is installed. If you have the .aux, .log, and .dvi files in your folder then you are not having this problem, so skip this part. If you don't have these files along with universe.tex in your directory, OR if your "black window" is just flashing by really fast and then nothing seems to happen when you "yap", OR if you get an error message like this: "'latex' is not recognized as an internal or external command, operable program or batch file", then keep reading. Your problem is most likely that your system does not know where your MiKTeX files - i.e. LaTeX - has been installed. For some reason, on some systems at least, MiKTeX does not define its "path" to the system. To fix this problem, you're going to set the path manually, as follows:

      • Go to the Start menu and choose Settings --> Control Panel.

      • Click on "System".

      • Choose the tab "Advanced"

      • Click on "Environment Variables"

      • Select "PATH" from the list. A window will open up with two fields that you can type in. IMPORTANT WARNING: DO NOT ERASE WHAT IS IN THE TEXT FIELDS.

      • The second text field is called "Variable Value". Go to the END of this text field (IMPORTANT: REMEMBER, DON'T ERASE WHAT IS IN THERE, JUST GET YOUR CURSOR TO THE END OF IT!), and add the following text to the end, with no spaces, exactly as is written here:


        (Notice there is a semicolon at the beginning and then after the C there is a colon. The slashes are BACK-slashes, not forward-slashes. Also it says T-E-X-M-F there - on my screen the "f" is difficult to read.)

      • Now you've set the path; click "OK", "OK", "OK" to finish.

      • Now go back and repeat step #3 above. (Thanks to Phil Riley for this fix.)

    4. View: From the "Tools" pulldown menu in TextPad, choose "yap". If no errors happened in the previous step, this will open a viewer where you can see your compiled file universe.dvi. You can zoom in/out and do various things to look at your document here.

    5. Repeat: Now if you want to modify your file, go back and repeat the steps above... with one exception: if you already have a "Yap" window open, it should automatically update after you do step 3; this means you won't have to choose "yap" from the pulldown menu - you'll just have to look at your existing Yap window to view the new compiled document. Test the process by changing the word "Hello" with the word "Howdy" and going through the steps: Write, Save, Compile, View.

    Handling compiling errors

    LaTeX is a very picky typesetting program, and a lot of tiny things can cause compiling errors. By following the instructions below you will introduce an error into your universe.tex file and then see how to deal with it.
    1. Change your universe.tex file so that it looks like this:

      Howdy universe!
      The & is a special character.

    2. Save universe.tex and try to compile it (steps 2 and 3 above). The black window should appear, with typing in it, but it will "crash" before it is finished.

    3. Read the last few lines of information in the black window. It should look something like this:

      ! Misplaced alignment character &.
      l.4 The &
      is a special character.

    4. In LaTeX, the "&" character is used for tabbing (alignment) in certain environments, but it is not a legal character on its own; that is what the first line of the error message above is saying - that the character "&" is being used somewhere it shouldn't. The "l.4" at the beginning of the next line of the error message tells you that the error is on line 4 (it says "lowercase ell dot four" not "one dot four" at the beginning of the line). Notice also that the line breaks where the compiler thinks your error might be: at the "&" character.

    5. Because the compiler crashed, the black window will not go away on its own. At the "?" prompt type "x" and press Return/Enter, and the window will go away.

    6. It's pretty clear that we need to get rid of or modify that "&", but for the sake of this exercise, let's say you don't understand the error message completely, but you do think that line 4 could be the culprit. One thing you can do is "comment out" the line in question, by inserting a "%" symbol at the start of the line. In LaTeX, the rest of the line following a "%" symbol is ignored by the compiler. Do this, and then compile again, and you should not get any errors.

    7. Of course, after the step above, you got rid of the error, but you also didn't get the document to say what you wanted; let's fix the error. In LaTeX, the character "&" can be produced by typing "\&". Un-comment line 4 (i.e. remove the "%" symbol) and put a backslash "\" in front of the ampersand. Recompile and everything should work.

    Printing a finished LaTeX document

    If you want to print right from the computer you are working on, it's easy; just choose "Print" from the "File" menu of the Yap viewer.

    If you want to print from a computer that does NOT have LaTeX installed (or is you want to send your file to someone who does not have LaTeX installed, but needs to see your beautiful typeset file), do the following: Repeat steps 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 10 from the "Configuring TextPad to run LaTeX" instructions given above, with the word "latex" replaced everywhere with "pdflatex". This will add a new command to your "Tools" menu in TextPad. If you use this command on a file foo.tex, it will produce a file foo.pdf that can be viewed and printed by anyone, on any computer, using Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader.