Texlive old install support

Johannes Hielscher jhielscher at posteo.de
Tue Apr 14 13:34:39 CEST 2020

Am Mon, 13 Apr 2020 18:45:48 -0600
schrieb Warren MacEvoy <wmacevoy at gmail.com>:

> I am trying to maintain a docker container (like a small virtual
> machine with specific software0 so TexLive users can make a specific
> container that reliably and efficiently can be used to make their
> latex documents.

I guess you somehow archive what goes into the container anyway,
otherwise things like OS package version updates inside your container
will break things as well (not to mention the uncertain future of Docker
itself). By design, containers have an infamous record of keeping alive
outdated duplicates of everything, at any HDD space cost. So why not
TeXLive as well?

> A real problem is that each year I have to move to the latest tex
> live distribution; which inevitably breaks the building of documents
> based on older packages.

You don't *have to*! Why not have an install of all the TL vintages you
need lurking around on some NFS share?
That way, full TL history awareness is accessible with zero maintenance/
virtualisation/containerisation overhead, and O(1) scaling with the
number of client machines.

> Philosophically, this is a serious problem.  There are many old
> documents which will require expert intervention to create if the
> build tools move this much every year, and the old tools do not work.

Then another (both philosophical and real) question: What kinds of
documents do you expect to be both long-lasting and relying on moving
targets (like TeX packages)? Do you consider any bug introduced in, say,
2013 worth preserving, since some author has once built a workaround and
now her documents stumble upon this?
TeX development in general is very conservative, and tries to not break
things (and does so quite well IME). But time moves on, and it is both
naïve and pretentious to have a zero-maintenance attitude as an author,
and demand software devs to maintain the quirks you grew up with. What
if hyphenation patterns become better over time, and a document output
has changed, because TeX now hyphenates a larger fraction of words
correctly? Which version is the “right” one then?

> I tried downloading an archive build and got a failed installation on
> a checksum.

IMHO, this is unexpected and worth a bug report on its own.

> Reliably building old documents should be a priority for the texlive
> system.  Otherwise a love of creative intellectual property will
> become unstable. 

Who said that .tex is a long-term archival format? If you want your
documents to endure times, carve them into stone, print them onto
archival-grade paper, microfilm, or at least turn them into PDF-A.
The fallacy has been to rely on complicated source code in the first
place. Source files will be readable as long as someone knows how to
turn ASCII into letters; and visual representation has always been
variable since the days Gutenberg had to decide which ligatures to
include into his typeface and which not.

And if stability of intellectual property is of high priority for you, I
assume you have directed these concerns to Microsoft as well to end
their Office 365 craze and finally make their documents archive-safe. As
sad as it is to admit this in the first place: too much of the
intellectual achievements of mankind is kept imprisoned in .doc{,x}
files, and history has shown that in a mere decade this will be
obsolete, and those can be glad who have printed versions of their

> Can there be a long term maintenance policy for some versions of
> texlive?  Leaving an archive to 3rd parties does not seem reasonable,
> especially if those builds just fail after one year…

When documents break that fast, this has the sore aftertaste of
incomplete separation of form and content, and/or different conceptions
of what is considered “experimental” and “stable”; another thing that
isn't within the responsibility of developers, but document authors.

That said, feel free to persuade us of the demand for a more
comprehensive TL history lesson than the fully functional (!) installers
at https://www.tug.org/historic/ (or the growing heap of TL DVDs in
one's bookshelf), and in doubt the SVN history of TL at
http://tug.org/svn/texlive/ . I don't know a single software project
that provides such an exhaustive backtrace of its onw history.

If I understood you correctly, you suggest kind of a dual-pace LTS
rhythm like Ubuntu, Firefox or the Linux kernel have. But then, these
play in a totally different league of project structure, objective, and
manpower. LTS support means someone is paid to be responsible for
backporting bug fixes into obsolete package versions. The TL project has
neither the structural needs nor the qualification to do so (most of the
code that is shipping with TL is not from TL itself, but imported from


> Thanks,
> Warren MacEvoy
> https://github.com/wmacevoy/latex-docker
> <https://github.com/wmacevoy/latex-docker>

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