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Extending LaTeX using packages and definitions

After having declared a class, in the preamble you can modify functionality in LaTeX by adding one or more packages. These can

Changing how LaTeX works

The LaTeX ‘kernel’ (the core of LaTeX) is rather limited in user customisation, and so some add-on packages deal with very common ideas. The first is to change how LaTeX deals with language-specific typesetting (hyphenation, punctuation, quotations, localisation, etc.). Different languages have different rules, so it’s important to tell LaTeX which one to use. This is handled by the babel package.

\documentclass{article}
\usepackage[T1]{fontenc}

%\usepackage[french]{babel}

\usepackage[width = 6cm]{geometry} % To force hyphenation here

\begin{document}

This is a lot of filler which is going to demonstrate how LaTeX hyphenates
material, and which will be able to give us at least one hyphenation point.
This is a lot of filler which is going to demonstrate how LaTeX hyphenates
material, and which will be able to give us at least one hyphenation point.

\end{document}

Try un-commenting the (clearly misleading) line to load babel and see the effect. (The standard hyphenation rules are US English.)

The babel package does a lot more than hyphenation, depending on the language involved; we’ve given some more details if you need them.

Changing design

It’s useful to be able to adjust some aspects of design independent of the document class. The most obvious one are the page margins. We’ve just used the geometry package in the example above, but let’s now have an example specifically about margins.

\documentclass{book}
\usepackage[T1]{fontenc}
\usepackage[margin=1in]{geometry}

\begin{document}
Hey world!

This is a first document.


% ================
\chapter{Chapter One}
Introduction to the first chapter.


\section{Title of the first section}
Text of material in the first section

Second paragraph.

\subsection{Subsection of the first section}

Text of material in the subsection.


% ================
\section{Second section}

Text of the second section.

\end{document}

You should see the effect here compared to not loading geometry.

Adding new functionality

One of LaTeX’s strengths is that you can choose from thousands of packages, including ones for writing mathematical text, for hyperlinking, for sophisticated capabilities with color, etc. We will see some more common packages in later lessons.

Defining commands

Sometimes you need a command specific to your document, either some functionality not found in the available packages or simply a command to enter a common expression that is used multiple times.

The following example shows a command to produce keywords with a specific style applied.

\documentclass{article}
\usepackage[T1]{fontenc}

\newcommand\kw[1]{\textbf{\itshape #1}}

\begin{document}

Something about \kw{apples} and \kw{oranges}.

\end{document}

In the definition [1] denotes the number of arguments (here one) and #1 denotes the first argument that is supplied (apples or oranges in this example). You may have up to nine arguments, but it is usually best to have just one argument, or sometimes none at all.

Defining commands does not just reduce the typing required to produce a document. It helps to separate out the styling information. If it is decided to use a different style for keywords, rather than having to edit the entire document, you simply need to use a different definition. Here we load the xcolor package to provide colors, and use blue in place of bold in the formatting.

\documentclass{article}
\usepackage[T1]{fontenc}

\usepackage{xcolor}

\newcommand\kw[1]{\textcolor{blue}{\itshape #1}}

\begin{document}

Something about \kw{apples} and \kw{oranges}.

\end{document}

Beware that defining too many commands or defining commands with multiple arguments may make the document source harder to understand as it is using an unfamiliar syntax. The ability to define document-specific commands should be used with care.

Exercises

Try out writing some text in other European languages and see how babel affects hyphenation: you can probably find some text on the internet, and guess the right options.

Try altering the margins in the geometry example. You can set the individual top, bottom, left and right margins separately using a comma-separated list.

Try loading the lipsum package and then add the command \lipsum to your document. Can you guess why this package is useful for making examples?

Try altering the definition of \kw to achieve a different style.

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