Many questions state that ShareLaTeX or Overleaf is used. This often causes or complicates the problem or invalidates/complicates answers, e.g., with installing packages, version problems, using ConTeXt, shell escape, latexmk/arara, debugging, data synchronization and remote data, etc. Such issues could be (partially) resolved by using a local installation (TeX Live/MiKTeX/MacTeX and such).

I am often tempted to leave a comment saying 'install something proper locally and come back if the problem persists'. However, as always we should refrain from imposing habits onto users (see also Is LyX an editor which should be recommended? where the consensus is not to discourage LyX even though it has clear limitations). Moreover, there are good reasons to use an online environment (collaboration with others, lack of permissions to install things locally, preference for being device independent, preference for having a ready-to-use environment). Yet I feel that questioners could profit from being encouraged to install a distribution, and answerers could spend their time more productively by not having to address the mentioned issues.

So, the question is: should we recommend (in comments or otherwise) against the use of online platforms? If yes, only when problems are directly related to the use of the platform, or in general (cf. "btw, don't put 25 packages in your preamble if you use only three of them, even though everything works fine now")?

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    Well, I would not recommend against their use. But the comment you cited about the packages is not related to that and I would leave such comments. Maybe the OP states he/she is using such an online editor, but if you have a good answer which works locally, why not post it with this remark and help other users (which may not use online editors) this way? – TeXnician Oct 16 '17 at 15:20
  • @TeXnician I think the comment about packages is similar, in a sense that it promotes best practises which are not (directly) related to the question, i.e., "it works now but don't put all those packages because it may cause problems in the future" vs. "it works now but don't use an online editor because it may cause problems in the future" and also "having a massive preamble has the advantage that you don't need to worry about adding things to your preamble" vs. "using an online editor makes collaboration easier" - admittely stretching the analogy a bit. – Marijn Oct 16 '17 at 19:50
  • However, the general point is that I would like to advise people to use online editors for the right reasons only (and "I didn't know that you could also install LaTeX" is not a good reason, neither is "Online editors are much easier to use than a local installation"), but I would like to hear some opinions whether that (advising people on the use of online editors) is a good idea. Putting a local-only solution as an answer to a question is only part of the more general issue. – Marijn Oct 16 '17 at 19:57
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    It's a bit of inconvenience but online TeX compilations are proper compilations with legitimate log files. So the problem is to recommend user to go and find it to check the versions. Otherwise there is nothing wrong with the services just annoying. – percusse Oct 16 '17 at 20:54
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    @percusse I didn't say there was anything wrong/improper/illegitimate about online compilers, I said that they cause problems (with versions, among other things) - which may or may not be pointed out to questioners. – Marijn Oct 16 '17 at 21:27
  • @percusse actually I did say it was not proper :) edited. – Marijn Oct 17 '17 at 7:51

No since, as you say, there is a place for online editors, especially when local installations are not possible or collaboration is needed.

Try to make sure that the question is specific to the online environment, rather than just some regular problem that is being typeset online. Questioners frequently tag posts with or and include that as a reference in their posts, yet the actual problem has nothing to do with the online editor; it's just the environment they use. In those instances, edit the post and remove the information (including tags) specific to that.

In particular, just posting links to shared, online projects deserves an edit to post the online code within the Stack Exchange network. This positive correction improves the scope of the problem so it can be (consumed and) addressed by others more readily.

I created an account on Overleaf and ShareLaTeX that I use to address those asking questions specific to the environment in question.

  • "there is a place for online editors" - this is somewhat besides the point. In a number of cases people use it 'out of place', meaning that a local installation is possible and better suited for the needs of the user. It might be useful to express this point to those users. – Marijn Oct 17 '17 at 18:23
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    @Marijn: If someone uses (say) ShareLaTeX and you comment: "Forget about using that environment, please download and install a local distribution before we can help you." (using some more polite language), you will be helping nobody. Then you might not even comment to begin with. – Werner Oct 17 '17 at 19:30
  • obviously that's not the way to put it - you provide a solution for the problem, and additionally you comment that using ShareLaTeX can cause problems. Or if the use of ShareLaTeX is the problem then you can put as a possible solution to use a local installation. – Marijn Oct 17 '17 at 19:44
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    @Marijn: I've never found ShareLaTeX nor Overleaf to be problematic, except that they may not have an up-to-date distribution. That is, perhaps they're running TeX Live 2016 when everyone else has been running TeX Live 2017 for a couple of months. In those cases, one can always patch the offending package (in the same way you would if you were running TL2016 locally), or download the updated package from CTAN and upload it to use it within your online project. I've never seen people wanting to do online things that could be dangerous (like --shell-escape). – Werner Oct 17 '17 at 19:57
  • sharelatex and overleaf joined together under the overleaf name. So tags can be merged. overleaf.com/blog/… – percusse Oct 18 '17 at 20:09
  • @Werner some examples, many from the past month: tex.stackexchange.com/questions/396924/… (in comments: using local files) tex.stackexchange.com/a/396547 (version problem) tex.stackexchange.com/questions/186129/how-secure-is-sharelatex (security concerns) tex.stackexchange.com/questions/396126/… (version problem) tex.stackexchange.com/questions/395981/… (synchronizing local files) – Marijn Oct 19 '17 at 9:29
  • tex.stackexchange.com/questions/392088/… (sharing a file between projects) github.com/sharelatex/sharelatex/issues/66 (ConteXt support) tex.stackexchange.com/questions/342159/… (view log files) tex.stackexchange.com/questions/357372/… (version problem) tex.stackexchange.com/questions/378313/… (choice and functionality of editor) – Marijn Oct 19 '17 at 9:30
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    I really don't see a problem in using an online editor. The questions posted above don't have anything to do with specifically online editors as well? – Johannes_B Oct 22 '17 at 6:21
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    Besides that, we should enforce everybody to use Linux and vim. Using Windows can cause problems. Wait, is it the OS creating problems or the user handling the OS? – Johannes_B Oct 22 '17 at 6:22
  • @Johannes_B the questions above each contain a problem specifically with online editors, which would not arise (or would be easier to solve) with a local installation. 1st one: using local files is trivial with a local installation. 2nd: locally you can update but online you can't. 3rd: locally you can secure your files in any way that you see fit and online you can't, the answer from the founder of ShareLaTeX acknowledges possible issues. 5th: keeping local files synchronized (here: data from Matlab) is trivial locally. etc. etc. – Marijn Oct 22 '17 at 9:47
  • and enforcing the use of anything was never the issue, it is about giving opinions on which solution is best for which situation (sometimes an online editor is most suitable, sometimes Windows is preferred, sometimes vanilla TeX Live, sometimes apt packages, sometimes vim, enzovoorts). – Marijn Oct 22 '17 at 9:54
  • @Marijn There are certain points where online editors have disadvantages. I can see (1) version problems - you can't update the system, (2) adding local files - is possible through upload, might be a bit fiddly, (3) no (limited?) control over command line options and additional tools, (4) access to diagnostics - with the two big editors you can get the .logs. – moewe Oct 22 '17 at 10:18
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    @Marijn I'd only start recommending not to use online editors if the limitations have an impact on the question. If not, there is no point in suggesting not to use an online editor just because the OP wouldn't be able to use their local MATLAB files. If they don't have MATLAB files they want to use in their documents, they couldn't care less. I'd argue that many users will not be bothered by the limitations that online editors impose and consequently there is no point in suggesting to them to move away. – moewe Oct 22 '17 at 10:21
  • But even if a local install would make the problem go away, there might still be a solution using the editor's features. I think you are right in drawing a comparison to LyX. – moewe Oct 22 '17 at 10:23

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