I have the impression that a disproportional large fraction of overleaf users don't notice error messages, a typical comment stream often goes like:

Question: Why is the image placed incorrectly?

me: Can you add a MWE

OP: sure, here is the overleaf link: ...

me: Your example code does not compile and results in error messages about Undefined control sequence. You need to define \foo

OP: My code does not have errors. Look at the overleaf link, it compiles fine

me: Just because overleaf is exceptionally good at hiding error messages, does not mean that there are no error messages ...

The above dialogue is fictional, but many of you have probably experienced similar situations.

I think there might be some possibilities to tweak their UI to make users more aware of error messages (maybe some dialogue message "there are errors - go back to editor to fix or ignore and show pdf", just a quick idea off the top of my head).

Now it probably won't make much impression on overleaf if a none customer like me writes them "I have the impression your users are unaware of errors", but if there would be a list of questions which demonstrates this problem, maybe the impact would be higher. Unfortunately it is hard to search for this on the main site, because this problem is often discussed in comments and the questions are (correctly) not tagged with overleaf, because the tex problem is unrelated to the platform used.

Please help me to compile a list of questions, which were caused or made more complicate to solve because the OP did not notice error messages on overleaf

(my plan would be to collect examples over the next month or so and depending a bit on how many are found until then, write to overleaf)


I know that also many users of editors like texstudio ignore error messages, but I have the impression that most of them are aware that there are some red messages highlighted at the bottom left, they just argue that "the pdf looks fine" and ignore them anyway, which is equally bad, but another problem.

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    Do that many users really not notice a red box with a white cross in it next to the offending line that shows an error message when the mouse hovers over it and also a red box with the number of errors displayed over the log button (next to the recompile button)? – Nicola Talbot Nov 6 at 14:17
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    @NicolaTalbot I have this impression, yes. If I'm wrong and not many example will be added to the list below, I'll stand corrected. – samcarter Nov 6 at 14:19
  • If the problem comes up again, I've added an answer that could be referenced to show how to spot the errors if that helps. – Nicola Talbot Nov 6 at 14:40
  • @NicolaTalbot Thanks a lot, this will surly be helpful in the future! – samcarter Nov 6 at 14:41
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    @NicolaTalbot I am absolutely sure that this happens because I experienced it myself, and not just once. – marmot Nov 6 at 18:25
  • @marmot It's certainly not as obvious as it used to be before the merger with ShareLaTeX. – Nicola Talbot Nov 6 at 18:44
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    @NicolaTalbot Could very well be. I just wanted to express that I had a few conversations of the type: "Your code throws errors". "What are you talking about, it compiles just fine!". – marmot Nov 6 at 19:00
  • OTOH, the homepage currently has tex.stackexchange.com/q/458711/107497 where the Overleaf user just posted images of their error messages instead of the code that caused the error messages. – Teepeemm Nov 6 at 22:13
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    People are ignoring error messages in all editors and GUIs, not just Overleaf. I don't think it is our responsibility here to make changes there. Write them a mail raising your concerns. I once wrote them a mail and got a response by one of the founding members 10 minutes later, and it was a sunday evening. – Johannes_B Nov 7 at 6:21
  • I consider myself a rather experienced TeX user by now but I fell into this exact problem. I missed the error messages in OverLeaf. I think the reason is that when doing LaTeX what is interesting is the pdf file. IF the pdf file looks right what do I care if there is a long list of error messages? However as I experienced it is impossible to get help with things that doesn't even compile... – jonalv Nov 7 at 8:53
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    (I'm a co-founder at Overleaf.) Just a note to say this question generated quite a lot of discussion internally! Overleaf v1 refused to produce a new PDF if there was any error; v2 uses the ShareLaTeX behaviour of always producing a PDF where possible. Both approaches have pros and cons. We are planning to review how we present the errors in v2 to see if we can make it less likely that people will ignore them. (We don't have a definite timeline on this yet, but we will see what we can do.) Thanks for all the feedback in this thread, and especially to Nicola for the very comprehensive answer! – jdleesmiller Nov 7 at 11:11
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    @jdleesmiller Thanks a lot for your comment! Making Overleaf aware of this was much easier than I thought :) – samcarter Nov 7 at 13:10
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    @jdleesmiller I've taught beginners starting with Overleaf in class and, even when I've showed them where to look, they still find it hard to notice the error exists or to figure out where the error is. It is also tricky that the standard advice to 'delete the .aux file', say, isn't obviously related to 'recompile from scratch', which is itself hidden in a box only seen when there's an error. (If you want to force compilation for some other reason, is there any way other than deliberately causing a compilation error?) – cfr Nov 14 at 3:00
  • @jdleesmiller And that was before the merger .... – cfr Nov 14 at 3:01

Overleaf and ShareLaTeX recently merged into Overleaf v2. Before the merger, errors on Overleaf looked like this:¹

image of Overleaf showing errors

There's a big red rectangle with the error message over the problematic line.

Errors on ShareLaTeX looked like this:²

image of ShareLaTeX showing errors

This shows a red box with a white cross in it next to the line number. The error message shows as a tooltip. The right panel shows more detail.

Since the merger, Overleaf v2 has adopted the ShareLaTeX approach of showing a red box with a cross in it next to the problematic line with the mouseover message, shown below:

image of error showing in Overleaf v2

Moving the mouse over the red box shows the error message. The "logs and output files" button has a red box with the number of errors in it (1 in this case). Click on that button to show more details.

Warnings show up as a yellow triangle with an exclamation mark inside it and the number of warnings shows up in an orange box over the "logs and output files" button.

image of Overleaf document with warnings

Where there are both warnings and errors, the total number is shown in a red box over the "logs and output files" button.

image of Overleaf document with error and warnings

If you click on the "logs and output files" button then a summary of the errors and warnings is displayed.

image of Overleaf document with log summary

So the new v2 interface has the more discreet ShareLaTeX style of alerting users to a problem, but if you do notice the little numbered box over the "logs and output files" button and click on it, then it does actually provide some useful information for a beginner who may find the usual LaTeX messages a bit baffling.


¹Image taken from Figure 13.8: Overleaf — Error Handling.

²Image taken from Figure 13.9: ShareLaTeX — Error Handling.

  • moreover I believe that (a) v1 would treat, for example, undefined control sequence as a fatal error, and everything would stop but (b) v2, flags it but keeps going when it can. I've already complained to Overleaf that v2 is too permissive. – Jim Ratliff Nov 10 at 17:26

List of questions, which were caused or made more complicate to solve because the OP did not notice error messages on overleaf:

Overleaf users which are aware of error messages but ignore them:

  • I like this list! Thanks! I will add future instances here, now I cannot remember where I saw these things happening, but I am absolutely sure that they did happen. – marmot Nov 6 at 18:30
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    @marmot Thanks for keeping an eye open for this! It is very unfortunate that it seems nearly impossible to search for such conversations, so I think as many users as possible keeping an eye open is the only possible way to find them. – samcarter Nov 6 at 19:56
  • @jonalv Thanks a lot for sharing your answer! – samcarter Nov 7 at 9:27

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