5

I never provide CTAN links to packages I recommend. However, some people clearly think it's a good idea, (given the discussion here). I really question the usefulness of adding links to package suggestions, and in fact think it might be detrimental.

  1. Most, if not all packages that we recommend are included as part of TeXLive and MikTeX.
  2. Giving links to packages gives the false impression that people need to install them themselves, which given (1), is incorrect.
  3. A consequence of (2) is that people may, as a result of our advice, be installing local versions of packages they already have (which then leads to those packages effectively never being updated.)

Comments?

  • 2
    CTAN usually has a short description of the package, the manual and sometimes even an example document. – Caramdir Feb 3 '11 at 16:52
  • 3
    Like Caramdir, I've also thought the point of the links is to allow people to find the documentation. This is common not only here but also on other sites (for example www.latex-community.org). – Joseph Wright Feb 3 '11 at 17:09
  • @Caramdir If finding documentation is the point, then texdoc will do the trick. It's hard to judge whether people are doing what I think linking to CTAN does, but it's certainly a possibility. FOr new users especially, I can imagine it seeming more daunting to have to go to CTAN rather than just realizing that the package is more thank likely already available to them just with a \usepackage command (+texdoc for the documentation.) – Alan Munn Feb 3 '11 at 18:20
  • 1
    Is texdoc available under Windows? How many Windows/Mac users readily know how to use the command line? – Caramdir Feb 3 '11 at 18:27
  • @Caramdir Ok. So maybe that's the issue. We don't have a cross-platform way of pointing people to the documentation that they already have on their system. But MikTeX certainly has a way to access package documentation, although I don't know what it is. For Mac users, the commandline is possibly more familiar, but e.g. TeXShop has a built-in wrapper for texdoc, and TeXLive Utility (which is the Mac front end to tlmgr) also can find documentation for installed packages. – Alan Munn Feb 3 '11 at 18:36
  • @Caramdir: Yes, texdoc is available under Windows (or at least MikTeX emulates it). – lockstep Feb 3 '11 at 19:02
  • 3
    I should probably be ashamed to admit this, but I only learned of texdoc quite recently, and I still find it confusing sometimes as it doesn't always find what I want it to find, so a link to CTAN is actually much preferred. – Loop Space Feb 3 '11 at 19:07
  • 1
    @Andrew This is a helpful comment. It's easy to think that what's straightforward for oneself is for others too. I always have a Terminal window open on my Mac, but I'm sure many don't. And it's true, that texdoc without any options doesn't always give you reliable results. You are all gradually convincing me. :-) – Alan Munn Feb 3 '11 at 20:42
  • Although I'm getting convinced, it might also be helpful to mention to people that for most packages, the documentation is available within their own distribution. Perhaps a community wiki page with a question "How can I find documentation for package X" (I haven't checked to see if such a question already exists.) – Alan Munn Feb 3 '11 at 20:46
16

Regarding your points:

  1. Although packages may be part of a TeX distribution, not everybody installs the complete distribution. There are minimal and basic options. And Linux versions often differ even if they base on TeX Live. Further, CTAN may provide a more recent version.

  2. In that case such people don't know their distribution. If one would have a very brief look at a readme file or distribution manual, they would know that there's a package manager. So if you mean user who just install but don't read anything - if they would encounter the challenge of installing a package they would soon learn that there's the easy distribution way.

  3. If a user installs a local version besides the distribution at all, he could have the advantage of having a version that's newer than that of the distribution. If a user updates a distribution, he would use the distribution resp. package manager which makes the point obsolete that he installs packages manually because he doesn't know about the managing tool.

I think:

  • Links are good. That's the foundation of the web.

  • CTAN is in general the best place to point to.

  • Linking is friendly gesture, giving a convenient way to read the package info and to quickly access the documentation. That's usually the point, but not the installation.

I prefer convenient information over forcing the reader to look for himself. I know: one person writes but many users might read it. It takes the author just seconds to create a link once, but many users might read and use it.

  • (1) is definitely a fair point; I've been assuming that most people do install a full distribution. (2) falls into the same trap that I did: it assumes things about users' behaviour :-) but I basically agree with it. I'm not sure about (3), since having a local copy of a package that is part of the normal distribution is almost always headache inducing, even for experienced users (mainly because we forget they're there, and they don't get updated.) – Alan Munn Feb 3 '11 at 19:02
6

I think, it is useful to paste links since they can be used to lookup the documentation.

There's a lengthy discussion below the question claiming that you don't need to search the documentation online as long as texdoc is available on a certain system. But I claim: the presence of texdoc on a system doesn't matter at all in this case.

Justification: When you're asking a question on any of the Stackexchange sites, you're using your browser to do that. Why on earth would you want to open a second or third tool to gather information that can also be obtained without switching tools?

Maybe you're using your smartphone when you read the answer and just want to have a glimpse on the documentation before you head over to your workstation and install the package there.

So, again, YES we need hyperlinks when we are using the internet.

1

This is for (2).

I think giving the link is helpful. It is also more helpful to say that it is included in the default (MiKTeX/TeXLive/ConTeXt) installation, so that users will know what to texdoc right away.

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