[texhax] [pdftex] TeX as a composition server?

Peter Davis pfd at pfdstudio.com
Sat Oct 23 13:06:28 CEST 2010

Hi, Paul,

Thank you!  I've joined the texhax list.  (Is that pronounced "hack" or 

Thanks for your replies.  I have some follow-up questions, specifically 
about TeX formats (LaTeX, ConTeXt, XeTeX, etc.)  I've actually been a 
LaTeX user for years, and written a few of my own macros, mostly cobbled 
together from examples I found elsewhere.

The problem I'm now facing is trying to create a server that can produce 
results "similar to"[1] InDesign, but much faster.  This would be for 
documents already created in InDesign and exported to an XML format, so 
the task would be to convert the XML to whatever-TeX (possibly via 
XSLT), and then compose the results at a rate of thousands of pages per 
minute.  The server would have to support TrueType/OpenType and Type 1 
fonts, though I could put off worrying about CID-keyed fonts for a 
while.  It *may* be possible to convert any required fonts to T1 format, 
and even extract TFM on the fly.

Ideally, I'd like to be able to invoke this server with some style 
parameters, box dimensions, and a stream of marked-up text.  The stream 
could contain TeX mark-up for changing fonts, color, style, etc.  We'd 
like to have something like longtables also.  The server would return 
the formatted composed box (in .dvi format?) and a pointer to how much 
of the input text stream was able to fit in the box, so that the server 
could be re-invoked with another box for overflow.

I don't mind the propsect of writing my own macros, but I don't want to 
duplicate features that are already available in some existing format or 

Thanks very much!


[1] I don't have a rigorous definition of "similar to."  The goal is 
that an InDesign user should not be surprised by the results.

On 10/23/2010 5:54 AM, Paul Isambert wrote:
> Hello Peter,
> I've redirected your message to texhax at tug.org, a mailing list for TeX 
> that is widely frequented (the pdfTeX mailing list is not really 
> active). You'll find the list archives here:
> http://tug.org/mailman/listinfo/texhax
> As for the questions:
> 1) Thousands of pages per minutes is doable, but the speed really 
> depends on what you do with pdfTeX. Simply text can go really fast. 
> Complex operations can take much more time.
> 2) pdfTeX implements the HZ-program and can do that both in dvi and pdf.
> 3) No. There exists complex procedures to use Open- or TrueType fonts, 
> but you don't want to go into that (me neither). In pdfTeX, it's 
> either tfm (TeX native font format) or PostScript T1. But: there exist 
> XeTeX and LuaTeX. Both allow you to use any kind of font. XeTeX don't 
> produce dvi, though -- but anyway you can't use any font with dvi.
> No need to apologize, by the way.
> My two cents is: if you want a top-notch typographic system, use 
> ConTeXt MkIV; ConTeXt is TeX, but with many things on top of it. You 
> generally don't use TeX as is: instead, you use a set of macros, often 
> called a format, which perhaps you've written by yourself (in which 
> case you're free /and /lonely). ConTeXt is a format, and it's probably 
> the most powerful of all, at least when it comes to typography. Speed 
> is not its forte, though. LaTeX is another format, it's a little bit 
> faster, but if you're looking for ``InDesign composition, with 
> suitable parameters'', I wouldn't recommend it. Finally, you can write 
> your own set of macros, but that's definitely not the better way to start!
> Best,
> Paul
> Le 23/10/2010 10:41, Peter Davis a écrit :
>> I'm looking at the possibility of using TeX as a composition server, 
>> something to compose blocks of text or pages in a high volume 
>> workflow.  From what I've learned, TeX, and in particular pdfTeX, is 
>> capable of producing output that's very similar to InDesign 
>> composition, with suitable parameters.  So I have a few question 
>> perhaps this audience can help with.
>> 1) Is there any way to gauge roughly what kind of throughput I could 
>> get? Could a single TeX process on a state-of-the-art Intel box, for 
>> example, produce hundreds of pages per minute?  Thousands?  Tens or 
>> hundreds of thousands?  (I'm assuming A4 or letter pages of just text.)
>> 2) Is it only pdfTeX which uses hz-program-like composition, with 
>> glyph scaling, etc.?  If so, is it possible to use pdfTeX to produce 
>> .dvi (or does .dvi prohibit the use of glyph scaling)?  I'd like to 
>> be able to generate bitmaps for JPEG/GIF/PNG output as well as PDF.
>> 3) Will pdfTeX work with all the standard font formats?
>> Apologies for my ignorance, but I'm eager to learn more.
>> Thank you.
>> -pd

Peter Davis
  The Tech Curmudgeon - http://www.techcurmudgeon.com
Ideas Great and Dumb - http://www.ideasgreatanddumb.com

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