Frequently Asked Question List for TeX


Conditional compilation and “comments”

While LaTeX (or any other TeX-derived package) isn’t really like a compiler, people regularly want to do compiler-like things using it. Common requirements are conditional “compilation” and “block comments”, and several LaTeX-specific means to this end are available.

The simple \newcommand{\gobble}[1]{} and \iffalse ... \fi aren’t really satisfactory (as a general solution) for comments, since the matter being skipped is nevertheless scanned by TeX, not always as you would expect. The scanning imposes restrictions on what you’re allowed to skip; this may not be a problem in today’s job, but could return to bite you tomorrow. For an example of surprises that may come to bite you, consider the following example (derived from real user experience):

\iffalse % ignoring this bit
consider what happens if we
use \verb+\iftrue+ -- a surprise

The \iftrue is spotted by TeX as it scans, ignoring the \verb command; so the \iffalse isn’t terminated by the following \fi. Also, \gobble is pretty inefficient at consuming anything non-trivial, since all the matter to be skipped is copied to the argument stack before being ignored.

If your requirement is for a document from which whole chapters (or the like) are missing, consider the LaTeX \include/\includeonly system. If you \include your files (rather than \input them — see What’s going on in my \include commands?), LaTeX writes macro traces of what’s going on at the end of each chapter to the aux file; by using \includeonly, you can give LaTeX an exhaustive list of the files that are needed. Files that don’t get \included are skipped entirely, but the document processing continues as if they were there, and page, footnote, and other numbers are not disturbed. Note that you can choose which sections you want included interactively, using the askinclude package.

A variant on the \includeonly mechanism is offered by the stampinclude package, which takes advantage of the pdfTeX \pdffilemoddate command. When an \included file is processed in a LaTeX document, an aux file is created holding data such as page-number ranges and chapter/section numbers. When \stampinclude is included in a document, it compares the file system modification times for each file and its corresponding aux file; the file is only compiled in “this run” of the document if the file is newer than its corresponding aux file. The package requires a current pdfTeX, and will also run on LuaTeX if the pdftexcmds package is available (pdftexcmds emulates the requisite pdfTeX commands using lua. Apart from this requirement, stampinclude is a low-maintenace object; include it in your document and it silently does its job. When you want a final version of your document, delete all the aux files, and and stampinclude won’t interfere.)

The inverse can be done using the excludeonly package: this allows you to exclude a (list of) \included files from your document, by means of an \excludeonly command.

If you want to select particular pages of your document, use Heiko Oberdiek’s pagesel or the selectp packages. You can do something similar with an existing PDF document (which you may have compiled using pdflatex in the first place), using the pdfpages package. The job is then done with a document looking like:


(To include all of the document, you write


omitting the start and end pages in the optional argument.)

If you want flexible facilities for including or excluding small portions of a file, consider the comment, version or optional packages.

The comment package allows you to declare areas of a document to be included or excluded; you make these declarations in the preamble of your file. The command \includecomment{version-name} declares an environment version-name whose content will be included in your document, while \excludecomment{version-name} defines an environment whose content will be excluded from the document. The package uses a method for exclusion that is pretty robust, and can cope with ill-formed bunches of text (e.g., with unbalanced braces or \if commands).

(These FAQs employ the comment package to alter layout between the printed (two-column) version and the PDF version for browsing; there are narrowversion and wideversion for the two versions of the file.)

version offers similar facilities to comment.sty (i.e., \includeversion and \excludeversion commands); it’s far “lighter weight”, but is less robust (and in particular, cannot deal with very large areas of text being included/excluded).

A significant development of version, confusingly called versions (i.e., merely a plural of the old package name). Versions adds a command \markversion{version-name} which defines an environment that prints the included text, with a clear printed mark around it.

optional defines a command \opt; its first argument is an “inclusion flag”, and its second is text to be included or excluded. Text to be included or excluded must be well-formed (nothing mismatched), and should not be too big — if a large body of text is needed, \input should be used in the argument. The documentation (in the package file itself) tells you how to declare which sections are to be included: this can be done in the document preamble, but the documentation also suggests ways in which it can be done on the command line that invokes LaTeX, or interactively.

And, not least of this style of conditional compilation, verbatim (which should be available in any distribution) defines a comment environment, which enables the dedicated user of the source text editor to suppress bits of a LaTeX source file. The memoir class offers the same environment.

An interesting variation is the xcomment package. This defines an environment whose body is all excluded, apart from environments named in its argument. So, for example:

  This text is not included
    This figure is included
  This is not included, either
    This table also included

The tagging package offers another neat set of syntax, which allow the user to apply “tags” to chunks of text, and to include and exclude tagged text, according to the tags. For example, the user may “use” text marked with some tags, and to “drop” marked with others:

\usetag{<tag list>}
\droptag{<tag list>}

(the tag lists consist of comma-separated single words).

There are then commands

\tagged{<tag list>}{<text>}

which reproduces the text only if the ‹tag list› contains at least one tag listed in the \usetag comand, and

\untagged{<tag list>}{<text>}

which only reproduces the text unless the ‹tag list› contains none of the tags mention in the \droptag command.

Further commands offer an if-then-else setup, and specify taggedblock and untaggedblock environments that.

Another valuable aspect of the problem is covered by the extract package. The package allows you to produce a “partial copy” of an existing document: the package was developed to permit production of a “book of examples” from a set of lecture notes. The package documentation shows the following usage:


which will cause the package to produce a file foobar.tex containing all the figure and table environments, and the \chapter and \section commands, from the document being processed. The new file foobar.tex is generated in the course of an otherwise ordinary run on the “master” document. The package provides a good number of other facilities, including (numeric or labelled) ranges of environments to extract, and an extract environment which you can use to create complete ready-to-run LaTeX documents with stuff you’ve extracted.

FAQ ID: Q-conditional