LaTeX modernization challenge

For those in technical fields, the LaTeX typesetting system is only slightly more invaluable than infuriating, not to mention shady to search for appropriately on the internet. As they say, LaTeX makes very difficult tasks easy and very easy tasks difficult. Though there are several excellent GUIs that address many of these shortcomings, there’s a problem in compiling efficiency that I think can be addressed. Every time you make a change and run the LaTeX command on a file, it recompiles the entire document, soup to pie. This is obviously useful when you have references that need updating throughout the entire file, but I bet there’s a way to implement a system in which LaTeX compiles only what changes, and beyond.

Let’s take a simple example. Let’s say I have a beamer presentation in LaTeX that has 10 slides. If I change information on slide 3 that has NO bearing on slides 1-2, I should be able to compile the document so that it only compiles slides 3-10, since potentially pagination on slide 3 changes the slides that follow. (In fact, beamer slides should be such that most changes made to slide 3 will not affect any other slide, so in that case LaTeX should retypeset page 3 and then maintain the other pages.)

Pitfalls of this are pretty clear: there are several scenarios, including references and labels, in which the entire document may need to be recompiled, and it may seem like considering these exceptions is cumbersome/inelegant. But I think that modern computing is easily capable of handling these challenges in a fairly efficient manner. It doesn’t even have to be all-inclusive for a first try.

It’s also not clear to me whether or not such a thing exists. I haven’t spent enough time on LaTeX community boards or mailing lists to really know. The reason for this is partly time, of course, but mostly because I don’t have the technical acumen to actually help solve these problems. But here I’m throwing out the challenge to do so, if it hasn’t been done already. It’s clearly not in the mainstream LaTeX distributions, but it’s a sorely needed feature that would save enormous amounts of time in preparing these manuscripts in LaTeX.

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