Windows Installation

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In order to be able to run ConTeXt under Windows, you will need:

NB. If this was too many options to your taste, try the Simple Windows Installation page instead.


You have to bear in mind that ConTeXt is being developed reasonably fast (see Release Notes), so it's recommended to update it regulary. The command

ctxtools --update

used to work OK, but is no more recommended. All the three distributions mentioned here have their own way to update. We'll come back to that later (and move this section to a better place).

TeX Distributions

You first need to choose a TeX distribution. Options are:

ConTeXt Minimals

ConTeXt Minimals |

  • the official ConTeXt distribution
  • easy to keep up-to-date
  • includes (almost) everything that you need for ConTeXt
  • no LaTeX
    • if you don't need it, that's a rather small & convenient way to use ConTeXt
    • if you need it, you can have minimals installed parallel to TL or MikTeX

There are two ways to install it on Windows:

  • use GUI intaller by Vyatcheslav [1] (sets environmental variables globally)
  • install from command-line (TODO: instructions)

TeX Live

TeX Live 2008 |

  • reference distribution for (La)TeX for all platforms
  • released once per year and sent to members of TeX user groups on DVDs
  • used to be gigantic; but since 2008 one can install separate packages and update them
  • binaries are compatible with Minimals
  • ConTeXt is outdated
    • but it's possible to update it manually
    • new ConTeXt update mechanism is being prepared

Another distribution worth mentioning is W32TeX that came to our attention when Akira (its author) was the first one to manage to compile XeTeX for Windows, and still provides the very latest Windows binaries for XeTeX, LuaTeX, pdfTeX, MetaPost, ... Distribution is a bit specific, but his binaries are great - compatible with TeX Live and used in Minimals.

MikTeX (broken)

MikTeX 2.7 |

  • great tool for people typsetting in LaTeX
  • updating packages is easy, (font) packages are downloaded automatically
  • very user friendly
  • ConTeXt is often outdated, but currently broken
    • (it's possible to do some tweaking to make it work)
  • no LuaTeX available yet
  • binaries incompatible with Minimals and TeX Live

See also

Text Editor

See also Text Editors and Text Editors/Windows.

For newbies (like Word (ex)users)

  • Scite: nicely integrated with Minimals; support written by Hans Hagen ConTeXt commands.
  • Notepad++: easily configurable editor with lots of features. ConTeXt support available.
  • WinEdt: rich graphical user-interface, but more support for LaTeX than for ConTeXt
  • Textpad
  • TeXnicCenter

For gurus (like (La)TeX users or programmers)

These may be a good choice if you're willing to invest some time into learning them (may be worth the effort):


After you've done all that, you can finally use your favourite editor to write your first document.

To compile it, open the command line again (Start -> Run ... -> type cmd or command) and run

texexec yourfilename

PDF Viewer

Adobe Reader


Ruby is absolutely required (unless you plan to use MK IV exclusively), Perl and GS are highly recommended, the rest is optional.

Ruby and Perl

You can download ActivePerl here and Ruby here (automatic installation) or here (you need to extract files from zip and add ruby to PATH).

After installing check if these work OK:

perl --version
ruby --version


If you already worked with (La)TeX before, you probably already have it installed. Try

gswin32 --version

You have to download GhostScript (filename gs851w32.exe or a similar one) and preferrably GSview as well (gsv47w32.exe or similar). Be sure to include the executables (folder where gswin32.exe is located) into the PATH variable.

Other useful software

There is still some software worth mentioning:

Special Notes

Older versions of Windows

The stand-alone distribution only works for newer versions of Windows that have cmd.exe instead of as command interpreter. Running it on Windows 98 (or earlier) is also possible, but needs some tweaking (hardcoding the paths in .bat script). If you really need that and can't make it work alone, try to ask Taco.

TODO - needs revision

Installation Instructions

TODO: I made an example how to use the stand-alone distr. isolated from an existing distro. I would like to "join" this somehow with the first section and move opening of cdemo.bat to something like testing the installation. Perhaps pragmatex.bat can be executed with autorun or something if one is not using another TeX distribution. (See: To-Do List)

by Ville Voipio on the mailing list, 2006-01-19 (modified)

Here is a step by step of how it should go (i.e. what I did with success):

  1. Install Perl and Ruby
  2. Download, unzip it and move/rename the isoimage folder to your favourite destination. The instructions to follow assume that you renamed isoimage to
    There should be one folder (usr) and a few files in it.
  3. Open the folder c:\Programs\context and double-click cdemo.bat.
  4. Now you should see the editor SciTE open with a few files. Press F7 to compile one of the files.

If everything goes smoothly, you are done. If not, read these instructions again carefully. If you cannot get it work, mail the list.

TODO: review these steps: join the information - notes about ruby, Acrobat, ... apply to all windows distributions. (See: To-Do List)

A few notes on the procedure above:

  • It is up to you to choose the location where you unzip the file in step #2, no magic there. Just that you know where the files are.
  • The actual location of the ConTeXt tree in step #2 does not matter. I use c:\context, but you might use something else. However, I would not use anything with a space in the name (e.g. c:\Program Files\context), as that may confuse things. [Seems to work with an August 2006 stand-alone distribution.]
  • After you have verified everything works in step #3, you can toss cdemo.bat away and use cstart.bat to start everything. Make a link to it somewhere so that you can start the system by a shortcut or through the Start menu. Do not move the batch script anywhere, it has to be run in the root directory of the distribution (e.g. c:\Programs\context).
  • Make sure you have something Acrobatish (any decent PDF viewer) installed, otherwise you won't see the results in step #4.
  • A final note: to have it finally running you should build the formats first. To do so there is at least a way:
 (assuming C:\Programs\context)
 cd C:\Programs\context
 Then close the SciTe window but remain in the cmd.
Then, in one line:
C:\Programs\context\usr\local\context\tex\setuptex.bat C:\Programs\context\usr\local\context\tex
 texexec --make --all
Then, close the cmd, double-click in cdemo.bat
and voila !
  • Another way to do it could be to type: texexec --make --all directly in SciTe console.

How to use the stand-alone distr. if you have MikTeX/TeX Live installed

  1. Create a file pragmatex.bat (the name doesn't really matter) with this content:
    C:\Programs\context\usr\local\context\tex\setuptex.bat C:\Programs\context\usr\local\context\tex
    and make sure that this file is visible by PATH.
  2. You can safely continue using your old TeX distribution (MikTeX, TeX Live, ...). If you want to invoke the stand-alone distribution, just execute
    from the command-line and all the subsequent calls to texexec will use files from the stand-alone tree (you'll notice the difference in file names when running ConTeXt).