Collaborative writing with Overleaf


#1

The Overleaf cloud-based LaTeX editor for collaborative writing

Overleaf is cloud-based LaTeX editor for collaborative writing. Overleaf was used to author a community submission on public sector information re-use in late-2017. Paid accounts are offered (I purchased one year for €126) and these provide somewhat better private access control and a finer-grained history. Both features could benefit from more development (see below), but are far from essential in most circumstances. In other words, a free account should meet most needs, particularly if the git-bridge feature is used to edit locally.

Some good points for Overleaf:

  • one can work in a git repository on their own machine and periodically push and pull changes — which means that the PDF version on Overleaf remains as current as you wish

  • for free accounts, the document on Overleaf is world readable and users with the correct URL can download the latest published PDF and also the LaTeX source

  • for paid accounts, email-address-based write access can be specified (but not world readability as above)

  • in my limited experience, exemplary technical support

Some neutral points to keep in mind:

  • unlike GitHub, Overleaf has no concept of a maintainer or lead author — so if you do need a coordinating author, you should nominate someone and then plan your writing outside of Overleaf using broadcast email or similar

  • in connection with the above, protected projects (which require a paid account) do have an owner who can determine read and read/edit permissions by individual contributer

  • Overleaf offers a document commenting feature (although I have not used that)

I am sure the developers have a long to-do list, some of which I know has been prioritized and is being worked on. Here is my list:

  • document access control should allow for world readable access and specified write access by exact email address, email domain, and perhaps even more resolved email address filtering

  • to allow local and Overleaf builds to differ, a new LaTeX package named ifoverleaf should be developed to enable location-specific code to be run without the need for continually hand editing or script processing the markup between push calls and local editing and private distribution

  • the git system is not run run server-side so that the gitinfo2 git information LaTeX package is of no use — in which case, a new overleaf package should offer season-aware server-side timestamps in a timezone nominated by the user (currently under xelatex, only the canonical timestamp can be recovered, that is, without adjustment for daylight saving).

  • the detailed history and the diff reporting (available only with paid accounts) needs development — the reporting is no where near as comprehensive at that provided by command-line git, for instance.

In conclusion, Overleaf is a great idea, quite workable at present, and hopefully some improved features will become available in due course.