[Tex/LaTex] Installing biber for use with TeX Live 2013 on Debian wheezy


I recently backported what I think is TeX Live 2013 from Debian testing/unstable to Debian wheezy. The version number is 2013.20140314-1. This is no longer the most current version in Debian; there is now a 2013.20140408-1.
This was not without difficulty, but that is another story. At least, I thought I had backported it, but it turns out I had overlooked something.

When I installed the texlive-bibtex-extra package, (which contains the biblatex LaTeX package), I discovered that biber 1.8 was also required. This is in unstable, so I tried to backport it. This is where things went wrong. For reasons unclear to me, biber requires Perl 5.16. According to perlhist, 5.16 was released in May 2012, so relatively recently.

Unfortunately, Debian wheezy uses Perl 5.14. In general, updating a basic system component like Perl is not a good idea, so I have not tried to do this, though it is possible it is harmless; I don't know. In any case, I find that I am now stuck. It is possible that I will have to fall back to the TeX Live 2012 packaged for wheezy, which would be annoying.

Can anyone suggest a solution or workaround? I know one can do a local install of TeX Live, but would that not be subject to the same problem? Unless one was to include a local copy of Perl to use specifically for this purpose, that is. Another vague possibility seems to be to bundle perl with the program somehow, perhaps by some form of static linking?

The Biber README says

You do not need to install Perl use biber–binaries are provided
for many operating systems via the main TeX distributions (TeXLive,
MacTeX, MiKTeX) and also via download from SourceForge.

You only need a Perl installation to use biber in one of the
following cases:

  • A binary version is not available for your OS/platform * You
    wish to keep up with all of the bleeding-edge git commits before
    they are packaged into a binary.

When I built and installed the Debian binary Biber package, it still complained about 5.16 being available, so I am not sure what is meant by binaries here.

Best Answer

The best solution here by far is to install vanilla TeX Live as explained in answers on this site and in the official instructions.

There is some confusion, I think. In general, there is a difference between what is needed to build a binary and what is needed to use it. The quotation from biber's documentation is saying that perl is not needed to use pre-built binaries. When you try to build the backports package, however, you are trying to build the binary and that is what requires perl 5.16, it seems.

You could obtain the binary from Sourceforge, for example. However, you would need to ensure that you get the right biber for the version of biblatex you have. Moreover, you will need to re-backport and recheck etc. each time the backported package is updated.

In contrast, if you install vanilla TeX Live, you can keep everything current using tlmgr without having to compile anything. This is, to say the least, extremely nice. It also avoids a lot of messing about trying to figure out which package contains what in Debian's ecosystem. (This is not a criticism of Debian's packaging but if you basically want all of TeX Live, say, it is simpler to just install it.)

I think if somebody is happy with the version of TL which their distro provides, sticking with it makes a lot of sense. But once you are unhappy with it, vanilla TL makes a lot more sense IMHO than the alternatives. It is simpler, easier to maintain, more transparent and cleaner. It also allows you to install TeX Live as an unprivileged user, as recommended by upstream. (Note: hardly anybody seems to do this except me but, being me, I think it an advantage.)