Collaborative writing with Overleaf

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.

Major upgrade announced:

Overleaf Team (16 August 2018). Overleaf v2—launch announcement. Overleaf Blog. London, United Kingdom.

Documentation: There is a new documentation suite for Overleaf:

Git interaction: Overleaf is currently transitioning from v1 to v2. Both are supported at the time of writing. Unlike v1 however, v2 does not support interaction with a local git repository — a fantastic feature. Reinstating this functionality for v2 is a priority for the Overleaf Team and it should be available within months. As a work‑around, v2 does talk to GitHub and, if privacy is necessary, GitHub does support paid private repositories with discounts for students and academics. See the link below for details on GitHub integration in v2:

Text and images licensed under CC BY 4.0Data licensed under CC0 1.0Code licensed under MITSite terms of serviceOpenmod mailing list.