XeTeX 0.9999: Moving to HarfBuzz (and lots of other goodies)

Khaled Hosny has announced on the XeTeX mailing list that XeTeX 0.9999 has just been released. The list of changes is pretty long, as XeTeX has had quite a backlog of issues. Probably the biggest single change is

Port OpenType layout from ICU LayoutEngine to HarfBuzz. HarfBuzz is actively maintained and generally have much wider support for
OpenType spec, the switch fixes a number of OpenType bugs:

  • Support version 2 OpenType Indic specs.
  • Many other Indic OpenType bugs, and support for the latest additions to OpenType spec.
  • Incorrect application of contextual features.
  • Incorrect kerning in fonts that has both old “kern” table and new GPOS “kern” feature.
  • Allow suppressing Latin ligatures with ZWNJ.
  • Support for variation selectors.
  • Support for user-specified features with complex scripts.

If you are familiar with layout engines, you’ll know that while ICU has worked very well for XeTeX from day one, it’s no longer being developed while HarfBuzz is being developed. More importantly, HarfBuzz is supported by the open source community well beyond the TeX world, so by moving in this direction XeTeX gets the benefits of the efforts of many other people: part of the point of open source software. I’m sure it’s been a big effort making this change: I’m looking forward to testing it out.

The other headline change, at least for Mac users, is moving to Core Text rather than ATS/ATSUI. Apple have dropped support for the latter, so there was a worry about building XeTeX on the Mac in the future. That’s now sorted, and means XeTeX should work as a 64-bit application on the Mac in future.

If you read the full announcement you’ll see there are lots of other changes and bug fixes. Congratulations to Khaled on this: it’s great to see that XeTeX continues to develop, and that several features have been added to make working with XeTeX and LuaTeX seamlessly are now there.

3 thoughts on “XeTeX 0.9999: Moving to HarfBuzz (and lots of other goodies)

  1. While I welcome the fact that XeTeX development continues, I don’t really understand what this means for the user. Do we get new features, for example improvements in terms of microtypography?

  2. Microtypography is a different area, but there is already some code for that in XeTeX. The layout engine used shows up mainly for non-Latin scripts, so for those of us working in western European languages is not such a big deal. It’s things like Arabic where this makes a big impact. (There are some new features for Latin scripts, for example ligature suppression.) There are lots of bug fixes and new features which may pop up depending on your use pattern.

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