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What's really nice about posting in the math stackexchange, and other forums, is that you can view the latex symbols right below as you're typing your post. Is there a way to do this in emacs? That is, can I type "$\in$" and have it immediately convert the code to the "element of" symbol (in the position where I typed it)?

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AucTEX includes preview-latex-mode, which almost does what you want. (I don't think it autoconverts by default, but I'm confident you could configure it to do so.)

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you can preview-latex-mode use only in syntatic correct LaTeX files.

however there are two other solutions 1. org-preview-latex-fragment: which works with the same idea (subs latex by png) but you can do it in ANY buffer, email etc.

  1. you can also use x-symbol which uses fonts to display $\int$ as an integral. Again it works in ANY buffer. I am not sure that x-symbol still works with recent GNU emacs 24 but I do know it works for Xemacs.

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