# Text-based input formats for mathematical formulas

Friday, December 8, 2006 - 11:30am - 12:00pm

EE/CS 3-180

Peter Jipsen (Chapman University)

This talk discusses and compares several approaches that can be used to

produce mathematical content on the web. Emphasis is placed on the input that the

user has to create, in particular on ease-of-use, readability, familiarity, generality,

availability and other criteria. While LaTeX to PDF is generally considered the de

facto standard in research publications, we will also examine input languages for

several computer algebra systems, online assessment/courseware systems and word

processors, as well as ASCIIMath.

Since the ASCIIMath language is a relative newcomer (but mostly a refinement of

the well known tradition of approximating formulas by ascii characters), the talk

includes a brief description and motivation for some of the design decisions. The

core of this mathematical input language consists of only 8 lines of BNF, yet it can

express most of undergraduate mathematics in a predictable way that generally

matches what users expect. In addition the language constructs map in a direct

way to a subset of Presentation MathML. E.g. 4/3pir

<mfrac><mn>4</mn><mn>3</mn></mfrac><mi>π</mi>

<msup><mi>r</mi><mn>3</mn></msup>

and displays in standard typeset form. A JavaScript implementation ASCIIMathML.js parses this

syntax and applies the translation in the client's browser. This program has been

downloaded by thousands of users in over 90 countries and is currently used in

numerous blogs, wikis and course management systems, partly because it enables

cross-browser MathML to display in legacy HTML (rather than XHTML) pages.

Since the language overlaps with LaTeX and TI-83 syntax, it is familiar to mathematicians

and school children, and is also used as input for online calculators.

ASCIIMath has been implemented by others in PHP and C#, as well as modified

to LaTeXMathML.js. Experiments with an online WYSIWYG HTML editor, called

ASciencePad, indicate that ASCIIMath is a convenient alternative to toolbar-driven

formula editors. In summary, it appears that an input format like ASCIIMath is

a desirable addition to the various ways of creating mathematical content online.

Further information can be found at www.chapman.edu/~jipsen/asciimath.html.

produce mathematical content on the web. Emphasis is placed on the input that the

user has to create, in particular on ease-of-use, readability, familiarity, generality,

availability and other criteria. While LaTeX to PDF is generally considered the de

facto standard in research publications, we will also examine input languages for

several computer algebra systems, online assessment/courseware systems and word

processors, as well as ASCIIMath.

Since the ASCIIMath language is a relative newcomer (but mostly a refinement of

the well known tradition of approximating formulas by ascii characters), the talk

includes a brief description and motivation for some of the design decisions. The

core of this mathematical input language consists of only 8 lines of BNF, yet it can

express most of undergraduate mathematics in a predictable way that generally

matches what users expect. In addition the language constructs map in a direct

way to a subset of Presentation MathML. E.g. 4/3pir

^{3}translates to<mfrac><mn>4</mn><mn>3</mn></mfrac><mi>π</mi>

<msup><mi>r</mi><mn>3</mn></msup>

and displays in standard typeset form. A JavaScript implementation ASCIIMathML.js parses this

syntax and applies the translation in the client's browser. This program has been

downloaded by thousands of users in over 90 countries and is currently used in

numerous blogs, wikis and course management systems, partly because it enables

cross-browser MathML to display in legacy HTML (rather than XHTML) pages.

Since the language overlaps with LaTeX and TI-83 syntax, it is familiar to mathematicians

and school children, and is also used as input for online calculators.

ASCIIMath has been implemented by others in PHP and C#, as well as modified

to LaTeXMathML.js. Experiments with an online WYSIWYG HTML editor, called

ASciencePad, indicate that ASCIIMath is a convenient alternative to toolbar-driven

formula editors. In summary, it appears that an input format like ASCIIMath is

a desirable addition to the various ways of creating mathematical content online.

Further information can be found at www.chapman.edu/~jipsen/asciimath.html.