MathML for Math and Science Communication
MathML is the XML standard for encoding mathematics. Originally intended as a
means of incorporating mathematics in web pages, MathML has grown to become a
general format for the exchange and communication of mathematics in a wide
variety of math
and science applications.
The need for standards became apparent early in the development of the
web. In 1994, the World Wide Web Consortium
(W3C) was founded, and began putting in place a process to recommend standards
for the web. Almost at once, proposals for adding math capabilities to HTML
began circulating at W3C, and in 1995, the formal development of MathML began.
The first release of the MathML
Specification was in 1997.
Implementation in web browsers proceeded slowly over the intervening decade.
In an early success,
Design Science developed MathPlayer to add MathML capability to Internet
Explorer. Native support was added to Firefox, Opera, and various more
specialized browsers. Outside of browsers, MathML has been widely adopted
in publishing workflows based on XML, and is incorporated by reference into a
number of scientific XML vocabularies such as CellML. It is also used as an
exchange format for applications that support mathematical content, including
such notable applications as Microsoft Word, Open Office, Maple and Mathematica. More recently, MathML has achieved prominence as a means for providing
accessible mathematics for individuals with visual disabilities.
Design Science has been involved in the development of MathML from the
beginning, and Dr. Robert Miner, the editor of the MathML specification, is
Vice President for Research & Development at Design Science. Dr. Neil Soiffer, a senior scientist at Design Science, is also a long time member of the
W3C Math Working Group, and is a leading figure in the use of MathML for math
Why MathML Is Important
While MathML is similar in many ways to earlier encodings for math
expressions, it is broader in scope and goals than earlier efforts. Mathematics expressions occur in many contexts where they are used in very
different ways. Expressions appear in print books and articles, where they
must be rendered at high resolution at a fixed size. They also appear in
electronic media, where resolution is generally lower, but sizes and line
wrapping change dynamically. For individuals with print disabilities, the
same expression must be spoken aloud or rendered in a Braille format. In a
global economy, the ability to generate many "localized" versions of an
expression is increasingly important, since notational conventions vary widely
from region to region. And perhaps the most notable feature of mathematics
expressions is that they can often be evaluated or symbolically manipulated with
scientific software such as computer algebra systems.
In our modern information economy, value is created when information is able
to flow from one context to another with a minimum of friction. MathML is
important because it enables seamless transfer and reuse of mathematical content
from application to application and context to context.
A key way in which MathML enables such interoperability is by storing information about
mathematical structure as well as
typographic appearance. Two other key characteristics of MathML have also been
important in enabling interoperability. First, MathML is defined in terms of XML.
Secondly, MathML tries to be as
media independent as possible, with support for interactivity, computation, and
speech synthesis, as well as traditional paper publishing.
Because of these advantages, many math and science software
vendors have added MathML support to their products. As new products are
developed, they increasingly benefit from implementing MathML support as well. For example, the
Windows 7 Math Input Panel enables
handwritten input of math into many applications by using MathML as an exchange
format. As a result, the now well-known "network effect" has contributed to the
continued growth of MathML support.
Design Science and MathML
Design Science is the world's leading vendor of MathML products and solutions.
MathType and MathFlow (core portions
of which were initially released under the name WebEQ) are among the oldest
applications for working with MathML available. MathPlayer
is the leading way of displaying MathML in Internet Explorer, and together with
MathDaisy, our newest
product, provide cutting edge math accessibility.
Learning More about MathML
There are many resources for learning more about MathML. Some of our
- W3C MathML 3.0 Specification
- The latest official MathML specification.
- W3C MathML Working Group Home Page
- The official site for news about the MathML specification.
- A Gentle Introduction to MathML
- An introduction and tutorial to MathML along with a reference section on
the WebEQ implementation of MathML