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JavaScript-based translation of UnicodeMath to MathML that can be integrated into arbitrary HTML or Markdeep documents. An interactive "playground" allows for experimentation with the syntax and insight into the translation pipeline.

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UnicodeMathML

This repository provides a JavaScript-based translation of UnicodeMath to MathML (hence "UnicodeMathML"). An interactive "playground" allows for experimentation with UnicodeMath's syntax and insight into the translation pipeline. UnicodeMathML can be easily integrated into arbitrary HTML or Markdeep documents.

🎮 Get familiar with the syntax via the playground!

📑 Learn how to integrate UnicodeMathML into your website or Markdeep document.

UnicodeMath is an easy-to-read linear format for mathematics initially developed as an input method and interchange representation for Microsoft Office. Its author, Murray Sargent III, has published a Unicode Technical Note detailing the format, based on which this UnicodeMath to MathML translator was built. More in the FAQ section below.

The initial development of UnicodeMathML was part of my Master's thesis.

Status

Generally consistent with version 3.1 of Sargent's tech note, some edge cases that aren't unambiguously specified (or, as UnicodeMath is not wholly context-free, impossible to parse with a PEG-based approach) might differ from the canonical implementation in Microsoft Office. Abstract boxes are largely unimplemented due to insufficient specification.

Getting Started

For a first look, check out...

Depending on whether you'd like to write UnicodeMath in a Markdeep document or use UnicodeMathML on your website, there are two paths. But first:

  1. Clone this repository or download a ZIP.

    git clone https://github.com/doersino/UnicodeMathML.git
  2. Before moving on, note that UnicodeMathML by default only transforms math surrounded by the UnicodeMath delimiters and . For example, a typical sentence might read like this:

    Given a function ⁅f⁆ of a real variable ⁅x⁆ and an interval ⁅[a, b]⁆ of the real line, the **definite integral**
    
    ⁅∫_a^b f(x) ⅆx⁆
    
    can be interpreted informally as the signed area of the region in the ⁅xy⁆-plane that is bounded by the graph of ⁅f⁆, the ⁅x⁆-axis and the vertical lines ⁅x = a⁆ and ⁅x = b⁆.

HTML

Open dist/example.html in a text editor of your choice and scroll to the bottom. There, you'll see the following lines:

<script>
    var unicodemathmlOptions = {
        resolveControlWords: true,
    };
</script>
<script src="unicodemathml.js"></script>
<script src="unicodemathml-parser.js"></script>
<script src="unicodemathml-integration.js"></script>
<script>
    document.body.onload = renderUnicodemath();
</script>

You'll need to include the same lines (modulo path changes) at the bottom of your own HTML document or website (but before the closing </body> tag).

  • Of course, you can use webpack or similar tools to combine and minify the JavaScript files, which I definitely recommend if you're planning on using UnicodeMathML in even moderate-traffic production contexts: This will shrink them from ~500 kB down to ~150 kB, and gzipping can reduce this further to ~50 kB.
  • If you need to support browsers that don't support MathML natively, you will also need to load a polyfill like MathJax – UnicodeMathML will notify MathJax when the generated MathML is ready to render.
  • The unicodemathmlOptions variable allows you to tweak things a bit – see the "Configuration" section below for more details.

Markdeep

UnicodeMathML comes with a lightly modified variant of Morgan McGuire's Markdeep that kicks off the translation at the correct point in the document rendering process. Open dist/example.md.html in a text editor of your choice and scroll to the bottom. There, you'll see the following lines:

<script>
    var unicodemathmlOptions = {
        resolveControlWords: true,
    };
</script>
<script src="unicodemathml.js"></script>
<script src="unicodemathml-parser.js"></script>
<script src="unicodemathml-integration.js"></script>
<script src="markdeep-1.11.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Replace the Markdeep loading code at the bottom of your document with this code (modulo path changes).

  • Markdeep will automatically load MathJax, a polyfill that will allow browsers that don't support MathML natively to render the generate MathML.
  • The unicodemathmlOptions variable allows you to tweak things a bit – see the "Configuration" section below for more details.

Node

While I haven't tested server-side translation of UnicodeMath into MathML, there shouldn't be any problems integrating the core of UnicodeMathML into a Node project – it's all vanilla JavaScript. If you run into any trouble, or if you would prefer an officially supported NPM package or something, don't hesitate to file an issue!

Configuration

The unicodemathmlOptions variable must be a dictionary containing one or many of the key-value pairs described below. If you're happy with the defaults, you can leave unicodemathmlOptions undefined.

var unicodemathmlOptions = {

    // whether a progress meter should be shown in the bottom right of the
    // viewport during translation (you can probably disable this in most cases,
    // but it should remain enabled for large documents containing more than
    // 1000 UnicodeMath expressions where translation might take more than a
    // second or two)
    showProgress: true,

    // whether to resolve control words like "\alpha" to "α", this also includes
    // unicode escapes like "\u1234"
    resolveControlWords: false,

    // a dictionary defining a number of custom control words, e.g.:
    // customControlWords: {'playground': '𝐏𝓁𝔞𝚢𝗴𝑟𝖔𝓊𝙣𝕕'},
    // which would make the control word "\playground" available – this is handy
    // in documents where certain expressions or subexpressions are repeated
    // frequently
    customControlWords: undefined,

    // how to display double-struck symbols (which signify differentials,
    // imaginary numbers, etc.; see section 3.11 of the tech note):
    // "us-tech" (ⅆ ↦ 𝑑), "us-patent" (ⅆ ↦ ⅆ), or "euro-tech" (ⅆ ↦ d)
    doubleStruckMode: "us-tech",

    // a function that will run before the translation is kicked off
    before: Function.prototype,

    // a function that will run after the translation has finished (and after
    // MathJax, if loaded, has been told to render the generated MathML)
    after: Function.prototype
};

FAQ

Got further questions that aren't answered below, or ideas for potential improvements, or found a bug? Feel free to file an issue!

What's this UnicodeMath you're talking about?

UnicodeMath is a linear format for mathematics initially developed as an input method and interchange representation for Microsoft Office. Its author, Murray Sargent III, has published a Unicode Technical Note (a copy of which is included at docs/sargent-unicodemathml-tech-note.pdf) describing its syntax and semantics.

By using Unicode symbols in lieu of keywords wherever possible, it's significantly more readable than, say, LaTeX in plain text:

UnicodeMath, much like MathML, was desiged with accessibility in mind, taking cues from Nemeth braille and other preceding math encodings.

How does its syntax compare to AsciiMath, (La)TeX, and MathML?

Here's a table showing a few expressions as you'd formulate them in UnicodeMath, AsciiMath, and LaTeX:

There are many subtleties as you get into the nitty-gritty, of course, but you'll see that UnicodeMath consistently makes for the most readable and concise plaintext. LaTeX, in contrast, is significantly more verbose – but since it's been around forever, you might find it to be more versatile in practice.

To summarize, here's a totally-not-biased-and-super-scientific evaluation of these notations:

Does UnicodeMath support colors, monospaced text and comments?

Not in its canonical form as described in Sargent's tech note – in Section 1, he mentions that such properties should be delegated to a "higher layer", which is perfectly reasonable in GUI-based environments like Microsoft Office – but there is not such layer in HTML/Markdeep.

Update: In late 2021, Murray Sargent adopted part of the notation described below into mainline UnicodeMathML.

To remedy this, UnicodeMathML supports a few non-standard constructs:

For your copy-and-pasting pleasure, that's , , , , and . You can use any color name or specification supported by CSS.

Cool, but I can't find any of these fancy Unicode symbols on my keyboard!

Nobody's keeping you from adapting Tom Scott's emoji keyboard idea for math.

More realistically, there's a bunch of tooling and text editor plugins that can help out here:

  • There's a Sublime Text plugin (called UnicodeMath, curiously) that helps with inserting Unicode math symbols.
  • A port of this plugin is available for VS Code.
  • The emoji picker built into macOS (press ctrl+ to open it when in a text input context) supports insertion of many Unicode math symbols as long as you know part of their canonical name.
  • Other editors and operating systems probably have similar functionality – give the search engine of your choice a workout.

Additionally, you can configure UnicodeMathML to automatically translate keywords like \infty into their respective symbols before processing proper commences – see the "Configuration" section above.

Alright, that's not as big of a problem as I feared. What's MathML, then?

You could describe MathML as "HTML, but for math". It's an XML-based markup language for mathematical expressions that was first released as a W3C recommendation in 1998 – it's been around for a while!

Einstein's famous E=mc² can be expressed as follows:

<math xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1998/Math/MathML" display="block">
  <mrow>
    <mi>E</mi>      <!-- identifier -->
    <mo>=</mo>      <!-- operator -->
    <mrow>          <!-- grouping, similat to <span> in HTML -->
      <mi>m</mi>
      <msup>        <!-- superscript -->
        <mi>c</mi>
        <mn>2</mn>  <!-- number -->
      </msup>
    </mrow>
  </mrow>
</math>

UnicodeMath's Sargent notes: "MathML has been designed for machine representation of mathematics and is useful for interchange between mathematical applications as well as for rendering the math in technical documents. While very good for these purposes, MathML is awkward for direct human input. Hence it's desirable to have more user friendly ways of inputting mathematical expressions and equations."

Isn't browser support for MathML really lackluster?

Sort of – according to caniuse.com, native support for MathML is available for around 21% of users as of late 2020 since only Firefox and Safari presently support MathML.

However, Igalia is working on adding MathML rendering support to Chromium, which should push this number upwards quite significantly once merged. They've been making steady progress since early 2019, which is why I expect Chromium – and by extension Chrome – to gain MathML support sooner rather than later.

Update: As of January 2023, MathML support has arrived in Chrome 109.

All of this isn't really an issue: MathJax, which you'd probably use to render LaTeX math on the web anyway, provides a polyfill for MathML rendering.

But LaTeX seems much more established in various workflows than MathML, and KaTeX is so much faster than MathJax!

Can't argue with that! Which is why I've been experimenting with extending UnicodeMathML to emit LaTeX code, too – most but not all UnicodeMath features are supported at a basic level. You can take a look at the current state of this feature in the playground by enabling the "Enable EXPERIMENTAL LaTeX output" setting.

I'm not actively working on completing LaTeX code generation at the moment, but feel free to file an issue if this feature is important to you.

Tell me more about the playground.

Sure thing – I've originally built it as a parser development aid. Before learning about it in detail, take a gander at this screenshot of its interface:

  • In the top right corner, there's a gear icon. Hover over it to access the settings – you can toggle various options on or off, including a debug mode and experimental LaTeX code generation.
  • The text field on the left is where you'd enter your UnicodeMath expressions.
  • In the expanding-on-hover section below it, the contents of the text field are shown once more – but annotated with the corresponding Unicode code points. Hover over one of them to see a tooltip with more details (demonstrated in the GIF below).
  • You inputs are rendered on the right.
  • Below that, you'll see four tabs, each corresponding to one of the syntax-highlighted intermediate data structures. If you enable tracing in the settings, a fifth tab containing the parse trace appears, as well.
  • Below these two columns, a sort of virtual keyboard allows you to enter some of the Unicode characters you likely won't see on your physical keyboard: If you click on one of the buttons, the corresponding symbol will be inserted at the cursor position. Some of them are described in tooltips that pop up as you hover over them.
  • Below that, you can enter arbitrary Unicode codepoints or control words. You can also insert characters in one of many math alphabets – alternatively, select some text in the main text field and click one of the alphabet buttons. The playground will then convert as many characters as are availiable for that math alphabet.
  • A bunch of examples are available at the bottom of the page – click one to paste it into the main text field.

The playground is designed to keep its state in local storage, so you shouldn't lose any data if you reload it.

Development

This section is largely a reminder to myself and other potential contributors.

UnicodeMathML is intentionally kept simple and doesn't have any dependencies beyond PEG.js – that way, it's easier to maintain and extend.

  • The PEG.js-based parser is located at src/unicodemathml-parser.js. It builds up an AST (abstract syntax tree) in the form of a nested JavaScript dictionary/object.
  • The parser is let loose on an input string in src/unicodemathml.js, after which the AST is preprocessed (desugaring, various other bits and pieces) and translated into a MathML AST, which is then trivially pretty-printed, yielding MathML code.
  • The playground, located at playground/index.html, uses PEG.js to dynamically load the parser. A static variant of the parser will download when you open utils/generate-parser.html in any browser.
  • Many more details can be found in my Master's thesis.

Local development

Depending on how your browser implements its same-origin policy, you might not be able to serve the playground from the file system (i.e. with a URL like file:///⋯/UnicodeMathML/playground/index.html) during development:

  • Safari seems to work fine.
  • Firefox does, too, after you set the security.fileuri.strict_origin_policy key on the about:config page to false.
  • Chrome is more restrictive and thus doesn't.

You can work around this by running a static web server that's serving the root directory of you local clone of this repository. Many programming environments, one of which is surely installed on your system, provide one-liners for this purpose – see here. If you've got Python installed, simply run python3 -m http.server 8000 and point your browser at localhost:8000/playground/.

Bundling

The contents of dist/ are generated as follows:

  1. Run the bash script utils/bundle.sh from the root directory of this repository.
  2. Open utils/generate-parser.html in any web browser (the caveats discussed in the "Local development" section above apply) and move the file that will be downloaded into dist/.

License

You may use this repository's contents under the terms of the MIT License, see LICENSE.

However, the subdirectories lib/ and playground/assets/lib/ contain some third-party software with its own licenses:

  • The parser generator PEG.js, a copy of which is located at lib/peg-0.10.0.min.js, is licensed under the MIT License, see here.
  • Morgan McGuire's Markdeep, which – along with a slightly modified variant that integrates with UnicodeMathML – is located at lib/markdeep-1.11-orig.js, is licensed under the BSD 2-Clause "Simplified" License, see here.
  • Markdeep includes Ivan Sagalaev's highlight.js with its BSD 3-Clause License, see here.
  • JQuery, which powers some of the interactions in the UnicodeMathML playground and resides at playground/assets/lib/jquery.min.js, is licensed under the MIT License, see here.
  • A stripped-down variant of MathJax is included at playground/assets/lib/mathjax/, it's licensed under the Apache License 2.0, see here.
  • LM Math, the typeface used for rendered UnicodeMath expressions in the playground in browsers with native MathML support, can be found at playground/assets/lib/latinmodern/ and is licensed under the GUST Font License, see here.
  • Belleve Invis' excellent typeface Iosevka is located at playground/assets/lib/iosevka/ and licensed under the SIL OFL Version 1.1, see here.

Lastly, the docs/ subdirectory contains two PDF files:

  • Murray Sargent III's technical note "UnicodeMath, A Nearly Plain-Text Encoding of Mathematics" (located at docs/sargent-unicodemathml-tech-note.pdf is © 2006-2017 Murray Sargent III and Unicode, Inc. but used in accordance with the Unicode Terms of Use.
  • My own Master's thesis is located at docs/doersing-unicodemath-to-mathml.pdf. I've primarily included it in this repository as a reference for some implementation details, it's not intended (or relevant) for general distribution.

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JavaScript-based translation of UnicodeMath to MathML that can be integrated into arbitrary HTML or Markdeep documents. An interactive "playground" allows for experimentation with the syntax and insight into the translation pipeline.

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