a cheat-sheet for mathematical notation in code form
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This is a reference to ease developers into mathematical notation by showing comparisons with JavaScript code.

Motivation: Academic papers can be intimidating for self-taught game and graphics programmers. :)

This guide is not yet finished. If you see errors or want to contribute, please open a ticket or send a PR.

Note: For brevity, some code examples make use of npm packages. You can refer to their GitHub repos for implementation details.


Mathematical symbols can mean different things depending on context and the field of study (linear algebra, set theory, etc). This guide may not cover all uses of a symbol, but PRs are welcome.

For a more complete list, refer to Wikipedia - List of Mathematical Symbols.

For simplicity, many of the code examples here operate on floating point values and are not numerically robust. For more details on why this may be a problem, see Robust Arithmetic Notes by Mikola Lysenko.


variable naming conventions

There are a variety of naming conventions depending on the context and field of study, and they are not always consistent. However, in some of the literature you may find variable names to follow a pattern like so:

  • s - italic lowercase letters for scalars (e.g. a number)
  • x - bold lowercase letters for vectors (e.g. a 2D point)
  • A - bold uppercase letters for matrices (e.g. a 3D transformation)
  • θ - italic lowercase Greek letters for constants and special variables (e.g. polar angle θ, theta)

This will also be the format of this guide.

equals symbols

There are a number of symbols resembling the equals sign =. Here are three common examples:

  • = is for equality (values are the same)
  • is for inequality (value are not the same)
  • is for approximately equal to (π ≈ 3.14159)

In JavaScript:

// equality
2 === 3

// inequality
2 !== 3

// approximately equal
almostEqual(Math.PI, 3.14159, 1e-5)

function almostEqual(a, b, epsilon) {
  return Math.abs(a - b) <= epsilon

In mathematics, the := =: and = symbols are used for definition. The following defines x to be another name for 2kj.


In JavaScript, we might use = to define our variables and provide aliases. The above equation defines the following:

var x = 2 * k * j
var k = x / (2 * j)
var j = x / (2 * k)

However, this is mutable, and only takes a snapshot of the values at that time. Some languages have pre-processor #define statements, which are closer to a mathematical define.

A more accurate representation in JavaScript (ES6) might look a bit like this:

const f = (k, j) => 2 * k * j

dot & cross

The dot and cross × symbols have different uses depending on context.

They might seem obvious, but it's important to understand the subtle differences before we continue into other sections.

scalar multiplication

Both symbols can represent simple multiplication of scalars. The following are equivalent:


In programming languages we tend to use asterisk for multiplication:

var result = 3 * 4

With adjacent letter variables, the multiplication sign is typically omitted.


If these variables represent scalars, the code would be:

var result = 3 * k * j

vector multiplication

To denote multiplication of one vector with a scalar, or element-wise multiplication of a vector with another vector, we do not use the dot or cross × symbols. These have different meanings in linear algebra, discussed shortly.

Let's take our earlier example but apply it to vectors. For element-wise vector multiplication, you might see an open dot to represent the Hadamard product.


Here is how it would look in code, using arrays [x, y] to represent the 2D vectors.

var s = 3
var k = [ 1, 2 ]
var j = [ 2, 3 ]

var tmp = multiply(k, j)
var result = multiplyScalar(tmp, s)
//=> [ 6, 18 ]

Our multiply and multiplyScalar functions look like this:

function multiply(a, b) {
  return [ a[0] * b[0], a[1] * b[1] ]

function multiplyScalar(a, scalar) {
  return [ a[0] * scalar, a[1] * scalar ]

Similarly, matrix multiplication typically does not use the dot or cross symbol ×. Matrix multiplication will be covered in a later section.

dot product

The dot symbol can be used to denote the dot product of two vectors. Sometimes this is called the scalar product since it evaluates to a scalar.


It is a very common feature of linear algebra, and with a 3D vector it might look like this:

var k = [ 0, 1, 0 ]
var j = [ 1, 0, 0 ]

var d = dot(k, j)
//=> 0

The result 0 tells us our vectors are perpendicular. Our dot function:

function dot(a, b) {
  return a[0] * b[0] + a[1] * b[1] + a[2] * b[2]

cross product

The cross symbol × can be used to denote the cross product of two vectors.


In code, it would look like this:

var k = [ 0, 1, 0 ]
var j = [ 1, 0, 0 ]

var result = cross(k, j)
//=> [ 0, 0, -1 ]

Here, we get [ 0, 0, -1 ], which is perpendicular to both k and j.

Our cross function:

function cross(a, b) {
  var ax = a[0], ay = a[1], az = a[2],
    bx = b[0], by = b[1], bz = b[2]

  var rx = ay * bz - az * by
  var ry = az * bx - ax * bz
  var rz = ax * by - ay * bx
  return [ rx, ry, rz ]

For other implementations of vector multiplication, cross product, and dot product:


The big Greek "E" (Sigma) is for Summation. In other words: summing up some numbers.


Here, i=1 says to start at 1 and end at the number above the Sigma, 100. These are the lower and upper bounds, respectively. The i to the right of the "E" tells us what we are summing. In code:

var sum = 0
for (var i = 1; i <= 100; i++) {
  sum += i

The result of sum is 5050.

Tip: With whole numbers, this particular pattern can be optimized to the following:

var n = 100 // upper bound
var sum = (n * (n + 1)) / 2

Here is another example where the i, or the "what to sum," is different:


In code:

var sum = 0
for (var i = 1; i <= 100; i++) {
  sum += (2 * i + 1)

The result of sum is 10200.

The notation can be nested, which is much like nesting a for loop. You should evaluate the right-most sigma first, unless the author has enclosed them in parentheses to alter the order.


In code:

var sum = 0
for (var i = 1; i <= 2; i++) {
  for (var j = 4; j <= 6; j++) {
    sum += (3 * i * j)

Here, sum will be 135.

capital Pi

The capital Pi or "Big Pi" is very similar to Sigma, except we are using multiplication to find the "products of sequences."

Take the following:


In code, it might look like this:

var n = 6
var value = 1
for (var i = 1; i <= n; i++) {
  value *= i

Where value will evaluate to 720.


Pipe symbols, known as bars, can mean different things depending on the context. Below are three common uses: absolute value, Euclidean norm, and determinant.

These three features all describe the length of an object.

absolute value


For a number x, |x| means the absolute value of x. In code:

var x = -5
var result = Math.abs(x)
// => 5

Euclidean norm


For a vector v, ‖v‖ is the Euclidean norm of v. It is also referred to as the "magnitude" or "length" of a vector.

Often this is represented by double-bars to avoid ambiguity with the absolute value notation, but sometimes you may see it with single bars:


Here is an example using an array [x, y, z] to represent a 3D vector.

var v = [ 0, 4, -3 ]
//=> 5

The length function:

function length (vec) {
  var x = vec[0]
  var y = vec[1]
  var z = vec[2]
  return Math.sqrt(x * x + y * y + z * z)

Other implementations:



For a matrix A, |A| means the determinant of matrix A.

Here is an example computing the determinant of a 2x2 matrix, represented by a flat array in column-major format.

var determinant = require('gl-mat2/determinant')

var matrix = [ 1, 0, 0, 1 ]
var det = determinant(matrix)
//=> 1



In geometry, the "hat" symbol above a character is used to represent a unit vector. For example, here is the unit vector of a:


In cartesian space, a unit vector is typically length 1. That means each part of the vector will be in the range of -1.0 to 1.0. Here we normalize a 3D vector into a unit vector:

var a = [ 0, 4, -3 ]
//=> [ 0, 0.8, -0.6 ]

Here is the normalize function, operating on 3D vectors:

function normalize(vec) {
  var x = vec[0]
  var y = vec[1]
  var z = vec[2]
  var squaredLength = x * x + y * y + z * z

  if (squaredLength > 0) {
    var length = Math.sqrt(squaredLength)
    vec[0] = vec[0] / length
    vec[1] = vec[1] / length
    vec[2] = vec[2] / length
  return vec

Other implementations:


In set theory, the "element of" symbol and can be used to describe whether something is an element of a set. For example:


Here we have a set of numbers A { 3, 9, 14 } and we are saying 3 is an "element of" that set.

A simple implementation in ES5 might look like this:

var A = [ 3, 9, 14 ]

A.indexOf(3) >= 0
//=> true

However, it would be more accurate to use a Set which only holds unique values. This is a feature of ES6.

var A = new Set([ 3, 9, 14 ])

//=> true

The backwards is the same, but the order changes:


You can also use the "not an element of" symbols and like so:



Functions are fundamental features of mathematics, and the concept is fairly easy to translate into code.

A function relates an input to an output value. For example, the following is a function:


We can give this function a name. Commonly, we use ƒ to describe a function, but it could be named A(x) or anything else.


In code, we might name it square and write it like this:

function square (x) {
  return Math.pow(x, 2)

Sometimes a function is not named, and instead the output is written.


In the above example, x is the input, the relationship is squaring, and y is the output.

Functions can also have multiple parameters, like in a programming language. These are known as arguments in mathematics, and the number of arguments a function takes is known as the arity of the function.


In code:

function length (x, y) {
  return Math.sqrt(x * x + y * y)

piecewise function

Some functions will use different relationships depending on the input value, x.

The following function ƒ chooses between two "sub functions" depending on the input value.


This is very similar to if / else in code. The rightside conditions are often written as "for x < 0" or "if x = 0". If the condition is true, the function to the left is used.

In piecewise functions, "otherwise" and "elsewhere" are analogous to the else statement in code.

function f (x) {
  if (x >= 1) {
    return (Math.pow(x, 2) - x) / x
  } else {
    return 0


The prime symbol () is often used in variable names to describe things which are similar, without giving it a different name altogether. It can describe the "next value" after some transformation.

For example, if we take a 2D point (x, y) and rotate it, you might name the result (x′, y′). Or, the transpose of matrix M might be named M′.

In code, we typically just assign the variable a more descriptive name, like transformedPosition.

For a mathematical function, the prime symbol often describes the derivative of that function. Derivatives will be explained in a future section. Let's take our earlier function:


Its derivative could be written with a prime symbol:


In code:

function f (x) {
  return Math.pow(x, 2)

function fPrime (x) {
  return 2 * x

Multiple prime symbols can be used to describe the second derivative ƒ′′ and third derivative ƒ′′′. After this, authors typically express higher orders with roman numerals ƒIV or superscript numbers ƒ(n).


Like this guide? Suggest some more features or send us a Pull Request!


For details on how to contribute, see CONTRIBUTING.md.


MIT, see LICENSE.md for details.