The World Wide Web Consortium Issues MathML as a W3C Recommendation

Author(s) and publish date


Industry Players, Experts Collaborate to Produce Fundamental Solution for Mathematical Content on the Web

Testimonials  | Fact Sheet -- 7 April, 1998 -- Advancing its mission to lead the Web to its full potential, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) today announced the release of the Mathematical Markup Language (MathML) specification as a W3C Recommendation. MathML, the first application of XML to be issued as a W3C Recommendation, was designed for encoding mathematical notation and content for use on the Web. A W3C Recommendation indicates that a specification is stable, contributes to Web interoperability, and has been reviewed by the W3C Membership, who are in favor of supporting its adoption by the industry. "MathML is a major breakthrough in content representation on the Web," said Vincent Quint, W3C User Interface Domain Leader. "Not only it will allow scientists, engineers and students to efficiently exchange ideas on the Web, but it's also easy to implement in Web tools, due to its consistency with other Web technologies such as CSS and XML."


MathML is a low-level syntax for representing structured data such as mathematics in machine-to-machine communication over the Web, providing a much-needed solution for including mathematical expressions over the Web. In developing MathML, the goal was to define an XML-compliant markup language that describes the content and presentation of mathematical expressions.  This was achieved with MathML.

As an effective way to include mathematical expressions in Web documents, MathML gives control over the presentation and the meaning of such expressions. It does this by providing two sets of markup tags: one set presents the notation of mathematical data in markup format, and the other set relays the semantic meaning of mathematical expressions, enabling complex mathematical and scientific notation to be encoded in an explicit way.

As an XML application, MathML capitalizes on XML features and benefits from the wide support of XML. Unlike HTML which was intended as a markup language for use by people, MathML is intended to be used by machines, facilitating the searching and indexing of mathematical and scientific information. Software tools that work with MathML render MathML into formatted equations, enabling users to edit mathematical equations much as one might edit HTML text. Several early versions of such MathML tools already exist, and a number of others, both freely available software and commercial products, are under development.

"The development of MathML opens the door to a flourishing of the Web as a means to communicate mathematical ideas," said Dr. Dave Raggett, W3C lead for Math. "W3C is thrilled to have brought together such a fine team of experts. MathML will make it practical for users to interact with math in ways that will greatly enrich teaching and technical materials."

"No doubt that many MathML enabled tools will follow the ones already available," added Quint. "Developers at W3C were very excited to support MathML natively in Amaya, W3C's testbed browser/editor."

MathML was developed by the W3C Math Working Group, which is comprised of key industry players and experts from the mathematical community, including Adobe, American Mathematical Society, Design Science, Elsevier, The Geometry Center, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, INRIA, MINSE/Xerox PARC, SoftQuad, Stilo Technologies, University of Western Ontario, Waterloo Maple and Wolfram Research.

W3C Process

Specifications developed within W3C working groups must be formally approved by the Membership. Consensus is reached after a specification has proceeded through the following review stages: Working Draft, Proposed Recommendation, and Recommendation.

Stable working drafts are submitted by working groups to the W3C Director for consideration as a Proposed Recommendation. Upon the Director's approval, the document becomes a "Proposed Recommendation", and is forwarded to the W3C Membership to vote whether it should become an official W3C Recommendation. The W3C Advisory Committee -- comprised of one official representative from each Member organization -- submits one of the following votes on the Proposed Recommendation: yes; yes, with comments; no, unless specified deficiencies are corrected; no, this Proposed Recommendation should be abandoned.

During the Member review and voting period (approximately 6 weeks), the Working Group resolves minor technical issues (if any) and communicates its results to the W3C Director. After this time, the Director announces the disposition of the document; it may become a W3C Recommendation (possibly with minor changes), revert to Working Draft status, or may be dropped as a W3C work item.

The MathML specification has been produced as part of the W3C Math Activity, and is available at Please see attached Fact Sheet for additional information on MathML. Screenshots of Amaya's support for MathML are available at

For information on W3C's work on mathematics, see

For information on the W3C Process, see

About the World Wide Web Consortium [W3C]

The W3C was created to develop common protocols that enhance the interoperability and promote the evolution of the World Wide Web. It is an industry consortium jointly run by the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS) in the USA, the National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA) in France and Keio University in Japan. Services provided by the Consortium include: a repository of information about the World Wide Web for developers and users; sample code implementations to embody and promote standards; and various prototype and sample applications to demonstrate use of new technology. To date, more than 250 organizations are Members of the Consortium.

For more information about the World Wide Web Consortium, see

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MathML Testimonials

· Adobe Systems · American Mathematical Society · Design Science · Digital Equipment Corporation · Elsevier Science · Geometry Technologies · Hewlett Packard · IBM · SIAM · Stilo Technology · University of Western Ontario · Waterloo Maple · Web Pearls · Wolfram Research · Zona Research ·


"Written mathematics encodes complex information succinctly and relies on the eye's ability to read a mathematical expression in any one of several desired ways. Providing equivalent functionality when presenting mathematics aurally requires access to the underlying representation and meaning of a math expression as opposed to any specific visual appearance. MathML captures the best of many previous mathematical encoding systems to provide a notation that can be translated to rich visual as well as aural presentations. The desire to arrive at a system that enables mathematical information to be both presented and computed on has led to a system that allows audio formatters of MathML to present a rich browsing interface to the listener as introduced in systems like AsTeR --Audio System For Technical Readings."

-- T.V. Raman, Adobe Systems


"The American Mathematical Society continues to support the development of electronic standards for encoding mathematics that began with its support of TeX in the early 1980s. Finding effective ways to communicate mathematics on the Web and melding TeX into the Web environment have been especially important challenges. The AMS is proud to have been a participant in the development of the MathML specification, which goes a long way toward meeting these challenges."

-- Dr. Donald G. Babbitt, Publisher, American Mathematical Society


"Approval of the MathML Specification is an important step toward the ultimate goal of making it as easy to include mathematics in Web pages as it is to include text. As mathematics is the language of science and engineering, and the Web was created by scientists and engineers, this is well overdue."

-- Paul Topping, President, Design Science, Inc.


"The ability to deliver formulas, and in particular mathematical formulas has been a significant challenge with SGML, and the web based derivatives of SGML. MathML is a major step forward in developing a common solution to this requirement, and will facilitate the movement of significant amounts of technical material into the Web, and digital libraries in general."

-- Jim Isaak, Director Information Infrastructure Standardization, Digital Equipment Corporation


"The Mathematical Markup Language is of critical importance for establishing a high level quality environment for math publishing on the World Wide Web. Elsevier Science, as a full member of the World Wide Web Consortium, is happy to have participated actively in developing this new standard and to ensure it fits with the scientific community.

-- Eefke Smit, Publisher Mathematics and Computer Science, Elsevier Science


"The importance of effectively sharing scientific knowledge on a global scale cannot be overestimated. MathML is an important enabling technology for making available richly-interconnected, interactive, scientific information to anyone with an inquisitive mind and a web browser."

-- Richard McGehee, President, Geometry Technologies, Inc.


"Hewlett Packard welcomes MathML as a major advance, with tremendous potential for improving the quality of printing for math on the Web. Students, technicians and scientists will be no longer be distracted by the inferior quality inherent in using bitmapped images or ASCII renditions."

-- Tim Campbell, R&D Project Manager, Laser Systems Group, Hewlett-Packard


"As a contributor in the creation of the MathML Proposed Recommendation, we expect MathML to be an enabler for many areas of Web-based education. In addition, the flexibility of MathML could revolutionize scientific and technical electronic publishing for engineers, physicians, scientists, and researchers. Through IBM's techexplorer Hypermedia Browser on the IBM alphaWorks site, we are already providing a preview of software to render MathML."

-- John Patrick, Vice President of Internet Technology, IBM


"SIAM wholeheartedly supports MathML. We publish eleven journals and put all eleven journals on line since January 1997. However, we have limited on line posting of journal articles to PDF and Postscript formats, because we felt there was not a good solution to displaying mathematics on the web. This has limited our ability to link articles. We feel there is a critical need for simple methods for rendering and displaying mathematics on the web, and MathML promises to provide this capability."

-- Jim Crowley, Executive Director, SIAM (Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics)


"MathML is a major advance in the development of markup for mathematics,particularly in the support for the encoding of mathematical semantics. It is an important step forward in the development of electronic scientific publishing. Stilo Technology are proud to have contributed to the development of MathML."

-- Prof. Roy Pike FRS., Chairman, Stilo Technology Ltd.


"Universities are built upon the communication of ideas. So far the World Wide Web has been very effective in conveying visual and textual content. Many subjects require mathematical content, which up to now could not be conveyed readily. With MathML, the Web becomes an enabling tool in the instruction of technical subjects and research communication in the quantitative disciplines."

-- Dr. Paul Davenport, President and Vice Chancellor, The University of Western Ontario, Canada


"As the developer of the leading technical computing product Maple V, Waterloo Maple is committed to support industry standards such as MathML. The accurate, standards-based communication and presentation of technical information represented by MathML, facilitates the reality of live math on the Web. As an integral partner in W3C's development of MathML, Waterloo Maple is pleased to see MathML 1.0 reach this important milestone. We are dedicated to further development and adoption of this revolutionary specification."

-- Dieter Hensler, President & CEO, Waterloo Maple Inc.


"At Web Pearls we are implementing interactive Mathematics components and applications using MathML and its natural semantics-oriented companion, OpenMath, so we are absolutely delighted that W3C has adopted MathML. Finally, it will be possible to 'do Mathematics' on the Web in a standard way."

-- Dr. Chris Howlett, President and CEO Web Pearls Inc.


"While developing Mathematica 3, Wolfram Research learned how to create the first truly integrated mathematical display and evaluation environment. We contributed the result of our research to the MathML standard—-MathML and Mathematica 3 share the same conceptual framework. With MathML, Mathematica users have yet another format to exchange their results on the web. MathML will allow both importing and exporting of formulas—-structure intact."

-- Roger Germundsson Director, Research & Development, Wolfram Research, Inc.


"This is to the engineering and scientific community what HTML was to the rest of us."

-- Martin Marshall, Zona Research, InfoWorld, Feb 26 1998

MathML Fact Sheet

MathML - the Mathematical Markup Language

MathML is intended to facilitate the use and re-use of mathematical and scientific content on the Web, and for other applications such as computer algebra systems, print typesetters, and voice synthesizers. MathML can be used to encode both mathematical notation, for high-quality visual display, and mathematical content, for applications like scientific software, or voice synthesis, where it's important to be able to understand the meaning.

Based upon many years of experience

MathML is cast as an application of XML and builds upon many years of experience within the SGML and scientific publishing communities. In the immediate future, several vendors will offer applet and plug-ins which can render MathML in place in a Web browser. Translators and equation editors which can generate HTML pages with images of the math expression from HTML with embedded MathML code are already available.

Why MathML is needed

Before MathML there was no satisfactory method for including mathematical expressions in Web pages. Anyone trying to do so had to choose between two unsatisfactory work arounds. Either an approximation of the equation could be constructed from ASCII characters or else a snapshot of the expression could be converted to a GIF file and embedded into the HTML as an image. Either way, users were unable to achieve high quality results, especially when printed out. Furthermore, users were unable to cut and paste into technical computing systems like Mathematica and Maple in the same way they can cut text from a Web page and paste it into a word processor.

Efficient use of bandwidth

MathML allows for a much more efficient use of bandwith because it carries only the kind of information needed for the Web browser to redraw the equation properly, rather than a complete pixel-by-pixel description of what the equation looks like already drawn. In order to perform this function, though, MathML needed a standard way of describing the layout of a mathematical expression. Its conventions had to be flexible enough to describe the wildly varying kinds of expressions used in mathematics and science, yet simple enough not to overburden the developers who would create the tools for creating and displaying expressions in MathML.

Being able to extract mathematical information

MathML strikes a balance between offering a rich presentational structure, and making available a means for associating the author's chosen mathematical definitions with specific notational constructs, thereby effectively extending ability of MathML to represent mathematical concepts. A key concern has been the ability to support the fundamental "archival" role that exists for Web pages containing mathematics. Without extendibility and support for explicit semantic bindings it is impossible to automate the extraction of meaningful mathematical information. The semantic information is simply not present in existing representations, especially those which focus only on the visual presentation. Attempts to recover the semantics are blocked by the ambiguous nature of the visual presentation.

Making mathematics truly accessible

For people with visual disabilities, learning mathematics has always been an uphill climb. The emphasis on visual notation creates special problems for devices that read text either on paper or on screen to drive speech synthesisers or Braille displays. MathML will open up the way for people with visual disabilities to study and work with mathematical materials in a way that has never been feasible until now. Increasingly, accessibility is a requirement, not an option, and covered by laws requiring reasonable modifications of policies and practices that may be discriminatory.

High level editing tools

MathML is not designed for hand entry. Instead, authors will be able to use a range of tools for editing mathematical expressions. W3C's Amaya browser/editor can already be used to edit MathML and several vendors including Design Science, Geometry Technologies, HP, IBM, Waterloo Maple and Wolfram are committed to providing support for MathML. Existing word processors will be able to generate MathML for embedded mathematical expressions via export filters.

The MathML specification has been produced as part of the W3C Math Activity, and is available at For information on W3C's work on mathematics, see

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