[whatwg] Mathematics in HTML5

Michel Fortin michel.fortin at michelf.com
Mon Jun 19 11:46:20 PDT 2006

Le 19 juin 2006 à 10:25, <juanrgonzaleza at canonicalscience.com>  
<juanrgonzaleza at canonicalscience.com> a écrit :

>>> In other words math proposal is rejected, mathematics in HTML is
>>> blocked  one more time.
>> I have suggested a process by which you could prove your proposal  
>> would
>> work. That is hardly a rejection.
> Some people can read between lines.

The way I read into Ian's lines, he simply says he is not at all  
convinced that whatever we can come with will be preferred by authors  
than MathML currently is. And I think it only makes sense that as  
long as he is not convinced of that he will not agree about adding it  
to HTML (hence "reject" it). That doesn't mean he isn't open to the  

I think Ian is right in some way: adding full mathematics correctly,  
even with CSS, isn't going to be a piece of cake. Bugs will need to  
be fixed with many CSS engines, and even then the current markup  
proposal isn't something I'd call pretty even for simpler structures  
(<fenced><fence>1</fence></fenced> or <radical><radix></ 
radix><radicand>2</radicand></radical> for example). This makes the  
markup a little counter intuitive and will probably prevent a consensus.

The idea of a microformat isn't a so bad idea either. A microformat  
does for HTML mostly what a namespace does in XML. The one really big  
issue I expect is that it's going to make the syntax a lot more  
verbose less pretty that it is currently (<span class="radical"><span  
class="radix"></span><span class="radicand">2</span></span> anyone?).  
I can understand why someone wouldn't want to take that route.

I think there is still a lot to be done and discussed and maybe the  
WhatWG mailing list isn't the best place for that at this point.  
Isn't this discussion delaying other important things in the spec?

  - - -

Personally, I'm beginning to look at the problem from an other angle.  
Instead of trying to support everything in mathematics, maybe we  
could just improve what HTML currently offers by offering just a  
little more. It's pretty easy to find elementary algebra formulas  
like this one on the web:

     x<sup>2</sup> + y<sup>2</sup> = 1

But while you can express most of elementary algebra easily in HTML,  
you can't do fractions. Something that's definitely missing for  
elementary algebra is a construct capable of representing a fraction.

So I propose that HTML 5 adds fractions, and only fractions. I think  
there is a good consensus on how to markup a fraction. I believe  
fractions can also be somewhat useful outside the realm of  
mathematical formulas. And a fraction construct would encourage  
implementors to fix their inline-block and vertical alignment CSS  
bugs, opening the door to more CSS-based mathematical markup in the  

I understand I'm ditching all of the more complicated stuff. I'm  
retaining only the part that can work with the least effort, the part  
with a simple undisputed markup, the part which I expect every author  
and user will understand for what it means and which has the biggest  
relevance inside and outside of the field of mathematics. Maybe more  
can be added to HTML in the future, but if only one thing about math  
is to be added to HTML 5, it obviously has to be the fraction.

I guess one argument against this is that it will constitue an  
incomplete mathematical markup. I'd point out that HTML is already  
used as a simple (incomplete) mathematical markup with <sup> for  
exponents. And it seems that even MathML fails at being a complete  
mathematical markup. Let's keep things simple and just improve what  
we already have.

Michel Fortin
michel.fortin at michelf.com

More information about the whatwg mailing list