MultiMarkdown and MathML - new feature and request for help

Fletcher T. Penney fletcher at
Tue Jun 13 18:10:12 EDT 2006

On Tue, 13 Jun 2006, Dr. Drang wrote:

> On 6/13/06, A. Pagaltzis <pagaltzis at> wrote:

> But for web output itex2MML has the same disadvantage as ASCIIMathML:

> you need a MathML-enabled browser to view it. Firefox is fine

> (although the Mac version stopped doing MathML for a few revisions);

> IE works with a plugin, I guess; Safari is out; and I don't know about

> Opera. Since a lot of my current visitors use Safari (me, too), it

> wouldn't be right to shut them (or me) out. I really wish the WebKit

> developers took MathML more seriously, but until they do I'm sticking

> with jsMath.


I agree that the lack of standardized support by more browsers for
MathML is an issue, though I suppose this will improve with time. I
fully admit, however, that is simply a guess on my part.

> Actually, I'm less concerned about having different backends for

> producing math on web pages than I am about having different math

> notations in the Markdown source documents. And I'm less concerned

> about the equation delimiters--although I agree with JG that they

> should not conflict with current Markdown syntax--than I am about

> what's between the delimiters. Changing how you process documents is

> simpler than changing the documents themselves; it is, at least, when

> you have dozens or hundreds of documents.

Changing the delimiters is a non-issue. I didn't think about the
conflict with writing about ` characters in a code block. There will
be a new delimiter, I just need to figure out what. Input welcome.

I agree about a standardized notation, however. And for me, that
means something that is as close to human readable as possible, in
the spirit of Markdown.

> Since the intent of MultiMarkdown is to produce XHTML that can be

> easily transformed into LaTeX,


Well, the intent is to have a common plain text syntax that is human
readable that can be transformed into a variety of output formats,
including, but not limited to, XHTML and LaTeX. As for quality math
layout, I suspect that XHTML and LaTeX (or dialects) are the only
real major options for now.

> and since LaTeX notation is commonly

> used by people who need equations in their work, I think LaTeX should

> be the notation used

Here's where I disagree. By this logic, we should all write in
XHTML. The point of Markdown and Multimarkdown is to simplify this,
and allow a plain text "email-like" document to be used to create
valid, high quality XHTML, that can optionally be used to create
other formats. I _don't_ want to have to learn LaTeX in order to
write math that can then not be easily read by non-LaTeX folks. The
ASCIIMath syntax appears to me to be a viable alternative for _most_
math needs (perhaps not all), and it appears to be easily read in raw
form, just like Markdown. To me they seem like similar approaches to
related problems.

I plan on sticking with ASCIIMath (or something similar) in native-
MultiMarkdown, but I don't plan on changing anything to break
compatibility with custom approaches (such as yours) to allow raw
LaTeX within MultiMarkdown. I agree that MathML is not the best
output format, but it seems like the best alternative for the moment
(I want the document to stand on it's own, not to need a javascript
engine to do on-the-fly processing...)

> Now, there may be a bright, MathML- and

> CSS-drenched future in which I can print a web page and have it look

> as good as a LaTeX document does now. When that day comes, it won't

> matter what notation I used to get my equations. But until then, I

> think LaTeX is our best bet.

Agreed. Even a fairly default LaTeX document has a level of quality
that seems to exceed anything else I have seen. (Though Apple's Pages
can come close. If I could figure out how to easily combine Pages
and Markdown.... ;)

But my support for LaTeX's output does not extend to it's syntax.
Don't get me wrong, it's not bad, but (Multi)Markdown is better. And
I believe that there should be something similar for math. From my
admittedly brief experience with such software, ASCIIMath looks like
the best option for the time being.


Fletcher T. Penney
fletcher at

Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.
- Mark Twain (1835-1910)

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