Our director Moritz Schubotz has been working for several months on a new MathML mode with SVG fallback for the MediaWiki Math engine. After intensive development and testing to ensure that existing features and performance are preserved, this mode finally became the default in all MediaWiki and Wikipedia web sites. This opens new perspectives for better rendering, accessibility, search, equation sharing, font & unicode support, styling, line breaking… and more!

Standard Improvements

Until recently, mathematical formulas were output as PNG images contrary to the rest of the text of the page. This was the source of many inconsistencies and problems, the most famous being the bad rendering on high resolution display, at a large zoom level or when printed on paper. To solve that, SVG images are now served by default to all but old browsers. Hence this gives a clear picture at all scales. Using SVG also improves the integration of formulas with the surrounding text e.g. baseline alignment or text size.

Wikipedia formulas rendered with PNG or SVG images
Formula from Wikipedia's article on the Gamma function with PNG (above) or SVG (below)

More Enhancements

Although using scalable images brings a significant rendering improvements, the mathematical formulas are still not treated as normal text but drawn with vector graphic primitives. For instance, if you try looking for the character “λ” using the standard search interface of your browser then you will never get a match for variables in mathematical formulas.

At the moment OpenType math fonts are not widespread and MathML support in browsers is inconsistent. However, if you are ready for the next level of enhancements you can easily decide to replace the SVG display with the MathML display using this Gecko addon or by inserting a few CSS lines in your custom style sheet. Depending on the font shipped with your systems, you may also need to install math fonts.

After these configurations, the math rendering will be performed using standard font selection & text shaping methods which provides better rendering, unicode coverage, CSS customization (font-family, font-size etc.), text search, selection etc.

Wikipedia formulas rendered with MathML and various math fonts
Formula from Wikipedia's article on the Gamma function rendered with various math fonts.

With the MathML available in the DOM, you also have access to new enhancements. For example, you can use this MathML copy to transfer MathML or TeX between Wiki pages and external programs like Computer Algebra Systems, or a MathJax plugin to render formulas on browsers that do not natively support MathML yet.

Copying MathML expressions from the German version of Wikibooks to Wolfram Mathematica
On the left, there is a screen-shot, displaying a section of the book on quantum mechanics taken on May’16 2016 as non registered visitor using Firefox version 45, with the Native MathML plugin enabled. The photon momentum was selected, to demonstrate the bounding boxes of the symbols, and to copy and paste it to the computer Algebra System Mathematica (screen-shot on the right) as In[8]. The same step was performed for the relativistic momentum In[9]. Thereafter, an additional = sign has been manually inserted to In[8]. Thereafter Solve[%8,λ] was typed to compute the De-Broglie wavelength.

One improvement that is worth mentioning is that assistive technologies can use the MathML content to provide better accessibility support for mathematical formulas. We have successfully tested this on a wide range of tools such as NVDA/MathPlayer, VoiceOver, Orca or ChromeVox.

VoiceOver+Firefox MathML from Frédéric Wang, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike.


We expect that this new mode will encourage developers of web engines and assistive technologies to improve their MathML support. We also hope that type designers and operating system maintainers will continue to make OpenType font more widespread in order so that math text can be handled as any other human languages. We are excited about the current achievement and we are looking forward to continuing collaboration with all the developers and users in order to provide the best experience for math on the web!