San José State University
Thayer Watkins
Silicon Valley
& Tornado Alley

Equation Display for the Web

Technical material often requires the display of equations. Some equations can be constructed satisfactorily using HTML but there are many equations for which the HTML version is just not adequate. One particular problem is for variables which have simultaneously superscripts and subscripts. HTML requires these be displaced vertically, which just does not look right. A similar problem exists for integrals. The upper and lower limits have to be offset from one another and the result not only does not look right but can create confusion. The situation with sums represented in terms of upper and lower limits on Σ is even worse. Convention places those limits above and below the Σ which just cannot be done in HTML. Placing the limits as a subscript and a superscript would be acceptable except for their having to be offset. There are other mathematical operations with notation conventions similar to the Σ notation such as product, maximization, minimization, set union, and set intersection which also occur although not as often as the summation operation.

The Mathematics Markup Language (MathML) was supposed to remedy the problems of the display of mathematical equations but the creators of MathML decided to combine graphical display with a logical structure language which would allow algebraic manipulation. The end result was a product that was too cumbersome for the needs of most users.

One alternative was to use LATEX to create an image file of the desired equation and upload the image for display in HTML with <IMG> tags. This works but the image files are large compared to the amount of information conveyed. One image file often requires ten times as much in web resources as all the rest of the text put together.

Another alternative, which is presented below, is to use Java Applets to draw the equations. An applet requires about one tenth the file size as a corresponding image file would require. The applet allows the choice of font size and color as well as the content of the equation. The equation symbols can be in Unicode as well as conventional letters. Superscripts and subscripts can be displayed independently. The background color may be chosen to blend the equation seamlessly into the background or to highlight the equation. In the displays below the equations created by the applet are displayed within a bordered frame with provision for a comment caption about the equation.

Albert Einstein's
Most Famous Equation

Another Famous Equation
Due to Albert Einstein

An illustration of the highlighting of an equation

A Tensor Equation

Equations involving a sequential operation

A Summation

A Product

An Integration

Set intersection

Simple Equation

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