MathML Language Certified an International Standard

W3C MathML STM publishers web standards markup languageMathML 3.0, the markup language used to render mathematical expressions online and in other digital content, gets the imprimatur of two international standards organizations.

With MathML, mathematical formulas can be made interactive, rather than being published as static representations of mathematical concepts or equations. Advocates see that capability as one of the language’s chief virtues in the development of digital education, scholarly and enterprise content for certain technical fields.

The web standards organization W3C advanced the push to certify MathML with the two standards agencies, the Information Technology of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

MathML is already widely employed by some of the leading science, technical and medical (STM) publishers, including Pearson and Wiley, both of which are W3C members.

Related: What Trade Publishers Can Learn from the STM Sector

[Press Release]

W3C MathML 3.0 Approved as ISO/IEC International Standard

23 June 2015 — Today the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), together with the Joint Technical Committee JTC 1, Information Technology of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), announced approval of the MathML Version 3.0 2nd Edition as an ISO/IEC International Standard (ISO/IEC 40314:2015).

MathML is the mark-up language used in software and development tools for statistical, engineering, scientific, computational and academic expressions of math on the Web. The Mathematical Markup Language provides ways to describe in XML both the visual presentation of formulas (with mathematical symbols, built-up formulas and font styles) and their semantics (with reference to different domains of mathematics). Its first version, MathML 1, was released in 1999.

“This important scientific standard, which is already widely deployed internationally, can now benefit from additional formal recognition from ISO, IEC and their national member bodies,” noted Dr. Jeff Jaffe, W3C CEO. “The ISO/IEC recognition is expected to increase internationally harmonized adoption of MathML not only by standards bodies, governments and the scientific and academic communities, but also by browser makers, educational publishers and the broader Web community.”

“ISO/IEC JTC 1 is very pleased to have the opportunity to take the important work of the W3C and have it transposed into formally approved ISO/IEC Standards,” said Karen Higginbottom, ISO/IEC JTC 1 Chair. “We are pleased to continue the strong and constructive relationship between our organizations.”

“As Secretariat of ISO/IEC JTC 1, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is very proud of the successful collaboration between ISO/IEC JTC 1 and W3C,” said Lisa Rajchel, ISO/IEC JTC 1 Secretary. “Approval of the W3C specifications once again demonstrates strong cooperation between the formal standards process and consortia.”

MathML: A rich and powerful language

Because HTML was invented in a scientific laboratory, formulas in HTML were one of the earliest extensions proposed. Early experiments, such as HTML+ in 1993, led to the first version of MathML in 1998. MathML has been gaining support ever since, although it took until 2014 and the fifth version of HTML before math became a standard part of HTML, rather than an optional extra. MathML can now be used both on its own, as before, or embedded in HTML.

An important goal in making MathML a required part of HTML is to make scientific articles, or educational material, interactive. A formula is no longer just an image — you can interact with it, right in the browser or other document viewer: e.g. copy and paste the formula into an equation solver and see the solution, point a graph plotter at the document and see the formula visualized, let a student solve arithmetic exercises right in the browser, etc.

MathML is an important asset for the Semantic Web. It can not only describe the visual, two-dimensional structure of a built-up formula, but also its semantics relative to different mathematical models, thanks to its integration of standard “dictionaries” from the OpenMath Society. (Different branches of mathematics often use similar-looking formulas, so some disambiguation makes automatic interpretation a lot easier.)

“This ISO/IEC standard is very timely” said Dr. Bert Bos, Math Activity Lead at W3C, “MathML improves accessibility authoring capabilities such as speech output. It continues to be the most successful interchange format between the major mathematical software packages, and is now on its way to becoming the lingua franca for all mathematics on the Web because of its recent inclusion in HTML5 and the Open Web Platform.”

The benefits of collaboration for interoperability

W3C has developed processes and policies that promote the development of high-quality, consensus-driven, royalty-free standards, many of which power the Web and enterprise computing. The ISO and IEC imprimatur increases the avenues for adoption of W3C technology and guidelines which in turn will increase deployment, reduce fragmentation and provide all users with greater interoperability.

MathML 3.0 was submitted to the ISO/IEC JTC 1 process for Publicly Available Specifications (PAS) in July 2014. W3C has been an approved JTC 1 PAS Submitter since November 2010, and is one of eleven (11) organizations that are currently approved. Under the PAS procedures, organizations recognized as valid PAS Sumitters can send their specifications directly to JTC 1 for national body voting to become ISO/IEC International Standards. To learn more about W3C and the ISO/IEC JTC1 PAS Submission process, see the W3C PAS FAQ and the JTC 1 website.

As an ISO/IEC JTC 1 Standard, MathML 3.0 is now also available from ISO/IEC and its national member bodies, including ANSI. JTC 1 recognition neither changes nor supercedes the existing W3C standard, which remains freely available from the W3C website. MathML is the third W3C standard to be recognized by ISO/IEC, after Web Services in 2011 and Web Acccessibility Content Guidelines 2.0 in 2012.

W3C also provides a number of supporting resources for developers and users, which are available on the Math activity page. W3C Members have provided testimonials in support of MathML 3.0.
About the World Wide Web Consortium

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international consortium where Member organizations, a full-time staff, and the public work together to develop Web standards. W3C primarily pursues its mission through the creation of Web standards and guidelines designed to ensure long-term growth and stewardship for the Web. Over 400 organizations are Members of the Consortium. W3C is jointly run by the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (MIT CSAIL) in the United States, the European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics (ERCIM) headquartered in France, Keio University in Japan and Beihang University in China, and has additional Offices worldwide. For more information see

About JTC 1

The joint technical committee of ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission), ISO/IEC JTC 1, Information Technology, is a consensus-based, voluntary international standards group that works as a highly productive collaboration between ISO and IEC. More than 3,700 experts from 34-P-member countries come together in JTC 1 to develop mutually beneficial standards that enhance global trade while protecting intellectual property. The United States plays a leading role in JTC 1, with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) holding the secretariat and Karen Higginbottom, director of standards initiatves at Hewlett-Packard Company, serving as JTC 1’s chair.

About ISO

ISO is the world’s largest developer and publisher of International Standards. ISO is a network of the national standards institutes of some 164 countries as of July 2012. More than 100 of ISO’s members are from developing countries. ISO has more than 18600 International Standards in its currents portfolio. ISO’s work programme ranges from standards for traditional activities, such as agriculture and construction, through mechanical engineering, manufacturing and distribution, to transport, medical devices, the environment, safety, information and communication technologies, and to standards for good practices and for services.

About IEC

The IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) is the world’s leading organization that prepares and publishes International Standards for all electrical, electronic and related technologies – collectively known as “electrotechnology.” IEC International Standards cover a vast range of technologies from power generation, transmission and distribution to home appliances and office equipment, semiconductors, fibre optics, batteries, nanotechnologies, solar energy and marine energy converters, to mention just a few. Wherever you find electricity and electronics, you will find the IEC supporting safety and performance, the environment, electrical energy efficiency and renewable energies. The IEC also manages Conformity Assessment Systems that certify that equipment, systems or components conform to its International Standards.


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