One of the reasons many people in technical disciplines start using LaTeX in the first place is for the ease of typesetting mathematical formulas with it. In some circles, LaTeX-like syntax has become a de facto language for communicating math formulas in emails and other electronic communication.

In the past few years, there have been several efforts to implement non-TeX based intepreters for this "language." The most notable of these is probably MathJax (and its predecessor jsMath), but there are others; for instance, WordPress has a system for including math using TeX-like syntax.

Although there are a number of different interpreters for this "markup language" of TeX-style mathematics, there does not seem to be any standard for what such an interpreter should be able to do. Certainly it should not be required to provide the full functionality of (La)TeX, since this would be incompatible with settings such as Markdown and HTML. The lack of a standard seems likely to result in a number of different variations on TeX-like syntax that all vary in important details. On the other hand, if there were a standard, then it might be possible for browsers to start providing native implementations that run faster and produce higher-quality results.

Have there been any efforts to develop a standard for "TeX-like syntax" as a mathematics markup language?

  • I'm not saying it is or isn't, but I wonder if this is on-topic for us: might be worth asking in meta. – Joseph Wright Oct 4 '13 at 16:16

We (W3C Math WG) did look at the start of the MathML2 cycle at specifying a linear (latex like) syntax for mathml (it was an explicit proposed deliverable) but initial investigations were not promising. As you note there are several I can't remember exactly which ones we polled probably jsmath (at the time), asciimathml, Word's linear format, itex, and several others and the answer we pretty uniformly got to the question of would you move to a standard syntax if one was defined was "no" which didn't encourage us to define a standard and we dropped that work item.

On the LaTeX side one of the original motivations for packaging the Required packages along with the base LaTeX release was exactly this reason, to try to mark out a standard LaTeX syntax: notably including array package table extensions, amsmath math alignments and babel for stuff that babel does.

That said

On the other hand, if there were a standard, then it might be possible for browsers to start providing native implementations

The big stumbling block in browser support is not the parser. It is rendering. Requirements like stretchy brackets imply measuring sub expressions in a way that does not sit well with CSS top down styling approach. It's not impossible to do as shown by firefox and webkit, but it isn't as simple as one might hope (which is basically why the Chrome developers threw it out of blink).

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    a long, long time ago, there was actually a look taken at the possibility of standardizing (officially, as an iso standard) tex. this was abandoned, as one of the general tenets of such standardization is that it's not extensible by a user, only by a committee. and one of the attractions of (la)tex itself is the ability to define a command for a frequently used expression, to ensure uniformity (and the ability to change one's mind about what notation to use). this in addition to david's informative answer. – barbara beeton Oct 4 '13 at 17:35

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