I am looking for information how to implement Math OTF font in XeTeX or LuaTeX at TeX primitive level (using XeTeX or LuaTeX primitives). There exist a LaTeX package unicode-math. Unfortunatelly, this package is LaTeX oriented, documentation is at LaTeX user level and implementation in LaTeX3 language which is far from TeX primitives. So, the inspiration from this package is impossible for me.

Where can I find such information?

I try to be more specific what I am looking for. The principles of math typesetting in TeX can be summarized by:

  • You must set (at least) math family 2 and 3 using \font, \textfont, \scriptfont and \scripscriptfont primitives. The metric of such fonts must include more \fontdimens than basic 7 (dim 8--22 for family 2 and dim 8--13 in family 3, they are used as described in appendix G in the TeXbook).

  • Each elementary math object can be a "character" decladed by \matcode or a "control sequence" declared by \mathchardef. The data points to type of the object (used for horizontal spacing) and to the family plus slot of the font.

  • The \delimiter code must point to family plus slot. There are pointers to create a queue of consecutive characters (big to bigger brackes). These pointers are in font metric of used font and the queue can ends by special pointers for components of a bracket of arbitrary size. Similar principle is used for radicals queue.

  • The \mathop type of objects can point to the family plus slot where two variant sizes of big operators are. They are connected by pointers inside font metric.

So, this is (roughly speaking) the basic information about background of math typesetting at TeX primitive level. But these informations are useless for me when I am working with (say) texgyrepagella-math.otf. Where are the pointers of brackets or radical queues? Where are extended font dimens?

Of course, I know how to load this font using extended syntax of \font primitive, I can set a font feature using \font primitive and I know that there exists primitives \Umathchar and \Umathchardef. But this is very few information. This is insufficient to declare basic unicode math typesetting.

Is there any info like I mentioned above, but for unicode math?

  • The concept of families does not apply for Unicode math fonts. This github Gist by @morbusg might help you. May 9, 2016 at 19:45
  • LuaTeX and XeTeX are rather different here as LuaTeX requires all of the mechanisms of a font loader to be provided first. Given the fact the question is specifically about doing 'everything at a low level' that seems unlikely to be useful. At the same time the requirements of the two engines are somewhat different. Would it be OK to limit the question to XeTeX (where everything is done in TeX)?
    – Joseph Wright
    May 9, 2016 at 19:46
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    @JosephWright load-unicode-math-classes.tex expands to Umathcode repeatedly used. This is simple. But main question is where are radicals, brackets and extended fontdimens. And where it is documented.
    – wipet
    May 9, 2016 at 20:02
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    @wipet an opentype font specifies the equivalent of fontdimens in the math table within the font so you require the engine (or lua) to interpret this the spec for the math table is microsoft.com/typography/otspec/math.htm May 9, 2016 at 20:18
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    @wipet -- you might find these slides (from bachotex 2009) of interest: Open Type Math Illuminated. see in particular p.19, where the absence of some required tex parameters for large delimiters is reported. May 11, 2016 at 20:48

2 Answers 2


In classical TeX a number of math mode fonts are used to supply the output glyphs based on the input, and as observed in the question the relevant \mathcode of the input token. In contrast, when using a Unicode math mode font only one font is used to supply all of the glyphs. As such, rather than the limited number of slots available in a TeX font there are large number of math mode-specific entries in a Unicode font.

Both Unicode engines (XeTeX and LuaTeX) provide the primitive \Umathcode for setting the extended math codes required for this to work. Details are available in both the XeTeX and LuaTeX manual: the syntax is

\Umathcode ⟨char slot⟩ [=] ⟨math type⟩ ⟨fam.⟩ ⟨glyph slot⟩

Notice that there is a requirement to supply a family here but that these will all be the same.

To set up the font dimensions required for math mode working, the engine or a suitable loader has to read the table supplied by the font. In XeTeX this happens as part of the (extended) \font primitive, for example

\font\lmmx = "[latinmodern-math.otf]/OT:mode=base;script=math;"

whilst in LuaTeX a Lua-based loader is required to extend the \font primitive (which out-of-the-box is identical to that in TeX90) (Realistically the font loader to use with LuaTeX is luaotfload, which is based on that written for ConTeXt but loadable with plain, LaTeX, _etc. There is work ongoing to use the HarfBuzz shaper with LuaTeX but this is not at present usable to my knowledge.)

As only one font is in use, conversion between input and output glyphs requires some differences from classical TeX. For example, input such as

$y = mx + c$

will not give italic letters unless they have the correct \Umathcode to point to the 'correct' codepoint. For example, we need

\Umathcode `\y =  "7 "1 "1D466

(I'm assuming that we will use font 1 for all glyphs: this is not required.)

Operators in Unicode math are scaled by the font shaper directly rather than needing extensible parts. As such, something like \int is defined for Unicode use by


with the correct math code then chosen

\Umathcode `∫= "1 "1 `∫

Both XeTeX and LuaTeX have the \Uradical primitive for radicals: LuaTeX also has \Uroot.

An important consequence of using only one font is that for example making symbols bold requires that all of the relevant math codes change. Thus setting up something \bf requires that we map over all code points affected and alter their \Umathcode.

Whilst only one font is required, it is necessary to define math families two and three to satisfy the engine that sufficient math parameters are available. (This may change, certainly in LuaTeX, as it seems to be a hold-over of code paths from TeX90.) At the same time, script fonts need to be loaded telling the loader what they are. This leads to a minimal font loading set up something like

\font\lmmx   = "[latinmodern-math.otf]/OT:mode=base;script=math;" %
\font\lmmvii = "[latinmodern-math.otf]/OT:mode=base;script=math;+ssty=0;" at 7pt %
\font\lmmv   = "[latinmodern-math.otf]/OT:mode=base;script=math;+ssty=1;" at 5pt %
\textfont1 = \lmmx
\textfont2 = \lmmx
\textfont3 = \lmmx
\scriptfont1 = \lmmvii
\scriptfont2 = \lmmvii
\scriptfont3 = \lmmvii
\scriptscriptfont1 = \lmmv
\scriptscriptfont2 = \lmmv
\scriptscriptfont3 = \lmmv

(Again, I am assuming XeTeX font syntax here.)

As noted in comments, there are a large number of additional font dimensions in Unicode math fonts. LuaTeX gives these names (all listed in the LuaTeX manual), whilst for XeTeX they have numbers and are accessed using \fontdimen.

The TeX90 primitives \delimiter, \mathaccent and \radical all have extended Unicode versions: \Udelimiter, \Umathaccent and \Uradical. Unlike the TeX90 versions, \Udelimiter and \Uradical do not need to point to multiple glyph slots: only one slot is needed and the font shaper is responsible for growing the glyph as required. The syntax of \Umathaccent is significantly extended compared to \mathaccent, certainly for LuaTeX. All three primitives are described in the LuaTeX manual and to a lesser extend in the XeTeX one.

  • 1
    How \delimiters, \mathaccents, \radicals work?
    – wipet
    May 10, 2016 at 4:31
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    I am using the lua-part of luaotfload too. I. e. not whole TeX part of luaotfload.sty, but directly \directlua. It works and gives comparable results with XeTeX's \font primitive (only loading time is somewhat different). You wrote that it is not working for math fonts?
    – wipet
    May 10, 2016 at 4:36
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    I have tested this and I have found that after \input luafonts.tex, the LuaTeX behaves equal as XeTeX (from \font primitive point of view). And what is the "/OT" option in the font declaration? I removed it and it works too. I know only "/B", "/I" and "/BI" options, they are not relevant here.
    – wipet
    May 10, 2016 at 6:19
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    @wipet Sorry if I implied things don't work with LuaTeX/math fonts: not what I meant. I was observing that not everything works as expected and there are still issues.
    – Joseph Wright
    May 10, 2016 at 6:53
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    @HenriMenke Sort of :-) Will's got set up as math active so it turns into something that turns into \intop which ultimately uses \Umathchar"1"00"00222B. (This is needed as a user might directly input in a Unicode document, so you need to cover that case too.)
    – Joseph Wright
    May 11, 2016 at 20:27

The key information in the accepted answer is: load Unicode Math font (UnMaFo) as family 2 and the same font as family 3. The TeX engine (XeTeX or LuaTeX) re-calculates appropriate fontdimens for family 2 and family 3 from UnMaFo when these families are set.

After understanding this, I am able to do simple plain TeX macros for unicode math. I did this in the uni-math.tex file released newly in the csplain package. It was mirrored from my www pages to CTAN yesterday and it was mirrored to TL-pretest today. The uni-math.tex uses straightforward plain TeX macros (including loading fonts at arbitrary sizes; this feature is used in OPmac macros, for example). You can compare 270 clear plain TeX code lines of uni-math.tex with 5671 lines in unicode-math.sty. Or compare ten milions lines of log file when simple LaTeX document (with fontspec and unicode-math) is traced by \tracingall with 262k lines in log when the same is done using uni-math.tex. UnMaFo is nothig mystical.

I try to summarize the basic information for macro programmers. If I am wrong, please, correct me.

  • There is no difference between XeTeX and LuaTeX. If LuaTeX is used, then you must only do \input luafonts to execute one \directlua which re-declares \font primitive. Now, the \font primitive in LuaTeX has somewhat extended syntax than in XeTeX, but using XeTeX syntax is sufficient and works in both engines.

  • Load UnMaFo in family 2 and the same in family 3, as mentioned above. You can load the same in family 1 too and set all Umathcodes to family 1 as default. The fontfeatures must be appended by mode=base;script=math; and the fonts for script and scriptcsript sizes can have more fontfeatures +ssty=0; and +ssty=1; respectively. May be, the UnMaFo is able to deal with optical sizes for such cases.

  • Set \Umathcodes for all codes from MathClass.txt as \Umathcode<code> = <type> 1 <code>, where is math object type from TeX point of view (0 is Ord, 1 is Op, 2 is Bin etc.). Use the following conversion table from letters used in MathClass.txt to TeX types: L=1, B=2, V=2, R=3, N=0, U=0, F=0, O=4, C=5, P=6. A=7. For codes of type O, C and F set \Udelcode<code> = 1 <code>. They are extensible delimiters. These codes must be able to extend vertically if UnMaFo is correctly prepared. Note 1 in settings: this is family 1 where UnMaFo is loaded.

  • Now, the Math typesetting is prepared. But you must use correct unicode codes between $...$, no control sequences. Especially, you must use direct codes for math italic, because codes `A-`Z, `a-`z are set as roman upright in Unicode table. This is not comfortable. Moreover, we (TeX users) are lazy and we write {\cal A} instead of selecting the proper unicode calligraphic A in text editor when preparing the source of the document.

  • To prepare such Math alphabet selectors like \cal we must know, that all Math alphabets are in one font at given codes, so switching by \fam=something is bad. We use "base-code sets" `A-`Z, `a-`z for roman Latin characters, `0-`9 for digits and "391-"3D5 for Greek characters. The macros like \cal changes the \Umathcodes of characters in appropriate base-code set. So, user can write A from base-code set and it creates calligraphic A when \cal was used.

  • There are following Math alphabets in UnMaFo: rm, bf, it and bi of Latin roman and Greek; sans, bfsans, itsans and bisans of Latin; bfsans and bisans of Greek; cal, bfcal frak, bffrak of Latin; doublestroked of latin; rm, bf, sans, bfsans, doublestroked of digits; typewriter of Latin and digits, see http://www.unicode.org/charts/PDF/U1D400.pdf. When preparing \cal-like macros, you must to set new codes from whole base-set using \Umathcode <base-code> = 7 1 <new-code> in a loop. But there is a little problem with absurd holes in the Math alphabets in Unicode table (see the document above). So, a little macro programming must be done. For example, you can see the macro \umathcharholes in uni-math.tex.

  • If you have prepared \itlatin, \itgreekrmGreek macros similar to \cal mentioned above, then you can set \itlatin \itgreekrmGreek as default. This is normal behaviour in TeX.

  • Typical control sequences used in TeX's math mode (like \sum, \pm, \oplus) can be scanned from unicode-math-table.tex file. You can set most of these control sequences as an equivalent of direct \Umathcode by \Umathcharnumdef<sequence>=\Umathcodenum<code>.

  • The codes with type L (declared in MathClass.txt) have two (or more) sizes in good prepared UnMaFo. So different sizes will be used in \textstyle and displaystyle automatically.

  • The control sequences declared as \mathopen and \mathclose in unicode-math-table.tex can be defined as macro with \Udelimiter which simply points to its code. So \langle, \rangle, \lbrace etc. will work in the context of \left...\right. See the scanning process of MathClass.txt and unicode-math-table.tex in uni-math.tex file for more details.

  • The codes declared as D (diacritics) in MathClass.txt can be used as \Umathaccent argument. This primitive declares extensive math accent (like \widetilde) as default. The feature of extensibility is prepared in UnMaFo for such codes. Unextensible accents must be declared by keyword "fixed", extensible bottom placed accents have "bottom" keyword in \Umathaccent. Define "fixed" math accents for all sequences from unicode-math-table.tex where \mathaccent type is mentioned. Next, define more flexible accents using \Umathaccent for control sequences \overbrace, \underbrace, \overparen, \underparen, \overbracket, \underbracket, \widehat, \widetilde, \overleftharpoon, \overrightharpoon, \overleftarrow, \overrightarrow, \overleftrightarrow.

  • Define \sqrt, \cuberoot and \fourthroot by \Uradical primitive wich points to the codes "221A, "0221B, "0221C. Good prepared UnMaFo includes more variants of these characters for different sizes. (Xe/Lua)TeX uses a proper size and adds the vertical bar like normal TeX does it when \radical primitive is used.

  • Declare \Umathcode `- = 2 1 "2212 because we are using the hyphen character as minus symbol in math mode in TeX.

  • Define \let\intop=\int \def\int{\intop \nolimits} in order to keep the plainTeX behavior of integral operator. Similarly, do this for other integral-like symbols if you want. Declare integral code as inmath-active and do the similar trick if you want to use direct integral symbol instead \int in the document.

More fonts can be loaded to next families 4, 5, 6, etc. It is irrelevant what type of font it is: UnMaFo or Text Unicode or classical 8bit. Then you can switch to usage of characters from such fonts by \fam=number, if the given code has a type 7.

Unfortunately, there isn't complete bold math version of common UnMaFo, only specific math alphabets have bf variant, no other symbols. We need complete math bold in titles where bold text font is used. I used "poor bold" for such case implemented by 2 Tr PDF operator.


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