What class of symbols are \to and \mapsto— mathbin or mathrel?

(Sorry for such a basic and naive question!)

I'm pretty sure that usage indicates they ought to be mathrel, but in some posts about redefining \to, I've seen mathbin instead.

  • @Milo: Yes, I know what the difference is between mathbin and mathrel. So far as I can see, the answer you cite does not answer my question about which of the two classes \to and \mapsto fall into.
    – murray
    Jul 31 '18 at 14:57
  • Note that the "→" in "f(x) → c as x → 0" is a relation, but the "→" in "f : S→T" is a binary operation. Too bad mathematicians used the same right-arrow for both...
    – user21820
    Oct 8 '20 at 18:49

\to and \mapsto are defined by the LaTeX kernel. Their definition can be found in the file fontmath.ltx:


As you can see, \to is just a synonym for \rightarrow, which is defined as a \mathrel. On the other hand, \mapsto is obtained by juxtaposing two relation symbols, \mapstochar and \rightarrow; it is a low-level feature of TeX that the juxtaposition of two relation symbols acts as a single relation symbol.

Note that there is a command, named latexdef, that you can execute from the command line to find out the definition of LaTeX commands (for further details, run

latexdef -h

always from the command line). Now, running

latexdef \to




You can see that \to is defined to be a symbol of class 3 (you have to look at the first hexadecimal digit of the math code following \mathchar), that is, a relation symbol. Had \to been a binary operator, the answer would have been


instead. Similar remarks apply to \mapstochar.

  • 2
    Wow, +1 for latexdef! I've been using TeX for years and this is a great new find for me.
    – wchargin
    Jul 31 '18 at 5:33
  • Extremely informative about everything. For example, I knew about \show used in interactive mode when one hits an "unknown" error, but not about latexdef.
    – murray
    Jul 31 '18 at 13:50
  • \latexdef \mapsto gives macro:->\mapstochar \rightarrow; both \rightarrow and \mapstochar are of class 3 (mathrel). What rule implies then that \mapsto in fact yields a math relation symbol?
    – murray
    Jul 31 '18 at 14:03

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