Putting Your Mathematics on the Web

Ralph Freese

Revised Aug 11, 1997


On this page we present various methods currently available of putting mathematics on the web together with some instructions. Our primary focus is on methods for researchers, who are not experts on the technologies involved, to put their mathematical papers on their web homepages. For the most part we are concerned with taking a paper prepared in TeX and putting in on the web but we also discuss future format of electronic papers.

Recent News

Making PDF files with Type I (Scalable) Fonts Now Possilbe!
The AMS, Bluesky, and Y&Y have placed their PostScript version of the CM fonts in the public domain. The history and the latest news is available on the AMS CM PostScript fonts page; Mac users may want to see the Blue Sky page for more information and the CM fonts. This means that making a high quality pdf file from TeX is easy and that this method is the most attractive method of putting your TeX papers on the net. (pdf is described below.) The lastest version of the TeXLive CD from the TeX Users Group has everything you need. For details on setting up your system and how to use it:

Conference on Electronic Communications in Mathematics:
The talks, including the web pages and real audio, are available at http://www.geom.umn.edu/docs/cecm/. Several of these talks are relevant to our topic here, particularly Robert Miner's talk.

HTML Math Committee of the W3C:
This committee is working on math extensions to html and met in March. There will be <MATH> tags to allow one to include mathematical expressions in html. The next generation browsers will handle the <MATH> tags by passing them off to a plugin program; the following generation browser may be able to handle them natively. A draft of the the proposed MathML W3C standard is available at http://www.w3.org/pub/WWW/TR/WD-math/. See also Michel Goossens article in the April-June issue of the Cern Computer Newsletter.

WebEQ 2.0:
This new version has just been released. Although this program is not designed to convert TeX or dvi files into web pages, it is very useful when you are writing an html page and wish to include some mathematics. It will be able to handle the new MathML language mentioned above. It also has a LaTeX like input language.

Reasons for Putting Your Papers on the Web

Essentially I view this as a much more convenient way of distributing your preprints and reprints. Other mathematicians can gain instance access to them; they can read them on the web and decide if the paper is what they are looking for and print out a copy if they like. This has obvious benefits for mathematical research.

Should this be a substitute for publishing your paper in a journal (electronic or paper)? No. Journals (both electronic and paper) have three obvious advantages:

  1. They are refereed.
  2. They are archived.
  3. Their articles are much more easily searched. (Even articles in paper journals can be found with electronic searching such as with MathSciNet.)
Journals are of course very valuable to the mathematical community. Putting your papers on your web site should not replace publishing them.
Copyright issues are discussed below.

What a Program Should Have

Some of the desirable properties of a program to put mathematical papers on the Web include:
  1. The program should be easy to install and use both for the reader and the author. It is especially important that the reader not have to install anything except his browser and that it is possible to view the document on a wide variety of platforms.
  2. The author should not have to maintain a separate version of his manuscript for the net version.
  3. Loading should be reasonably fast.
  4. The quality of the output, especially the mathematics, should be high.
  5. It should permit hyperlinks both within the document and to the web in general.
  6. The reader should be able to print a high quality paper copy.

The Methods

There are several methods, all with strengths and faults, discussed below. As mentioned above, right now it appears that pdf is the best method.


PDF stands for Portable Document Format. It is a special PostScript file format. It can include hyperlinks both within the document and to outside URL's. Adobe makes a program, Acroreader, which can display pdf files. This program is free and this format is fast becoming a standard. It supports searching and high quality printing. If you try to access a pdf file through Netscape on a PC, Netscape will ask if you would like to add Acroreader as a plugin. On Macs it will ask if you want to add it as a helper and on unix systems a system administrator can easily add it. This means most people can easily access a pdf file through the net. One warning: If you have Acroread 2.1 or older, you need to upgrade to version 3.0 or newer.

The process of getting your TeX file into a pdf file is now easy with the latest TeXLive CD and Adobe Acrobat; see Recent News.

The AMS now has PDF as one of the choices for retrieving its math papers. The results are nice. It is easy to print or save the pdf file from the Acrobat Reader program.

The references below give additional information and alternative methods of make pdf files.

  1. Sergey Lesenko, The DVIPDF program, TUGboat, 17(1996), 251-254.
  2. Sabastian Rahtz, LaTeX, DVIPS, EPS and the web ..., TUGboat, 17(1996), 264-268.
  3. Petr Sljka, Han Thanh, and Jiri Zlatuska, The joy of TeX2pdf---Acrobatics with an alternative to DVI format, TUGboat, 17(1996), 244-251.
  4. Kendall Whitehouse, Creating quality Adobe PDF files from TeX with DVIPS.


Idvi is essentially a dvi viewer for the internet. It was written by Garth Dickie and is described in more detail on his IDVI PAGE. You can also go directly to his USERGUIDE. I have installed it on our system and grabbed the simple basic instructions for preparing a document with idvi. There is also a simple reader's guide with instructions for navigating and changing magnification within an idvi display.

To use idvi, you run idvi on a dvi file. It produces an html file and some other files which you put in a subdirectory of your ~/public_html directory (details below). When this html file is viewed, say with netscape, it is an applet which is in many ways similar to xdvi but over the net. The user can jump around, make the scale larger or smaller, etc. It has support for (some) encapsulated PostScript diagrams. If you use the latex with the hyperref package, idvi automatically generates html links in you paper. So if you save "By Lemma 4 ..." the user can click on the 4 and go directly to the page with that lemma.

You can see one of my papers on the net to see how it looks. Or you can go to my papers page to find other examples.



Speed. When you first access an idvi document the java code, about 200K, is downloaded. Over my 14.4 modem this takes one minute 15 seconds. Then it downloads the fonts in pk format. This means the first pages is displayed slowly. But after the first page most of the fonts will already be there so displaying subsequent pages will be much faster. Also if you view an entirely different document the java classes will not need to be reloaded.

If idvi becomes popular, many math departments will install it so their members can display their papers. The system administrator can copy the classes for the idvi viewer to the same place the browser looks for its java classes. After this is done the java program will be loaded locally, greatly improving the startup time.


This is a perl script that parses a latex file and makes an html file. For all but the simplest math it generates a gif and places it in the html file. It is very fragile and difficult to get to work correctly. For a paper with much mathematices each html page must contain a multitude of gif files. This makes the downloading slow and means the reader has to size his web browser's font to fit the characters in the gifs. It can only deal with parts of latex. For example, it is likely to not understand theorem and proof environments and put them into big gifs. You will almost certainly have to maintain a separate version of your tex file for the latex2html version.

When the <MATH> tags are available a program such as this may become important but for now it is not suitable to the most mathematicians. Ross Moore has some good documentation on LaTeX2HTML and also on Xy-pic:

  1. LaTeX2HTML manual
  2. Mathematics with LaTeX2HTML manual
  3. Xy-pic User's Guide


This uses java to allow you to write an html page using the math extensions that are in html3.0. Version 2.0 will be released soon; see Recent News. Although pdf is (currently) the best for getting mathematical papers written in TeX on the web, for situations when you need to include mathematics directly in html such a page for students which includes html forms or java or javascript, WebEQ is very nice and gives a glimpse of the future. For more information visit the WebEQ page.

IBM's Techexplorer

This is a netscape plug-in that is able to interpret a subset of TeX. There has been a lot of work on this project since I last updated this page. Version which will run on Macs and Unix machines (although there is some delay with linux) will be available very soon. It now handles a larger subset of TeX including some LaTeX. Since it does not handle all of TeX you are likely to have to maintain a separate TeX file for your web page and so it is not ideal for putting a TeX paper on the web but it is very good including math on a html web page, say with interactive forms for your students. You can find out more about this program directly from their URL: Techexplorer homepage.

PostScript and dvi files

You can put links to such files on your page. (I did this on the page with some of my papers.) If a user clicks on such a link to one of your papers, what will happen will depend on how his browser is setup. It may launch ghostview or xdvi or it may just download the file to the user's directory. With netscape you can click with the right bottom. This gives you a menu and you can choose to save the link. This all works ok but may be a little confusing to the user. Also ghostview has it own method to save the file but xdvi doesn't.

This is a good way to allow others to retrieve your your papers over the net, although pdf is better.

Copyright Issues

When you write a paper you become the copyright owner (at least in most countries including the US). When you publish it you sign a copyright agreement with the publisher which usually is an assignment of the copyright to them. Often the agreement gives the author and the scientific community the right to make copies. (Essentially this is licensing back some of the rights to the author.) For example the AMS copyright agreement includes the sentence "The Work may be reproduced by any means for educational and scientific purposes by the Author(s) or by others without fee or permission with the exception of reproduction by services that collect fees for delivery of documents." The AMS Copyright Agreement is online.

Of course not all copyright agreements may allow you to put your paper on the web. If you are uncertain you might want to check with the publisher. For future papers you might write in something like the above sentence on the copyright agreement.

Author: Ralph Freese
Last modified: Aug 11, 1997.
Please send comments by email to ralph@math.hawaii.edu