XML, Stylesheets and the Re-mathematization of Formal Content

Andrea Asperti
Luca Padovani
Claudio Sacerdoti Coen
Irene Schena


An important part of the descriptive power of mathematics derives from its ability to represent formal concepts in a highly evolved, two-dimensional system of symbolic notations. Tools for the mechanisation of mathematics and the automation of formal reasoning must eventually face the problem of re-mathematization of the logical, symbolic content of the information, especially in view of their integration with the World Wide Web. In a different work [APSS00c], we already discussed the pivotal role that XML [eXtensible Markup Language] technology [XML] is likely to play in such an integration. In this paper, we focus on the problem of (Web) publishing, advocating the use of XSL [eXtensible Stylesheet Language] Transformations, in conjunction with MathML [Mathematical Markup Language], as a standard, application independent and modular way for associating notation to formal mathematical content.

Keywords: XSLT; MathML; Publishing

Andrea Asperti

Andrea Asperti was born in Italy in 1961. He was awarded a Ph.D. in Computer Science by the University of Pisa in 1989. In the same year he obtained a post-doc position at INRIA-Rocquencourt where he was employed as a researcher in 1991. In 1992 he obtained the chair of Formal Languages and Compilers at the Department of Computer Science of the University of Bologna, becoming Full Professor in year 2000. He is currently teaching courses on Programming Languages, Theoretical Computer Science and Human-Computer Interaction. He is a member of the W3C Advisory Committee.

Contributions to the Project: He is the supervisor and main proponent of project HELM. He has contributed to the development of a proof-checker for the logical XML files and he is also contributing to the development of stylesheets for natural language rendering of formal proofs.

Luca Padovani

Luca Padovani was born in Italy in 1974. He won a Ph.D. fellowship in Computer Science in 1999. He worked on design and implementation of distributed concurrent languages with mobile agents. His current interests cover Web Technologies, Web Publishing, concurrency models and functional languages.

Contributions to the Project: He has designed and implemented the Gtk-widget for the rendering of MathML presentation documents and he is co-author of UWOBO (a stylesheet manager servlet). He is also in charge of the on-line interface to the library.

Claudio Sacerdoti Coen

Claudio Sacerdoti Coen was born in Italy in 1976. He won a Ph.D. fellowship in Computer Science in 2001 and has been working on project HELM since the begin of his master thesis. His current interests cover Logical Frameworks, Proof Assistants and their integration with XML-based Web Publishing technologies.

Contributions to the Project: He has defined the DTD for the files exported from the Coq Proof Assistant and he has also designed and implemented a Coq module to do the exporting to XML. He is the developer of a prototype client-side interface for the annotations of the proofs and of a proof-checker working on the XML logical files. He is also contributing to the Web interface.

Irene Schena

Irene Schena was born in Italy in 1971. He won a Ph.D. fellowship in Computer Science in 1998. She worked on the application of linear logic to syntax analysis of natural languages. She joined the MathML Working Group in 1999. Her current interests cover Web Technologies, in particular applications of stylesheets (XSLT) and metadata (RDF).

Contributions to the Project: She is in charge of the design and implementation of the stylesheet architecture of project HELM. She is also contributing to the definition and exploitation of the mathematical encodings generated starting from the logical level XML documents.

XML, Stylesheets and the Re-mathematization of Formal Content

Andrea Asperti [Department of Computer Science, University of Bologna ]
Luca Padovani [Department of Computer Science, University of Bologna ]
Claudio Sacerdoti Coen [Department of Computer Science, University of Bologna ]
Irene Schena [Department of Computer Science, University of Bologna ]

Extreme Markup Languages 2001® (Montréal, Québec)

Copyright © 2001 Andrea Asperti, Luca Padovani, Claudio Sacerdoti Coen, and Irene Schena. Reproduced with permission.


In a different paper [APSS00c] we advocated the pivotal role of XML-technology, recently introduced by the W3C [World Wide Web Consortium], for the development of large, distributed repositories of formal mathematical knowledge. The eXtensible Markup Language [XML], which is rapidly imposing as the main tool for representation, manipulation, and exchange of structured information in the networked age, provides a simple bridge between tools for automation of formal reasoning and the Web, and naturally leads to the design of a new generation of Logical Environments along the guidelines of the new Information Society, and its emphasis on content. The broad goal of our project (http://www.cs.unibo.it/helm) goes far beyond the trivial suggestion to adopt XML as a neutral specification language for the ``compiled'' versions of the libraries, or even the observation that in this way we could take advantage of a lot of functionalities on XML-documents already offered by standard commercial tools. First of all, having a common, application independent, meta-language for mathematical proofs, similar software tools could be applied to different logical dialects, regardless of their concrete nature. This would be especially relevant for all those operations like rendering, browsing, searching, and retrieving (just to mention a few of them) that are largely independent from the specific logical system. Moreover, if having a common representation layer is not the ultimate solution to all interoperability problems between different applications, it is however a first and essential step in this direction. Finally, this ``standardisation'' process naturally leads to a substantial simplification and re-organisation of the current, ``monolithic'' architecture of logical frameworks. All the many different and often loosely connected functionalities of these complex programs (proof checking, proof editing, proof displaying, search and consulting, program extraction, and so on) could be clearly split in more or less autonomous tasks, possibly (and hopefully!) developed by different teams, in totally different languages. This is the new, ``content-centric'' architectural design of future systems.

An essential component of XML-technology is XSLT [Extensible Stylesheet Language, Transformation part] [XSLT] which recently became a W3C Recommendation. XSLT is a simple rule-based language for transforming XML documents into other XML documents. Although the expressive power of XSLT is remarkable, it was not intended as a completely general-purpose XML transformation language but, primarily, as a mean to specify the styling of an XML document by transforming the specific XML-dialect of the input document into a formatting language suitable for rendering issues (HTML [HyperText Markup Language], Formatting Objects, or whatever). This is also the use of XSLT intended in this paper; in particular, we advocate the use of stylesheets as a standard mechanism for associating notation to content in mathematical documents.

This raises the question of the target formatting language for mathematics. Once in the realm of XML, a natural choice is provided by MathML1. MathML [MathML] is an instance of XML which has been developed under the aegis of W3C with the goal to enable mathematics to be served, received, and processed on the Web, just as HTML has enabled this functionality for text. MathML is actually composed by two parts: presentation markup (which should become, roughly, the math-mode of HTML), and content markup, whose aim should be to capture the ``logical structure'' of the information. MathML also comprises some mechanisms for associating content with presentation. While MathML-presentation is well on its way and likely to be rapidly adopted by several browsers, the actual role of MathML-content is more questionable, especially for people aware of (and aquainted with) the multi-lingual environment of the foundations of mathematics. Still, MathML-content has been conceived as an extensible (and thus, potentially, infinitary) language; this fact, and its flexible nature, make it very suitable to act as an interesting intermediate semi-formal language between the specific (logic-dependent) low level representation of the information and its presentation in some editing format. The fact of passing through an intermediate representation is going to improve the modularity of the overall architecture: many specific logical dialects can be mapped into the same intermediate language (or into suitable extensions of it), and many transformations to specific editing formats can be defined for the single intermediate language (just simple extensions of the transformations would be required, in case of extensions of the intermediate representation).

Proofs as Expressions

Accordingly to the Semantic Web, we are interested not only in encoding mathematical documents, and proofs in particular, in a machine readable way, but also in a machine understandable way. This means, for example, that it must be easy to write tools to inspect proofs, to automatically verify their correctness and to data-mine them. This has always been the subject of study of Proof Theory and Formal Logic, whose concrete products are Proof Assistants.

In almost every Proof Assistant, a formal proof is encoded in a very peculiar way, which is an expression in a particular calculus. Even a short introduction to the subject would require a whole text-book; the best reference for beginners is probably [GLT89]. Thus, in the rest of this section we will only show an example to allow the reader to grasp the idea.

Consider the following tautology in propositional logic: A∨B⇒(B⇒A)⇒A. A proof in natural language is "Consider A∨B. If A is true the proof is finished. Otherwise B is true; hence, using the hypotheses B⇒A, we can conclude A. QED"

Figure 1: Example: natural deduction tree
[Link to open this graphic in a separate page]

Accordingly to Formal Logic, we can think of any proof as a well-formed tree; for example, the previous proof is described in natural deduction style in 1. Every node of the tree corresponds to a logical rule, whose name is shown on the right. The root of the tree is the conclusion of the theorem; the un-discharged leaves are the hypothesis. A discharged leaf is a leaf between square brackets; every rule application has associated to it a list of the hypothesis that it discharges. The theorem is correct if every node is well-formed, i.e. it has the right number of children and every child is a proof of the expected proposition with respect to the logical rule. To define a logic, it is enough to specify the set of all the logical rules.

Because working with trees and discharging of the hypothesis is rather cumbersome, logicians have found the way of sequentialising them as expressions. The idea consists in developing a typed λ-calculus (the core of every functional language) in which every well formed type corresponds to a statement and every well-typed term to a proof. Each logical rule becomes an operator of the calculus of the appropriate type; binding naturally replaces discharging and proof-checking amounts to type-check the corresponding expression.

The above proof, for example, could be sequentialised as (or_elim H1 λx:A.x λy:B.(modus_ponens y H2)) where H1 is the hypothesis of type A, H2 is the hypothesis of type B⇒A, or_elim has type A∨B⇒(A⇒C)⇒(B⇒C)⇒C for each A, B and C and modus_ponens has type A⇒(A⇒B)⇒B for each A and B; λx:T.M is the usual λ-notation for the function f(x:T) = M. Obviously, once we have the term corresponding to a proof, it is a trivial task to encode its abstract syntax tree into XML.


The potential relevance of XML for the development of large, distributed repositories of formal mathematical knowledge has been already discussed in the introduction. In order to test the actual feasibility of the idea, our first step has been to export in XML the standard library of a widely used and well-known proof assistant: Coq [Coq]. Exporting the library was not as easy as one could naively expect. Not only you must wisely choose what information is worth exporting, but you must also fight against the several internal intricacies of the application; in particular, some relevant information is not directly available, requiring a tight integration with the system2. On the other side, once you have exported all relevant information, you may just forget the underlying application, merely working on XML-documents.

The standard library of Coq generated about 5200 XML files, taking about 120 Mb of disk space (24 Mb after compression). Each file is rather particular, all the information being encoded in markup elements, without any PCDATA content; this is a consequence of the really fine-grained formal encoding, reflected into the DTD. Moreover, the DOM [Document Object Model] trees have typically a small branching factor, but a conspicuous depth: it is not unusual to have nesting degrees of several hundred units.

Below is an example of a small fragment of one of this documents, representing the mathematical expression (n > 0) ∨ (0 = n).

 <MUTIND notype="0" uri="cic:/coq/INIT/Logic/Disjunction/or.ind"/>
  <CONST uri="cic:/coq/INIT/Peano/gt.con"/>
  <REL binder="n" value="1"/>
  <MUTCONSTRUCT noconstr="1" notype="0" uri="cic:/coq/INIT/Datatypes/nat.ind"/>
  <MUTIND notype="0" uri="cic:/coq/INIT/Logic/Equality/eq.ind"/>
  <MUTIND notype="0" uri="cic:/coq/INIT/Datatypes/nat.ind"/>
  <MUTCONSTRUCT noconstr="1" notype="0" uri="cic:/coq/INIT/Datatypes/nat.ind"/>
  <REL binder="n" value="1"/>

The reading of the previous fragment of code should be quite evident, at least for people acquainted with Coq. The expression is the application of ``or'' to a pair of arguments. ``or'' is the first (and, in this case, unique) type defined in the mutual inductive definition contained in the file whose URI is cic:/coq/INIT/Logic/Disjunction/or.ind. The first argument is an application of the constant ``gt'' (defined in cic:/coq/INIT/Peano/gt.con) to n and to 0 (0 is the first constructor of the datatype of natural numbers, defined in cic:/coq/INIT/Datatypes/nat.ind). The second argument is the application of ``eq'' (Leibniz' equality, defined in cic:/coq/INIT/Logic/Equality/eq.ind) to the type of natural numbers, 0 and n.

Note that the information encoded in markup exactly reflects all the internal information of Coq; in particular, it reflects all the relevant information, and not just the information required for rendering purposes. In order to prove this assertion, we entirely re-wrote the Coq type-checker to make it work on XML-documents. Once the information is extracted and exported in XML, it can be used as a more convenient format for exchanging pieces of the library on the Web.

In the sequel, we shall just point out the relevance of our methodology from the point of view of Web publishing, and the re-mathematization of formal content. To this aim, we must first introduce MathML.


MathML [MathML] is an instance of XML for describing mathematical expressions capturing both their intended logical content and formatting. The following short introduction largely borrows from the Recommendation, version 2.0.

The MathML markup elements fall roughly into two categories: presentation elements and content elements.

Presentation Elements

The presentation markup of MathML provides a quite typical editing environment for mathematical expressions, with no special or distinctive features. The main interest of the language is that it has been recommended by W3C as a standard for rendering mathematics on the web and it is likely to be adopted and supported by most browsers. MathML presentation markup consists of about 30 elements which accept over 50 attributes. Most of the elements correspond to layout schemata, which contain other presentation elements. Each layout schema corresponds to a two-dimensional notational device, such as a superscript or subscript, fraction or table. In addition, there are the presentation token elements mi, mn and mo that respectively stands for identifiers, numerical constants and operators, as well as several other less commonly used token elements. The remaining few presentation elements are empty elements, and are used mostly in connection with alignment.

The layout schemata fall into several classes. One group of elements is concerned with scripts, and contains elements such as msub, munder, and multiscripts. Another group focuses on more general layout and includes mrow (used for grouping subexpressions), mstyle, and mfrac. A third group deals with tables.

For instance, the expression (n > 0) ∨ (0 = n) would be written as follows, whose reading should be clear:

             <mchar name="vee"/>

Note that presentation markup (as well as content markup) is not intended to be edited by hand, but by automatic means or suitable editing tools.

Content Elements

Content markup consists of about 100 elements accepting a dozen attributes. The majority of these elements are empty elements corresponding to a wide variety of common mathematical operators, relations and functions, such as partialdiff (partial differentiation), leq (less or equal) and tan (tangent)3. Others elements, such as matrix and set, are used to encode various mathematical data types, and a third, important category of content elements such as apply are used to build mathematical expressions and also to construct new mathematical objects from others.

The apply element is the most important content element, since it provides the only mechanism to build, by composition, complex mathematical expressions. The first child of apply must be an empty element denoting the operator to be applied, with the other child elements as arguments. The operator must be in the range of pre-defined empty elements of MathML, or it can be a new user-defined operator, called a csymbol. For instance, the expression (n > 0) ∨ (0 = n) is encoded as follows:


Note, by the way, the similarity between this representation and that in 3. The similarity can be enforced setting the definitionURL attribute of a MathML content element to override the MathML default semantics of the element with its formal one in a specific logical system. In the example above we can set the definitionURL attribute of the or operator to the same value (cic:/coq/INIT/LOGIC/Disjunction/or.ind) of the uri attribute of the corresponding low level logical representation.

Each node in the low level, formal representation could, in the general case, be mapped to the root of a subtree in the MathML representation. Hence, in order to use MathML as an intermediate language, it is also necessary to preserve a link from the root of each subtree to the possibly corresponding low level element; in this way, any interaction with the MathML markup could be reflected onto the formal document.

Mixing Content and Presentation

The third category of elements is meant to supply mechanisms for mixing presentation and content markup by embedding one into the other, or by establishing bindings via so called ``semantic mappings''. One common use for the semantics element is to bind a piece of content markup to some presentation markup as a semantic annotation. In this way, an author can specify a non-standard notation to be used when displaying a particular content expression.

The MathML specification insists to keep both content and presentation markup into a single document. Although it is clear that both aspects are tightly related in mathematics, there is no major evidence why this relation should eventually imply a physical dependency inside a single document. In one direction, we can imagine to define the relation from content to presentation by means of stylesheets (see next section), and conversely preserve the relation from presentation to content by means of XLinks [XLink], [XPath], [XPointer], that is a solution (almost) compatible with the current specification.

XSL Transformations

As already mentioned in the introduction, we advocate the use of stylesheets as a standard mechanism associating notation to content for mathematical documents. The choice of XSLT is naturally motivated by the fact that XSLT has been specifically designed to generate the styling of XML documents. Moreover, a strong proviso of our project is the exploitation of only standard XML technologies to improve re-usability and integration of software components.

However, the impact of this choice from the points of view of complexity, code readability and maintainability was not evident a priori and it actually revealed quite cumbersome (we believe we have really pushed XSLT to its extreme possibilities). We will discuss this issues in 7-1

At the time we started our project, there existed already some efforts to apply XSLT to generate MathML presentation markup from MathML content markup. We have taken advantage of these works, embedding a stylesheet defined by Igor Rodionov, of the Computer Science Department of the University of Western Ontario, London, Canada. Here is a fragment of it (the code has been slightly simplified, for the sake of clarity).

<xsl:template match = "m:apply[m:or[1]]">
  <xsl:param name="IN_PREC" select="$NO_PREC"/>
    <xsl:when test="$IN_PREC > $OR_PREC">
      <m:mfenced separators="">
        <xsl:apply-templates select="." mode="or"/>
        <xsl:apply-templates select="." mode="or"/>

<xsl:template match = "m:apply[m:or[1]]" mode="or">
  <xsl:apply-templates select="*[2]" mode = "semantics">
    <xsl:with-param name="IN_PREC" select="$OR_PREC"/>
  <xsl:for-each select = "*[position()>2]">
    <m:mo> <m:mchar name="vee"/> </m:mo>
    <xsl:apply-templates select="." mode = "semantics">
      <xsl:with-param name="IN_PREC" select="$OR_PREC"/>

When extending MathML content by means of user-defined csymbols, we have just to extend the previous stylesheet to cover the new particular cases (and XSLT has a clean inclusion mechanism to deal with this kind of extensions).

The transformation from MathML-content to MathML-presentation requires less than 2000 lines of XSLT. The extension to new, Coq-oriented csymbols, requires 1400 additional lines. We also defined a bunch of stylesheets generating HTML from MathML-content (about 1500 lines).

From the Low-Level Logical Specification to MathML Content

Of course, we can use stylesheets to pass from the low-level formal representation of the information (in a specific logical dialect) to MathML content. By composition, this also implicitly defines an intended presentation for it.

When translating a specific logical dialect (like that of Coq) into MathML content, it is very likely that almost any specific construct of the dialect will become a new csymbol. Typically, MathML content starts to show its potentiality in the encoding of defined entities.

For instance, the gt [greater than] relation is not a primitive notion in Coq: actually, it is a suitable inductive definition. However, when we pass from Coq to MathML there is no point to preserve this information, if not as a pointer to its actual definition. So, the application of Coq-gt constant to its pair of arguments can be directly transformed into an application of MathML-gt element to (the result of the transformation on) its arguments, automatically recovering the intended presentation.

The following templates captures this idea:

<xsl:template match="APPLY[CONST[attribute::uri='cic:/coq/INIT/Peano/gt.con'] 
                             and (count(child::*) = 3)]" >
    <m:gt definitionURL="{CONST/@uri}"/>
     <xsl:apply-templates select="*[2]"/>
     <xsl:apply-templates select="*[3]"/>

In a similar way, content (and notation) can be associated to all user-defined notions. In case the notion is not in the primitive set of MathML-content, it is enough to create a new csymbol, and extend the presentation stylesheet with the intended presentation.

The general idea is that a bunch of ``basic'' stylesheets should be available to cover standard parts of the library, while each new contributor should also be responsible to define its own stylesheet to fix its own personal notation (or to override an existent one). This is made possible by the machinery of XSLT: import and include priority policies allow to specify different notational precedences by combining user defined stylesheets. Unfortunately, this mechanism is not dynamic, forcing a re-compilation of the stylesheets every time the tree of combined stylesheets changes.

The development of stylesheets from the low-level XML representation into MathML-content is still under developments. At present we just cover the main logical connectives, and the basic notation for number theory, set-theory and reals (for a total of about 1500 lines of XSLT).

Beyond Expressions

MathML is only concerned with mathematical expressions. So, we must also face the problem to deal with different mathematical entities, like proofs, definitions, lemmas, theorems, hypotheses and their scope.

Proofs are peculiar. On one side we can consider them as a particular category of mathematical expressions (this is the essence of proof theory), and they can be actually encoded into MathML-content with no much effort. On the other side, simple notational or pretty-printing mechanisms do not help that much in improving the reading of complex formal derivations. Two ways seem to be possible, here:

  • define complex stylesheets attempting some kind of automatic translation of formal proofs into natural language, along the lines of systems like the Natural module of Coq [CK95], [Cos00], [Coq]. Again, for obvious portability reasons, it would be much more interesting to have these transformations expressed as a stylesheet than as a Coq module.
  • associate explicit annotations in natural language to the low level structured representation of the information. In this case, the stylesheet is merely responsible to compose the various pieces of annotation into a single statement.

We are pursuing both approaches in parallel. We just spend a few words on the first, here, since it is more closely related to the topic of this paper.

The general idea is that we should heavily work on the structure of the proof, before attempting its translation. There are two main operations to be done:

  1. recognise the application of usual logical principles (not primitive in the system!), such as an introduction or an elimination of a conjunction, say, or the use of an induction schema. All these logical constructions typically require a specific presentation (and content description).
  2. Change the structure of the proof, looking for ``subproofs'' which must be brought to the surface: a λ-term encodes a ``bottom-up'' description of the proof, from the conclusion to the premises; however, we would expect to have a ``top-down'' presentation, from the premises to the goal.

An important and, apparently, original notion that is emerging from our work on this topic is that of ``logical thread''. A logical thread is a sequence of ``linear'' logical steps where each one just depends from the result of the previous one. Similarly, we must be able to distinguish between ``major'' and ``minor'' premises. For instance consider the application of a rewriting rule transforming a proof of P(t1) in a proof of P(t2). This just depends from the proof of P(t1) (major premise) and a proof of t1 = t2 (minor premise, typically presented aside). In our terminology, we say that rewriting is a pseudo-linear logical operation, that is a logical rule with a single major premise and one (or more) minor premises.

Figure 2: Rendering of Coq term
[Link to open this graphic in a separate page]

In 2 you may find an example of a simple proof borrowed from the standard library of Coq after the application of these proof transformations (and notational stylesheets). The Postscript was automatically generated from MathML presentation, using one of the features of our GtkMathView widget (http://www.cs.unibo.it/helm/mml-widget). Note that, at MathML level, most of the symbols in 2, and all constant names are hyperlinks to the corresponding definitions (so, using a browser aware of XLinks - such as the Gtk-widget - you may directly jump from an occurrence of a name/symbol to its actual definition).

The textual part is deliberately kept to a bare minimum, especially in this prototyping phase. For instance it would be very simple to change a λx:T into a more appealing sentence in natural language such as ``assume x of type T'', or ``let x be a generic object of type T'', but these are marginal details. Of course, many other improvements can still be done, but the example should already give a gist of the power of our techniques.

As a comparative example, we also include the Coq term encoding this proof.

Figure 3: Coq term

Rgt_Ropp = 
[r1,r2:R; H:(Rgt r1 r2)]
 (eqT_ind_r R R0
    (Rlt (Rplus (Ropp r1) r) (Rplus (Ropp r1) (Rplus (Ropp r2) r1)))
    ->(Rlt (Ropp r1) (Ropp r2))
   (eqT_ind_r R (Rplus r1 (Ropp r2))
      (Rlt (Rplus (Ropp r1) R0) (Rplus (Ropp r1) r))
      ->(Rlt (Ropp r1) (Ropp r2))
     (eqT_ind R (Rplus (Rplus (Ropp r1) r1) (Ropp r2))
       [r:R](Rlt (Rplus (Ropp r1) R0) r)->(Rlt (Ropp r1) (Ropp r2))
       (eqT_ind_r R R0
          (Rlt (Rplus (Ropp r1) R0) (Rplus r (Ropp r2)))
          ->(Rlt (Ropp r1) (Ropp r2))
         (and_ind (Rplus (Ropp r1) R0)==(Ropp r1)
           (Rplus R0 (Ropp r1))==(Ropp r1)
           (Rlt (Rplus (Ropp r1) R0) (Rplus R0 (Ropp r2)))
           ->(Rlt (Ropp r1) (Ropp r2))
           [a:((Rplus (Ropp r1) R0)==(Ropp r1));
            _:((Rplus R0 (Ropp r1))==(Ropp r1))]
            (eqT_ind_r R (Ropp r1)
               (Rlt r (Rplus R0 (Ropp r2)))->(Rlt (Ropp r1) (Ropp r2))
              (and_ind (Rplus (Ropp r2) R0)==(Ropp r2)
                (Rplus R0 (Ropp r2))==(Ropp r2)
                (Rlt (Ropp r1) (Rplus R0 (Ropp r2)))
                ->(Rlt (Ropp r1) (Ropp r2))
                [_:((Rplus (Ropp r2) R0)==(Ropp r2));
                 b0:((Rplus R0 (Ropp r2))==(Ropp r2))]
                 (eqT_ind_r R (Ropp r2)
                   [r:R](Rlt (Ropp r1) r)->(Rlt (Ropp r1) (Ropp r2))
                   [H1:(Rlt (Ropp r1) (Ropp r2))]H1
                   (Rplus R0 (Ropp r2)) b0) (Rplus_ne (Ropp r2)))
              (Rplus (Ropp r1) R0) a) (Rplus_ne (Ropp r1)))
         (Rplus (Ropp r1) r1) (Rplus_Ropp_l r1))
       (Rplus (Ropp r1) (Rplus r1 (Ropp r2)))
       (Rplus_assoc (Ropp r1) r1 (Ropp r2))) (Rplus (Ropp r2) r1)
     (Rplus_sym (Ropp r2) r1)) (Rplus (Ropp r2) r2) (Rplus_Ropp_l r2)
   (Rlt_compatibility (Ropp r1) (Rplus (Ropp r2) r2)
     (Rplus (Ropp r2) r1) (Rlt_compatibility (Ropp r2) r2 r1 H)))
     : (r1,r2:R)(Rgt r1 r2)->(Rlt (Ropp r1) (Ropp r2))

Finally, let us remark that we are not responsible for the proof, that could be easily improved. As a matter of fact, the emphasis devoted in recent times to tactics (provability), and the substantial impossibility to read the proof-object resulting from a sequence of tactics have naturally lead to generate huge libraries of ``bad'' proofs (you have much worse examples than the one above, in Coq standard library). Our tool, providing a way to read proof objects in a much more natural way, should help both in improving the quality of proofs, and in improving the actual implementation of tactics.

The Document Structure

Definitions, theorems and other mathematical notions eventually require a further level, distinct from MathML (let us call it the Document level). The interesting point is that this level (as well as a further level of metadata), can probably be entirely standardised, being largely independent from the specific foundational dialect. Our work in this direction is still preliminary; an interesting proposal addressing these issues is provided by OMDoc [Open Math Document] [OMDoc].

The Global Picture

4 summarises the global architecture of the transformation process described in the previous sections.

Figure 4: Global picture
[Link to open this graphic in a separate page]

Let us stress again that passing through an intermediate representation like MathML content is particularly important for the modularity of the overall architecture: many specific logical dialects can be mapped into the same intermediate language (or into suitable extensions of it), and many transformations to specific editing formats can be defined for the single intermediate language. Just simple extensions of the transformations would be required, in case of extensions of the intermediate representation.

Problems and Solutions Analysis

As a whole, all the developed stylesheets amount to about 9000 lines of XSLT. Rendering times are now acceptable, in the order of a few seconds for medium-sized input files. Achieving these performances has required many deep re-designs of the stylesheet architecture and accurate optimisations of the code (the original mean rendering time was in the order of some minutes!). The most influent have been:

  1. The introduction of unique identifiers for each node in the source documents. XPath expressions to identify a node have in the general case a length linear in the node depth; hence, due to the conspicuous nesting depth of the source DOM trees, their computational and spatial complexity were unmanageable. For this reason, we have added unique identifiers to each node of the source XML documents to simplify XPath expressions, that are all trivial.
  2. Using variables to hold external document fragments. A quite astonishing performance improvement derived by splitting input documents, applying the stylesheet only on the main fragment and loading the others as node-sets into XSLT variables.
    This is only one representative of a large set of little modifications on the stylesheets that lead to unexpected performance changes. Another example is the usage of XSLT key: for our set of stylesheets, substituting keys with an explicit linear search on a flat tree unexpectedly was more performing than Xalan key implementation.
    The above ones seem to be idiosyncrasies of the implementation of the particular XSLT engine we are using; generally speaking, though, the great sensibility of the performance to even little changes in the stylesheets is rather annoying.

Other critical issues are stylesheets readability and maintainability. To keep the complexity manageable and improve scalability, we are successfully trying the following solutions:

  1. Replacing of the single application of a complex stylesheet with several simple stylesheet applications. The principal source of complexity for stylesheets is the existence of multiple templates with the same matching pattern to perform different tasks; at run time, the activated template is chosen depending on the specified XSLT mode and precedences. So, understanding the run-time behaviour of a stylesheet become difficult.
    To avoid the previous situation and reduce the high number of different modes or precedence levels, we can split the single stylesheet into as many ones as the number of tasks to perform. Each one is applied on the result of the previous one.
    A different usage is to encompass the impossibility to process in a same run the output generated (the well-known result tree fragment limitation). To achieve this result, we need an XSLT engine providing an HTTP interface, as our UWOBO stylesheet manager (see next section). By means of it, we can require, via the document function, the application of a stylesheet to a document, in order to process its output.
  2. Automatic generation of notational stylesheets The main user contributions expected are the notational stylesheets; hence, the fact of providing them in a way as simple as possible is fundamental. Luckily, notational stylesheets have a repetitive and quite uniform structure: for example, all the templates to associate a particular notation to a binary operation are almost identical. So, we are going to provide a stylesheet to automatically generate notational stylesheets starting from a trivial user-defined XML description of the notations, mainly comprising the URIs of the operators, their arities and the corresponding MathML content element.
    We have still to understand which amount of user provided stylesheets could be automatically generated. In particular, this seems much more difficult for the templates overriding the default natural language rendering.

We still suffer from well-known limitations of XSLT and XPath, such as the limited support to regular expression functionalities for text processing, the differences between node-sets and result tree fragments, the impossibility to define keys on documents stored as node-sets, the difficulty in using keys on documents different from the current one.

Current State

The library is accessible4 at the URL [Uniform Resource Locator] http://www.cs.unibo.it/helm/library.html. Each XML file of Coq standard library can be currently consulted in several different ways, corresponding to different stylesheets applications. Stylesheets are applied on the fly to source XML documents; stylesheet parameters can be passed at application time to fine tune the requested rendering.

All the processing is done on the server side using UWOBO (http://www.cs.unibo.it/helm/uwobo). UWOBO is a Xalan5 based servlet which is capable of applying several subsequent stylesheets to XML documents located anywhere over the net. The source document, the stylesheets to apply and the stylesheets parameters are specified in the dynamic part of the URL used to contact the processor.

In a first prototype implementation we used Cocoon6 for the processing of on-line documents. This solution had several disadvantages, notably the lack of flexibility when the same source XML document is going to be applied to different stylesheet sequences depending on the user choices, as in our cases. Moreover, Cocoon has been designed to be a complete server-side publishing framework, whereas UWOBO addresses only the task of stylesheet application and management; thus it is small enough to make feasible its use also in client-side processing so to reduce network communications.

User interaction with the library is allowed via client-side DHTML [Dynamic HTML] only, implemented by means of a suitable combination of JavaScript events and invocations to the UWOBO processor. The main role of JavaScript consists in generating on-the-fly the URLs to control UWOBO; such URLs depend on the user choices, as, for example, the rendering format required. Currently, the following output formats are provided:

  1. The source XML file. It is possible to download the file both in compressed and uncompressed format, independently from its format on the server. In fact, the verbosity of XML induced us to use also a compressed format for the library documents. The un-compression is possibly done on-the-fly at each request.
  2. The MathML content format.
  3. The MathML presentation format. Our MathML documents are some way peculiar, being made of huge formulas representing proofs which usually spans over many table lines; this require a fine-tuned control on the final layout, based on many levels of nested tables. Current browsers claiming to be MathML compliant (such as Amaya and Mozilla) still have some problems rendering such complex expressions; so we have developed our own MathML browser (as a Gtk-widget) fully compliant to the Recommendation of MathML 2.0. The widget is a quite complex application (about 30.000 lines of C++), also supporting quite distinctive forms of interaction.
  4. The HTML format. Of course, this format provides just an approximation of the expected rendering. When a good sets of fonts is installed7, though, the result is satisfactory enough and makes the library available to a wide basin of users.


This work is part of a larger project aimed to exploit the potentiality of XML technology for the creation and maintenance of an electronic, distributed, hypertextual library of formal mathematical knowledge. More details on the project can be found at the URL http://www.cs.unibo.it/helm. This paper is mainly focused on (Web-)publishing issues, stressing the potentiality offered by a joint use of Stylesheets and MathML. In particular, MathML provides both a powerful presentational language supporting complex two-dimensional mathematical notation, and an interesting ``content'' level that can be profitably used, with a relevant improvement in modularity, as an intermediate representation of the information.

From the point of view of transformations, XSLT provides a standard, extensible and application independent language for expressing notation. In this perspective, our role is the development of a suitable architecture for the processing of mathematical documents by means of stylesheets. Moreover, we are developing a modular core library of stylesheets for the default rendering of documents; the aim of this library is to hide the stylesheet complexity, allowing anyone to add new notations and change the default rendering in a simple way. We believe that the development of these specialised notations could (and should) be conceived as a joint effort of the whole proof assistant community.



We joined the MathML Working Group of W3C in October '99.


A typical problem is the translation from internal names to URI [Uniform Resource Identifier], that typically require extra path-information not directly encoded inside the terms; another example, in logical environments encoding proofs with λ-terms according to the Curry-Howard analogy, is the absence of type information for the inner nodes of the terms, which is essential for rendering purposes.


MathML claims that the base set of content elements should be adequate for simple coding of most of the formulas used from kindergarten to the end of high school and the first two years of college, that is up to A-Level or Baccalaureate level in Europe. Subject areas covered to some extent in MathML are: arithmetic, algebra, logic and relations, calculus and vector calculus, set theory, sequences and series, elementary classical functions, statistics, linear algebra.


Please, be aware that the system is evolving daily, and you could easily meet problems due to temporarily broken files or configurations.






Unix/Linux Netscape users must enable the right font-set, adding the following line to their .Xdefaults file: Netscape*documentFonts.charset*adobe-fontspecific: iso-8859-1


[APSS00a] A.Asperti, L.Padovani, C.Sacerdoti Coen, I.Schena. Content-centric Logical Environments. Short Communication at the Fifteenth Annual IEEE Symposium on Logic in Computer Science (LICS'2000), June 26 - 29, 2000, Santa Barbara, California.

[APSS00b] A.Asperti, L.Padovani, C.Sacerdoti Coen, I.Schena. Formal Mathematics in MathML. Proceedings of the first International Conference on MathML and Math on the Web (MathML 2000). October 20-21, 2000, Urbana-Champaign, IL, USA.

[APSS00c] A.Asperti, L.Padovani, C.Sacerdoti Coen, I.Schena. Towards a library of formal mathematics. Panel session of the 13th International Conference on Theorem Proving in Higher Order Logics (TPHOLS'2000), Portland, Oregon, USA.

[CK95] Y.Coscoy, G.Kahn, L.Thery. Extracting Text from Proofs. Technical Report RR-2459, INRIA Sophia Antipolis, 1995.

[Coq] The Coq Proof Assistant Reference Manual. Version 6.3. INRIA Internal Report. 1999.

[Cos00] Y. Coscoy. Explication textuelle de preuves pour le calcul des constructions inductives. PhD Thesis, Université de Nice - Sophia Antipolis, 2000

[DOM] Document Object Model (DOM) Level 2 Specification. Version 1.0, W3C Candidate Recommendation 13 November, 2000. http://www.w3.org/TR/2000/REC-DOM-Level-2-Core-20001113/

[GLT89] Girard, Lafont, Taylor. Proofs and Types Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge Tracts in Th. Comp. Sc., 1989.

[MathML] Mathematical Markup Language (MathML) 2.0 W3C Recommendation, 21 February 2001. http://www.w3.org/TR/MathML2/.

[OMDoc] Open Mathematical Documents (OMDoc) 1.0, November 1 2000. http://www.mathweb.org/omdoc.

[XLink] XML Linking Language (XLink) Version 1.0. W3C Candidate Recommendation 3 July 2000.

[XML] eXtensible Markup Language (XML). Version 1.0, W3C Recommendation February 1998. http://www.w3.org/XML.

[XPath] XML Path Language (XPath) Version 1.0, W3C Recommendation 16 November 1999. http://www.w3.org/TR/xpath

[XPointer] XML Pointer Language (XPointer) Version 1.0. W3C Candidate Recommendation.

[XSLT] XSL Transformations (XSLT). Version 1.0, W3C Recommendation 16 November 1999. http://www.w3.org/TR/xslt.

XML, Stylesheets and the Re-mathematization of Formal Content

Andrea Asperti [Department of Computer Science, University of Bologna ]
Luca Padovani [Department of Computer Science, University of Bologna ]
Claudio Sacerdoti Coen [Department of Computer Science, University of Bologna ]
Irene Schena [Department of Computer Science, University of Bologna ]