MathJax in Jekyll

I spent most of today figuring out how to write the mathematics in my previous post on quantum circuits. It turned out to be way easier than I was making it.

(This post assumes that you are already familiar enough with TeX, or should I say, . I have found the TeX StackExchange to be super useful.)

Dason Kurkiewicz’s blog post from October 2012 is still surprisingly accurate. Step one is to follow the most basic possible instructions from MathJax’s own Getting Started guide: place the snippet

<script type="text/javascript" async
  src="https://cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/mathjax/2.7.5/MathJax.js?config=TeX-MML-AM_CHTML">
</script>

somewhere that Jekyll will pick it up. (You don’t even need the suggested config=TeX-MML-AM_CHTML parameter; we’re going to specify our own config.)

Step two is to specify the config, right above (not below!) the script tag that fetches MathJax.js.

<script type="text/x-mathjax-config">
  MathJax.Hub.Config({
    extensions: [
      "MathMenu.js",
      "MathZoom.js",
      "AssistiveMML.js",
      "a11y/accessibility-menu.js"
    ],
    jax: ["input/TeX", "output/CommonHTML"],
    TeX: {
      extensions: [
        "AMSmath.js",
        "AMSsymbols.js",
        "noErrors.js",
        "noUndefined.js",
      ]
    }
  });
</script>

Step three is to realize that the Markdown processor used by Jekyll — its name is “Kramdown” — has a built-in feature called “math blocks” which can be hooked up to MathJax! This means that the rest of the integration has already been done for you. Having followed steps 1 and 2 above, you can now just write TeX code with double-dollar-sign escapes:

... a given wire happens to be carrying "$$\lvert 0\rangle$$."
By that we mean that it's carrying the linear combination
$$\begin{psmallmatrix} 1 \\ 0 \end{psmallmatrix}$$ ...

This renders as:

… a given wire happens to be carrying “.” By that we mean that it’s carrying the linear combination

And if you make a paragraph that contains nothing but a $$-escaped chunk of math, it will be rendered using MathJax’s mode=display, i.e., TeX display mode.

To see how to enable MathJax for your own Jekyll blog, click through to the relevant commit in this blog’s GitHub repository.


The rabbit-hole that I went down by accident was that I didn’t realize until very late that Kramdown already supported “math blocks.” So I spent some time trying to use MathJax’s “tex2jax.js” preprocessor — which is very easy to add to the config block above, by the way.

//...
  extensions: [
    "tex2jax.js",  // HERE
    "MathMenu.js",
    "MathZoom.js",
    "AssistiveMML.js",
    "a11y/accessibility-menu.js"
  ],
  tex2jax: {      // AND HERE
    inlineMath: [['$', '$']],
    displayMath: [['$$', '$$']]
  },
  jax: ["input/TeX", "output/CommonHTML"],
//...

But “tex2jax.js” runs on the text of the page after Kramdown gets done with it; which is to say, after Kramdown has already processed out all of the $$s and replaced them with <script type="math/tex"> tags. What’s more, Kramdown overloads $$ to mean both “inline” and “display,” depending on the surrounding linebreaks. So the upshot of that interaction was that I kept writing $$ (with no surrounding linebreaks) expecting display math, and what I got on the rendered page was inline math. It took me forever to figure out that this was due to Kramdown, and not a bug either in my config or in “tex2jax.js”!

The fix for this issue, of course, was to find out that Kramdown math blocks were a better solution than “tex2jax.js”.

Posted 2018-08-05