Key Bindings and Inline Shortcuts

Key Bindings

A key binding is a combination of keys pressed simultaneously on a physical keyboard that triggers a command.

For example, pressing the Alt/Option/⌥ key and the V key at the same time will insert a square root. Pressing the Control/Command/⌘ key and the Z key at the same time will undo the last command.

MathLive has an extensive set of default key bindings.

To override, customize or add to the list of supported key bindings, set the keybindings property on a mathfield element.

const mf = document.getElementById('mf');
mf.keybindings = [,  // preserve existing keybindings
    key: 'ctrl+alt+shift+[KeyT]',
    ifMode: 'math',
    command: ['switchMode', 'text'],
    key: 'ctrl+alt+shift+[KeyT]',
    ifMode: 'text',
    command: ['switchMode', 'math'],

If using an insert command, the LaTeX fragment argument of the function can include one of the following special placeholder tokens:

  • #@: replaced with the selection, if there is one. If there is no selection, replaced with an implicit argument to the left of the caret. For example, for 12+34, if the caret is at the end, #@ would be replaced with 34.
  • #?: replaced with a \placeholder{} expression

International Keyboards

Correctly handling keyboard shortcuts while accounting for non-US keyboard layout is surprisingly difficult. MathLive uses some heuristics that may occasionally result in surprising results.

This section details how MathLive uses keyboard events to determine which keyboard shortcut to activate.

Let’s consider the keyboard shortcut CONTROL/⌘+ALT/OPTION+A

When this key combination is pressed on a keyboard with a US keyboard layout, the event received will have the properties code = "KeyA" and key = "\u00e5".

On a French AZERTY keyboard layout, the event received will have code = "KeyQ" and key = "\u00e6".

Why is the code KeyQ even though the user pressed the key labeled A on their AZERTY keyboard? On this keyboard layout, the Q and A keys are swapped compared to the US layout and the code property reflects the “physical” key pressed.

This is not unusual. While some keys retain their positions, many keys are swapped around or altogether unique in some layouts, particularly for punctuations and symbols. The code property of the event does not represent the label of the key, but indicates the physical position of the key as if it was on a US keyboard, in this case “the key immediately to the right of the caps lock key, which is labeled Q on a US keyboard (but is labeled A on a French keyboard)”.

What we want to know is that the user pressed a key labeled A. But none of the information in the event record tells us that. The value of the key field varies depending on the keyboard layout and the modifiers pressed.

However, if we know the keyboard layout, we can use a table that maps the value of the key field to infer the label of the key the user pressed, i.e. what the user sees printed on the top of the key cap, regardless of its physical location on the keyboard. Once we have the label, we can figure out that the user pressed CONTROL/COMMAND/⌘ + A using the modifier fields of the event.

But how do we know what is the current keyboard layout? There is unfortunately no web platform API (broadly supported) to obtain that information. So one approach is to indicate programmatically to MathLive which keyboard layout the user is using. Otherwise, MathLive will use the user locale to guess the keyboard (for example, guessing to use the French AZERTY keyboard if the user locale is France).

Finally, MathLive uses a heuristic to refine its guess: with each keyboard event, MathLive checks that the info in the event record (specifically the code and key fields) is consistent with the current keyboard layout. If not, it finds a better matching keyboard layout, and will switch to that keyboard layout if it is confident enough of that guess.

MathLive currently has a limited set of “known” keyboard layouts. If you happen to use a keyboard layout MathLive doesn’t know, it will guess the wrong keyboard layout. As a result some keyboard shortcuts may produce unexpected results.

Inline Shortcuts

An inline shortcut is a sequence of keystrokes typed on the keyboard that get replaced with another symbol. Unlike key bindings they cannot be used to trigger a command, only to insert a LaTeX fragment.

For example, typing the P key followed by the I key will result in the \pi \[ \pi \] LaTeX fragment being inserted, and not the pi characters.

Inline shortcuts can be typed either using a physical keyboard or the virtual keyboard.

If a substitution was undesirable, use Undo (Control/Command/⌘ + Z) to revert to the raw input.

To prevent two consecutive characters to be recognized as part of a shortcut sequence, press the Space bar between them.

MathLive has some built-in inline shortcuts defined, but they can be replaced or enhanced with additional shortcuts.

On line 4, we’re adding a shortcut for “infty”.

const mf = document.getElementById('mf');
mf.inlineShortcuts = {,    // Preserve default shortcuts
  "infty": '\\infty'
<math-field id="mf">
    x=\frac{-b\pm \sqrt{b^2-4ac}}{2a}

To constraint the context in which a shortcut should apply, use the after property:

mf.inlineShortcuts = {,    // Preserve default shortcuts
  "in": {
      after: "space | letter | digit | symbol | fence",
      value: "\\in",

The after property indicate in what context the shortcut should apply. One or more values can be specified, separated by a | sign. If any of the values match, the shortcut will be applicable.

Possible values are:

  • "space" A spacing command, such as \quad
  • "nothing" The begining of a group
  • "surd" A square root or n-th root
  • "frac" A fraction
  • "function" A function such as \sin or f
  • "letter" A letter, such as x or n
  • "digit" 0 through 9
  • "binop" A binary operator, such as +
  • "relop" A relational operator, such as =
  • "punct" A punctuation mark, such as ,
  • "array" An array, such as a matrix or cases statement
  • "openfence" An opening fence, such as (
  • "closefence" A closing fence such as }
  • "text" Some plain text

Multicharacter Identifiers

It may not be possible to define in advance all the keystroke combinations that should be interpreted as an inline shortcut.

For example, it might be desirable to recognize multi-character identifiers, e.g. \( \mathrm{speed} = \frac{\mathrm{distance}}{\mathrm{time}} \)

There are several ways to represent multicharacter identifiers in LaTeX. Conventionally, the \mathit{} command is used to represent variables and the \mathrm{} for function names. You may prefer to use \mathrm{} in both cases. The command \operatorname{} may also be used for this purpose.

To recognize multicharacter identifiers, provide a onInlineShortcut() handler. If the handler recognize the input as a valid multichar identifiers, it should return a command representing this identifiers.

The string passed to the onInlineShortcut handler is a raw sequence of characters the user typed on the physical or virtual keyboard.

mf.onInlineShortcut = (_mf, s) => {
  if (/^[A-Z][a-z]+$/.test(s)) return `\\mathrm{${s}}`;
  if (/^[a-z][a-z]+$/.test(s)) return `\\mathit{${s}}`;
  return '';

You can use the onInlineShortcut handler to recognize arbitrary patterns.

For example:

mf.onInlineShortcut = (_mf, s) => {
  if (/^[a-zA-Z][a-zA-Z0-9]*'?(_[a-zA-Z0-9]+'?)?$/.test(s)) {
    const m = s.match(/^([a-zA-Z]+)([0-9]+)$/);
    if (m) {
      if (['alpha', 'beta', 'gamma'].includes(m[1]))
        return `\\${m[1]}_{${m[2]}}`;
      return `\\mathrm{${m[1]}}_{${m[2]}}`;
    return `\\mathrm{${s}}`;
  return '';

This will recognize “alpha34” -> \alpha_{34} or “speed” -> \mathrm{speed}.

Customizing the Inline Shortcut Sensitivity

To change how quickly a set of keys must be typed to be considered a shortcut set the inlineShortcutTimeout property.

It represents the maximum amount of time, in milliseconds, between consecutive characters for them to be considered part of the same shortcut sequence.

A value of 0 is the same as infinity: any consecutive character will be candidate for an inline shortcut, regardless of the interval between this character and the previous one.

A value of 750 will indicate that the maximum interval between two characters to be considered part of the same inline shortcut sequence is 3/4 of a second.

This is useful to enter +- as a sequence of two characters, while also supporting the ± shortcut with the same sequence.

The first result can be entered by pausing slightly between the first and second character if this option is set to a value of 250 or so.

Note that some operations, such as clicking to change the selection, or losing the focus on the mathfield, will automatically timeout the shortcuts.

ASCIIMath Inline Shortcuts

ASCIIMath defines a series of shortcuts that can be typed with ASCII characters to represent mathematical symbols and expressions.