Virtual Keyboards

Typing math formulas require access to many special symbols. While keyboard shortcuts and inline shortcuts can help, mobile devices require another solution. A virtual keyboard is a keyboard displayed on screen that can be customized with specialized symbols for math input.

To display variants related to a key, press and hold it. Not all keys have variants, though.

The mathfield virtual keyboard panel can display multiple keyboards. The default keyboards are numeric, functions, symbols, roman letters and greek letters.

These keyboards include the most common math symbols and they can be customized to fit your specific needs. For example you can remove some keyboards, or create new ones.

Controlling when the Virtual Keyboard Panel is Displayed

The default behavior of the virtual keyboard panel is to only be displayed on touch-enabled devices (mobile phones, tablets, laptops with a touch-screen) when a mathfield is focused.

This behavior can be changed with the virtualKeyboardMode configuration property:

  • "auto": this is the default behavior: on touch-enabled devices, show the virtual keyboard panel when the mathfield is focused, otherwise, don’t show it.
  • "manual": a toggle button to control the virtual keyboard panel is displayed in the mathfield
  • "onfocus": the virtual keyboard panel is displayed when the mathfield is focused
  • "off": never show the virtual keyboard panel

There is only one virtual keyboard panel displayed at a time, but each mathfield can specify different virtual keyboard panel configurations.

Controling Which Keyboards Are Displayed

The virtual keyboard panel displays multiple keyboards which can be toggled using the keyboard switcher: numeric, functions, symbols, roman and greek.

To choose which keyboards are available, use the virtualKeyboards configuration property. The value of this property is a space-separated string of the name of the keyboards that should be displayed.

<math-field id="mf">x=\frac{-b\pm \sqrt{b^2-4ac}}{2a} </math-field>
import 'mathlive'; document.getElementById('mf').setOptions({ virtualKeyboardMode: "manual", virtualKeyboards: 'numeric symbols' });

Defining Custom Virtual Keyboards

A virtual keyboard is made up of one or more “layers”. A keyboard layer is a set of keys that can be toggled using another key. For example, the roman keyboard has a regular layer and a layer for symbols. Most keyboards have a single layer.

To define a custom virtual keyboard layout, use an object literal as described below.

Defining a Layer

First, let’s define a layer, which we’ll call "high-school-layer".

A layer is an array of rows, a row is an array of keycaps.

Each keycap can have the following properties:

  • class: a set of CSS classes to style this keycap. The classes can be custom defined (see below about the styles layer property), or be one or more of the standard ones:
    • tex: use the TeX font for its label. Using the tex class is not necessary if using the latex property to define the label.
    • small: display the label in a smaller size
    • modifier: a modifier (shift/option, etc…) keycap
    • action: an “action” keycap (for arrows, return, etc…)
    • separator w5: a half-width blank used as a separator. Other widths include w15 (1.5 width), w20 (double width) and w50 (five-wide, used for the space bar).
    • bottom, left, right: alignment of the label
  • label: the HTML markup displayed for the keycap. If no label is provided, the latex value is used. If no key, command or insert property is provided, the label (stripped of any HTML markup) is what will be inserted when the keycap is pressed.
  • latex: a Latex fragment used as a label and as the content to insert when the keycap is pressed.
  • key: the keypress to emulate when the keycap is pressed, for example "5".
  • aside: an optional small label displayed below the keycap. This label may not be displayed if the space available is too small.
  • insert: a Latex fragment to insert when the keycap is pressed. The latex property is usually sufficient,
  • altKeys: the name of a set of alternate keys to display when the keycap is long-pressed.
  • command: the command to perform when the keycap is pressed.
  • shifted: the HTML markup to display as the label of the keycap when the shift key is pressed
  • shiftedCommand: the command to perform when the keycap is pressed with the shift key.

The following properties, in order, are used to determine how to display they keycap: latex, label, insert.

When the keycap is pressed, the following properties are used, in order, to determine the action to perform: command, insert, latex, key.

To associate a CSS stylesheet with this layer, use the styles property of the layer.

The appearance of the layer can be further customized by providing a CSS class name for the backdrop and container properties of the layer.

Keycap Variants

The default keyboard include variants for many of its keycaps. These variants are accessed with a long press on the keycap. The variants are typically related, but less frequently used version of the main keycap.

You can define variants for a custom keyboard by specifying a variants property with the definition of a keycap. The value of the variants property is an array of VirtualKeyboardKeycap. As a shortcut, a string can also be used, which is equivalent to a VirtualKeyboardKeycap with a latex property equal to the string, that is, it will display the latex string as the keycap label and insert it when the key is pressed.

rows: [
    { latex: "a", variants: ["A", "\\alpha", "\\Alpha"] }

Keycap Examples

Each keycap must define its label and what happens when the keycap is pressed. There are many different ways of doing this using the properties above.

The simplest case is when pressing a key insert some Latex and its label is the fragment to be inserted. In that case, the latex property can be used to specify both the label and what happens when the key is pressed.

They keycap class indicates that the appearance of the key should be of a regular keycap, as opposed to a modified key (modifier) or an action key (action).

  { latex: "\\beta" },
  { latex: "\\mu_0" },
  { latex: "\\frac{1}{2}" },

To display the key label as some HTML markup instead, use the label property:

  { label: "8", latex: "8" },
  { class: "tex", 
    latex: "<span><i>x</i>&thinsp;²</span>", 
    latex: "8" 

The keycap label is displayed using the system font when the label property is used. To display it using the TeX fonts instead, set the value of the class property to tex.

To perform a command other than inserting some Latex, use the command property:

    class: "action",
    label: "<svg><use xlink:href='#svg-arrow-left' /></svg>",
    command: ["performWithFeedback", "moveToPreviousChar"]
      "high-school-layer": {
        styles: "",
        rows: [
            { latex: "a" },
            { latex: "x" },
            { class: "separator w5" },
            { label: "7", key: "7" },
            // Will display the label using the system font. To display 
            // with the TeX font, use:
            // { class: "tex", label: "7", key: "7" },
            // or 
            // { latex: "7"},
            { label: "8", key: "8" },
            { label: "9", key: "9" },
            { latex: "\\div" },
            { class: "separator w5" },
              class: "tex small",
              label: "<span><i>x</i>&thinsp;²</span>",
              insert: "$$#@^{2}$$"
              class: "tex small",
              label: "<span><i>x</i><sup>&thinsp;<i>n</i></sup></span>",
              insert: "$$#@^{}$$"
              class: "small",
              latex: "\\sqrt{#0}",
              insert: "$$\\sqrt{#0}$$",
            { class: "tex", latex: "b" },
            { class: "tex", latex: "y" },
            { class: "separator w5" },
            { label: "4", latex:"4" },
            { label: "5", key: "5" },
            { label: "6", key: "6" },
            { latex: "\\times" },
            { class: "separator w5" },
            { class: "small", latex: "\\frac{#0}{#0}" },
            { class: "separator" },
            { class: "separator" }
            { class: "tex", label: "<i>c</i>" },
            { class: "tex", label: "<i>z</i>" },
            { class: "separator w5" },
            { label: "1", key: "1" },
            { label: "2", key: "2" },
            { label: "3", key: "3" },
            { latex: "-" },
            { class: "separator w5" },
            { class: "separator" },
            { class: "separator" },
            { class: "separator" }
            { latex: "(" },
            { latex: ")" },

            { class: "separator w5" },
            { label: "0", key: "0" },
            { latex: "." },
            { latex: "\\pi" },
            { latex: "+" },
            { class: "separator w5" },
              class: "action",
              label: "<svg><use xlink:href='#svg-arrow-left' /></svg>",
              command: ["performWithFeedback", "moveToPreviousChar"]
              class: "action",
              label: "<svg><use xlink:href='#svg-arrow-right' /></svg>",
              command: ["performWithFeedback", "moveToNextChar"]
              class: "action font-glyph bottom right",
              label: "&#x232b;",
              command: ["performWithFeedback", "deleteBackward"]

Defining a Keyboard

Now, let’s define a new keyboard called "high-school-keyboard".

The keyboard has a label which is displayed in the keyboard selector area of the virtual keyboard. When hovering on this label, a tooltip can be displayed to further explain what the keyboard is about.

Finally, we must provide the layers that make up this keyboard.

In this example we have a single layer, so we can set the value of the layer property to the name of the layer.

If we had several layers, we could set the property layers to an array of their names.

      "high-school-keyboard": {
        "label": "High School", // Label displayed in the Virtual Keyboard Switcher
        "tooltip": "High School Level", // Tooltip when hovering over the label
        "layer": "high-school-layer"

Adding the Layers and Keyboards

Now, we just have to call setOptions() with our custom layer and custom keyboard.

The virtualKeyboards option indicate which keyboards we want to be available. Here we only want our keyboard, so we’ll just pass its name.

If we wanted multiple keyboards, we could provide a space-separated list, for example "numeric high-school-keyboard symbols". If we wanted all the default keyboards, plus ours, we could have used the "all" shortcut: "all high-school-keyboard".

    "customVirtualKeyboardLayers": HIGH_SCHOOL_KEYBOARD_LAYER,
    "customVirtualKeyboards": HIGH_SCHOOL_KEYBOARD,
    "virtualKeyboards": "high-school-keyboard"

Customizing the Appearance of the Virtual Keyboard Toggle

To apply a CSS rule to the virtual keyboard toggle, use the math-field::part(virtual-keyboard-toggle) CSS selector.

To change the icon of the virtual keyboard toggle, use the virtualKeyboardToggleGlyph configuration property.

import 'mathlive'; document.getElementById('mf').setOptions({ virtualKeyboardMode: "manual", virtualKeyboardToggleGlyph: `<span style="width: 21px;"><svg style="width: 21px;" xmlns="" viewBox="0 0 512 512"><path fill="currentColor" d="M192 288H32c-18 0-32 14-32 32v160c0 18 14 32 32 32h160c18 0 32-14 32-32V320c0-18-14-32-32-32zm-29 140c3 3 3 8 0 12l-11 11c-4 3-9 3-12 0l-28-28-28 28c-3 3-8 3-12 0l-11-11c-3-4-3-9 0-12l28-28-28-28c-3-3-3-8 0-12l11-11c4-3 9-3 12 0l28 28 28-28c3-3 8-3 12 0l11 11c3 4 3 9 0 12l-28 28 28 28zM480 0H320c-18 0-32 14-32 32v160c0 18 14 32 32 32h160c18 0 32-14 32-32V32c0-18-14-32-32-32zm-16 120c0 4-4 8-8 8h-40v40c0 4-4 8-8 8h-16c-4 0-8-4-8-8v-40h-40c-4 0-8-4-8-8v-16c0-4 4-8 8-8h40V56c0-4 4-8 8-8h16c4 0 8 4 8 8v40h40c4 0 8 4 8 8v16zm16 168H320c-18 0-32 14-32 32v160c0 18 14 32 32 32h160c18 0 32-14 32-32V320c0-18-14-32-32-32zm-16 152c0 4-4 8-8 8H344c-4 0-8-4-8-8v-16c0-4 4-8 8-8h112c4 0 8 4 8 8v16zm0-64c0 4-4 8-8 8H344c-4 0-8-4-8-8v-16c0-4 4-8 8-8h112c4 0 8 4 8 8v16zM192 0H32C14 0 0 14 0 32v160c0 18 14 32 32 32h160c18 0 32-14 32-32V32c0-18-14-32-32-32zm-16 120c0 4-4 8-8 8H56c-4 0-8-4-8-8v-16c0-4 4-8 8-8h112c4 0 8 4 8 8v16z"/></svg></span>` });
<style> math-field::part(virtual-keyboard-toggle) { color: red; background: #ddd; } </style> <math-field id="mf">x=\frac{-b\pm \sqrt{b^2-4ac}}{2a} </math-field>

Changing the Alphabetical Keyboard Layout

By default, the layout of the alphabetic virtual keyboard is determined based on the locale (QWERTY for english speaking countries, AZERTY for french speaking countries, etc…).

To select a different alphabetic keyboard layout, such as DVORAK or COLEMAK, use the virtualKeyboardLayout configuration property.

import 'mathlive'; document.getElementById('mf').setOptions({ virtualKeyboardMode: "manual", virtualKeyboardLayout: 'dvorak' });
<math-field id="mf">x=\frac{-b\pm \sqrt{b^2-4ac}}{2a} </math-field>

Customizing the Appearance of the Virtual Keyboard Keycaps

To control the appearance of keycaps, use the following CSS variables.

  • --keycap-height
  • --keycap-font-size
  • --keycap-small-font-size (only if needed)
  • --keycap-extra-small-font-size (only if needed)
  • --keycap-tt-font-size (only if needed)

Set these CSS variables on any selector inherited by the math-field tag, for example, body: although CSS styles are “invisible” to custom components, CSS variables are “passed through” and will affect the content of the <math-field> custom component.

Sharing Virtual Keyboards Amongst Multiple Instances

When there are multiple mathfield elements in a page, they usually each have their own virtual keyboard.

However, in some cases it might be desirable to have the virtual keyboard instance “detached” from the mathfield, and potentially shared by multiple mathfield elements.

That’s the case for example when mathfield elements are displayed in an iframe. Since an iframe is essentially a mini embedded document, the default virtual keyboard will not display correctly when use in an iframe, as it will be attached to the iframe instead of being attached to the main document.

This can be solved by using a “shared” virtual keyboard.

To use a shared virtual keyboard, call the makeSharedVirtualKeyboard() function in the context of the main document.

  virtualKeyboardLayout: 'dvorak',

In the iframe sub-documents, use the use-shared-virtual-keyboard attribute on the math-field elements.

<math-field use-shared-virtual-keyboard></math-field>