Hello mathy

Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013 4 minute read Tags: typescript javascript web
Hey, thanks for the interest in this post, but just letting you know that it is over 3 years old, so the content in here may not be accurate.

In a previous post I laid out some thoughts on TypeScript which came from building a little library in TypeScript called mathy.

Hello mathy

A few months ago I came to a realisation… I’ve never written a parser, at least not a language parser. Sure I’ve parsed CSVs, sure I’ve parsed XML, but never a language.

Part of what I’ve been working on recently has needed a formula parser to deal with chemical formulas, basically we need to be able to take this:

Y = (Q * 0.12 + 100) / (Q * 15)

Another member of the team wrote a C# parser for this so I decided in my spare time to implement something similar in JavaScript and hence mathy was born.

The usage is something like this:

var engine = new mathy.Engine({ name: 'a', derivation: '1 + 2' });
var result = engine.process();

Pretty simple, create a new engine, provide it some parameters and process it. You can also install mathy as a global Node.js module and get a new command that will do math for you:

>> npm install -g mathy
>> mathy "1 + 2" //output's 3

Smarter than your average shell

So that example isn’t particularly useful, open up PowerShell (or Terminal) and you can easily just type 1 + 2 and get a result. Where mathy does get a bit more useful is when you want a more complex formula parsed, something like this:

var engine = new mathy.Engine({ name: 'a', derivation: '1 + 2 * 3 - 1 * 10 ^ 1 / 5' });
var result = engine.process();

Here we’re doing a to the power of (using ^), you can also do negative powers like this:

var engine = new mathy.Engine({ name: 'a', derivation: '1 + 2 * 3 - 1 * 10 ^ (-1) / 5' });

Yes negative powers need to be parenthesis wrapped, that’s pretty standard notation if you look around at how to handle it.

Smarter calculations

Let’s think back to the example that I said we’re parsing in our application:

Y = (Q * 0.12 + 100) / (Q * 15)

Well Q isn’t exactly a number so that isn’t a mathematical equation yet, but that’s cool, mathy will allow you to provide multiple parameters, like so:

var engine = new mathy.Engine(
	{ name: 'a', derivation: '(Q * 0.12 + 100) / (Q * 15)', result: true },
	{ name: 'Q', derivation: '10' }

Now when mathy runs it’ll hit the Q in the formula and then attempt to resolve that. It’ll realise that it’s not a numerical value so it’ll then see if it was another parameter, then it’ll find the value of 10 and be able to insert that.

Where this is more useful is when you want to late-add a parameter, meaning you can do this:

var engine = new mathy.Engine(
	{ name: 'a', derivation: '(Q * 0.12 + 100) / (Q * 15)', result: true }
engine.add({ name: 'Q', derivation: '10' });

So you can create the engine and then ask the user for the inputs, adding them as they are provided.

Decisions, decisions

While it’s all well and good to be able to process parameterised numerical equations where mathy starts to get into its own is where it diverges and becomes a bit more of a standalone language; the main feature for this is decisions.

A decision is a binary condition statement, a tuple, and it’s used like so:

var engine = new mathy.Engine(
	{ name: 'a', derivation: '1 > 2 ? -1 : 42' }

The statement on the left will be evaluated as a true/false statement (it only supports JavaScript strict-equal equality, but you only need to use == not ===).

And of course all parts (well, except the operator) can be parameters:

new mathy.Engine(
	{ name: 'a', derivation: 'b == c ? d : e', result: true },
	{ name: 'b', derivation: '42' },
	{ name: 'c', derivation: 'd' },
	{ name: 'd', derivation: '42' },
	{ name: 'e', derivation: '-1' }

Real-world usage

It’s all well and good to make this simple little language/parser for chemical formulas but is there any other real reason you’d do this?

My main thoughts on this would be in a shopping cart scenario. Since you shouldn’t trust the client if you’re doing any kind of calculation of the cart you’ll be wanting to do that server side. But what if you want to have some benefits? Say you have a threshold before they get free shipping, or a discount for certain number of purchases, preferred customer, etc.

Often times these can be expressed as a simple formula rather a series of statements in code. Values like ‘is this customer a preferred customer’ can be provided as a parameter value to the formula which then does the calculation.


So there we have it, a very simple little JavaScript formula engine called mathy which has some nice little features to do slightly smarter formulas.

Check out the tests folder for more complex usage examples.