Maxima for Symbolic Computation

Maxima is a symbolic computation platform that is free, open source, runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac, and covers a wide range of mathematical functions, including 2-D/3-D plotting and animation. Capabiities include algebraic simplification, polynomials, methods from calculus, matrix equations, differential equations, number theory, combinatorics, hypergeometric functions, tensors, gravitational physics, PDEs, nonlinear systems.  With an active developer base and responsive community, a user gets a secure future lifecycle of the product and plenty of help when dealing with problems. The result: an essential mathematical computing package for students, programmers, engineers, scientists, and mathematicians. This article will help you get started with Maxima.


Obtaining Maxima, and Alternatives

You can download Maxima from here (Windows, Linux).

Alternative choices of Computer Algebra System (CAS) are Mathematica, Maple, Macsyma, MuPAD, Sage, etc. The first 4 are commercial packages, the last is an ambitious comprehensive mathematical platform that includes much more than a CAS, but (as of this writing) requires running on Windows within a virtual machine. Maxima combines low cost (free), with ready availability for all three major operating systems, and basic coverage of a large part of mathematics and analytical engineering.

Installing Maxima

Installation on Windows is relatively straight-forward. However note that:

“when you first run wxMaxima, your firewall software may complain that a socket is being opened. This is a local socket that wxMaxima (the user-friendly graphical front end) uses to communicate with Maxima (the computation engine), it is not an attempt to take over your computer or communicate your personal secrets…” – Paul Lutus, detailed installation walkthrough

Quick Start

A full list of the mathematical packages and capabilities built into Maxima can be found in the 1,000 page (5MB) Maxima Manual. (You’ll probably want to download a PDF version (5.24) for offline reading.

Paul Lutus has leisurely hands-on tutorial style introduction to Maxima. In addition, there are a number of good “book-style” tutorials that develop familiarity with Maxima thoroughly.

Robert Dodier’s Minimal Maxima (PDF) breaks down the syntactical, evaluation, and data structures underlying Maxima. A good understanding of this is essential when you are trying to go beyond using Maxima as a powerful calculator, or when writing your own functions/subroutines in Maxima.

More advanced references are here.

Learning through Problem Solving applications
Using Maxima makes it relatively easy to work hairy computations with symbolic accuracy, leaving more time for advancing the application or research work. Below are examples.

Getting Help
The Maxima mailing list is a responsive, expert community that can not only help you out of a jam, but also raise the level of your proficiency and your familiarity with “natural” Maxima programming style.


Links and References

Obtaining and Installing

Cheat Sheets / Ready Reference Sheets

Basic Guides

Topics by Example

Advanced Guides

  • Robert Dodier’s Minimal Maxima (PDF) breaks down the syntactical, evaluation, and data structures underlying Maxima. A good understanding of this is essential when you are trying to go beyond using Maxima as a powerful calculator, or when writing your own functions/subroutines in Maxima.
  • Maxima mailing list is a responsive, expert community that can not only help you in a jam, but also raise the level of your proficiency and your familiarity with idiomatic Maxima (that intangible called Maxima style).

“Book-Style” Tutorials (PDF or HTML)

System Documentation

  • Maxima Manual: 1000+ page (5MB) comprehensive manual and listing of all mathematical functions and capabilities built into Maxima.
  • Maxima Homepage: Maxima is a system for the manipulation of symbolic and numerical expressions, including differentiation, integration, Taylor series, Laplace transforms, ordinary differential equations, systems of linear equations, polynomials, and sets, lists, vectors, matrices, and tensors. Maxima yields high precision numeric results by using exact fractions, arbitrary precision integers, and variable precision floating point numbers. Maxima can plot functions and data in two and three dimensions.
  • wxMaxima Homepage: A Windows GUI for Maxima

12 comments to Maxima for Symbolic Computation

  • Andy

    thanks for this great resource!

  • Lovely just what I was searching for. Thanks to the author for taking his time on this one.

  • panske

    Took me time to read all the comments, however I really loved the article. It proved to be very useful to me and I’m positive to all of the commenters here! It’s good when you can not only learn, but are also engaged! In my language, there aren’t many good sources like this.

  • Appreciate this post. Let me try it out.

  • @Assad: my pleasure! I am looking forward to being an active member of the Maxima community now that it has become part of my daily life.

    – Zak

  • Assad Ebrahim

    @Zak — your lab manuals for a two-year calculus sequence are an excellent resource for learning Maxima at the same time as Calculus. Thanks for announcing them here.

  • I ran into this post what seems like ages ago in the early stages of research for my sabbatical project Spring 2015! Thank you, by the way, for consolidating such a helpful bunch of links — it saved me a lot of work. After four months of writing, I released two CC-BY-NC-SA open-texts for wxMaxima that can be used as lab manuals for first-year calculus or “by-example” references for students learning wxMaxima independently. The e-book is free, and the LaTeX source is available for those who wish to create derivative works. http://wxmaximafor.wordpress.com/

    Thanks!

    Zak Hannan
    Instructor of Math and Physics
    Solano Community College, Fairfield, CA

  • Many thanks for sharing this fine write-up. Very inspiring! (as always, btw)

  • Assad Ebrahim

    @gerd, Thanks for sharing your blog article. I should say that I have encountered no issues in Maxima’s ability to perform elementary or advanced symbolical calculations – see for example Finite Summations of Integer Powers. Your idea of “elementary” is (in my view) a bit of a stretch when your simplest example of a defect is the “branch cut behavior of an elementary function in the complex plane”. It is possible that Maxima has implementation issues around certain advanced calculations compared to the commercial (and quite expensive) Mathematica. However, apart from these advanced areas, Maxima in my view is a useful choice for those wanting an open source CAS platform that is essentially zero cost.

  • gerd low

    Came across your blog when writing up this one from a somewhat different perspective http://thingwy.blogspot.de/
    You write “…Maxima is a mathematical computing package that ought to be in the toolbelt of every programmer, engineering, scientist, and mathematician…” For a different point of see the above link.

  • santosh

    A very helpful and suggestive article. Thank you.

  • Wonderful article, thanks a lot !!

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