Yacas syntax

Expressions in Yacas are generally built up of words. We will not bore you with the exact definitions of such words, but roughly speaking they are either sequences of alphabetic letters, or a number, or a bracket, or space to separate words, or a word built up from symbols like +, -, *, <, etc.. If you want, you can mix these different types of characters, by surrounding them with quotes. Thus, "This text" is what is called one token, surrounded by quotes.

The usual notation people use when writing down a calculation is called the infix notation, and you can readily recognize it, as for example 2+3 and 3*4. Prefix operators also exist. These operators come before an expression, like for example the unary minus sign (called unary because it accepts one argument), -(3*4). In addition to prefix operators there are also postfix operators, like the exclamation mark to calculate the factorial of a number, 10!.

Yacas understands standard simple arithmetic expressions. Some examples:

  • 2+3 (addition)

  • 2*3 (multiplication)

  • 2-3 (subtraction)

  • 2^3 (raising powers)

  • 2+3*4

  • (2+3)*4

  • 6/3 (division)

  • 1/3

Divisions are not reduced to real numbers, but kept as a rational for as long as possible, since the rational is an exact correct expression (and any real number would just be an approximation). Yacas is able to change a rational in to a number with the function N, for example N(1/3).

Operators have precedence, meaning that certain operations are done first before others are done. For example, in 2+3*4 the multiplication is performed before the addition. The usual way to change the order of a calculation is with round brackets. The round brackets in the expression (2+3)*4 will force Yacas to first add 2 and 3, and then multiply the result.

Simple function calls have their arguments between round brackets, separated by commas. Examples are Sin(Pi) (which indicates that you are interested in the value of the trigonometric function \(\sin\) applied to the constant \(\pi\)), and Min(5,1,3,-5,10) (which should return the lowest of its arguments, -5 in this case). Functions usually have the form f(), f(x) or f(x,y,z,...) depending on how many arguments the function accepts. Functions always return a result. For example, Cos(0) should return 1. Evaluating functions can be thought of as simplifying an expression as much as possible. Sometimes further simplification is not possible and a function returns itself unsimplified, like taking the square root of an integer Sqrt(2). A reduction to a number would be an approximation. We explain elsewhere how to get Yacas to simplify an expression to a number.

Yacas allows for use of the infix notation, but with some additions. Functions can be bodied, meaning that the last argument is written past the close bracket. An example is ForEach, where we write ForEach(item, 1 .. 10) Echo(item);. Echo(item) is the last argument to the function ForEach.

A list is enclosed with curly braces, and is written out with commas between the elements, like for example {1,2,3}. items in lists (and things that can be made to look like lists, like arrays and strings), can then be accessed by indicating the index between square brackets after the object. {a,b,c}[2] should return b, as b is the second element in the list (Yacas starts counting from 1 when accessing elements). The same can be done with strings: "abc"[2].

And finally, function calls can be grouped together, where they get executed one at a time, and the result of executing the last expression is returned. This is done through square brackets, as [ Echo("Hello"); Echo("World"); True; ];, which first writes Hello to screen, then World on the next line, and then returns True.

When you type in an expression, you have to take in to account the fact that Yacas is case-sensitive. This means that a function sin (with all lowercase) is a different function from Sin (which starts with a capital S), and the variable v is a different one from V.

Using Yacas from the calculation center

As mentioned earlier, you can type in commands on the command line in the calculation center. Typically, you would enter one statement per line, for example, click on Sin(Pi/2);. The has a memory, and remembers results from calculations performed before. For example, if you define a function on a line (or set a variable to a value), the defined function (or variable) are available to be used in following lines. A session can be restarted (forgetting all previous definitions and results) by typing restart. All memory is erased in that case.

Statements should end with a semicolon ; although this is not required in interactive sessions (Yacas will append a semicolon at end of line to finish the statement).

The command line has a history list, so it should be easy to browse through the expressions you entered previously using the up and down arrow keys.

When a few characters have been typed, the command line will use the characters before the cursor as a filter into the history, and allow you to browse through all the commands in the history that start with these characters quickly, instead of browsing through the entire history. If the system recognized the first few characters, it will also show the commands that start with the sequence entered. You can use the arrow keys to browse through this list, and then select the intended function to be inserted by pressing enter.

Commands spanning multiple lines can (and actually have to) be entered by using a trailing backslash at end of each continued line. For example, clicking on 2+3+ will result in an error, but entering the same with a backslash at the end and then entering another expression will concatenate the two lines and evaluate the concatenated input.

Incidentally, any text Yacas prints without a prompt is either a message printed by a function as a side-effect, or an error message. Resulting values of expressions are always printed after an Out> prompt.

Yacas as a symbolic calculator

We are ready to try some calculations. Yacas uses a C-like infix syntax and is case-sensitive. Here are some exact manipulations with fractions for a start: 1/14+5/21*(30-(1+1/2)*5^2);

The standard scripts already contain a simple math library for symbolic simplification of basic algebraic functions. Any names such as x are treated as independent, symbolic variables and are not evaluated by default. Some examples to try:

  • 0+x

  • x+1*y

  • Sin(ArcSin(alpha))+Tan(ArcTan(beta))

Note that the answers are not just simple numbers here, but actual expressions. This is where Yacas shines. It was built specifically to do calculations that have expressions as answers.

In Yacas after a calculation is done, you can refer to the previous result with %. For example, we could first type (x+1)*(x-1), and then decide we would like to see a simpler version of that expression, and thus type Simplify(%), which should result in x^2-1.

The special operator % automatically recalls the result from the previous line. The function Simplify attempts to reduce an expression to a simpler form. Note that standard function names in Yacas are typically capitalized. Multiple capitalization such as ArcSin is sometimes used. The underscore character _ is a reserved operator symbol and cannot be part of variable or function names.

Yacas offers some more powerful symbolic manipulation operations. A few will be shown here to wetten the appetite.

Some simple equation solving algorithms are in place:

  • Solve(x/(1+x) == a, x);

  • Solve(x^2+x == 0, x);

  • Solve(a+x*y==z,x);

(Note the use of the == operator, which does not evaluate to anything, to denote an “equation” object.)

Taylor series are supported, for example: Taylor(x,0,3) Exp(x) is a bodied operator that expands Exp(x) for x around x=0, up to order 3.

Symbolic manipulation is the main application of Yacas. This is a small tour of the capabilities Yacas currently offers. Note that this list of examples is far from complete. Yacas contains a few hundred commands, of which only a few are shown here.

  • Expand((1+x)^5); (expand the expression into a polynomial)

  • Limit(x,0) Sin(x)/x; (calculate the limit of Sin(x)/x as x approaches zero)

  • Newton(Sin(x),x,3,0.0001); (use Newton’s method to find the value of x near 3 where Sin(x) equals zero numerically and stop if the result is closer than 0.0001 to the real result)

  • DiagonalMatrix({a,b,c}); (create a matrix with the elements specified in the vector on the diagonal)

  • Integrate(x,a,b) x*Sin(x); (integrate a function over variable x, from a to b)

  • Factor(x^2-1); (factorize a polynomial)

  • Apart(1/(x^2-1),x); (create a partial fraction expansion of a polynomial)

  • Simplify((x^2-1)/(x-1)); (simplification of expressions)

  • CanProve( (a And b) Or (a And Not b) ); (special-purpose simplifier that tries to simplify boolean expressions as much as possible)

  • TrigSimpCombine(Cos(a)*Sin(b)); (special-purpose simplifier that tries to transform trigonometric expressions into a form where there are only additions of trigonometric functions involved and no multiplications)

Arbitrary precision numbers

Yacas can deal with arbitrary precision numbers. It can work with large integers, like 20! (The ! means factorial, thus 1*2*3*...*20).

As we saw before, rational numbers will stay rational as long as the numerator and denominator are integers, so 55/10 will evaluate to 11/2. You can override this behavior by using the numerical evaluation function N(). For example, N(55/10) will evaluate to 5.5 . This behavior holds for most math functions. Yacas will try to maintain an exact answer (in terms of integers or fractions) instead of using floating point numbers, unless N() is used. Where the value for the constant pi is needed, use the built-in variable Pi. It will be replaced by the (approximate) numerical value when N(Pi) is called. Yacas knows some simplification rules using Pi (especially with trigonometric functions).

The function N takes either one or two arguments. It evaluates its first argument and tries to reduce it as much as possible to a real-valued approximation of the expression. If the second argument is present, it states the number of digits precision required. Thus N(1/234) returns a number with the current default precision (which starts at 20 digits), but you can request as many digits as you like by passing a second argument, as in N(1/234, 10), N(1/234, 20), N(1/234, 30), etcetera.

Note that we need to enter N() to force the approximate calculation, otherwise the fraction would have been left unevaluated.

Revisiting Pi, we can get as many digits of Pi as we like, by providing the precision required as argument to N. So to get 50 digits precision, we can evaluate N(Pi,50).

Taking a derivative of a function was amongst the very first of symbolic calculations to be performed by a computer, as the operation lends itself surprisingly well to being performed automatically. Naturally, it is also implemented in Yacas, through the function D. D is a bodied function, meaning that its last argument is past the closing brackets. Where normal functions are called with syntax similar to f(x,y,z), a bodied function would be called with a syntax f(x,y)z. Here are two examples of taking a derivative:

  • D(x) Sin(x); (taking a derivative)

  • D(x) D(x) Sin(x); (taking a derivative twice)

The D() function also accepts an argument specifying how many times the derivative has to be taken. In that case, the above expressions can also be written as:

  • D(x,1) Sin(x); (taking a derivative)

  • D(x,2) Sin(x); (taking a derivative twice)

Analytic functions

Many of the usual analytic functions have been defined in the yacas library. Examples are Exp(1), Sin(2), ArcSin(1/2), Sqrt(2). These will not evaluate to a numeric result in general, unless the result is an integer, like Sqrt(4). If asked to reduce the result to a numeric approximation with the function N(), then yacas will do so, as for example in N(Sqrt(2),50).


Yacas supports variables. You can set the value of a variable with the := infix operator, as in a:=1;. The variable can then be used in expressions, and everywhere where it is referred to, it will be replaced by its value.

To clear a variable binding, execute Clear(a);. A variable will evaluate to itself after a call to clear it (so after the call to clear a above, calling <span class=”commandlink”>a`` should now return a). This is one of the properties of the evaluation scheme of Yacas; when some object can not be evaluated or transformed any further, it is returned as the final result.


The := operator can also be used to define simple functions: f(x):=2*x*x. will define a new function, f, that accepts one argument and returns twice the square of that argument. This function can now be called, f(a). You can change the definition of a function by defining it again.

One and the same function name such as f may define different functions if they take different numbers of arguments. One can define a function f which takes one argument, as for example f(x):=x^2;, or two arguments, f(x,y):=x*y;. If you clicked on both links, both functions should now be defined, and f(a) calls the one function whereas f(a,b) calls the other.

Yacas is very flexible when it comes to types of mathematical objects. Functions can in general accept or return any type of argument.

Boolean expressions and predicates

Yacas predefines True and False as boolean values. Functions returning boolean values are called predicates. For example, IsNumber() and IsInteger() are predicates defined in the yacas environment. For example, try IsNumber(2+x), or IsInteger(15/5).

There are also comparison operators. Typing 2 > 1 would return True. You can also use the infix operators And and Or, and the prefix operator Not, to make more complex boolean expressions. For example, try True And False, True Or False, True And Not(False).

Strings and lists

In addition to numbers and variables, Yacas supports strings and lists. Strings are simply sequences of characters enclosed by double quotes, for example: "this is a string with \"quotes\" in it".

Lists are ordered groups of items, as usual. Yacas represents lists by putting the objects between braces and separating them with commas. The list consisting of objects a, b, and c could be entered by typing {a,b,c}. In Yacas, vectors are represented as lists and matrices as lists of lists.

Items in a list can be accessed through the [ ] operator. The first element has index one. Examples: when you enter uu:={a,b,c,d,e,f}; then uu[2]; evaluates to b, and uu[2 .. 4]; evaluates to {b,c,d}. The “range” expression 2 .. 4 evaluates to {2,3,4}. Note that spaces around the .. operator are necessary, or else the parser will not be able to distinguish it from a part of a number.

Lists evaluate their arguments, and return a list with results of evaluating each element. So, typing {1+2,3}; would evaluate to {3,3}.

The idea of using lists to represent expressions dates back to the language LISP developed in the 1970’s. From a small set of operations on lists, very powerful symbolic manipulation algorithms can be built. Lists can also be used as function arguments when a variable number of arguments are necessary.

Let’s try some list operations now. First click on m:={a,b,c}; to set up an initial list to work on. Then click on links below:

  • Length(m) (return the length of a list)

  • Reverse(m) (return the string reversed)

  • Concat(m,m) (concatenate two strings)

  • m[1]:=d (setting the first element of the list to a new value, d, as can be verified by evaluating m)

Many more list operations are described in the reference manual.

Writing simplification rules

Mathematical calculations require versatile transformations on symbolic quantities. Instead of trying to define all possible transformations, Yacas provides a simple and easy to use pattern matching scheme for manipulating expressions according to user-defined rules. Yacas itself is designed as a small core engine executing a large library of rules to match and replace patterns.

One simple application of pattern-matching rules is to define new functions. (This is actually the only way Yacas can learn about new functions.) As an example, let’s define a function f that will evaluate factorials of non-negative integers. We will define a predicate to check whether our argument is indeed a non-negative integer, and we will use this predicate and the obvious recursion f(n)=n*f(n-1) if n>0 and 1 if n=0 to evaluate the factorial.

We start with the simple termination condition, which is that f(n) should return one if n is zero: 10 # f(0) <-- 1;. You can verify that this already works for input value zero, with f(0).

Now we come to the more complex line 20 # f(n_IsIntegerGreaterThanZero) <-- n*f(n-1); Now we realize we need a function IsGreaterThanZero(), so we define this function, with IsIntegerGreaterThanZero(_n) <-- (IsInteger(n) And n > 0); You can verify that it works by trying f(5), which should return the same value as 5!.

In the above example we have first defined two simplification rules for a new function f(). Then we realized that we need to define a predicate IsIntegerGreaterThanZero(). A predicate equivalent to IsIntegerGreaterThanZero() is actually already defined in the standard library and it’s called IsPositiveInteger(), so it was not necessary, strictly speaking, to define our own predicate to do the same thing. We did it here just for illustration purposes.

The first two lines recursively define a factorial function \(f(n)=n(n-1)\ldots 1\). The rules are given precedence values 10 and 20, so the first rule will be applied first. Incidentally, the factorial is also defined in the standard library as a postfix operator ! and it is bound to an internal routine much faster than the recursion in our example. The example does show how to create your own routine with a few lines of code. One of the design goals of Yacas was to allow precisely that, definition of a new function with very little effort.

The operator <-- defines a rule to be applied to a specific function. (The <-- operation cannot be applied to an atom.) The _n in the rule for IsIntegerGreaterThanZero() specifies that any object which happens to be the argument of that predicate is matched and assigned to the local variable n. The expression to the right of <-- can use n (without the underscore) as a variable.

Now we consider the rules for the function f(). The first rule just specifies that f(0) should be replaced by 1 in any expression. The second rule is a little more involved. n_IsIntegerGreaterThanZero is a match for the argument of f, with the proviso that the predicate IsIntegerGreaterThanZero(n) should return True, otherwise the pattern is not matched. The underscore operator is to be used only on the left hand side of the rule definition operator <--.

There is another, slightly longer but equivalent way of writing the second rule: 20 # f(_n)_(IsIntegerGreaterThanZero(n)) <-- n*f(n-1); The underscore after the function object denotes a postpredicate that should return True or else there is no match. This predicate may be a complicated expression involving several logical operations, unlike the simple checking of just one predicate in the n_IsIntegerGreaterThanZero construct. The postpredicate can also use the variable n (without the underscore).

Precedence values for rules are given by a number followed by the # infix operator (and the transformation rule after it). This number determines the ordering of precedence for the pattern matching rules, with 0 the lowest allowed precedence value, i.e. rules with precedence 0 will be tried first. Multiple rules can have the same number: this just means that it doesn’t matter what order these patterns are tried in. If no number is supplied, 0 is assumed. In our example, the rule f(0) <-- 1 must be applied earlier than the recursive rule, or else the recursion will never terminate. But as long as there are no other rules concerning the function f, the assignment of numbers 10 and 20 is arbitrary, and they could have been 500 and 501 just as well. It is usually a good idea however to keep some space between these numbers, so you have room to insert new transformation rules later on.

Predicates can be combined: for example, IsIntegerGreaterThanZero() could also have been defined as:

10 # IsIntegerGreaterThanZero(n_IsInteger)_(n>0) <-- True;
20 # IsIntegerGreaterThanZero(_n) <-- False;

The first rule specifies that if n is an integer, and is greater than zero, the result is True, and the second rule states that otherwise (when the rule with precedence 10 did not apply) the predicate returns False.

In the above example, the expression n > 0 is added after the pattern and allows the pattern to match only if this predicate return True. This is a useful syntax for defining rules with complicated predicates. There is no difference between the rules F(n_IsPositiveInteger) <-- ... and F(_n)_(IsPositiveInteger(n)) <-- ... except that the first syntax is a little more concise.

The rule expression has the following form:

[precedence #] pattern [_ postpredicate] <-- replacement;

The optional precedence must be a positive integer.

Some more examples of rules (not made clickable because their equivalents are already in the basic yacas library):

10 # _x + 0 <-- x;

20 # _x - _x <-- 0;

ArcSin(Sin(_x)) <-- x;

The last rule has no explicit precedence specified in it (the precedence zero will be assigned automatically by the system).

Yacas will first try to match the pattern as a template. Names preceded or followed by an underscore can match any one object: a number, a function, a list, etc. Yacas will assign the relevant variables as local variables within the rule, and try the predicates as stated in the pattern. The post-predicate (defined after the pattern) is tried after all these matched. As an example, the simplification rule _x - _x <--0 specifies that the two objects at left and at right of the minus sign should be the same for this transformation rule to apply.

Local simplification rules

Sometimes you have an expression, and you want to use specific simplification rules on it that should not be universally applied. This can be done with the /: and the /:: operators. Suppose we have the expression containing things such as Ln(a*b), and we want to change these into Ln(a)+Ln(b). The easiest way to do this is using the /: operator as follows:

  • Sin(x)*Ln(a*b) (example expression without simplification)

  • Sin(x)*Ln(a*b) /: {Ln(_x*_y) <- Ln(x)+Ln(y) } (with instruction to simplify the expression)

A whole list of simplification rules can be built up in the list, and they will be applied to the expression on the left hand side of /:.

Note that for these local rules, <- should be used instead of <--. Using latter would result in a global definition of a new transformation rule on evaluation, which is not the intention.

The /: operator traverses an expression from the top down, trying to apply the rules from the beginning of the list of rules to the end of the list of rules. If no rules can be applied to the whole expression, it will try the sub-expressions of the expression being analyzed.

It might be sometimes necessary to use the /:: operator, which repeatedly applies the /: operator until the result does not change any more. Caution is required, since rules can contradict each other, and that could result in an infinite loop. To detect this situation, just use /: repeatedly on the expression. The repetitive nature should become apparent.

Programming essentials

An important feature of yacas is its programming language which allows you to create your own programs for doing calculations. This section describes some constructs and functions for control flow.

Looping can be done with the function ForEach(). There are more options, but ForEach() is the simplest to use for now and will suffice for this turorial. The statement form ForEach(x, list) body executes its body for each element of the list and assigns the variable x to that element each time. The statement form While(predicate) body repeats execution of the expression represented by body until evaluation of the expression represented by predicate returns False.

This example loops over the integers from one to three, and writes out a line for each, multiplying the integer by 3 and displaying the result with the function Echo():

ForEach(x,1 .. 5) Echo(x," times 3 equals ",3*x);

Compound statements

Multiple statements can be grouped together using the [ and ] brackets. The compound [a; Echo("In the middle"); 1+2;]; evaluates a, then the Echo() command, and finally evaluates 1+2, and returns the result of evaluating the last statement 1+2.

A variable can be declared local to a compound statement block by the function Local(var1, var2, ...). For example, if you execute [Local(v);v:=1+2;v;]; the result will be 3. The program body created a variable called v, assigned the value of evaluating 1+2 to it, and made sure the contents of the variable v were returned. If you now evaluate v afterwards you will notice that the variable v is not bound to a value any more. The variable v was defined locally in the program body between the two square brackets [ and ].

Conditional execution is implemented by the

If(predicate, body1, body2)

function call. If the expression predicate evaluates to True, the expression represented by body1 is evaluated, otherwise body2 is evaluated, and the corresponding value is returned. For example, the absolute value of a number can be computed with: f(x) := If(x < 0,-x,x); (note that there already is a standard library function that calculates the absolute value of a number).

Variables can also be made to be local to a small set of functions, with LocalSymbols(variables) body. For example, the following code snippet:

LocalSymbols(a,b) [
    show():=Echo("a = ",a," b = ",b);

defines two functions, inc() and show(). Calling inc() repeatedly increments a and decrements b, and calling show() then shows the result (the function inc() also calls the function show(), but the purpose of this example is to show how two functions can share the same variable while the outside world cannot get at that variable). The variables are local to these two functions, as you can see by evaluating a and b outside the scope of these two functions. This feature is very important when writing a larger body of code, where you want to be able to guarantee that there are no unintended side-effects due to two bits of code defined in different files accidentally using the same global variable.

To illustrate these features, let us create a list of all even integers from 2 to 20 and compute the product of all those integers except those divisible by 3:

    L:={}; i:=2;
    /*Make a list of all even integers from 2 to 20 */
    While (i <= 20) [ L := Append(L, i); i := i + 2; ];
    /* Now calculate the product of all of these numbers that are not divisible by 3 */
    answer := 1;
    ForEach(i,L) If (Mod(i, 3) != 0, answer := answer * i);
    /* And return the answer */

(Note that it is not necessarily the most economical way to do it in yacas.)

We used a shorter form of If(predicate, body) with only one body which is executed when the condition holds. If the condition does not hold, this function call returns False. We also introduced comments, which can be placed between /* and */. Yacas will ignore anything between those two. When putting a program in a file you can also use //. Everything after // up until the end of the line will be a comment. Also shown is the use of the While function. Its form is While (predicate) body. While the expression represented by predicate evaluates to True, the expression represented by body will keep on being evaluated.

The above example is not the shortest possible way to write out the algorithm. It is written out in a procedural way, where the program explains step by step what the computer should do. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the approach of writing down a program in a procedural way, but the symbolic nature of Yacas also allows you to write it in a more concise, elegant, compact way, by combining function calls.

There is nothing wrong with procedural style, but there is amore ‘functional’ approach to the same problem would go as follows below. The advantage of the functional approach is that it is shorter and more concise (the difference is cosmetic mostly).

Before we show how to do the same calculation in a functional style, we need to explain what a pure function is, as you will need it a lot when programming in a functional style. We will jump in with an example that should be self-explanatory. Consider the expression Lambda({x,y},x+y). This has two arguments, the first listing x and y, and the second an expression. We can use this construct with the function Apply() as follows:


The result should be 5, the result of adding 2 and 3. The expression starting with Lambda() is essentially a prescription for a specific operation, where it is stated that it accepts 2 arguments, and returns the arguments added together. In this case, since the operation was so simple, we could also have used the name of a function to apply the arguments to, the addition operator in this case Apply("+",{2,3}). When the operations become more complex however, the Lambda() construct becomes more useful.

Now we are ready to do the same example using a functional approach. First, let us construct a list with all even numbers from 2 to 20. For this we use the .. operator to set up all numbers from one to ten, and then multiply that with two: 2 * (1 .. 10).

Now we want an expression that returns all the even numbers up to 20 which are not divisible by 3. For this we can use Select, which takes as first argument a predicate that should return True if the list item is to be accepted, and False otherwise, and as second argument the list in question:

Select(Lambda({n},Mod(n,3)!=0),2*(1 .. 10))

The numbers 6, 12 and 18 have been correctly filtered out. Here you see one example of a pure function where the operation is a little bit more complex.

All that remains is to factor the items in this list. For this we can use UnFlatten. Two examples of the use of UnFlatten are

  • UnFlatten({a,b,c},"*",1)

  • UnFlatten({a,b,c},"+",0)

The 0 and 1 are a base element to start with when grouping the arguments in to an expression (they should be the respective identity elements, hence it is zero for addition and 1 for multiplication).

Now we have all the ingredients to finally do the same calculation we did above in a procedural way, but this time we can do it in a functional style, and thus captured in one concise single line:

UnFlatten(Select(Lambda({n},Mod(n,3)!=0),2*(1 .. 10)),"*",1)

As was mentioned before, the choice between the two is mostly a matter of style.


One of the powerful constructs in yacas is the construct of a macro. In its essence, a macro is a prescription to create another program before executing the program. An example perhaps explains it best. Evaluate the following expression

Macro(for,{st,pr,in,bd}) [(@st);While(@pr)[(@bd);(@in);];];

This expression defines a macro that allows for looping. Yacas has a For() function already, but this is how it could be defined in one line (In yacas the For() function is bodied, we left that out here for clarity, as the example is about macros).

To see it work just type for(i:=0,i<3,i:=i+1,Echo(i)). You will see the count from one to three.

The construct works as follows; The expression defining the macro sets up a macro named for() with four arguments. On the right is the body of the macro. This body contains expressions of the form @var. These are replaced by the values passed in on calling the macro. After all the variables have been replaced, the resulting expression is evaluated. In effect a new program has been created. Such macro constructs come from LISP, and are famous for allowing you to almost design your own programming language constructs just for your own problem at hand. When used right, macros can greatly simplify the task of writing a program.

You can also use the back-quote ` to expand a macro in-place. It takes on the form `(expression), where the expression can again contain sub-expressions of the form @variable. These instances will be replaced with the values of these variables.

The practice of programming in yacas

When you become more proficient in working with yacas you will be doing more and more sophisticated calculations. For such calculations it is generally necessary to write little programs. In real life you will usually write these programs in a text editor, and then start yacas, load the text file you just wrote, and try out the calculation. Generally this is an iterative process, where you go back to the text editor to modify something, and then go back to yacas, type restart and then reload the file.

On this site you can run yacas in a little window called a yacas calculation center (the same as the one below this tutorial). On page there is tab that contains a Yacas calculation center. If you click on that tab you will be directed to a larger calculation center than the one below this tutorial. In this page you can easily switch between doing a calculation and editing a program to load at startup. We tried to make the experience match the general use of Yacas on a desktop as much as possible. The Yacas journal (which you see when you go to the Yacas web site) contains examples of calculations done before by others.

Defining your own operators

Large part of the yacas system is defined in the scripting language itself. This includes the definitions of the operators it accepts, and their precedences. This means that you too can define your own operators. This section shows you how to do that.

Suppose we wanted to define a function F(x,y)=x/y+y/x. We could use the standard syntax F(a,b) := a/b + b/a;. F(1,2);. For the purpose of this demonstration, lets assume that we want to define an infix operator xx for this operation. We can teach yacas about this infix operator with Infix("xx", OpPrecedence("/"));. Here we told Yacas that the operator xx is to have the same precedence as the division operator. We can now proceed to tell Yacas how to evaluate expressions involving the operator xx by defining it as we would with a function, a xx b := a/b + b/a;.

You can verify for yourself 3 xx 2 + 1; and 1 + 3 xx 2; return the same value, and that they follow the precedence rules (eg. xx binds stronger than +).

We have chosen the name xx just to show that we don’t need to use the special characters in the infix operator’s name. However we must define this operator as infix before using it in expressions, otherwise yacas will raise a syntax error.

Finally, we might decide to be completely flexible with this important function and also define it as a mathematical operator ## . First we define ## as a bodied function and then proceed as before. First we can tell yacas that ## is a bodied operator with Bodied("##", OpPrecedence("/"));. Then we define the function itself: ##(a) b := a xx b;. And now we can use the function, ##(1) 3 + 2;.

We have used the name ## but we could have used any other name such as xx or F or even _-+@+-_. Apart from possibly confusing yourself, it doesn’t matter what you call the functions you define.

There is currently one limitation in yacas: once a function name is declared as infix (prefix, postfix) or bodied, it will always be interpreted that way. If we declare a function f to be bodied, we may later define different functions named f with different numbers of arguments, however all of these functions must be bodied.

When you use infix operators and either a prefix of postfix operator next to it you can run in to a situation where yacas can not quite figure out what you typed. This happens when the operators are right next to each other and all consist of symbols (and could thus in principle form a single operator). Yacas will raise an error in that case. This can be avoided by inserting spaces.

Some assorted programming topics

One use of lists is the associative list, sometimes called a dictionary in other programming languages, which is implemented in Yacas simply as a list of key-value pairs. Keys must be strings and values may be any objects. Associative lists can also work as mini-databases, where a name is associated to an object. As an example, first enter record:={}; to set up an empty record. After that, we can fill arbitrary fields in this record:

record["is alive"]:=False;

Now, evaluating record["name"] should result in the answer "Isaia". The record is now a list that contains three sublists, as you can see by evaluating record.

Assignment of multiple variables is also possible using lists. For instance, evaluating {x,y}:={2!,3!} will result in 2 being assigned to x and 6 to y.

When assigning variables, the right hand side is evaluated before it is assigned. Thus a:=2*2 will set a to 4. This is however not the case for functions. When entering f(x):=x+x the right hand side, x+x, is not evaluated before being assigned. This can be forced by using Eval(). Defining f(x) with f(x):=Eval(x+x) will tell the system to first evaluate x+x (which results in 2*x) before assigning it to the user function f(). This specific example is not a very useful one but it will come in handy when the operation being performed on the right hand side is expensive. For example, if we evaluate a Taylor series expansion before assigning it to the user-defined function, the engine doesn’t need to create the Taylor series expansion each time that user-defined function is called.

The imaginary unit \(\imath\) is denoted I and complex numbers can be entered as either expressions involving I, as for example 1+I*2, or explicitly as Complex(a,b) for \(a+\imath b\). The form Complex(re,im) is the way yacas deals with complex numbers internally.

Linear Algebra

Vectors of fixed dimension are represented as lists of their components. The list {1, 2+x, 3*Sin(p)} would be a three-dimensional vector with components 1, 2+x and 3*Sin(p). Matrices are represented as a lists of lists.

Vector components can be assigned values just like list items, since they are in fact list items. If we first set up a variable called “vector” to contain a three-dimensional vector with the command vector:=ZeroVector(3); (you can verify that it is indeed a vector with all components set to zero by evaluating vector), you can change elements of the vector just like you would the elements of a list (seeing as it is represented as a list). For example, to set the second element to two, just evaluate vector[2] := 2;. This results in a new value for vector.

Yacas can perform multiplication of matrices, vectors and numbers as usual in linear algebra. The standard Yacas script library also includes taking the determinant and inverse of a matrix, finding eigenvectors and eigenvalues (in simple cases) and solving linear sets of equations, such as A * x = b where A is a matrix, and x and b are vectors. As a little example to wetten your appetite, we define a Hilbert matrix: hilbert:=HilbertMatrix(3). We can then calculate the determinant with Determinant(hilbert), or the inverse with Inverse(hilbert). There are several more matrix operations supported. See the reference manual for more details.

Threading of functions

Some functions in Yacas can be threaded. This means that calling the function with a list as argument will result in a list with that function being called on each item in the list. E.g. Sin({a,b,c}); will result in {Sin(a),Sin(b),Sin(c)}. This functionality is implemented for most normal analytic functions and arithmetic operators.

Functions as lists

For some work it pays to understand how things work under the hood. Internally, Yacas represents all atomic expressions (numbers and variables) as strings and all compound expressions as lists, like Lisp. Try FullForm(a+b*c); and you will see the text (+ a (* b c )) appear on the screen. This function is occasionally useful, for example when trying to figure out why a specific transformation rule does not work on a specific expression.

If you try FullForm(1+2) you will see that the result is not quite what we intended. The system first adds up one and two, and then shows the tree structure of the end result, which is a simple number 3. To stop Yacas from evaluating something, you can use the function Hold, as FullForm(Hold(1+2)). The function Eval is the opposite, it instructs Yacas to re-evaluate its argument (effectively evaluating it twice). This undoes the effect of Hold, as for example Eval(Hold(1+2)).

Also, any expression can be converted to a list by the function Listify or back to an expression by the function UnList:

  • Listify(a+b*(c+d));

  • UnList({Atom("+"),x,1});

Note that the first element of the list is the name of the function + which is equivalently represented as Atom("+") and that the subexpression b*(c+d) was not converted to list form. Listify just took the top node of the expression.