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Introduction to Help

The most useful online help command is DESCRIBE which obtains help on all commands containing a particular string. Here by command we mean a built in operator such as INTEGRATE or FACTOR etc.

Online documentation is also available using INFO and printed documentation is available by using tex on the file info/maxima.texi in the maxima distribution.


All of Maxima is of course written in lisp. There is a naming convention for functions and variables: All symbols which begin with a "$" sign at lisp level, are read with the "$" sign stripped off at Macsyma level. For example, there are two lisp functions TRANSLATE and $TRANSLATE. If at macsyma level you enter TRANSLATE(FOO); the function which is called is the $translate function. To access the other function you must prefix with a "?":


Of course, this may well not do what you wanted it to do since it is a completely different function.

To enter lisp level on the lisp machine, you should type Suspend or Control-Suspend. This will cause a lisp break loop to be entered. You could now evaluate $d2 (or macsyma:$d2 if you have not done (pkg-goto 'macsyma)) and view the value of the line label D2, in its internal lisp format. Resume or abort will return to Macsyma top level.

Thus if you intend to write lisp functions to be called at macsyma level you should name them by names beginning with a "$".

If you are at lisp level and wish to read a macsyma expression you may enter

			  (setq $foo #$[x,y]$)

This will have the same effect as entering


except that foo will not appear in the VALUES list. In order to view foo in macsyma printed format you may type

(displa $foo)

In this documentation when we wish to refer to a macsyma symbol we shall generally omit the $ just as you would when typing at macsyma level. This will cause confusion when we also wish to refer to a lisp symbol. In this case we shall usually try to use lower case for the lisp symbol and upper case for the macsyma symbol. For example LIST for $list and list for the lisp symbol whose printname is "list".

To enter more complicated lisp expressions at macsyma level you may need the quoting character \ eg. for the lisp function make-array


would be have the same result as the lisp form

(setq $aa (make-array 3  :fill-pointer 0)).

Since functions defined using the MAXIMA language are not ordinary lisp functions, you must use mfuncall to call them. For example:

(D2) 			    FOO(X, Y) := X + Y + 3

then at lisp level

CL-MAXIMA>>(mfuncall '$foo 4 5)

A number of lisp functions are shadowed in the maxima package. This is because their use within maxima is not compatible with the definition as a system function. For example typep behaves differently common lisp than it did in Maclisp. If you want to refer to the zeta lisp typep while in the maxima package you should use global:typep (or cl:typep for common lisp). Thus

  (macsyma:typep '(1 2)) ==> 'list
  (lisp:typep '(1 2))==> error (lisp:type-of '(1 2))==> 'cons

To see which symbols are shadowed look in "Maxima-source:maxima;sysdef.lisp" or do a describe of the package.


Symbolic computation tends to create a good deal of garbage, and effective handling of this can be crucial to successful completion of some programs.

Under GCL, on UNIX systems where the mprotect system call is available (including SUN OS 4.0 and some variants of BSD) a stratified garbage collection is available. This limits the collection to pages which have been recently written to. See the GCL documentation under ALLOCATE and GBC. At the lisp level doing (setq si::*notify-gbc* t) will help you determine which areas might need more space.


The function DESCRIBE(item) will offer a list of topics which include the substring item. The documentation will then be printed on the screen. It may also be put into a buffer by using the command MACSYMA DESCRIBE in the zmacs editor.

The variable ALL_MACSYMA_DOCUMENTATION is a list of file names which contain documentation in a format suitable to be read by DESCRIBE. You may of course add to any of these files, or add another file to the list. Each separate item should begin with "&" on a new line separated by a blank line. The key which will be used for searching, is the string up to the first blank space.

The function set-up-index will then be called to make an index and add it to *DESCRIBE-INDICES*, so that future calls to DESCRIBE will also see the additional documentation.

(set-up-index "MAXIMA-source:maxima;foo.bar" :make-new-one t)

would cause a new index to be made even if foo-index.bin already existed containing the appropriate index.

Definitions for Help

Function: DEMO (file)
this is the same as BATCH but pauses after each command line and continues when a space is typed. In NIL macsyma, DEMO does file searching like BATCH does, and in addition searches for files on the [DEMO] directory in the Macsyma directory hierarchy, and also for files with extensions of .DEM, .DM1, and .DM2 in addition to .MAC. This is to make it easier to run demo files which come supplied with NIL macsyma, which are named things like MAX$DISK:[DEMO]MAT.DEM.

Function: DESCRIBE (cmd)
prints out information about "cmd", which may be any MACSYMA command, switch or variable. Certain key words have also been included, where they seem appropriate, thus DESCRIBE(TRIG); will print out a list of the trig functions implemented in MACSYMA. Some function names or operators may require quotation marks around them, e.g. DESCRIBE("DO"); or DESCRIBE(".");. See also APROPOS(string) which allows you to locate command names even if you aren't sure of the full name. Do DESCRIBE(APROPOS); for details.

Function: EXAMPLE (command)
will start up a demonstration of how command works on some expressions. After each command line it will pause and wait for a space to be typed, as in the DEMO command.

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