How do I install and learn Wolfram Mathematica on my Mac?

Mathematica is a powerful piece of software for Mac OS X/macOS (and other operating systems) that's used by scientists and engineers.

It's hard to define Mathematica: often billed as a computational language or an algebraic programming tool, Mathematica is a programming language with a heavy focus on complex mathematics.

As data science has become more widespread, and data manipulation becomes more of a standard component of education, there's an increase in people wanting to learn software like Mathematica. In this article, we'll look at what Mathematica is, and how to install and learn it in OS X.

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How to set up Wolfram Mathematica on Mac: What is Wolfram Mathematica?

Install Mathematica in OS X

Mathematica is made by Wolfram, a company that bills itself as "Where computation meets knowledge." Wolfram makes a variety of different products, all with the same goal of computational knowledge.

Mathematica is its key product, developed by Stephen Wolfram and first released in 1988. Mathematica 10 was released in 2014, and the latest version is Mathematica 10.4.1, released in April 2016. Mathematica 10 introduced a mixture of new features based on geometric computation, machine learning, and geographic computation. It also added interaction with Mathematica online. Wolfram makes a lot of products, and uses a lot of services, so you might find some definitions useful.

Mathematica 10. This is the standalone installation for Mathematica.

Mathematica Online. This is an online version of Mathematica that you can use to create Mathematica notebooks and run code from a web browser.

Wolfram Desktop Option for Cloud products. This is a desktop program that extends into Wolfram Online. You code locally, but it hooks into Wolfram Online when needed.

Wolfram Knowledgebase. This is a repository of computational data, such as units, places, health and socioeconomic data. This can be accessed in Mathematica.

Wolfram Language. This is the programming language you use in Mathematica and the Wolfram Programming Cloud.

WolframAlpha. This is an online "Answer Engine" that answers questions using the Wolfram Knowledgebase. It's like a search engine, but instead of finding web pages it answers questions. A Pro version enables you to upload tabular data and download results.

How to set up Wolfram Mathematica on Mac: Install Mathematica and learn Wolfram Language

So if you've decided you want Mathematica on your Mac, really what you're looking for is to learn (or use) the Wolfram Language on your Mac.

You have a couple of options. The first is to buy a copy of Mathematica 10 (£195). Alternatively, you can buy a subscription to Wolfram Online (£95 per year), or you can get both the desktop and online package for (£190 per year). These prices are all for home use; government and industries pay a higher rate. More information can be found on the Wolfram website.

  1. Click Buy or Trial on com. If you have a Wolfram ID, enter the email and password fields. Otherwise, click Continue under "Don't have a Wolfram ID" and sign up for an account.
  2. Click Mathematica_10.4.1_OSX.dmg in your Downloads folder.
  3. Drag the Mathematica icon to the Applications folder.
  4. Open the Applications folder and double-click Mathematica. Click Open in the Alert window.
  5. If you bought Wolfram Mathematica, your Activation key would have been sent to you via email. Enter the key in the Activation Key field and click Activate.
  6. Tick the "I accept the terms of this agreement" checkbox and click OK.

You should be greeted with the "Welcome to Mathematica" window. You're now ready to start using Mathematica 10.

How to set up Wolfram Mathematica on Mac: Connecting Mathematica to your Wolfram Cloud

You should also connect your Mathematica to Wolfram Cloud. Click "Sign in to access your Wolfram Cloud files" and enter the email and password you used when signing up to Wolfram Alpha (when you requested the Trial or purchased Mathematica).

Now you can see two options in the window: Open, and Open Online. You'll be able to save Wolfram Mathematica items online.

How to set up Wolfram Mathematica on Mac: Getting started with Wolfram Mathematica

Click on New Document to start working on a Wolfram Mathematica document. If you're used to calculators the black text screen, with its horizontal flashing cursor, may be confusing.

The horizontal cursor means that Mathematica is ready to receive a command. Enter "2 + 2" and press Shift-Return to enter the command (just pressing return takes you to the next line, without running it).

You will see "Out[1] = 4". Good to know that it has the basics down. You will also see the Suggestions Bar below. Click Binary Form to see the number in binary. Click More and you'll see lots of other number formats, including bitwise operators and number theory options.

Why not try plotting a sine wave. Enter Plot[x]/x, {x, -Pi, Pi} and press shift-return. The Plot command generates a graph.

Install Mathematica

You can also create 3D graphs. Enter "Plot3D[Sin[x*y], {x,-3,3}, {y, -5,5}]". Press shift-return to view the 3D graph.

Mathematica 3D graph

How to set up Wolfram Mathematica on Mac: Learning the Wolfram Language

Now that you have Mathematica installed and up and running, you'll be wanting to learn some more about it. There are lots of online resources you can use to discover Mathematica.

Hands-on Start To Wolfram Mathematica, Cliff Hastings, Kelvin Mischo, Michael Morrisson. Probably the best guide to getting started.

An Elementary Introduction To The Wolfram Language, Stephen Wolfram. Straight from the horse's mouth, this essential guide is written by the language's creator.

Wolfram: Fast Introduction for Programmers. This collection will help you get started.

Wolfram Videos. Wolfram has a great selection of training videos on its website.

Mathematica StackExchange. This Mathematica StackExchange forum has a lot of good programming links.