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How the Integral Calculator Works
For those with a technical background, the following section explains how the Integral Calculator works.
First, a parser analyzes the mathematical function. It transforms it into a form that is better understandable by a computer, namely a tree (see figure below). In doing this, the Integral Calculator has to respect the order of operations. A specialty in mathematical expressions is that the multiplication sign can be left out sometimes, for example we write "5x" instead of "5*x". The Integral Calculator has to detect these cases and insert the multiplication sign.
When the "Go!" button is clicked, the Integral Calculator sends the mathematical function and the settings (variable of integration and integration bounds) to the server, where it is analyzed again. This time, the function gets transformed into a form that can be understood by the computer algebra system Maxima.
Maxima takes care of actually computing the integral of the mathematical function. Maxima's output is transformed to LaTeX again and is then presented to the user. The antiderivative is computed using the Risch algorithm, which is hard to understand for humans. That's why showing the steps of calculation is very challenging for integrals.
In order to show the steps, the calculator applies the same integration techniques that a human would apply. The program that does this has been developed over several years and is written in Maxima's own programming language. It consists of more than 17000 lines of code. When the integrand matches a known form, it applies fixed rules to solve the integral (e. g. partial fraction decomposition for rational functions, trigonometric substitution for integrands involving the square roots of a quadratic polynomial or integration by parts for products of certain functions). Otherwise, it tries different substitutions and transformations until either the integral is solved, time runs out or there is nothing left to try. The calculator lacks the mathematical intuition that is very useful for finding an antiderivative, but on the other hand it can try a large number of possibilities within a short amount of time. The step by step antiderivatives are often much shorter and more elegant than those found by Maxima.
The "Check answer" feature has to solve the difficult task of determining whether two mathematical expressions are equivalent. Their difference is computed and simplified as far as possible using Maxima. For example, this involves writing trigonometric/hyperbolic functions in their exponential forms. If it can be shown that the difference simplifies to zero, the task is solved. Otherwise, a probabilistic algorithm is applied that evaluates and compares both functions at randomly chosen places. In the case of antiderivatives, the entire procedure is repeated with each function's derivative, since antiderivatives are allowed to differ by a constant.
If you have any questions or ideas for improvements to the Integral Calculator, don't hesitate to write me an e-mail.