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2.12.1 How MathLink Is Used

Most of this book has been concerned with how human users interact with Mathematica. MathLink provides a mechanism through which programs rather than human users can interact with Mathematica.

Some typical uses of MathLink.

MathLink provides a general interface for external programs to communicate with Mathematica. Many standard software systems now have MathLink compatibility either built in or available in add-on modules.
In addition, the MathLink Developer's Kit bundled with most versions of Mathematica provides the tools you need to create your own MathLink-compatible programs.
Once you have a MathLink-compatible program, you can transparently establish a link between it and Mathematica.
The link can either be on a single computer, or it can be over a network, potentially with a different type of computer at each end.

A few uses of MathLink-compatible programs.

MathLink-compatible programs range from very simple to very complex. A minimal MathLink-compatible program is just a few lines long. But it is also possible to build very large and sophisticated MathLink-compatible programs. Indeed, the Mathematica notebook front end is one example of a sophisticated MathLink-compatible program.

The basic idea of MathLink.

Much of the power of MathLink comes from its use of Mathematica expressions. The basic idea is that MathLink provides a way to exchange Mathematica expressions between programs, and such expressions can represent absolutely any kind of data.

A few examples of data represented by Mathematica expressions in MathLink.

The MathLink library consists of a collection of routines that allow external programs to send and receive Mathematica expressions.
The MathLink Developer's Kit provides utilities for incorporating these routines into external programs. The utilities are primarily intended for programs written in the C programming language, although by adding the appropriate links to the MathLink library it is possible to make any program MathLink compatible.
An important feature of the MathLink library is that it is completely platform independent: it can transparently use any interprogram communication mechanism that exists on your computer system.