|Mathematica kernel||the part that actually performs computations|
|Mathematica front end||the part that handles interaction with the user|
Such a design has many advantages over a monolithic system. For instance, the Mathematica front end could be run on a local computer with enhanced graphics capabilities while the Mathematica kernel might be run on a faster remote computer. Or, multiple kernels could be run from a single front end.
The most common way to work on Mathematica is to use interactive documents known as notebooks. Notebooks mix Mathematica input and output with text, graphics, palettes, and other material. You can use notebooks either for doing ongoing computations, or as a means of presenting or publishing your results.
|Notebook interface||interactive documents|
|Text-based interface||text from the keyboard|
|MathLink interface||communication with other programs|
An important aspect of Mathematica is that it can interact not only with human users but also with other programs. This is achieved primarily through MathLink, which is a standardized protocol for two-way communication between external programs and the Mathematica kernel.
Among the many MathLink-compatible programs that are now available, some are set up to serve as complete front ends to Mathematica. Often such front ends provide their own special user interfaces, and treat the Mathematica kernel purely as an embedded computational engine.