3. Expressions

3.1. Universes

Every type in Lean is, by definition, an expression of type Sort u for some universe level u. A universe level is one of the following:

  • a natural number, n
  • a universe variable, u (declared with the command universe or universes)
  • an expression u + n, where u is a universe level and n is a natural number
  • an expression max u v, where u and v are universes
  • an expression imax u v, where u and v are universe levels

The last one denotes the universe level 0 if v is 0, and max u v otherwise.

universes u v

#check Sort u
#check Sort 5
#check Sort (u + 1)
#check Sort (u + 3)
#check Sort (max u v)
#check Sort (max (u + 3) v)
#check Sort (imax (u + 3) v)
#check Prop
#check Type

3.2. Expression Syntax

The set of expressions in Lean is defined inductively as follows:

  • Sort u : the universe of types at universe level u
  • c : where c is an identifier denoting an axiomatically declared constant or a defined object
  • x : where x is a variable in the local context in which the expression is interpreted
  • Π x : α, β : the type of functions taking an element x of α to an element of β, where β is an expression whose type is a Sort
  • s t : the result of applying s to t, where s and t are expressions
  • λ x : α, t : the function mapping any value x of type α to t, where t is an expression
  • let x := t in s : a local definition, denotes the value of s when x is replaced by t

Every well formed term in Lean has a type, which itself is an expression of type Sort u for some u. The fact that a term t has type α is written t : α.

For an expression to be well formed, its components have to satisfy certain typing constraints. These, in turn, determine the type of the resulting term, as follows:

  • Sort u : Sort (u + 1)
  • c : α, where α is the type that c has been declared or defined to have
  • x : α, where α is the type that x has been assigned in the local context where it is interpreted
  • x : α, β) : Sort (imax u v) where α : Sort u, and β : Sort v assuming x : α
  • s t : β[t/x] where s has type Π x : α, β and t has type α
  • x : α, t) : Π x : α, β if t has type β whenever x has type α
  • (let x := t in s) : β[t/x] where t has type α and s has type β assuming x : α

Prop abbreviates Sort 0, Type abbreviates Sort 1, and Type u abbreviates Sort (u + 1) when u is a universe variable. We say “α is a type” to express α : Type u for some u, and we say “p is a proposition” to express p : Prop. Using the propositions as types correspondence, given p : Prop, we refer to an expression t : p as a proof of p. In contrast, given α : Type u for some u and t : α, we sometimes refer to t as data.

When the expression β in Π x : α, β does not depend on x, it can be written α β. As usual, the variable x is bound in Π x : α, β, λ x : α, t, and let x := t in s. The expression x : α, β is alternative syntax for Π x : α, β, and is intended to be used when β is a proposition. An underscore can be used to generate an internal variable in a binder, as in λ _ : α, t.

In addition to the elements above, expressions can also contain metavariables, that is, temporary placeholders, that are used in the process of constructing terms. They can also contain macros, which are used to annotate or abbreviate terms. Terms that are added to the environment contain neither metavariable nor variables, which is to say, they are fully elaborated and make sense in the empty context.

Constants can be declared in various ways, such as by the constant(s) and axiom(s) keywords, or as the result of an inductive or structure declaration. Similarly, objects can be defined in various ways, such as using def, theorem, or the equation compiler. See Chapter 4 for more information.

Writing an expression (t : α) forces Lean to elaborate t so that it has type α or report an error if it fails.

Lean supports anonymous constructor notation, anonymous projections, and various forms of match syntax, including destructuring λ and let. These, as well as notation for common data types (like pairs, lists, and so on) are discussed in Chapter 4 in connection with inductive types.

universes u v w

variables (p q : Prop)
variable  (α : Type u)
variable  (β : Type v)
variable  (γ : α  Type w)
variable  (η : α  β  Type w)

constants δ ε : Type u
constants cnst : δ
constant  f : δ  ε

variables (a : α) (b : β) (c : γ a) (d : δ)

variable  g  : α  β
variable  h  : Π x : α, γ x
variable  h' : Π x, γ x  δ

#check Sort (u + 3)
#check Prop
#check Π x : α, γ x
#check f cnst
#check λ x, h x
#check λ x, h' x (h x)
#check (λ x, h x) a
#check λ _ : , 5
#check let x := a in h x

#check Π x y, η x y
#check Π (x : α) (y : β), η x y
#check λ x y, η x y
#check λ (x : α) (y : β), η x y
#check let x := a, y := b in η x y

#check (5 : )
#check (5 : (λ x, x) )
#check (5 : )

3.3. Implicit Arguments

When declaring arguments to defined objects in Lean (for example, with def, theorem, constant, inductive, or structure; see Chapter 4) or when declaring variables and parameters in sections (see Chapter 5), arguments can be annotated as explicit or implicit. This determines how expressions containing the object are interpreted.

  • (x : α) : an explicit argument of type α
  • {x : α} : an implicit argument, eagerly inserted
  • ⦃x : α⦄ or {{x : α}} : an implicit argument, weakly inserted
  • [x : α] : an implicit argument that should be inferred by type class resolution
  • (x : α := t) : an optional argument, with default value t
  • (x : α . t) : an implicit argument, to be synthesized by tactic t

The name of the variable can be omitted from a class resolution argument, in which case an internal name is generated.

When a function has an explicit argument, you can nonetheless ask Lean’s elaborator to infer the argument automatically, by entering it as an underscore (_). Conversely, writing @foo indicates that all of the arguments to be foo are to be given explicitly, independent of how foo was declared.

universe u

def ex1 (x y z : ) :  := x + y + z

#check ex1 1 2 3

def id1 (α : Type u) (x : α) : α := x

#check id1 nat 3
#check id1 _ 3

def id2 {α : Type u} (x : α) : α := x

#check id2 3
#check @id2  3
#check (id2 :   )

def id3 {{α : Type u}} (x : α) : α := x

#check id3 3
#check @id3  3
#check (id3 : Π α : Type, α  α)

class cls := (val : )
instance cls_five : cls := 5

def ex2 [c : cls] :  := c.val

example : ex2 = 5 := rfl

def ex2a [cls] :  := ex2

example : ex2a = 5 := rfl

def ex3 (x :  := 5) := x

#check ex3 2
#check ex3
example : ex3 = 5 := rfl

meta def ex_tac : tactic unit := tactic.refine ``(5)

def ex4 (x :  . ex_tac) := x

example : ex4 = 5 := rfl

3.4. Basic Data Types and Assertions

The core library contains a number of basic data types, such as the natural numbers (, or nat), the integers (), the booleans (bool), and common operations on these, as well as the usual logical quantifiers and connectives. Some example are given below. A list of common notations and their precedences can be found in a file in the core library. The core library also contains a number of basic data type constructors. Definitions can also be found the data directory of the core library. For more information, see also Chapter 9.

/- numbers -/
variables a b c d : 
variables i j k : 

#check a^2 + b^2 + c^2
#check (a + b)^c  d
#check i  j * k

/- booleans -/
variables a b c : bool

#check a && (b || c)

/- pairs -/
variables (a b c : ) (p :  × bool)

#check (1, 2)
#check p.1 * 2
#check p.2 && tt
#check ((1, 2, 3) :  ×  × )

/- lists -/
variables x y z : 
variables xs ys zs : list 
open list

#check (1 :: xs) ++ (y :: zs) ++ [1,2,3]
#check append (cons 1 xs) (cons y zs)
#check map (λ x, x^2) [1, 2, 3]

/- sets -/
variables s t u : set 

#check ({1, 2, 3}  s)  ({x | x < 7}  t)

/- strings and characters -/
#check "hello world"
#check 'a'

/- assertions -/
#check  a b c n : ,
  a  0  b  0  c  0  n > 2  a^n + b^n  c^n

def unbounded (f :   ) : Prop :=  M,  n, f n  M

3.5. Constructors, Projections, and Matching

Lean’s foundation, the Calculus of Inductive Constructions, supports the declaration of inductive types. Such types can have any number of constructors, and an associated eliminator (or recursor). Inductive types with one constructor, known as structures, have projections. The full syntax of inductive types is described in Chapter 4, but here we describe some syntactic elements that facilitate their use in expressions.

When Lean can infer the type of an expression and it is an inductive type with one constructor, then one can write ⟨a1, a2, ..., an⟩ to apply the constructor without naming it. For example, ⟨a, b⟩ denotes prod.mk a b in a context where the expression can be inferred to be a pair, and ⟨h₁, h₂⟩ denotes and.intro h₁ h₂ in a context when the expression can be inferred to be a conjunction. The notation will nest constructions automatically, so ⟨a1, a2, a3⟩ is interpreted as prod.mk a1 (prod.mk a2 a3) when the expression is expected to have a type of the form α1 × α2 × α3. (The latter is interpreted as α1 × (α2 × α3), since the product associates to the right.)

Similarly, one can use “dot notation” for projections: one can write p.fst and p.snd for prod.fst p and prod.snd p when Lean can infer that p is an element of a product, and h.left and h.right for and.left h and and.right h when h is a conjunction.

The anonymous projector notation can used more generally for any objects defined in a namespace (see Chapter 5). For example, if l has type list α then l.map f abbreviates list.map f l, in which l has been placed at the first argument position where list.map expects a list.

Finally, for data types with one constructor, one destruct an element by pattern matching using the let and assume constructs, as in the examples below. Internally, these are interpreted using the match construct, which is in turn compiled down for the eliminator for the inductive type, as described in Chapter 4.

universes u v
variables {α : Type u} {β : Type v}

def p :  ×  := 1, 2
#check p.fst
#check p.snd

def p' :  ×  × bool := 1, 2, tt
#check p'.fst
#check p'.snd.fst
#check p'.snd.snd

def swap_pair (p : α × β) : β × α :=
p.snd, p.fst

theorem swap_conj {a b : Prop} (h : a  b) : b  a :=
h.right, h.left

#check [1, 2, 3].append [2, 3, 4]
#check [1, 2, 3].map (λ x, x^2)

example (p q : Prop) : p  q  q  p :=
λ h, h.right, h.left

def swap_pair' (p : α × β) : β × α :=
let (x, y) := p in (y, x)

theorem swap_conj' {a b : Prop} (h : a  b) : b  a :=
let ha, hb := h in hb, ha

def swap_pair'' : α × β  β × α :=
λ x, y⟩, (y, x)

theorem swap_conj'' {a b : Prop} : a  b  b  a :=
assume ha, hb⟩, hb, ha

3.6. Structured Proofs

Syntactic sugar is provided for writing structured proof terms:

  • assume h : p, t is sugar for λ h : p, t
  • have h : p, from s, t is sugar for h : p, t) s
  • suffices h : p, from s, t is sugar for h : p, s) t
  • show p, t is sugar for (t : p)

As with λ, multiple variables can be bound with assume, and types can be omitted when they can be inferred by Lean. Lean also allows the syntax assume : p, t, which gives the assumption the name this in the local context. Similarly, Lean recognizes the variants have p, from s, t and suffices p, from s, t, which use the name this for the new hypothesis.

The notation ‹p› is notation for (by assumption : p), and can therefore be used to apply hypotheses in the local context.

As noted in Section 3.5, anonymous constructors and projections and match syntax can be used in proofs just as in expressions that denote data.

example (p q r : Prop) : p  (q  r)  p  q :=
assume h₁ : p,
assume h₂ : q  r,
have h₃ : q, from and.left h₂,
show p  q, from and.intro h₁ h₃

example (p q r : Prop) : p  (q  r)  p  q :=
assume : p,
assume : q  r,
have q, from and.left this,
show p  q, from and.intro p this

example (p q r : Prop) : p  (q  r)  p  q :=
assume h₁ : p,
assume h₂ : q  r,
suffices h₃ : q, from and.intro h₁ h₃,
show q, from and.left h₂

Lean also supports a calculational environment, which is introduced with the keyword calc. The syntax is as follows:

  <expr>_0  'op_1'  <expr>_1  ':'  <proof>_1
    '...'   'op_2'  <expr>_2  ':'  <proof>_2
    '...'   'op_n'  <expr>_n  ':'  <proof>_n

Each <proof>_i is a proof for <expr>_{i-1} op_i <expr>_i.

Here is an example:

variables (a b c d e : )
variable h1 : a = b
variable h2 : b = c + 1
variable h3 : c = d
variable h4 : e = 1 + d

theorem T : a = e :=
  a     = b      : h1
    ... = c + 1  : h2
    ... = d + 1  : congr_arg _ h3
    ... = 1 + d  : add_comm d (1 : )
    ... =  e     : eq.symm h4

The style of writing proofs is most effective when it is used in conjunction with the simp and rewrite tactics.

3.7. Computation

Two expressions that differ up to a renaming of their bound variables are said to be α-equivalent, and are treated as syntactically equivalent by Lean.

Every expression in Lean has a natural computational interpretation, unless it involves classical elements that block computation, as described in the next section. The system recognizes the following notions of reduction:

  • β-reduction : An expression x, t) s β-reduces to t[s/x], that is, the result of replacing x by s in t.
  • ζ-reduction : An expression let x := s in t ζ-reduces to t[s/x].
  • δ-reduction : If c is a defined constant with definition t, then c δ-reduces to to t.
  • ι-reduction : When a function defined by recursion on an inductive type is applied to an element given by an explicit constructor, the result ι-reduces to the specified function value, as described in Section 4.4.

The reduction relation is transitive, which is to say, is s reduces to s' and t reduces to t', then s t reduces to s' t', λ x, s reduces to λ x, s', and so on. If s and t reduce to a common term, they are said to be definitionally equal. Definitional equality is defined to be the smallest equivalence relation that satisfies all these properties and also includes α-equivalence and the following two relations:

  • η-equivalence : An expression (λx, t x) is η-equivalent to t, assuming x does not occur in t.
  • proof irrelevance : If p : Prop, s : p, and t : p, then s and t are considered to be equivalent.

This last fact reflects the intuition that once we have proved a proposition p, we only care that is has been proved; the proof does nothing more than witness the fact that p is true.

Definitional equality is a strong notion of equalty of values. Lean’s logical foundations sanction treating definitionally equal terms as being the same when checking that a term is well-typed and/or that it has a given type.

The reduction relation is believed to be strongly normalizing, which is to say, every sequence of reductions applied to a term will eventually terminate. The property guarantees that Lean’s type-checking algorithm terminates, at least in principle. The consistency of Lean and its soundness with respect to set-theoretic semantics do not depend on either of these properties.

Lean provides two commands to compute with expressions:

  • #reduce t : use the kernel type-checking procedures to carry out reductions on t until no more reductions are possible, and show the result
  • #eval t : evaluate t using a fast bytecode evaluator, and show the result

Every computable definition in Lean is compiled to bytecode at definition time. Bytecode evaluation is more liberal than kernel evaluation: types and all propositional information are erased, and functions are evaluated using a stack-based virtual machine. As a result, #eval is more efficient than #reduce, and can be used to execute complex programs. In contrast, #reduce is designed to be small and reliable, and to produce type-correct terms at each step. Bytecode is never used in type checking, so as far as soundness and consistency are concerned, only kernel reduction is part of the trusted computing base.

#reduce (λ x, x + 3) 5
#eval   (λ x, x + 3) 5

#reduce let x := 5 in x + 3
#eval   let x := 5 in x + 3

def f x := x + 3

#reduce f 5
#eval   f 5

#reduce @nat.rec (λ n, ) (0 : )
                 (λ n recval : , recval + n + 1) (5 : )
#eval   @nat.rec (λ n, ) (0 : )
                 (λ n recval : , recval + n + 1) (5 : )

def g :   
| 0     := 0
| (n+1) := g n + n + 1

#reduce g 5
#eval   g 5

#eval   g 50000

example : (λ x, x + 3) 5 = 8 := rfl
example : (λ x, f x) = f := rfl
example (p : Prop) (h₁ h₂ : p) : h₁ = h₂ := rfl

Note: the combination of proof irrelevance and singleton Prop elimination in ι-reduction renders the ideal version of definitional equality, as described above, undecidable. Lean’s procedure for checking definitional equality is only an approximation to the ideal. It is not transitive, as illustrated by the example below. Once again, this does not compromise the consistency or soundness of Lean; it only means that Lean is more conservative in the terms it recognizes as well typed, and this does not cause problems in practice. Singleton elimination will be discussed in greater detail in Section 4.4.

def R (x y : unit) := false
def accrec := @acc.rec unit R (λ_, unit) (λ _ a ih, ()) ()
example (h) : accrec h = accrec (acc.intro _ (λ y, acc.inv h)) :=
example (h) : accrec (acc.intro _ (λ y, acc.inv h)) = () := rfl
example (h) : accrec h = () := sorry   -- rfl fails

3.8. Axioms

Lean’s foundational framework consists of:

  • type universes and dependent function types, as described above
  • inductive definitions, as described in Section 4.4 and Section 4.5.

In addition, the core library defines (and trusts) the following axiomatic extensions:

  • propositional extensionality:

    axiom propext {a b : Prop} : (a  b)  a = b
  • quotients:

    universes u v
    constant quot      : Π {α : Sort u}, (α  α  Prop)  Sort u
    constant quot.mk   : Π {α : Sort u} (r : α  α  Prop),
                         α  quot r
    axiom    quot.ind  :  {α : Sort u} {r : α  α  Prop}
                           {β : quot r  Prop},
                         ( a, β (quot.mk r a)) 
                            (q : quot r), β q
    constant quot.lift : Π {α : Sort u} {r : α  α  Prop}
                           {β : Sort u} (f : α  β),
                         ( a b, r a b  f a = f b)  quot r  β
    axiom quot.sound   :  {α : Type u} {r : α  α  Prop}
                           {a b : α},
                         r a b  quot.mk r a = quot.mk r b

    quot r represents the quotient of α by the smallest equivalence relation containing r. quot.mk and quot.lift satisfy the following computation rule:

    quot.lift f h (quot.mk r a) = f a
  • choice:

    axiom choice {α : Sort u} : nonempty α  α

    Here nonempty α is defined as follows:

    class inductive nonempty (α : Sort u) : Prop
    | intro : α  nonempty

    It is equivalent to x : α, true.

The quotient construction implies function extensionality. The choice principle, in conjunction with the others, makes the axiomatic foundation classical; in particular, it implies the law of the excluded middle and propositional decidability. Functions that make use of choice to produce data are incompatible with a computational interpretation, and do not produce bytecode. They have to be declared noncomputable.

For metaprogramming purposes, Lean also allows the definition of objects which stand outside the object language. These are denoted with the meta keyword, as described in Chapter 7.