Specifying Algebraic Properties

Introduction

Many datatypes that programmers deal with on a day-to-day basis often provide the same set of operations, for example:

  • They can be tested for equality to some other value

  • They can be ordered (partially or totally)

  • They can be composed together

  • They can be added or multiplied together

  • They have an inverse with respect to some operation

Because those are very common properties, it is often useful to be able to abstract over them. In fact, each of these properties corresponds to an algebraic structure, and is governed by the set of laws which allow the programmer to reason at a higher level of abstraction, and to be able to rely on the behavior specified by the laws associated with the structure.

While these properties can be modeled and implemented using Java interfaces, modern programming languages such as Scala or Haskell provide a better mechanism for expressing the properties: typeclasses.

Typeclasses

Typeclasses were introduced by Wadler & Blott [WB89] as an extension to the Hindley/Milner type system to implement a certain kind of overloading, known as ad-hoc polymorphism.

A typeclass is identified by its name, and is associated with a set of (usually polymorphic) functions signatures, its methods.

It can then be instantiated at various types, given that the user is able to provide a concrete implementation for each method. A user can then apply these methods to any type for which there is a corresponding instance, which essentially corresponds to overloading.

Using typeclasses, one can model algebraic properties of datatypes in a fairly natural way. Here is for example, the definition and implementation of a Monoid, ie. a typeclass for datatypes which can be mashed together associatively, and which have an identity element w.r.t. to this operation:

abstract class Monoid[A] {
  def empty: A
  def append(x: A, y: A): A

  @law
  def law_leftIdentity(x: A) = {
    append(empty, x) == x
  }

  @law
  def law_rightIdentity(x: A) = {
    append(x, empty) == x
  }

  @law
  def law_associativity(x: A, y: A, z: A) = {
    append(x, append(y, z)) == append(append(x, y), z)
  }
}

implicit val bigIntAdditiveMonoid: Monoid[BigInt] = new Monoid[BigInt] {
  override def empty: BigInt = 0
  override def append(x: BigInt, y: BigInt): BigInt = x + y
}

Here, the abstract class specifies the two abstract operations which are required, but also the associated laws that the implementation of these operations must satisfy for the datatype to form a valid monoid.

Stainless will then ensure that the implementation of Monoid for the BigInt type satisfy those laws. In this case, the above definition of bigIntAdditiveMonoid will generate the following verification conditions::

  ┌───────────────────┐
╔═╡ stainless summary ╞══════════════════════════════════════════════════════════════════════╗
║ └───────────────────┘                                                                      ║
║ law_associativity     law              valid   nativez3   ../../test.scala:25:3     0.052  ║
║ law_leftIdentity      law              valid   nativez3   ../../test.scala:25:3     0.037  ║
║ law_rightIdentity     law              valid   nativez3   ../../test.scala:25:3     0.029  ║
╟--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------╢
║ total: 9    valid: 9    (0 from cache) invalid: 0    unknown: 0    time:   0.729           ║
╚════════════════════════════════════════════════════════════════════════════════════════════╝

Armed with the knowledge that our Monoid will always be lawful, one can now fearlessly write the foldMap function, and get the expected result:

def foldMap[A, M](xs: List[A])(f: A => M)(implicit M: Monoid[M]): M = xs match {
  case Nil() => M.empty
  case Cons(y, ys) => M.append(f(y), foldMap(ys)(f))
}

def sumBigInt(xs: List[BigInt]): BigInt = {
  foldMap(xs)(x => x)
}

Sometimes, Stainless will not be able to automatically prove that an instance is lawful, for example when the property of interest involves a recursive definition over an inductive data type, as in the following code:

sealed abstract class Nat {
  def +(m: Nat): Nat = this match {
    case Zero => m
    case Succ(n) => Succ(n + m)
  }

  def *(m: Nat): Nat = this match {
    case Zero => Zero
    case Succ(n) => n * m + m
  }
}

final case object Zero extends Nat
final case class Succ(prev: Nat) extends Nat

final val One = Succ(Zero)

implicit def natAdditiveMonoid: Monoid[Nat] = new Monoid[Nat] {
  def empty: nat = Zero
  def append(x: Nat, y: Nat): Nat = x + y
}

To help Stainless out, one needs to prove that Zero indeed the right identity of +, as well as the associativity of the latter.

@induct
def lemma_rightIdentity_plus(x: Nat): Boolean = {
  x + Zero == x
}.holds

@induct
def lemma_associativity_plus(x: Nat, y: Nat, z: Nat): Boolean = {
  x + (y + z) == (x + y) + z
}.holds

One can then override the law of interest, and instantiate the lemma over the relevant parameters:

implicit def natAdditiveMonoid: Monoid[Nat] = new Monoid[Nat] {
  def empty: nat = Zero
  def append(x: Nat, y: Nat): Nat = x + y

  override def law_rightIdentity(x: Nat) = {
    super.law_rightIdentity(x) because lemma_rightIdentity_plus(x)
  }

  override def law_associativity(x: Nat, y: Nat, z: Nat) = {
    super.law_associativity(x, y, z) because lemma_associativity_plus(x, y, z)
  }
}

With these modifications, the example goes through without a hitch.

Typeclass inheritance

Some algebraic structures can be defined as some other algebraic structure plus some additional operations and/or laws, eg. a monoid can be seen as a semigroup with identity.

In Scala, typeclasses allow to represent such relationship between algebraic structures by mean of inheritance.

Let’s take for example the Ord typeclass, which describes totally ordered datatypes.

This class is defined as follows:

trait Eq[A] {
  def equals(x: A, y: A): Boolean
}

trait Ord[A] extends Eq[A] {
  def lessThanEq(x: A, y: A): Boolean

  def lessThan(x: A, y: A): Boolean = lessThanEq(x, y) && !equals(x, y)
}

This can also be read as: if A is an instance of Ord, then it also is a instance of Eq.

Associated methods

On top of abstract operations, a typeclass can also introduces concrete methods which do not need to (but can) be re-defined by the programmer at instance declaration time, just like the lessThan method of the Ord class above.

While such methods could be defined as a standalone function with an Ord constraint, having it be a part of the class allows users to override it with e.g. a more efficient implementation specific to the datatype they are instantiating the class for, as shown below:

case object BigIntOrd extends Ord[BigInt] {
  def equal(x: BigInt, y: BigInt) = x == y
  def lessThanEq(x: BigInt, y: BigInt) = x <= y

  override def lessThan(x: BigInt, y: BigInt) x < y
}

Coherence

Let’s now look at an issue that might arise when working with typeclasses in Scala.

abstract class Monoid[A] {
  def empty: A
  def combine(x: A, y: A): A
}

implicit val bigIntAddMonoid: Monoid[BigInt] = new Monoid[BigInt] {
  override def empty: BigInt = 0
  override def combine(x: BigInt, y: BigInt): BigInt = x + y
}

implicit val bigIntProdMonoid: Monoid[BigInt] = new Monoid[BigInt] {
  override def empty: BigInt = 1
  override def combine(x: BigInt, y: BigInt): BigInt = x * y
}

def fold[A](list: List[A])(implicit M: Monoid[A]): A = {
  list.foldRight(M.empty)(M.combine)
}

val list: List[BigInt] = List(2, 3)
val res: BigInt = fold(list) // ?

Here, the Scala compiler bails out with an ambiguous implicits error but for good reasons this time. Indeed, depending on which instance of Monoid[BigInt] it picks, res can either be equal to 5 or 6. This issue arise because the two instances above are overlapping, which has the effect of making the type system incoherent. For a type system to be coherent, “every valid typing derivation for a program must lead to a resulting program that has the same dynamic semantics”, which is clearly not the case here. While in this specific example, the compiler will rightfully reject the program, this might always be possible as one could import a different instance in scope in two different modules, and then a third module might assume that these modules actually make use of the same instance, silently breaking the program. Imagine trying to merge two Sets that have been created with two different Ord instances in scope.

Haskell partially solves this problem by enforcing that instances defined in the same module do not overlap, that is to say that the compiler would reject the program above. We deem Haskell’s approach only partial as it allows the programmer to define two or more overlapping instances, provided that they are not defined in the same module. A program is then only rejected when the programmer makes imports such overlapping instances in scope and attempts to make use of them. This decision stems from the will to allow linking together two different libraries which both define a class instance for the same type.

Because Stainless operates under a closed-world assumption, we could go further and disallow overlapping instances altogether, but this has not been implemented yet.

One might still want to provide both an additive and multiplicative Monoid instance for integers. To this end, one can wrap values of type BigInt with two different wrapper classes for which we will define the respective instances:

case class Sum(value: BigInt)     extends AnyVal
case class Product(value: BigInt) extends AnyVal

implicit val bigIntSumMonoid: Monoid[Sum] = new Monoid[Sum] {
  override def empty: Sum = Sum(0)
  override def combine(x: Int, y: Int): Sum = Sum(x.value + y.value)
}

implicit val bigIntProductMonoid: Monoid[Product] = new Monoid[Product] {
  override def empty: Product = Product(1)
  override def combine(x: Int, y: Int): Product = Product(x.value * y.value)
}
def foldMap[A, B](list: List[A])(f: A => B)(implicit M: Monoid[B]): B = {
  list.map(f).foldRight(M.empty)(M.combine)
}

It then becomes possible to unambiguously pick which instance to use depending on the semantics one wants:

val list: List[BigInt] = List(2, 3)

val sum: BigInt     = foldMap(list)(Sum(_)).value     // 5
val product: BigInt = foldMap(list)(Product(_)).value // 6

Under the hood

In this section we describe how laws are encoded within Stainless.

Let’s take as an example the Semigroup+Monoid hierarchy, slightly amended to exercise at once all the features described above.

abstract class Semigroup[A] {
  def append(x: A, y: A): A

  @law
  def law_associativity(x: A, y: A, z: A): Boolean = {
    append(x, append(y, z)) == append(append(x, y), z)
  }
}

abstract class Monoid[A] extends Semigroup[A] {
  def empty: A

  @law
  def law_leftIdentity(x: A): Boolean = {
    append(empty, x) == x
  }

  @law
  def law_leftIdentity(x: A): Boolean = {
    append(x, empty) == x
  }

  override def law_associativity(x: A, y: A, z: A): Boolean = {
    // We refine the Semigroup associativity law with a dummy
    // predicate `refineLaw` to demonstrate this feature.
    super.law_associativity(x, y, z) && refineLaw(x, y, z)
  }
}

def refineLaw[A](x: A, y: A, z: A): Boolean = true

Together with a simple implementation for BigInt:

def bigIntAdditiveMonoid: Monoid[BigInt] = new Monoid[BigInt] {
  def empty: BigInt = 0
  def append(x: BigInt, y: BigInt): BigInt = x + y

  override def law_rightIdentity(x: BigInt): Boolean = {
    // no manual proof is needed in this case, but we include
    // a dummy one for the sake of this example.
    someProof
  }
}

def someProof: Boolean = true

Here is the internal Stainless AST pretty much right after extraction from the Scala compiler.

Each symbol (class, method, variable) is annotated with its internal identifier (ie. the number after the $ sign at the end of its name) which will prove useful for reading the code after the next phase, as it introduces new symbols with the same name but different identifiers.

abstract class Semigroup$0[A$85] {

  @abstract
  def append$3(x$108: A$85, y$24: A$85): A$85 = <empty tree>[A$85]

  @law
  def law_associativity$0(x$109: A$85, y$25: A$85, z$11: A$85): Boolean = {
    this.append$3(x$109, this.append$3(y$25, z$11)) ==
    this.append$3(this.append$3(x$109, y$25), z$11)
   }
}

abstract class Monoid$0[A$86] extends Semigroup$0[A$86] {

  @abstract
  def empty$6: A$86 = <empty tree>[A$86]

  @law
  def law_leftIdentity$0(x$110: A$86): Boolean =
   this.append$3(this.empty$6, x$110) == x$110

  @law
  def law_rightIdentity$0(x$111: A$86): Boolean =
   this.append$3(x$111, this.empty$6) == x$111

  def law_associativity$1(x$112: A$86, y$26: A$86, z$12: A$86): Boolean =
    super.law_associativity$0(x$112, y$26, z$12) && refineLaw$0[A$86](x$112, y$26, z$12)
}

def refineLaw$0[A$87](x$113: A$87, y$27: A$87, z$13: A$87): Boolean = true

case class $anon$0() extends Monoid$0[BigInt] {
  def empty$7: BigInt = 0
  def append$4(x$112: BigInt, y$26: BigInt): BigInt = x$112 + y$26

  def law_rightIdentity$1(x$113: BigInt): Boolean = someProof$0
}

def bigIntAdditiveMonoid$0: Monoid$0[BigInt] = $anon$0()

def someProof$0: Boolean = true

The code above maps in straightforward way to the original code.

Let’s now take a look at the output of the Laws phase. This is the phase which desugars the law definitions and their overrides into methods with explicit postconditions.

abstract class Semigroup$0[A$85] {

  @abstract
  def append$3(x$108: A$85, y$24: A$85): A$85 = <empty tree>[A$85]

  @final
  @inlineOnce
  @derived(law_associativity$0)
  def law_associativity$2(x$120: A$85, y$30: A$85, z$14: A$85): Boolean = {
    this.append$3(x$120, this.append$3(y$30, z$14)) ==
    this.append$3(this.append$3(x$120, y$30), z$14)
  }

  @abstract
  def law_associativity$0(x$109: A$85, y$25: A$85, z$11: A$85): Boolean = {
    <empty tree>[Boolean]
  } ensuring {
    (res$82: Boolean) => res$82 && this.law_associativity$2(x$109, y$25, z$11)
  }
}

abstract class Monoid$0[A$86] extends Semigroup$0[A$86] {

  @abstract
  def empty$6: A$86 = <empty tree>[A$86]

  @final
  @inlineOnce
  @derived(law_leftIdentity$0)
  def law_leftIdentity$1(x$116: A$86): Boolean =
    this.append$3(this.empty$6, x$116) == x$116

  @abstract
  def law_leftIdentity$0(x$110: A$86): Boolean = {
    <empty tree>[Boolean]
  } ensuring {
    (res$77: Boolean) => res$77 && this.law_leftIdentity$1(x$110)
  }

  @final
  @inlineOnce
  @derived(law_rightIdentity$0)
  def law_rightIdentity$2(x$117: A$86): Boolean =
    this.append$3(x$117, this.empty$6) == x$117

  @abstract
  def law_rightIdentity$0(x$111: A$86): Boolean = {
    <empty tree>[Boolean]
  } ensuring {
    (res$80: Boolean) => res$80 && this.law_rightIdentity$2(x$111)
  }

  @law
  def law_associativity$1(x$112: A$86, y$26: A$86, z$12: A$86): Boolean = {
    this.law_associativity$2(x$112, y$26, z$12) && refineLaw$0[A$86](x$112, y$26, z$12)
  } ensuring {
    (res$84: Boolean) => res$84 && this.law_associativity$2(x$112, y$26, z$12)
  }
}

@derived(bigIntAdditiveMonoid$0)
case class $anon$0() extends Monoid$0[BigInt] {

  def empty$7: BigInt = 0
  def append$4(x$114: BigInt, y$27: BigInt): BigInt = x$114 + y$27

  @law
  @derived(law_leftIdentity$0)
  def law_leftIdentity$2(x$119: BigInt): Boolean = {
    true
  } ensuring {
    (res$84: Boolean) => this.law_leftIdentity$1(x$119)
  }

  @law
  def law_rightIdentity$1(x$115: BigInt): Boolean = {
    someProof$0
  } ensuring {
    (res$79: Boolean) => res$79 && this.law_rightIdentity$2(x$115)
  }

  @law
  @derived(law_associativity$0)
  def law_associativity$2(x$120: BigInt, y$29: BigInt, z$13: BigInt): Boolean = {
    true
  } ensuring {
    (res$85: Boolean) => this.law_associativity$1(x$120, y$29, z$13)
  }
}

def bigIntAdditiveMonoid$0: Monoid$0[BigInt] = $anon$0()

def someProof$0: Boolean = true

There are a few things going on here:

  1. First of all, each method marked @law introduces a new method which holds the original body of the law. The law’s body is then rewritten to be empty, and is provided with a postcondition which refers to the newly introduced method. This desugaring step basically turns the laws into abstract methods which must be overridden at some point with methods whose body can be proven to be true, while also satisfying the law itself.

    The helper method will be used in subsequent steps to refer to the law’s body, without having to inline it or call the law itself, which is disallowed since it is conceptually an abstract method, as evidenced by its newly added @abstract flag.

    // In class `Semigroup`...
    
    // This is the helper method.
    @final
    @inlineOnce
    @derived(law_associativity$0)
    def law_associativity$2(x$120: A$85, y$30: A$85, z$14: A$85): Boolean = {
      this.append$3(x$120, this.append$3(y$30, z$14)) ==
      this.append$3(this.append$3(x$120, y$30), z$14)
    }
    
    // This is the original law definition, which now became an abstract method.
    @abstract
    def law_associativity$0(x$109: A$85, y$25: A$85, z$11: A$85): Boolean = {
      <empty tree>[Boolean]
    } ensuring {
      (res$82: Boolean) => res$82 && this.law_associativity$2(x$109, y$25, z$11)
    }
    
  2. Laws which are overridden into abstract subclasses, are provided with a postcondition that ensures that their body can be proven true, while still satisfying the original law via a call to the helper method introduced in the previous step. This step ensures that laws cannot be fully redefined, and thus potentially weakened, in subclasses.

    // In class `Monoid`...
    
    @law
    def law_associativity$1(x$112: A$86, y$26: A$86, z$12: A$86): Boolean = {
      this.law_associativity$2(x$112, y$26, z$12) && refineLaw$0[A$86](x$112, y$26, z$12)
    } ensuring {
      (res$84: Boolean) => res$84 && this.law_associativity$2(x$112, y$26, z$12)
    }
    
  3. In the typeclass implementations (eg. class $anon$0), methods which override laws are provided with a postcondition which again ensures that their body holds, while still satisfying the law they override, again via a call to the helper method introduced in step 1.

    // In class `$anon$0`...
    
    @law
    def law_rightIdentity$1(x$115: BigInt): Boolean = {
      someProof$0
    } ensuring {
      (res$79: Boolean) => res$79 && this.law_rightIdentity$2(x$115)
    }
    
  4. If a law is not overridden in a typeclass implementation, a stub override is automatically defined by Stainless, to ensure that a verification condition will be generated. Those stubs just have true as a body, and a postcondition which calls to the appropriate law helper introduced in step 1. This expresses the fact that the law holds on its own, without any additional proof steps.

    // In class `$anon$0`
    
    @law
    @derived(law_leftIdentity$0)
    def law_leftIdentity$2(x$119: BigInt): Boolean = {
      true
    } ensuring {
      (res$84: Boolean) => this.law_leftIdentity$1(x$119)
    }
    

Note

As can be seen above, calling the super method when refining (such as in law_associativity) or proving (such as in law_rightIdentity) a law is superfluous, since it is done anyway during the encoding as to ensure that laws cannot be weakened. Doing so can nonetheless help readability, since it makes the code match more closely to the semantics of Scala.

WB89
  1. Wadler and S. Blott. 1989. How to make ad-hoc polymorphism less ad hoc.