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NOTE: This tutorial describes an old version of Idris. For an up to date tutorial, see here.

A well-typed interpreter

Edwin Brady

In this chapter, we'll use the features we've seen so far to write a larger example, an interpreter for a simple functional programming language, with variables, function application, binary operators and an if...then...else construct. We will use the dependent type system to ensure that any programs which can be represented are well-typed. First, let us define the types in the language. We have integers, booleans, and functions, represented by Ty:

data Ty = TyInt | TyBool | TyFun Ty Ty;

We can write a function to translate these representations to an actual Idris type:

interpTy : Ty -> Set;
interpTy TyInt = Int;
interpTy TyBool = Bool;
interpTy (TyFun A T) = interpTy A -> interpTy T;

We're going to define a representation of our language in such a way that only well-typed programs can be represented. We'll index the representations of expressions by their type and the types of local variables (the context), which we'll be using regularly as an implicit argument:

using (G:Vect Ty n) {

The representation of expressions is the following:

  data Expr : (Vect Ty n) -> Ty -> Set where
     Var : (i:Fin n) -> Expr G (vlookup i G)
   | Val : (x:interpTy T) -> Expr G T
   | Lam : Expr (A::GT -> Expr G (TyFun A T)
   | App : Expr G (TyFun A T) -> Expr G A -> Expr G T
   | If : Expr G TyBool -> Expr G A -> Expr G A -> Expr G A
   | Op : (interpTy TyInt -> interpTy TyInt -> interpTy C) -> 
          Expr G TyInt -> Expr G TyInt -> Expr G C;

Since expressions are indexed by their type, we can read the typing rules of the language from the definitions of the constructors. Let us look at each constructor in turn.

We use a nameless representation for variables - they are de Bruijn indexed. Variables are represented by a number, bounded by the number of variables in scope, with 0 being the innermost. So, we get the type of a variable by looking it up by number in the context. Recall that vlookup is a bounds-safe lookup in a vector:

   Var : (i:Fin n) -> Expr G (vlookup i G)

So, in an expression \x. \y. x y, the variable x would have a de Bruijn index of 1, and y 0. We find these by counting the number of lambdas between the definition and the use.

A value, of type T, carries a concrete representation of that value, of type interpTy T:

   Val : (x:interpTy T) -> Expr G T

A lambda creates a function. In the scope of a function of type A->T, there is a new local variable of type A:

   Lam : Expr (A::GT -> Expr G (TyFun A T)

Function application produces a value of type T given a function from A to T and a value of type A:

   App : Expr G (TyFun A T) -> Expr G A -> Expr G T

If expressions make a choice given a boolean:

   If : Expr G TyBool -> Expr G A -> Expr G A -> Expr G A

Finally, we allow arbitrary binary operators on integers:

   Op : (interpTy TyInt -> interpTy TyInt -> interpTy C) -> 
        Expr G TyInt -> Expr G TyInt -> Expr G C;

When we evaluate an Expr, we'll need to know the values in scope, as well as their types. Env is an environment, indexed over the types in scope.

  data Env : (Vect Ty n) -> Set where
     Empty : (Env VNil)
   | Extend : (res:interpTy T) -> (Env G) -> 
              (Env (T :: G));

Looking up a value in an environment will get us a value of the type in the corresponding vector of types:

  envLookup : (i:Fin n) -> (Env G) -> (interpTy (vlookup i G));
  envLookup fO     (Extend t env) = t;
  envLookup (fS i) (Extend t env) = envLookup i env;

interp directly translates an Expr into an Idris expression of the appropriate type. It therefore evaluates the expression by building an expression to pass to Idris' evaluator.

  interp : Env G -> (e:Expr G T) -> interpTy T;

To translate a variable, just look it up in the environment:

  interp env (Var i) = envLookup i env;

To translate a value, we just return the concrete representation of the value:

  interp env (Val x) = x;

Lambdas are more interesting. In this case, we construct a function which interprets the scope of the lambda with a new value in the environment. So, a function in the object language is translated to an Idris function:

  interp env (Lam scope) = \x => interp (Extend x envscope;

For an application, we interpret the function and its argument and apply it directly. We know that interpreting f must produce a function, because of its type:

  interp env (App f a) = interp env f (interp env a);

Finally, if expressions and operators are also interpreted to the corresponding Idris constructs.

  interp env (If v t e) = if (interp env vthen (interp env t)
                                            else (interp env e);
  interp env (Op op l r) = op (interp env l) (interp env r);

We can make some simple test functions. Firstly, adding two inputs (\x. \y. x+y) is written as follows:

  add : Expr G (TyFun TyInt (TyFun TyInt TyInt));
  add = Lam (Lam (Op (+) (Var (fS fO)) (Var fO)));

Note that we index this over some arbitrary environment G. This means we can use the function in any context, e.g. we can use it to implement a function which doubles a value (\x. add x x):

  double : Expr G (TyFun TyInt TyInt);
  double = Lam (App (App add (Var fO)) (Var fO));

We could even write more complex functions such as factorial, if we take some care to apply the recursive call lazily. (Why? Because otherwise building the expression would not terminate!) We achieve this with ap:

  ap : |(f:Expr G (TyFun a t)) -> Expr G a -> Expr G t;
  ap f x = App f x;

The factorial function is \x. if x==0 then 1 else (x * fact (x-1)), represented as follows:

  fact : Expr G (TyFun TyInt TyInt);
  fact = Lam (If (Op (==) (Val 0) (Var fO))
                (Val 1)
                (Op (*) (Var fO) (ap fact (Op (-) (Var fO) (Val 1)))));

And now we won't need G implicitly any more, so we close the using block above:


We can try out the interpreter on our simple example as follows:

runDouble : Expr VNil TyInt;
runDouble = App double (Val 21);

Idrisinterp Empty runDouble
42 : Int

To finish, let's write a main program which runs the factorial program on user input:

include "string.idr"-- For String/Int conversion

main : IO ();
main = do { putStr "Please enter a number: ";
            x <- getInt-- Library function to read a string and
                         -- convert it to an integer (or 0 on failure).
            let factx = interp Empty (App fact (Val x));
            putStrLn (showInt x ++ "! = " ++ showInt factx);

We can now compile and run this. :e compiles the program and executes main:

Idris> :e
Please enter a number: 9
9! = 362880

Source for this chapter

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