A Scope Safe Universe of Syntaxes with Binding, Their Semantics and Proofs

Publication Information

Guillaume Allais, Robert Atkey, James Chapman, Conor McBride, and James McKinna. A Scope Safe Universe of Syntaxes with Binding, Their Semantics and Proofs. Proc. ACM Program. Lang. 2, ICFP. 2018.
DOI: 10.1145/3236785


Almost every programming language's syntax includes a notion of binder and corresponding bound occurrences, along with the accompanying notions of α-equivalence, capture avoiding substitution, typing contexts, runtime environments, and so on. In the past, implementing and reasoning about programming languages required careful handling to maintain the correct behaviour of bound variables. Modern programming languages include features that enable constraints like scope safety to be expressed in types. Nevertheless, the programmer is still forced to write the same boilerplate over again for each new implementation of a scope safe operation (e.g., renaming, substitution, desugaring, printing, etc.), and then again for correctness proofs.

We present an expressive universe of syntaxes with binding and demonstrate how to (1) implement scope safe traversals once and for all by generic programming; and (2) how to derive properties of these traversals by generic proving. Our universe description, generic traversals and proofs, and our examples have all been formalised in Agda and are available at https://github.com/gallais/generic-syntax.