Expression quotations for Lean 4

This package implements type-safe expression quotations, which are a particularly convenient way of constructing object-level expressions (Expr) in meta-level code.

It combines the intuitiveness of modal sequent calculus with the power and speed of Lean 4's metaprogramming facilities.

Show me some code!

import Qq open Qq Lean

-- Construct an expression
def a : Expr := q([42 + 1])

-- Construct a typed expression
def b : Q(List Nat) := q([42 + 1])

-- Antiquotations
def c (n : Q(Nat)) := q([42 + $n])

-- Dependently-typed antiquotations
def d (u : Level) (n : Q(Nat)) (x : Q(Type u × Fin ($n + 1))) : Q(Fin ($n + 3)) :=
  q(⟨$x.2, Nat.lt_of_lt_of_le $x.2.2 (Nat.le_add_right _ 2)⟩)

Typing rules

The Q(·) modality quotes types: Q(α) denotes an expression of type α. The type former comes with the following natural introduction rule:

$a₁ :   α₁,   …,  $aₙ :   αₙ   ⊢    t  : Type
 a₁ : Q(α₁),  …,   aₙ : Q(αₙ)  ⊢  Q(t) : Type

The lower-case q(·) macro serves as the modal inference rule, allowing us to construct values in Q(·):

$a₁ :   α₁,   …,  $aₙ :   αₙ   ⊢    t  :   β
 a₁ : Q(α₁),  …,   aₙ : Q(αₙ)  ⊢  q(t) : Q(β)


Let us write a type-safe version of mkApp:

import Qq
open Qq

set_option true in

-- Note: `betterApp` actually has two additional parameters
-- `{u v : Lean.Level}` auto-generated due to option
-- `autoBoundImplicitLocal`.

def betterApp {α : Q(Sort u)} {β : Q($α → Sort v)}
  (f : Q((a : α) → $β a)) (a : Q($α)) : Q($β $a) :=
q($f $a)

#eval betterApp q(Int.toNat) q(42)

There are many things going on here:

  1. The betterApp function compiles to a single betaRev call.
  2. It does not require the MetaM monad (in contrast to AppBuilder.lean in the Lean 4 code).
  3. Q(…) is definitionally equal to Expr, so each variable in the example is just an Expr.
  4. Nevertheless, implicit arguments of the definition (such as α or u) get filled in by type inference, which reduces the potential for errors even in the absence of strong type safety at the meta level.
  5. All quoted expressions, i.e. all code inside Q(·) and q(·), are type-safe (under the assumption that the values of α, f, etc. really have their declared types).
  6. The second argument in the #eval example, q(42), correctly constructs an expression of type Int, as determined by the first argument.

Because betterApp takes α and u (and β and v) as arguments, it can also perform more interesting tasks compared to the untyped function mkApp: for example, we can change q($f $a) into q(id $f $a) without changing the interface (even though the resulting expression now contains both the type and the universe level).

The arguments do not need to refer to concrete types like Int either: List ((u : Level) × (α : Q(Sort u)) × List Q(Option $α)) does what you think it does!

In fact it is a crucial feature that we can write metaprograms transforming terms of nonconcrete types in inconsistent contexts:

def tryProve (n : Q(Nat)) (i : Q(Fin $n)) : Option Q($i > 0) := ...

If the i > 0 in the return type were a concrete type in the metalanguage, then we could not call tryProve with n := 0 (because we would need to provide a value for i : Fin 0). Furthermore, if n were a concrete value, then we could not call tryProve on the subterm t of fun n : Nat => t.


The type family on which this package is built is called QQ:

def QQ (α : Expr) := Expr

The intended meaning of e : QQ t is that e is an expression of type t. Or if you will, isDefEq (← inferType e) t. (This invariant is not enforced though, but it can be checked with QQ.check.) The QQ type is not meant to be used manually. You should only interact with it using the Q(·) and q(·) macros.


Template Haskell provides a similar mechanism for type-safe quotations, writing Q Int for an expression of type Int. This is subtly different to the QQ type family considered here: in Lean notation, TH's family has the type Q : Type u → Type, while ours has the type QQ : Expr → Type. In Lean, Q is not sufficiently expressive due to universe polymorphism: we might only know at runtime which universe the type is in, but Q version fixes the universe at compile time. Another lack of expressivity concerns dependent types: a telescope such as {α : Q Type} (a : Q α) is not well-typed with TH's Q constructor, because α is not a type.

To do

  • This has almost certainly been done before somewhere else, by somebody else.

  • ql(imax u (v+1))

  • Automatically create free variables for recursion. Maybe something like this:

def turnExistsIntoForall : Q(Prop) → MetaM Q(Prop)
  | ~q(∃ x, $p x) => do
     q(∀ x, $(x => turnExistsIntoForall q($p $x)))
  | e => e
  • Matching should provide control over type-class diamonds, such as
~q((a + b : α) where
  Semiring α
  commutes ∀ n, OfNat α n
  a + a defEq 0)
  • Matching on types should be possible, that is, match (e : Expr) with | ~q($p ∧ $q) => ....

  • Other bug fixes, documentation, and assorted polishing.