\[\begin{split}\newcommand{\as}{\kw{as}} \newcommand{\case}{\kw{case}} \newcommand{\cons}{\textsf{cons}} \newcommand{\consf}{\textsf{consf}} \newcommand{\emptyf}{\textsf{emptyf}} \newcommand{\End}{\kw{End}} \newcommand{\kwend}{\kw{end}} \newcommand{\even}{\textsf{even}} \newcommand{\evenO}{\textsf{even}_\textsf{O}} \newcommand{\evenS}{\textsf{even}_\textsf{S}} \newcommand{\Fix}{\kw{Fix}} \newcommand{\fix}{\kw{fix}} \newcommand{\for}{\textsf{for}} \newcommand{\forest}{\textsf{forest}} \newcommand{\Functor}{\kw{Functor}} \newcommand{\In}{\kw{in}} \newcommand{\ind}[3]{\kw{Ind}~[#1]\left(#2\mathrm{~:=~}#3\right)} \newcommand{\Indp}[4]{\kw{Ind}_{#4}[#1](#2:=#3)} \newcommand{\Indpstr}[5]{\kw{Ind}_{#4}[#1](#2:=#3)/{#5}} \newcommand{\injective}{\kw{injective}} \newcommand{\kw}[1]{\textsf{#1}} \newcommand{\length}{\textsf{length}} \newcommand{\letin}[3]{\kw{let}~#1:=#2~\kw{in}~#3} \newcommand{\List}{\textsf{list}} \newcommand{\lra}{\longrightarrow} \newcommand{\Match}{\kw{match}} \newcommand{\Mod}[3]{{\kw{Mod}}({#1}:{#2}\,\zeroone{:={#3}})} \newcommand{\ModImp}[3]{{\kw{Mod}}({#1}:{#2}:={#3})} \newcommand{\ModA}[2]{{\kw{ModA}}({#1}=={#2})} \newcommand{\ModS}[2]{{\kw{Mod}}({#1}:{#2})} \newcommand{\ModType}[2]{{\kw{ModType}}({#1}:={#2})} \newcommand{\mto}{.\;} \newcommand{\nat}{\textsf{nat}} \newcommand{\Nil}{\textsf{nil}} \newcommand{\nilhl}{\textsf{nil\_hl}} \newcommand{\nO}{\textsf{O}} \newcommand{\node}{\textsf{node}} \newcommand{\nS}{\textsf{S}} \newcommand{\odd}{\textsf{odd}} \newcommand{\oddS}{\textsf{odd}_\textsf{S}} \newcommand{\ovl}[1]{\overline{#1}} \newcommand{\Pair}{\textsf{pair}} \newcommand{\plus}{\mathsf{plus}} \newcommand{\SProp}{\textsf{SProp}} \newcommand{\Prop}{\textsf{Prop}} \newcommand{\return}{\kw{return}} \newcommand{\Set}{\textsf{Set}} \newcommand{\Sort}{\mathcal{S}} \newcommand{\Str}{\textsf{Stream}} \newcommand{\Struct}{\kw{Struct}} \newcommand{\subst}[3]{#1\{#2/#3\}} \newcommand{\tl}{\textsf{tl}} \newcommand{\tree}{\textsf{tree}} \newcommand{\trii}{\triangleright_\iota} \newcommand{\Type}{\textsf{Type}} \newcommand{\WEV}[3]{\mbox{$#1[] \vdash #2 \lra #3$}} \newcommand{\WEVT}[3]{\mbox{$#1[] \vdash #2 \lra$}\\ \mbox{$ #3$}} \newcommand{\WF}[2]{{\mathcal{W\!F}}(#1)[#2]} \newcommand{\WFE}[1]{\WF{E}{#1}} \newcommand{\WFT}[2]{#1[] \vdash {\mathcal{W\!F}}(#2)} \newcommand{\WFTWOLINES}[2]{{\mathcal{W\!F}}\begin{array}{l}(#1)\\\mbox{}[{#2}]\end{array}} \newcommand{\with}{\kw{with}} \newcommand{\WS}[3]{#1[] \vdash #2 <: #3} \newcommand{\WSE}[2]{\WS{E}{#1}{#2}} \newcommand{\WT}[4]{#1[#2] \vdash #3 : #4} \newcommand{\WTE}[3]{\WT{E}{#1}{#2}{#3}} \newcommand{\WTEG}[2]{\WTE{\Gamma}{#1}{#2}} \newcommand{\WTM}[3]{\WT{#1}{}{#2}{#3}} \newcommand{\zeroone}[1]{[{#1}]} \end{split}\]

Polymorphic Universes


Matthieu Sozeau

General Presentation


The status of Universe Polymorphism is experimental.

This section describes the universe polymorphic extension of Coq. Universe polymorphism makes it possible to write generic definitions making use of universes and reuse them at different and sometimes incompatible universe levels.

A standard example of the difference between universe polymorphic and monomorphic definitions is given by the identity function:

Definition identity {A : Type} (a : A) := a.
identity is defined

By default, constant declarations are monomorphic, hence the identity function declares a global universe (automatically named identity.u0) for its domain. Subsequently, if we try to self-apply the identity, we will get an error:

Fail Definition selfid := identity (@identity).
The command has indeed failed with message: The term "@identity" has type "forall A : Type, A -> A" while it is expected to have type "?A" (unable to find a well-typed instantiation for "?A": cannot ensure that "Type@{identity.u0+1}" is a subtype of "Type@{identity.u0}").

Indeed, the global level identity.u0 would have to be strictly smaller than itself for this self-application to type check, as the type of (@identity) is forall (A : Type@{identity.u0}), A -> A whose type is itself Type@{identity.u0+1}.

A universe polymorphic identity function binds its domain universe level at the definition level instead of making it global.

Polymorphic Definition pidentity {A : Type} (a : A) := a.
pidentity is defined
About pidentity.
pidentity@{u} : forall {A : Type}, A -> A pidentity is universe polymorphic Arguments pidentity {A}%type_scope a pidentity is transparent Expands to: Constant Top.pidentity

It is then possible to reuse the constant at different levels, like so:

Polymorphic Definition selfpid := pidentity (@pidentity).
selfpid is defined

Of course, the two instances of pidentity in this definition are different. This can be seen when the Printing Universes flag is on:

Set Printing Universes.
Print selfpid.
selfpid@{u u0} = pidentity@{u} (@pidentity@{u0}) : forall A : Type@{u0}, A -> A (* u u0 |= u0 < u *) Arguments selfpid A%type_scope a

Now pidentity is used at two different levels: at the head of the application it is instantiated at u while in the argument position it is instantiated at u0. This definition is only valid as long as u0 is strictly smaller than u, as shown by the constraints. Note that if we made selfpid universe monomorphic, the two universes (in this case u and u0) would be declared in the global universe graph with names selfpid.u0 and selfpid.u1. Since the constraints would be global, Print selfpid. will not show them, however they will be shown by Print Universes.

When printing pidentity, we can see the universes it binds in the annotation @{u}. Additionally, when Printing Universes is on we print the "universe context" of pidentity consisting of the bound universes and the constraints they must verify (for pidentity there are no constraints).

Inductive types can also be declared universe polymorphic on universes appearing in their parameters or fields. A typical example is given by monoids. We first put ourselves in a mode where every declaration is universe-polymorphic:

Set Universe Polymorphism.
Record Monoid := { mon_car :> Type; mon_unit : mon_car;   mon_op : mon_car -> mon_car -> mon_car }.
Monoid is defined mon_car is defined mon_unit is defined mon_op is defined

A monoid is here defined by a carrier type, a unit in this type and a binary operation.

Print Monoid.
Record Monoid@{u} : Type@{u+1} := Build_Monoid { mon_car : Type@{u}; mon_unit : mon_car; mon_op : mon_car -> mon_car -> mon_car }. (* u |= *) Arguments Build_Monoid mon_car%type_scope mon_unit mon_op%function_scope Arguments mon_car m Arguments mon_unit m Arguments mon_op m _ _

The Monoid's carrier universe is polymorphic, hence it is possible to instantiate it for example with Monoid itself. First we build the trivial unit monoid in any universe i >= Set:

Definition unit_monoid@{i} : Monoid@{i} :=   {| mon_car := unit; mon_unit := tt; mon_op x y := tt |}.
unit_monoid is defined

Here we are using the fact that unit : Set and by cumulativity, any polymorphic universe is greater or equal to Set.

From this we can build a definition for the monoid of monoids, where multiplication is given by the product of monoids. To do so, we first need to define a universe-polymorphic variant of pairs:

Record pprod@{i j} (A : Type@{i}) (B : Type@{j}) : Type@{max(i,j)} :=   ppair { pfst : A; psnd : B }.
pprod is defined pfst is defined psnd is defined
Arguments ppair {A} {B}.
Infix "**" := pprod (at level 40, left associativity) : type_scope.
Notation "( x ; y ; .. ; z )" := (ppair .. (ppair x y) .. z) (at level 0) : core_scope.

The monoid of monoids uses the cartesian product of monoids as its operation:

Definition monoid_op@{i} (m m' : Monoid@{i}) (x y : mon_car m ** mon_car m') :    mon_car m ** mon_car m' :=   let (l, r) := x in   let (l', r') := y in   (mon_op m l l'; mon_op m' r r').
monoid_op is defined
Definition prod_monoid@{i} (m m' : Monoid@{i}): Monoid@{i} :=   {| mon_car := (m ** m')%type;      mon_unit := (mon_unit m; mon_unit m');      mon_op := (monoid_op m m') |}.
prod_monoid is defined
Definition monoids_monoid@{i j | i < j} : Monoid@{j} :=   {| mon_car := Monoid@{i};      mon_unit := unit_monoid@{i};      mon_op := prod_monoid@{i} |}.
monoids_monoid is defined
Print monoids_monoid.
monoids_monoid@{i j} = {| mon_car := Monoid@{i}; mon_unit := unit_monoid@{i}; mon_op := prod_monoid@{i} |} : Monoid@{j} (* i j |= i < j *)

As one can see from the constraints, this monoid is “large”, it lives in a universe strictly higher than its objects, monoids in the universes i.

Polymorphic, Monomorphic

Attribute universes(polymorphic= yesno?)

This boolean attribute can be used to control whether universe polymorphism is enabled in the definition of an inductive type. There is also a legacy syntax using the Polymorphic prefix (see legacy_attr) which, as shown in the examples, is more commonly used.

When universes(polymorphic=no) is used, global universe constraints are produced, even when the Universe Polymorphism flag is on. There is also a legacy syntax using the Monomorphic prefix (see legacy_attr).

Flag Universe Polymorphism

This flag is off by default. When it is on, new declarations are polymorphic unless the universes(polymorphic=no) attribute is used to override the default.

Many other commands can be used to declare universe polymorphic or monomorphic constants depending on whether the Universe Polymorphism flag is on or the universes(polymorphic) attribute is used:

Cumulative, NonCumulative

Attribute universes(cumulative= yesno?)

Polymorphic inductive types, coinductive types, variants and records can be declared cumulative using this boolean attribute or the legacy Cumulative prefix (see legacy_attr) which, as shown in the examples, is more commonly used.

This means that two instances of the same inductive type (family) are convertible based on the universe variances; they do not need to be equal.

When the attribtue is off, the inductive type is non-cumulative even if the Polymorphic Inductive Cumulativity flag is on. There is also a legacy syntax using the NonCumulative prefix (see legacy_attr).

This means that two instances of the same inductive type (family) are convertible only if all the universes are equal.

Error The cumulative attribute can only be used in a polymorphic context.

Using this attribute requires being in a polymorphic context, i.e. either having the Universe Polymorphism flag on, or having used the universes(polymorphic) attribute as well.


#[ universes(polymorphic= yes?), universes(cumulative= yesno?) ] can be abbreviated into #[ universes(polymorphic= yes?, cumulative= yesno?) ].

Flag Polymorphic Inductive Cumulativity

When this flag is on (it is off by default), it makes all subsequent polymorphic inductive definitions cumulative, unless the universes(cumulative=no) attribute is used to override the default. It has no effect on monomorphic inductive definitions.

Consider the examples below.

Polymorphic Cumulative Inductive list {A : Type} := | nil : list | cons : A -> list -> list.
list is defined list_rect is defined list_ind is defined list_rec is defined list_sind is defined
Set Printing Universes.
Print list.
Inductive list@{u} (A : Type@{u}) : Type@{max(Set,u)} := nil : list@{u} | cons : A -> list@{u} -> list@{u}. (* *u |= *) Arguments list {A}%type_scope Arguments nil {A}%type_scope Arguments cons {A}%type_scope _ _

When printing list, the universe context indicates the subtyping constraints by prefixing the level names with symbols.

Because inductive subtypings are only produced by comparing inductives to themselves with universes changed, they amount to variance information: each universe is either invariant, covariant or irrelevant (there are no contravariant subtypings in Coq), respectively represented by the symbols =, + and *.

Here we see that list binds an irrelevant universe, so any two instances of list are convertible: \(E[Γ] ⊢ \mathsf{list}@\{i\}~A =_{βδιζη} \mathsf{list}@\{j\}~B\) whenever \(E[Γ] ⊢ A =_{βδιζη} B\) and this applies also to their corresponding constructors, when they are comparable at the same type.

See Conversion rules for more details on convertibility and subtyping. The following is an example of a record with non-trivial subtyping relation:

Polymorphic Cumulative Record packType := {pk : Type}.
packType is defined pk is defined
About packType.
packType@{u} : Type@{u+1} (* +u |= *) packType is universe polymorphic Expands to: Inductive Top.packType

packType binds a covariant universe, i.e.

\[E[Γ] ⊢ \mathsf{packType}@\{i\} =_{βδιζη} \mathsf{packType}@\{j\}~\mbox{ whenever }~i ≤ j\]

Looking back at the example of monoids, we can see that they are naturally covariant for cumulativity:

Set Universe Polymorphism.
Cumulative Record Monoid := {   mon_car :> Type;   mon_unit : mon_car;   mon_op : mon_car -> mon_car -> mon_car }.
Monoid is defined mon_car is defined mon_unit is defined mon_op is defined
Set Printing Universes.
Print Monoid.
Record Monoid@{u} : Type@{u+1} := Build_Monoid { mon_car : Type@{u}; mon_unit : mon_car; mon_op : mon_car -> mon_car -> mon_car }. (* +u |= *) Arguments Build_Monoid mon_car%type_scope mon_unit mon_op%function_scope Arguments mon_car m Arguments mon_unit m Arguments mon_op m _ _

This means that a monoid in a lower universe (like the unit monoid in set), can be seen as a monoid in any higher universe, without introducing explicit lifting.

Definition unit_monoid : Monoid@{Set} :=   {| mon_car := unit; mon_unit := tt; mon_op x y := tt |}.
unit_monoid is defined
Monomorphic Universe i.
Check unit_monoid : Monoid@{i}.
unit_monoid : Monoid@{i} : Monoid@{i}

Finally, invariant universes appear when there is no possible subtyping relation between different instances of the inductive. Consider:

Polymorphic Cumulative Record monad@{i} := {    m : Type@{i} -> Type@{i};    unit : forall (A : Type@{i}), A -> m A }.
monad is defined m is defined unit is defined
Set Printing Universes.
Print monad.
Record monad@{i} : Type@{i+1} := Build_monad { m : Type@{i} -> Type@{i}; unit : forall A : Type@{i}, A -> m A }. (* =i |= *) Arguments Build_monad (m unit)%function_scope Arguments m m _%type_scope Arguments unit m A%type_scope _

The universe of monad is invariant due to its use on the left side of an arrow in the m field: one cannot lift or lower the level of the type constructor to build a monad in a higher or lower universe.

Specifying cumulativity

The variance of the universe parameters for a cumulative inductive may be specified by the user.

For the following type, universe a has its variance automatically inferred (it is irrelevant), b is required to be irrelevant, c is covariant and d is invariant. With these annotations c and d have less general variances than would be inferred.

Polymorphic Cumulative Inductive Dummy@{a *b +c =d} : Prop := dummy.
Dummy is defined Dummy_rect is defined Dummy_ind is defined Dummy_rec is defined Dummy_sind is defined
About Dummy.
Dummy@{a b c d} : Prop (* *a *b +c =d |= *) Dummy is universe polymorphic Expands to: Inductive Top.Dummy

Insufficiently restrictive variance annotations lead to errors:

Fail Polymorphic Cumulative Record bad@{*a} := {p : Type@{a}}.
The command has indeed failed with message: Incorrect variance for universe Top.81: expected * but cannot be less restrictive than +.

Example: Demonstration of universe variances

Set Printing Universes.
Set Universe Polymorphism.
Set Polymorphic Inductive Cumulativity.
Inductive Invariant @{=u} : Type@{u}.
Invariant is defined Invariant_rect is defined Invariant_ind is defined Invariant_rec is defined Invariant_sind is defined
Inductive Covariant @{+u} : Type@{u}.
Covariant is defined Covariant_rect is defined Covariant_ind is defined Covariant_rec is defined Covariant_sind is defined
Inductive Irrelevant@{*u} : Type@{u}.
Irrelevant is defined Irrelevant_rect is defined Irrelevant_ind is defined Irrelevant_rec is defined Irrelevant_sind is defined
Section Universes.
  Universe low high.
  Constraint low < high.
  (* An invariant universe blocks cumulativity from upper or lower levels. *)
  Axiom inv_low : Invariant@{low}.
inv_low is declared
  Axiom inv_high : Invariant@{high}.
inv_high is declared
Fail Check (inv_low : Invariant@{high}).
The command has indeed failed with message: The term "inv_low" has type "Invariant@{low}" while it is expected to have type "Invariant@{high}" (universe inconsistency: Cannot enforce low = high because low < high).
Fail Check (inv_high : Invariant@{low}).
The command has indeed failed with message: The term "inv_high" has type "Invariant@{high}" while it is expected to have type "Invariant@{low}" (universe inconsistency: Cannot enforce high = low because low < high).
(* A covariant universe allows cumulativity from a lower level. *)
Axiom co_low : Covariant@{low}.
co_low is declared
Axiom co_high : Covariant@{high}.
co_high is declared
Check (co_low : Covariant@{high}).
co_low : Covariant@{high} : Covariant@{high} (* {} |= low <= high *)
Fail Check (co_high : Covariant@{low}).
The command has indeed failed with message: The term "co_high" has type "Covariant@{high}" while it is expected to have type "Covariant@{low}" (universe inconsistency: Cannot enforce high <= low because low < high).
(* An irrelevant universe allows cumulativity from any level *)
Axiom irr_low : Irrelevant@{low}.
irr_low is declared
Axiom irr_high : Irrelevant@{high}.
irr_high is declared
Check (irr_low : Irrelevant@{high}).
irr_low : Irrelevant@{high} : Irrelevant@{high}
Check (irr_high : Irrelevant@{low}).
irr_high : Irrelevant@{low} : Irrelevant@{low}
End Universes.

Example: A proof using cumulativity

Set Universe Polymorphism.
Set Polymorphic Inductive Cumulativity.
Set Printing Universes.
Inductive eq@{i} {A : Type@{i}} (x : A) : A -> Type@{i} := eq_refl : eq x x.
eq is defined eq_rect is defined eq_ind is defined eq_rec is defined eq_sind is defined
Print eq.
Inductive eq@{i} (A : Type@{i}) (x : A) : A -> Type@{i} := eq_refl : eq@{i} x x. (* *i |= *) Arguments eq {A}%type_scope x _ Arguments eq_refl {A}%type_scope x

The universe of eq is irrelevant here, hence proofs of equalities can inhabit any universe. The universe must be big enough to fit A.

Definition funext_type@{a b e} (A : Type@{a}) (B : A -> Type@{b}) := forall f g : (forall a, B a),                 (forall x, eq@{e} (f x) (g x))                 -> eq@{e} f g.
funext_type is defined
Section down.
    Universes a b e e'.
    Constraint e' < e.
    Lemma funext_down {A B}       (H : @funext_type@{a b e} A B) : @funext_type@{a b e'} A B.
1 goal A : Type@{Top.125} B : A -> Type@{Top.126} H : funext_type@{a b e} A B ============================ funext_type@{a b e'} A B
      exact H.
No more goals.
End down.

Cumulativity Weak Constraints

Flag Cumulativity Weak Constraints

When set, which is the default, this flag causes "weak" constraints to be produced when comparing universes in an irrelevant position. Processing weak constraints is delayed until minimization time. A weak constraint between u and v when neither is smaller than the other and one is flexible causes them to be unified. Otherwise the constraint is silently discarded.

This heuristic is experimental and may change in future versions. Disabling weak constraints is more predictable but may produce arbitrary numbers of universes.

Global and local universes

Each universe is declared in a global or local context before it can be used. To ensure compatibility, every global universe is set to be strictly greater than Set when it is introduced, while every local (i.e. polymorphically quantified) universe is introduced as greater or equal to Set.

Conversion and unification

The semantics of conversion and unification have to be modified a little to account for the new universe instance arguments to polymorphic references. The semantics respect the fact that definitions are transparent, so indistinguishable from their bodies during conversion.

This is accomplished by changing one rule of unification, the first- order approximation rule, which applies when two applicative terms with the same head are compared. It tries to short-cut unfolding by comparing the arguments directly. In case the constant is universe polymorphic, we allow this rule to fire only when unifying the universes results in instantiating a so-called flexible universe variables (not given by the user). Similarly for conversion, if such an equation of applicative terms fail due to a universe comparison not being satisfied, the terms are unfolded. This change implies that conversion and unification can have different unfolding behaviors on the same development with universe polymorphism switched on or off.


Universe polymorphism with cumulativity tends to generate many useless inclusion constraints in general. Typically at each application of a polymorphic constant f, if an argument has expected type Type@{i} and is given a term of type Type@{j}, a \(j ≤ i\) constraint will be generated. It is however often the case that an equation \(j = i\) would be more appropriate, when f's universes are fresh for example. Consider the following example:

Polymorphic Definition pidentity {A : Type} (a : A) := a.
pidentity is defined
Definition id0 := @pidentity nat 0.
id0 is defined
Set Printing Universes.
Print id0.
id0@{} = pidentity@{Set} 0 : nat

This definition is elaborated by minimizing the universe of id0 to level Set while the more general definition would keep the fresh level i generated at the application of id and a constraint that Set \(≤ i\). This minimization process is applied only to fresh universe variables. It simply adds an equation between the variable and its lower bound if it is an atomic universe (i.e. not an algebraic max() universe).

Flag Universe Minimization ToSet

Turning this flag off (it is on by default) disallows minimization to the sort Set and only collapses floating universes between themselves.

Explicit Universes

universe_name::=qualid|Set|Propuniv_annot::=@{ univ_level_or_quality* | univ_level_or_quality*? }univ_level_or_quality::=Set|SProp|Prop|Type|_|qualiduniv_decl::=@{ ident* |? ident* +? | univ_constraint*, +?? }cumul_univ_decl::=@{ ident* |? +=*? ident* +? | univ_constraint*, +?? }univ_constraint::=universe_name <=<= universe_name

The syntax has been extended to allow users to explicitly bind names to universes and explicitly instantiate polymorphic definitions.

Command Universe ident+
Command Universes ident+

In the monomorphic case, declares new global universes with the given names. Global universe names live in a separate namespace. The command supports the universes(polymorphic) attribute (or the Polymorphic legacy attribute) only in sections, meaning the universe quantification will be discharged for each section definition independently.

Error Polymorphic universes can only be declared inside sections, use Monomorphic Universe instead.
Command Constraint univ_constraint+,

Declares new constraints between named universes.

If consistent, the constraints are then enforced in the global environment. Like Universe, it can be used with the universes(polymorphic) attribute (or the Polymorphic legacy attribute) in sections only to declare constraints discharged at section closing time. One cannot declare a global constraint on polymorphic universes.

Error Undeclared universe ident.
Error Universe inconsistency.
Error Polymorphic universe constraints can only be declared inside sections, use Monomorphic Constraint instead

Printing universes

Flag Printing Universes

Turn this flag on to activate the display of the actual level of each occurrence of Type. See Sorts for details. This wizard flag, in combination with Printing All can help to diagnose failures to unify terms apparently identical but internally different in the Calculus of Inductive Constructions.

Command Print Sorted? Universes Subgraph ( qualid* )? string?

This command can be used to print the constraints on the internal level of the occurrences of \(\Type\) (see Sorts).

The Subgraph clause limits the printed graph to the requested names (adjusting constraints to preserve the implied transitive constraints between kept universes).

The Sorted clause makes each universe equivalent to a numbered label reflecting its level (with a linear ordering) in the universe hierarchy.

string is an optional output filename. If string ends in .dot or .gv, the constraints are printed in the DOT language, and can be processed by Graphviz tools. The format is unspecified if string doesn’t end in .dot or .gv. If string is a relative filename, it refers to the directory specified by the command line option -output-directory, if set (see Command line options) and otherwise, the current directory. Use Pwd to display the current directory.

Polymorphic definitions

For polymorphic definitions, the declaration of (all) universe levels introduced by a definition uses the following syntax:

Polymorphic Definition le@{i j} (A : Type@{i}) : Type@{j} := A.
le is defined
Print le.
le@{i j} = fun A : Type@{i} => A : Type@{i} -> Type@{j} (* i j |= i <= j *) Arguments le A%type_scope

During refinement we find that j must be larger or equal than i, as we are using A : Type@{i} <= Type@{j}, hence the generated constraint. At the end of a definition or proof, we check that the only remaining universes are the ones declared. In the term and in general in proof mode, introduced universe names can be referred to in terms. Note that local universe names shadow global universe names. During a proof, one can use Show Universes to display the current context of universes.

It is possible to provide only some universe levels and let Coq infer the others by adding a + in the list of bound universe levels:

Fail Definition foobar@{u} : Type@{u} := Type.
The command has indeed failed with message: Universe Top.132 (Toplevel input, characters 3844-3848) is unbound.
Definition foobar@{u +} : Type@{u} := Type.
foobar is defined
Set Printing Universes.
Print foobar.
foobar@{u u0} = Type@{u0} : Type@{u} (* u u0 |= u0 < u *)

This can be used to find which universes need to be explicitly bound in a given definition.

Definitions can also be instantiated explicitly, giving their full instance:

Check (pidentity@{Set}).
pidentity@{Set} : ?A -> ?A where ?A : [ |- Set]
Monomorphic Universes k l.
Check (le@{k l}).
le@{k l} : Type@{k} -> Type@{l} (* {} |= k <= l *)

User-named universes and the anonymous universe implicitly attached to an explicit Type are considered rigid for unification and are never minimized. Flexible anonymous universes can be produced with an underscore or by omitting the annotation to a polymorphic definition.

Check (fun x => x) : Type -> Type.
(fun x : Type@{Top.137} => x) : Type@{Top.137} -> Type@{Top.138} : Type@{Top.137} -> Type@{Top.138} (* {Top.138 Top.137} |= Top.137 <= Top.138 *)
Check (fun x => x) : Type -> Type@{_}.
(fun x : Type@{Top.139} => x) : Type@{Top.139} -> Type@{Top.139} : Type@{Top.139} -> Type@{Top.139} (* {Top.139} |= *)
Check le@{k _}.
le@{k k} : Type@{k} -> Type@{k}
Check le.
le@{Top.142 Top.142} : Type@{Top.142} -> Type@{Top.142} (* {Top.142} |= *)
Flag Strict Universe Declaration

Turning this flag off allows one to freely use identifiers for universes without declaring them first, with the semantics that the first use declares it. In this mode, the universe names are not associated with the definition or proof once it has been defined. This is meant mainly for debugging purposes.

Flag Private Polymorphic Universes

This flag, on by default, removes universes which appear only in the body of an opaque polymorphic definition from the definition's universe arguments. As such, no value needs to be provided for these universes when instantiating the definition. Universe constraints are automatically adjusted.

Consider the following definition:

Lemma foo@{i} : Type@{i}.
1 goal ============================ Type@{i}
Proof. exact Type. Qed.
No more goals.
Print foo.
foo@{i} = Type@{Top.145} : Type@{i} (* Public universes: i |= Set < i Private universes: {Top.145} |= Top.145 < i *)

The universe Top.xxx for the Type in the body cannot be accessed, we only care that one exists for any instantiation of the universes appearing in the type of foo. This is guaranteed when the transitive constraint Set <= Top.xxx < i is verified. Then when using the constant we don't need to put a value for the inner universe:

Check foo@{_}.
foo@{Top.146} : Type@{Top.146} (* {Top.146} |= Set < Top.146 *)

and when not looking at the body we don't mention the private universe:

About foo.
foo@{i} : Type@{i} (* i |= Set < i *) foo is universe polymorphic foo is opaque Expands to: Constant Top.foo

To recover the same behavior with regard to universes as Defined, the Private Polymorphic Universes flag may be unset:

Unset Private Polymorphic Universes.
Lemma bar : Type. Proof. exact Type. Qed.
1 goal ============================ Type@{Top.147} No more goals.
About bar.
bar@{u u0} : Type@{u} (* u u0 |= u0 < u *) bar is universe polymorphic bar is opaque Expands to: Constant Top.bar
Fail Check bar@{_}.
The command has indeed failed with message: Universe instance length is 1 but should be 2.
Check bar@{_ _}.
bar@{Top.150 Top.151} : Type@{Top.150} (* {Top.151 Top.150} |= Top.151 < Top.150 *)

Note that named universes are always public.

Set Private Polymorphic Universes.
Unset Strict Universe Declaration.
Lemma baz : Type@{outer}. Proof. exact Type@{inner}. Qed.
1 goal ============================ Type@{outer} No more goals.
About baz.
baz@{outer inner} : Type@{outer} (* outer inner |= inner < outer *) baz is universe polymorphic baz is opaque Expands to: Constant Top.baz

Sort polymorphism

Quantifying over universes does not allow instantiation with Prop or SProp. For instance

Polymorphic Definition type@{u} := Type@{u}.
type is defined
Fail Check type@{Prop}.
The command has indeed failed with message: Universe instances cannot contain non-Set small levels, polymorphic universe instances must be greater or equal to Set.

To be able to instantiate a sort with Prop or SProp, we must quantify over sort qualities. Definitions which quantify over sort qualities are called sort polymorphic.

All sort quality variables must be explicitly bound.

Polymorphic Definition sort@{s | u |} := Type@{s|u}.
sort is defined

To help the parser, both | in the univ_decl are required.

Sort quality variables of a sort polymorphic definition may be instantiated by the concrete values SProp, Prop and Type or by a bound variable.

Instantiating s in Type@{s|u} with the impredicative Prop or SProp produces Prop or SProp respectively regardless of the instantiation fof u.

Eval cbv in sort@{Prop|Set}.
= Prop : Type
Eval cbv in sort@{Type|Set}.
= Set : Type

When no explicit instantiation is provided or _ is used, a temporary variable is generated. Temporary sort variables are instantiated with Type if not unified with another quality when universe minimization runs (typically at the end of a definition).

Check and Eval run minimization so we cannot use them to witness these temporary variables.

Goal True.
1 goal ============================ True
Set Printing Universes.
let c := constr:(sort) in idtac c.
sort@{α13 | Top.156}


We recommend you do not name explicitly quantified sort variables α followed by a number as printing will not distinguish between your bound variables and temporary variables.

Sort polymorphic inductives may be declared when every instantiation is valid.

Elimination at a given universe instance requires that elimination is allowed at every ground instantiation of the sort variables in the instance. Additionally if the output sort at the given universe instance is sort polymorphic, the return type of the elimination must be at the same quality. These restrictions ignore Definitional UIP.

For instance

Set Universe Polymorphism.
Inductive Squash@{s|u|} (A:Type@{s|u}) : Prop := squash (_:A).
Squash is defined Squash_ind is defined Squash_sind is defined

Elimination to Prop and SProp is always allowed, so Squash_ind and Squash_sind are automatically defined.

Elimination to Type is not allowed with variable s, because the instantiation s := Type does not allow elimination to Type.

However elimination to Type or to a polymorphic sort with s := Prop is allowed:

Definition Squash_Prop_rect A (P:Squash@{Prop|_} A -> Type)   (H:forall x, P (squash _ x))   : forall s, P s   := fun s => match s with squash _ x => H x end.
Squash_Prop_rect is defined
Definition Squash_Prop_srect@{s|u +|} A (P:Squash@{Prop|_} A -> Type@{s|u})   (H:forall x, P (squash _ x))   : forall s, P s   := fun s => match s with squash _ x => H x end.
Squash_Prop_srect is defined


Since inductive types with sort polymorphic output may only be polymorphically eliminated to the same sort quality, containers such as sigma types may be better defined as primitive records (which do not have this restriction) when possible.

Set Primitive Projections.
Record sigma@{s|u v|} (A:Type@{s|u}) (B:A -> Type@{s|v})   : Type@{s|max(u,v)}   := pair { pr1 : A; pr2 : B pr1 }.
sigma is defined pr1 is defined pr2 is defined

Universe polymorphism and sections

Variables, Context, Universe and Constraint in a section support polymorphism. This means that the universe variables and their associated constraints are discharged polymorphically over definitions that use them. In other words, two definitions in the section sharing a common variable will both get parameterized by the universes produced by the variable declaration. This is in contrast to a “mononorphic” variable which introduces global universes and constraints, making the two definitions depend on the same global universes associated with the variable.

It is possible to mix universe polymorphism and monomorphism in sections, except in the following ways:

  • no monomorphic constraint may refer to a polymorphic universe:

    Section Foo.
      Polymorphic Universe i.
      Fail Constraint i = i.
    The command has indeed failed with message: Cannot add monomorphic constraints which refer to section polymorphic universes.

    This includes constraints implicitly declared by commands such as Variable, which may need to be used with universe polymorphism activated (locally by attribute or globally by option):

    Fail Variable A : (Type@{i} : Type).
    The command has indeed failed with message: Cannot add monomorphic constraints which refer to section polymorphic universes.
    Polymorphic Variable A : (Type@{i} : Type).
    A is declared

    (in the above example the anonymous Type constrains polymorphic universe i to be strictly smaller.)

  • no monomorphic constant or inductive may be declared if polymorphic universes or universe constraints are present.

These restrictions are required in order to produce a sensible result when closing the section (the requirement on constants and inductive types is stricter than the one on constraints, because constants and inductives are abstracted by all the section's polymorphic universes and constraints).