\[\begin{split}\newcommand{\alors}{\textsf{then}} \newcommand{\alter}{\textsf{alter}} \newcommand{\as}{\kw{as}} \newcommand{\Assum}[3]{\kw{Assum}(#1)(#2:#3)} \newcommand{\bool}{\textsf{bool}} \newcommand{\case}{\kw{case}} \newcommand{\conc}{\textsf{conc}} \newcommand{\cons}{\textsf{cons}} \newcommand{\consf}{\textsf{consf}} \newcommand{\conshl}{\textsf{cons\_hl}} \newcommand{\Def}[4]{\kw{Def}(#1)(#2:=#3:#4)} \newcommand{\emptyf}{\textsf{emptyf}} \newcommand{\End}{\kw{End}} \newcommand{\kwend}{\kw{end}} \newcommand{\EqSt}{\textsf{EqSt}} \newcommand{\even}{\textsf{even}} \newcommand{\evenO}{\textsf{even}_\textsf{O}} \newcommand{\evenS}{\textsf{even}_\textsf{S}} \newcommand{\false}{\textsf{false}} \newcommand{\filter}{\textsf{filter}} \newcommand{\Fix}{\kw{Fix}} \newcommand{\fix}{\kw{fix}} \newcommand{\for}{\textsf{for}} \newcommand{\forest}{\textsf{forest}} \newcommand{\from}{\textsf{from}} \newcommand{\Functor}{\kw{Functor}} \newcommand{\haslength}{\textsf{has\_length}} \newcommand{\hd}{\textsf{hd}} \newcommand{\ident}{\textsf{ident}} \newcommand{\In}{\kw{in}} \newcommand{\Ind}[4]{\kw{Ind}[#2](#3:=#4)} \newcommand{\ind}[3]{\kw{Ind}~[#1]\left(#2\mathrm{~:=~}#3\right)} \newcommand{\Indp}[5]{\kw{Ind}_{#5}(#1)[#2](#3:=#4)} \newcommand{\Indpstr}[6]{\kw{Ind}_{#5}(#1)[#2](#3:=#4)/{#6}} \newcommand{\injective}{\kw{injective}} \newcommand{\kw}[1]{\textsf{#1}} \newcommand{\lb}{\lambda} \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{\ModA}[2]{{\kw{ModA}}({#1}=={#2})} \newcommand{\ModS}[2]{{\kw{Mod}}({#1}:{#2})} \newcommand{\ModType}[2]{{\kw{ModType}}({#1}:={#2})} \newcommand{\mto}{.\;} \newcommand{\Nat}{\mathbb{N}} \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{\Prod}{\textsf{prod}} \newcommand{\Prop}{\textsf{Prop}} \newcommand{\return}{\kw{return}} \newcommand{\Set}{\textsf{Set}} \newcommand{\si}{\textsf{if}} \newcommand{\sinon}{\textsf{else}} \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{\true}{\textsf{true}} \newcommand{\Type}{\textsf{Type}} \newcommand{\unfold}{\textsf{unfold}} \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}]} \newcommand{\zeros}{\textsf{zeros}} \end{split}\]

Polymorphic Universes

Author: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 (say Top.1) 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@{Top.1+1}" is a subtype of "Type@{Top.1}").

Indeed, the global level Top.1 would have to be strictly smaller than itself for this self-application to type check, as the type of (@identity) is forall (A : Type@{Top.1}), A -> A whose type is itself Type@{Top.1+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@{Top.2} : forall A : Type, A -> A pidentity is universe polymorphic Argument A is implicit and maximally inserted Argument scopes are [type_scope _] pidentity is transparent Expands to: Constant Top.pidentity

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

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 = pidentity@{Top.3} (@pidentity@{Top.4}) : forall A : Type@{Top.4}, A -> A (* {Top.4 Top.3} |= Top.4 < Top.3 *) Argument scopes are [type_scope _]

Now pidentity is used at two different levels: at the head of the application it is instantiated at Top.3 while in the argument position it is instantiated at Top.4. This definition is only valid as long as Top.4 is strictly smaller than Top.3, as shown by the constraints. Note that this definition is monomorphic (not universe polymorphic), so the two universes (in this case Top.3 and Top.4) are actually global levels.

When printing pidentity, we can see the universes it binds in the annotation @{Top.2}. 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 universes polymorphic on universes appearing in their parameters or fields. A typical example is given by monoids:

Polymorphic 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
Print Monoid.
Polymorphic NonCumulative Record Monoid : Type@{Top.6+1} := Build_Monoid { mon_car : Type@{Top.6}; mon_unit : mon_car; mon_op : mon_car -> mon_car -> mon_car } For Build_Monoid: Argument scopes are [type_scope _ function_scope]

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 Set:

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

From this we can build a definition for the monoid of Set-monoids (where multiplication would be given by the product of monoids).

Polymorphic Definition monoid_monoid : Monoid.
1 subgoal ============================ Monoid@{Top.9}
refine (@Build_Monoid Monoid unit_monoid (fun x y => x)).
No more subgoals.
monoid_monoid is defined
Print monoid_monoid.
Polymorphic monoid_monoid@{Top.9} = {| mon_car := Monoid@{Set}; mon_unit := unit_monoid; mon_op := fun x _ : Monoid@{Set} => x |} : Monoid@{Top.9} (* Top.9 |= Set < Top.9 *) monoid_monoid is universe polymorphic

As one can see from the constraints, this monoid is “large”, it lives in a universe strictly higher than Set.

Polymorphic, Monomorphic

Command Polymorphic definition

As shown in the examples, polymorphic definitions and inductives can be declared using the Polymorphic prefix.

Flag Universe Polymorphism

Once enabled, this option will implicitly prepend Polymorphic to any definition of the user.

Command Monomorphic definition

When the Universe Polymorphism option is set, to make a definition producing global universe constraints, one can use the Monomorphic prefix.

Many other commands support the Polymorphic flag, including:

  • Lemma, Axiom, and all the other “definition” keywords support polymorphism.
  • Variables, Context, Universe and Constraint in a section support polymorphism. This means that the universe variables (and 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 to the variable.
  • Hint Resolve and Hint Rewrite will use the auto/rewrite hint polymorphically, not at a single instance.

Cumulative, NonCumulative

Polymorphic inductive types, coinductive types, variants and records can be declared cumulative using the Cumulative prefix.

Command Cumulative inductive

Declares the inductive as cumulative

Alternatively, there is a flag Polymorphic Inductive Cumulativity which when set, makes all subsequent polymorphic inductive definitions cumulative. When set, inductive types and the like can be enforced to be non-cumulative using the NonCumulative prefix.

Command NonCumulative inductive

Declares the inductive as non-cumulative

Flag Polymorphic Inductive Cumulativity

When this option is on, it sets all following polymorphic inductive types as cumulative (it is off by default).

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
Print list.
Polymorphic Cumulative Inductive list@{Top.12} (A : Type@{Top.12}) : Type@{max(Set,Top.12)} := nil : list@{Top.12} | cons : A -> list@{Top.12} -> list@{Top.12} (* *Top.12 |= *) For list: Argument A is implicit and maximally inserted For nil: Argument A is implicit and maximally inserted For cons: Argument A is implicit and maximally inserted For list: Argument scope is [type_scope] For nil: Argument scope is [type_scope] For cons: Argument scopes are [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

packType binds a covariant universe, i.e.

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

Cumulative inductive types, coinductive types, variants and records only make sense when they are universe polymorphic. Therefore, an error is issued whenever the user uses the Cumulative or NonCumulative prefix in a monomorphic context. Notice that this is not the case for the option Polymorphic Inductive Cumulativity. That is, this option, when set, makes all subsequent polymorphic inductive declarations cumulative (unless, of course the NonCumulative prefix is used) but has no effect on monomorphic inductive declarations.

Consider the following examples.

Fail Monomorphic Cumulative Inductive Unit := unit.
The command has indeed failed with message: The Cumulative prefix can only be used in a polymorphic context.
Fail Monomorphic NonCumulative Inductive Unit := unit.
The command has indeed failed with message: The NonCumulative prefix can only be used in a polymorphic context.
Set Polymorphic Inductive Cumulativity.
Inductive Unit := unit.
Unit is defined Unit_rect is defined Unit_ind is defined Unit_rec is defined

An example of a proof using cumulativity

Set Universe Polymorphism.
Set Polymorphic Inductive Cumulativity.
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
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 subgoal A : Type B : A -> Type H : funext_type A B ============================ funext_type A B
exact H.
No more subgoals.
funext_down is defined
End down.

Cumulativity Weak Constraints

Flag Cumulativity Weak Constraints

When set, which is the default, 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 environment 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
Set Printing Universes.
Definition id0 := @pidentity nat 0.
id0 is defined
Print id0.
id0@{} = pidentity@{Set} 0 : nat id0 is universe polymorphic

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

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

Command Universe ident

In the monorphic case, this command declares a new global universe named ident, which can be referred to using its qualified name as well. Global universe names live in a separate namespace. The command supports the polymorphic flag only in sections, meaning the universe quantification will be discharged on each section definition independently. One cannot mix polymorphic and monomorphic declarations in the same section.

Command Constraint ident ord ident

This command declares a new constraint between named universes. The order relation ord can be one of \(<\), \(≤\) or \(=\). If consistent, the constraint is then enforced in the global environment. Like Universe, it can be used with the Polymorphic prefix 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.

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 *) le is universe polymorphic Argument scope is [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.

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.49} => x) : Type@{Top.49} -> Type@{Top.50} : Type@{Top.49} -> Type@{Top.50} (* {Top.50 Top.49} |= Top.49 <= Top.50 *)
Check (fun x => x) : Type -> Type@{_}.
(fun x : Type@{Top.51} => x) : Type@{Top.51} -> Type@{Top.51} : Type@{Top.51} -> Type@{Top.51} (* {Top.51} |= *)
Check le@{k _}.
le@{k k} : Type@{k} -> Type@{k}
Check le.
le@{Top.54 Top.54} : Type@{Top.54} -> Type@{Top.54} (* {Top.54} |= *)
Flag Strict Universe Declaration

Turning this option 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.