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Proving The Unique Fixed−Point Principle Correct

Ralf Hinze and Daniel W. H. James


Say you want to prove something about an infinite data-structure, such as a stream or an infinite tree, but you would rather not subject yourself to coïnduction. The unique fixed-point principle is an easy-to-use, calculational alternative. The proof technique rests on the fact that certain recursion equations have unique solutions; if two elements of a coïnductive type satisfy the same equation of this kind, then they are equal. In this paper we precisely characterize the conditions that guarantee a unique solution. Significantly, we do so not with a syntactic criterion, but with a semantic one that stems from the categorical notion of naturality. Our development is based on distributive laws and biälgebras, and draws heavily on Turi and Plotkin’s pioneering work on mathematical operational semantics. Along the way, we break down the design space in two dimensions, leading to a total of nine points. Each gives rise to varying degrees of expressiveness, and we will discuss three in depth. Furthermore, our development is generic in the syntax of equations and in the behaviour they encode—we are not caged in the world of streams.

Department of Computer Science‚ University of Oxford