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Simp #

Overview #

In this document we will explain basic usage of the simplifier tactic simp and the related tactic dsimp in Lean 3.

We give some pointers for how to avoid "non-terminal simps", and we also give a short description of the configuration options for simp and dsimp.

Introduction #

Lean has a "simplifier", called simp, that consults a database of facts called simp lemmas to (hopefully) simplify hypotheses and goals. The simplifier is what is known as a conditional term rewriting system: all it does is repeatedly replace (or rewrite) subterms of the form A by B, for all applicable facts of the form A = B or A ↔ B. The simplifier mindlessly rewrites until it can rewrite no more. The simp lemmas are all oriented, with left-hand sides always being replaced by right-hand sides, and never vice versa.

Ideally, the database of facts would result in expressions being simplified into a normal form. In practice, this is often unachievable (normal forms may not exist, or there may not exist a collection of rewrite rules that produce them), but nevertheless we aim to approximate this ideal where possible. Even better, we would like the database of facts to be confluent, meaning the order in which the simplifier considers rewrites does not matter. Again, we aim to be close to confluent where possible.

While this system is able to prove many simple statements completely automatically, proving all simple statements is not part of its job description, as disappointing as that might be.

Here is an example (using mathlib).


variables (G : Type) [group G] (a b c : G)

example : a * a⁻¹ * 1 * b = b * c * c⁻¹ :=

How would a human solve that goal? They would notice that a * a⁻¹ = 1, that 1 * 1 = 1, and so on, until they had simplified the example to b = b, which is obviously true.

This is also what the simplifier is doing. Indeed, if you add set_option trace.simplify.rewrite true above the example, then a squiggly blue underline will appear under simp (in VS Code) and clicking on this will show you the sequence of rewrites that simp performed:

[mul_right_inv]: a * a⁻¹ ==> 1
[mul_one]: 1 * 1 ==> 1
[one_mul]: 1 * b ==> b
[mul_inv_cancel_right]: b * c * c⁻¹ ==> b
[eq_self_iff_true]: b = b ==> true

The simp? tactic is a useful way to extract the list of lemmas that simp applied. It suggests

simp only [mul_one, one_mul, mul_right_inv, eq_self_iff_true, mul_inv_cancel_right]

which is an invocation of simp that makes use of this particular set of five lemmas. A related tactic, squeeze_simp, will (after thinking much harder than simp? does) come up with some set of simp lemmas that are sufficient. In this case three suffice:

simp only [one_mul, mul_right_inv, mul_inv_cancel_right]

To see both those rewrites that work and those that fail during the simplification process, you can use the more verbose option set_option trace.simplify true.

Simp lemmas #

So how did Lean's simplifier know that a * a⁻¹ = 1? It is because there is a lemma in that is tagged with the simp attribute:

@[simp] lemma mul_right_inv (a : G) : a * a⁻¹ = 1 := ...

We call lemmas tagged with the simp attribute "simp lemmas". Here are some more examples of simp lemmas in mathlib:

@[simp] theorem nat.dvd_one {n : } : n  1  n = 1 := ...
@[simp] theorem mul_eq_zero {a b : } : a * b = 0  a = 0  b = 0 := ...
@[simp] theorem list.mem_singleton {a b : α} : a  [b]  a = b := ...
@[simp] theorem set.set_of_false : {a : α | false} =  := ...

When the simplifier is attempting to simplify a term T, it looks through the simp lemmas known to the system at that time, and if it runs into an applicable lemma of the form A = B or A ↔ B for which A appears as a subexpression in T, it rewrites the instance of A in T with B and then starts again from the beginning. Note that simp starts on innermost terms, working outward: it first simplifies the arguments of a function before simplifying the function. Also, simp contains some amount of cleverness to be able to avoid considering all simp lemmas every time (there are over ten thousand of them currently in mathlib!).

The simplifier applies simp lemmas in one direction only: if A = B is a simp lemma, then simp replaces As with Bs, but it doesn't replace Bs with As. Hence a simp lemma should have the property that its right-hand side is simpler than its left-hand side. In particular, = and should not be viewed as symmetric operators in this situation. The following would be a terrible simp lemma (if it were even allowed):

@[simp] lemma mul_right_inv_bad (a : G) : 1 = a * a⁻¹ := ...

Replacing 1 with a * a⁻¹ is not a sensible default direction to travel. Even worse would be a lemma that causes expressions to grow without bound, causing simp to loop forever:

@[simp] lemma even_worse_lemma: (1 : G) = 1 * 1⁻¹ := ...

When making a new definition, it is very common to also introduce simp lemmas to put expressions involving the definition into a sensible form. An example of this is in mathlib's data.complex.basic, which has almost 100 simp lemmas. Even though they are true by definition, theorems such as

@[simp] lemma
add_re (z w : ) : (z + w).re = + := rfl

are introduced because they give simp the ability to reduce expressions and then make use of pre-existing facts. This one, for example, converts complex addition into real addition. If you give simp permission to use commutativity of real addition, then it is able to automatically prove (z + w).re = (w + z).re through + = +, which is half of the proof that complex addition is commutative.

The Lean kernel itself is a rewrite system for lambda calculus, which has a definite notion of forward progress. With this in mind, a useful family of simp lemmas are those that, in this sense, let simp partially evaluate an expression. For example, if you have a structure type foo and define a structure my_foo with that type,

structure foo := (n : )

def my_foo : foo := {n := 37}

then if you add a simp lemma that my_foo.n = 37, you give the simplifier the ability to evaluate the foo.n projection for my_foo, which saves you from having to unfold the definition of my_foo (by default simp does not unfold most definitions). Creating these simp lemmas is so common that there is an attribute that creates them all for you automatically:

@[simps] def my_foo : foo := {n := 37}

This generates the lemma @[simp] lemma my_foo_n : my_foo.n = 37.

Basic usage #

Note that some simp lemmas have additional hypotheses that must be satisfied. For example, a theorem about cancelling a factor on both sides of an equation would only be valid under the hypothesis that the factor is non-zero. If h is a proof of hypothesis P and P → A = B is a simp lemma, then simp [h] will replace A's with B's in the goal. The fact that simp considers additional hypotheses is the reason it is called a conditional term rewriting system.

Simp-normal form #

There are sometimes several ways to say the same thing. For example, if n : ℕ then the hypotheses n ≠ 0, 0 ≠ n, n > 0, 0 < n, 1 ≤ n and n ≥ 1 are all logically equivalent. This can be problematic for rewriting systems like the simplifier. The reason for this is that the simplifier looks for subterms using syntactic equality. If the simplifier is working on a term T and A = B is a simp lemma, then, unless a subterm A' of T is syntactically the same as A (approximately: they have literally the same textual representation), then simp won't in general notice the rule applies, so it won't be rewritten by B. Similarly, if nonzeroness of n (stated in one way) is a precondition in a simp lemma of the form A = B, and h is a proof of nonzeroness of n (stated in a different way), then simp [h] might not replace A's with B's.

The way this issue is dealt with in mathlib is to fix once and for all a simp normal form for the way something is to be expressed (like 0 < n for nonzeroness) and then sticking to this variant when stating lemmas in Lean. This saves having to write duplicate lemmas for every variant. To help the simplifier out, many times there are normalizing lemmas whose only purpose is to put expressions into simp normal form.

In general, if you are writing a lemma, you should know the "normal form" way to express the ideas in the lemma. If you are writing a lemma about a definition you made yourself, think about the normal forms for ideas that can be expressed in more than one way.

An example of a simp normal form is a way of expressing nonemptiness of a subset of a type. If α : Type and s : set α then nonemptiness of s can be expressed as both s.nonempty and s ≠ ∅. In mathlib an effort is made to stick to s.nonempty as the normal form.

Another example: every finite set s : finset α can be coerced to set α, so for a : α one can write both a ∈ s and a ∈ (s : set α) to mean the same thing. The simp normal form for membership in a finite set idea is a ∈ s, and moreover there is a normalizing simp lemma

@[simp] lemma mem_coe {a : α} {s : finset α} : a  (s : set α)  a  s := ...

to replace occurrences of a ∈ (s : set α) with the correct normal form.

Because the simplifier works from the inside out, simplifying arguments of a function before simplifying the function, a simp lemma should have the arguments to the function on its left-hand side in simp-normal form. For example if g 0 can be simplified, then @[simp] lemma foo : f (g 0) = 0 will never be used. Mathlib's simp_nf linter checks for this (you can run mathlib's linters for a module yourself by putting #lint at the end of the file).

simpa #

The simpa tactic is a variation on simp for finishing a proof -- as a "finishing" tactic, it will fail if it's unable to close the goal. The basic usage is

simpa [h1, h2] using e

where [h1, h2] refers to an optional list of simp lemmas (using the same syntax as for simp) and where e is an expression. Commonly, e is the name of a hypothesis. Both the type of e and the goal are simplified, and simpa succeeds if they are both simplified to the same thing.

Here is a simple example of simpa:

example (n : ) (h : n + 1 - 1  0) : n + 1  1 :=
  simpa using h,

Without simpa, we might do simp at ⊢ h, exact h. So-called "non-terminal simps", which are usages of simp that do not close a goal, are best to be avoided (see the next section), and simpa is a way to avoid them.

If the using clause is not present, then simpa does the following three steps instead:

  1. The goal is simplified.
  2. If a hypothesis named this is in the local context, then its type is simplified.
  3. The assumption tactic is applied.

Step 2 is to support a pattern where simpa follows a have : P or suffices : P, since both of these default to using this as the name of the hypothesis they introduce.

Non-terminal simps #

The behaviour of simp changes over time as simp lemmas are added to (or removed from) the library. This means that proofs that use simp can break, and, unless you know how the set of simp lemmas has changed, it can be difficult to fix a proof.

For example if a proof looked like

  rw foo_eq_bar,

and then later someone added the @[simp] attribute to foo_eq_bar, this rewrite would now fail.

While it is fine using simp in the middle of a proof during initial development ("non-terminal simps"), the rule of thumb is that it is easier to maintain Lean code when every simp closes a goal completely. When such a simp later breaks, this ensures that the intended goal is known.

There are a few "approved" uses of simp for the middle of a proof:

  1. simp only [h1, h2, ..., hn] to constrain simp to using only lemmas from the given list, so it is not affected by changes to the set of simp lemmas. Hint: use squeeze_simp or simp? to automatically generate an appropriate simp only.

  2. Use a construct like have h : P, { ..., simp } to introduce a hypothesis proved by simp. The have expression might be in the middle of a proof, but the simp is closing the goal it introduces.

  3. If simp turns your goal into P, then you can write

      suffices : P,

    This adds a new goal of P after the current one, introduces a new hypothesis this : P, simplifies both the goal and this, then attempts to close the goal with this. The simpa tactic requires that a goal be closed, unlike simp, which makes it easier to know when it breaks. The explicit P in the source code helps in finding a fix.

One way non-terminal simps can appear is in a sequence of tactics like simp at ⊢ h, exact h. These can be replaced by simpa using h.

dsimp #

dsimp is a variant of simp that only uses "definitional" simp lemmas. These are simp lemmas whose proof is rfl or iff.rfl, that is, lemmas where the two sides are equal by definition.

Like simp it is recommended that you do not use it in the middle of a proof. However if dsimp turns your goal into h then change h will likely do the same thing. Another common use of dsimp is

dsimp only

which is short for dsimp only [], a dsimp with an empty set of simp lemmas. This can be safely used in the middle of a proof, and it can be a useful way to tidy up a goal: among other things, it does beta reduction for lambda expressions (it will turn (λ x, f x) 37 into f 37) and it will reduce structure projections (it will turn {to_fun := f, ...}.to_fun into f).

More advanced features #

Full syntax #

This is the full syntax for the dsimp tactic:

dsimp (only)? (* | [ list of lemmas ])? (with simp sets)? (at locations)? ({ configuration options })?

where "( ... )?" means an optional part of the expression, and "|" gives mutually exclusive options. The list of lemmas is similar to that of rw, but additionally -lemma_name means a lemma is excluded from the set of simp lemmas. Configuration options are described in a following section.

This is the full syntax for the simp tactic:

simp (!)? (?)? (only)? (* | [ list of lemmas ])? (with simp sets)? (at locations)? ({ configuration options })?

If ! is present, it adds iota_eqn := tt to the configuration options. If ? is present, it causes simp to suggest a set of simp lemmas that suffice.

This is the full syntax for the simpa tactic:

simpa (!)? (?)? (only)? (* | [ list of lemmas ])? (with simp sets)? (using expr)? ({ configuration options })?

The meanings are the same as for simp, but using can be given any expression, not just a local constant as required by at.

Custom simp attributes #

Using the command mk_simp_attribute, you can make your own @[simp]-like attribute, but with a key difference: lemmas tagged with @[new_attr] are not in the default set of simp lemmas. Instead, they are included using the syntax simp with new_attr. This can often replace lengthy simp only [...] calls and facilitate easier-to-read code. Some examples of common usage are mfld_simps, and field_simps.

Configuration options #

Both simp and dsimp can take additional configuration options using record syntax. For example, simp {single_pass := tt} runs simp with the single_pass configuration option set to true. One can use single_pass to avoid loops that might otherwise occur.

The core Lean file init/meta/simp_tactic.lean reveals other configuration options in the dsimp_config and simp_config structures. Most of them not very relevant for the average user, and some of them are not fully documented. These are reproduced in the following table, where the default value for a configuration option for simp or dsimp is given in the respective column -- if no default value is present, that option is unavailable. The "max" default value refers to simp.default_max_steps, which is currently 10000000.

Option simp dsimp Description
contextual ff Use additional simp lemmas based on the context of the current subexpression (see example below)
single_pass ff ff Visit each subterm no more than once
md reducible Reduction mode: how aggressively constants are replaced with their definitions (all, semireducible, instances, reducible, or none)
max_steps max max The maximum number of steps allowed before failing
fail_if_unchanged tt tt Fail if no simplifications applied
beta tt tt Do beta-reductions: (λ x, a) ya[x := y]
eta tt tt Allow eta-equivalence: (λ x, f x)f
zeta tt tt Do zeta-reductions: let x := a in bb[x := a]
proj tt tt Reduce projections: prod.fst (a, b)a
iota tt tt Reduce recursors: nat.rec_on (succ n) Z RR n (nat.rec_on n Z R)
iota_eqn ff Reduce using all equation lemmas generated by the equation compiler
unfold_reducible ff Unfold definitions with reducible transparency (delta-reduce)
memoize tt tt Perform caching of simps of subterms
lift_eq tt Prove reflexive relations using proofs of equality (?)
use_axioms tt Allow using propext and funext to rewrite under binders and to use A ↔ B simp lemmas
constructor_eq tt Use injectivity of constructors in equalities
canonize_instances tt tt Replace instances with a canonical defeq one
canonize_proofs ff Replace proofs with a canonical defeq one
discharger fail Tactic used to discharge new subgoals created during simplification; if it fails, the simplifier tries to discharge them by simplifying

The b[x := a] notation means to replace all free instances of x in b with a.

Setting constructor_eq to tt will reduce equations of the form X a1 a2... = Y b1 b2... to false if X and Y are distinct constructors for the same type, and to a1 = b1 ∧ a2 = b2 ∧ ... if X and Y are the same constructor.

Another interesting option is iota_eqn (in fact, simp! is shorthand for simp {iota_eqn := tt}). This adds equation lemmas generated by the equation/pattern-matching compiler to the set of simp lemmas.

The contextual option gives simp the ability to consider hypotheses as additional simp lemmas based on a subexpression's surrounding context. For example, as it simplifies the consequent of an implication it temporarily adds the antecedent as a simp lemma. This is necessary for the following example:

example {x y : } : x = 0  y = 0  x = y :=
  simp { contextual := tt},

Amusing trick: if you do simp _ then Lean will interpret _ as a placeholder for the configuration options. Since it can't figure out the configuration options through unification, it will instead print an error along with all the default configuration values. This works for other tactics that take a configuration as well, such as rw.