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The Lean tool chain #

Introduction #

In this document we explain how all the various pieces of the Lean tools ecosystem fit together. Understanding this precisely is not required, but it will help if you decide to explore non-recommended setups. In particular we will gradually introduce new pieces in the story, starting with a bare bones Lean. This is not the recommended setup. Also this document is long, that's the price for not wanting to blindly follow the recommended setup instructions.

Installing Lean and checking files #

Installing Lean #

Of course the main piece is Lean itself. You can download Lean binaries for your OS here. This contains folders bin, include and lib. The bin folder contains a lean executable which you can run.

That's all, Lean is installed!

You can make is slightly more convenient to use by ensuring this bin folder is in your path, or maybe by creating a link to lean from a folder which is in you path.

Again, we write this for pedagogical purposes. This is not the recommended setup.

Proving stuff #

You can now check your first proof. In a file called test.lean, type:

lemma zero_max (m : ) : max 0 m = m :=
max_eq_right (nat.zero_le m)

Then you can ask Lean to check this proof by running lean test.lean. Lean will think for a second (most of it spent in initialization) and return control to you, without outputting anything. That's Lean's idea of a dignified triumph. If you start messing up with the file, say deleting the final m on the last line, Lean will output an error message. That's 99.9% of what Lean and its supporting tool do, but the remaining 0.1% will make your life much easier.

Before turning to that, you need to understand why Lean didn't ask for the definition of , max, max_eq_right and nat.zero_le. That's because all those are defined in the part of Lean's core library that is automatically loaded by default. This default library lives in the lib folder you saw after downloading Lean, precisely in lib/lean/library/init/. You can prevent loading it by starting your test.lean with the line prelude. Then everything will fall apart. Lean will not know about , max, or even the equality sign! And it won't attempt to read the proof of a statement it couldn't understand. So you should not keep that prelude line.

Working with several files #

Your Lean work has grown quite a bit since you installed Lean, so let's start a second file, test2.lean, that should build on the knowledge gathered in test.lean. In test2.lean, put an important special case of our zero_max lemma:

lemma zero_max_one {m : nat} : max 0 1 = 1 :=
zero_max 1

Trying to compile it with lean test2.lean fails: Lean complains it doesn't know about our zero_max lemma. You need to tell Lean that test2.lean relies on test.lean. So add on top of test2.lean the line import test. Now Lean complains it cannot find the file test in LEAN_PATH. You can ask Lean where it searches for files by running lean --path, and paying attention to the lines in the "path" list. Notice this list does not contain the folder where test.lean is sitting. That all caps name in the error message suggests setting an environment variable called LEAN_PATH could help. Indeed you can run:

LEAN_PATH=path_to_our_lean_install_folder/lib/lean/library/:path_to_folder_containing_test lean test2.lean

and this succeeds. Note that omitting the first part would have brought you to the prelude situation where Lean does not know about natural numbers or equality.

Setting this LEAN_PATH variable is clearly annoying. There is a much better way, and actually you should never set this environment variable. Now create, next to test.lean and test2.lean, a file leanpkg.path containing:

path .

That's it, each time you'll invoke Lean from within this folder or one of its subfolders, it will look for files in the default places and in the folder containing your new leanpkg.path (the path mentioned in the second line is relative to the folder containing leanpkg.path, and . means current folder). Now check lean --path from outside or inside the folder containing leanpkg.path to see the difference.

Note that the way builtin_path is resolved is by going to ../library and ../lib/lean/library relative to the location of the executing lean process. Usually lean will be at lean-install-dir/bin/lean and so this will go to either lean-install-dir/bin/library (which is used when you build lean) or lean-install-dir/bin/lib/lean/library (which is used when you use the bare binary distribution).

Keeping compiled versions #

Note that lean rechecks test.lean each time you ask it to check test2.lean, even if test.lean was not modified since it was last checked. This is clearly a waste of CPU. You can ask Lean to remember its work by running lean --make test.lean. This will create test.olean containing all the relevant information from test.lean you need in test2.lean. The source file test.lean won't be checked again while checking test2.lean as long as you don't modify its content.

Interactive theorem proving #

Lean is branded as an interactive theorem prover. Writing files and asking Lean to check them is not very interactive. For instance, you should be able to interactively ask Lean where max is defined. Remember you typed that max name on the first line of test.lean, in columns 26 to 28. You can run Lean is interactive mode, also known as server mode, using lean --server. Again not much happens. Lean is waiting for instructions or questions on the standard input pipe. You can ask it to have a look at test.lean by typing:

{ "command": "sync", "file_name": "test.lean", "seq_num": 1 }

It will answer a couple of messages, claiming to start working, and then be to done before returning to silence. You can then ask for information about what's at column 27 of line 1 of test.lean by typing:

{ "command": "info", "file_name": "test.lean", "line": 1, "column": 27, "seq_num": 2 }

Lean's answer will include the location of the file defining max as well as the type of max.

Now tell Lean you want to modify the file test.lean to remove the final m at the end:

{ "command": "sync", "file_name": "test.lean", "content": "lemma zero_max (m : ℕ) : max 0 m = m :=\nmax_eq_right (nat.zero_le)", "seq_num": 3 }

Lean will immediately reply with the error message we saw earlier, complaining that nat.zero_le has type ∀ (n : ℕ), 0 ≤ n but is expected to have type 0 ≤ m.

By now you should be tired of interacting directly with Lean's interactive mode. It's time to install an editor having some plugin that will do the talking with lean --server. Currently you get to choose between emacs and VS code. That editor plugin will also be in charge of finding the lean executable and starting lean --server inside the directory containing the leanpkg.path that you carefully crafted in the previous section.

Handling dependencies #

Your current project only has two files, test.lean and test2.lean which both depend on part of Lean's core library. But you want to start using what other people did, so you'll need other Lean files, for instance from mathlib. You could download mathlib, and add a line to your leanpkg.path pointing to mathlib/src. But of course you'll want to put your project under version control without versioning mathlib, which is already versioned somewhere else. And you want to update mathlib regularly to enjoy all the latest goodies. And mathlib is very long to compile (ie. making olean files), so you'd like to get a precompiled version.

All this means you need a Lean project manager. Your download at the very beginning does include such a tool, at bin/leanpkg. That one is written in Lean (you can see all the code in lib/lean/leanpkg/), so you already have all the required dependencies. However Lean, at least in its current series Lean 3.X.X, is not convenient at all to build a powerful project manager. So the Lean user community has built a more powerful project manager written in python: leanproject. The downside is you need to have a sane python3 environment to use it, so that you can run something like pip install mathlibtools to get it, see mathlib-tools' webpage for more information.

For historical reasons, leanproject still calls leanpkg for some simple operations. Because of this and for compatibility reasons, both managers use the same configuration file for your project, called leanpkg.toml. This file should be at the root of your project. It is written in the config file language TOML (which has nothing to do with ML or ML). You don't need to know anything about the required fields of this configuration file, because the package manager will write everything there for you. It will also handle writing the leanpkg.path file for you, and download and update a compiled mathlib for you.

Handling Lean versions #

Lean is a very active project. The core team around Leonardo de Moura at Microsoft research is developing Lean 4, which is not yet ready for end users, while the user community still develops Lean 3. So you'll want to frequently update Lean itself. Again you don't want to think about this, so elan will handle it. This version manager also reads your project leanpkg.toml, and uses it to decide which version of Lean you want to run, and download it if needed. This is completely transparent. You can continue to run lean, directly or through your editor plugin or through leanproject, and elan will call the appropriate Lean version.

This is why the first step in the recommended installation procedure is to install elan. Then the second step is to install leanproject (in mathlib-tools), and the third step is to install a compatible editor and its Lean plugin. And then leanproject and the editor plugin handle everything.