Curly Expressions

Curly is based on the lambda-calculus of old. It is called Curly because, rather than use a prefix notation for quantification (like λx y z. E), I chose a more balanced alternative in the curly braces, with {x y z: E}. The block notation should be familiar to many developpers already, except that Curly blocks accept parameters as well.

The rules of lambda-calculus still apply, though. With few exceptions, the following will hold true : {x y ...: E} X is equivalent to {y ...: E[x / X]} where E[x/X] means "the expression E, with all occurrences of x replaced by X".

Here are a few functions to help you get a feel of the language : {x: x}, the identity function; {x _: x}, the constant function; {f x y: f y x}, a function to flip its first arguments' parameters.

Functions and operators

Functions (or "blocks", or "lambdas", however one may want to call them) can be applied to their parameters with the following syntax f x y z, where f is a function and x, y, z its parameters. This is called prefix notation (or Polish notation, in honor of its inventor, Jan Łukasiewicz).

In addition to the prefix notation, Curly allows the definition of syntactic operators, that may appear in infix (x + y), postfix (n!) or even multifix (if X then Y else Z) notation.

Operators are always associated with a symbol, that determines the operator's scope. The name of that symbol describes the syntax of the operator, where _ marks the need for a parameter.

For example, you can define the usual arithmetic operators by associating the symbols _+_, _-_, _*_ and _/_ to their corresponding function. The "square" function can be abbreviated to in the same manner.

# Example : arithmetic operators
define _+_ = addInt
define _-_ = subInt
define _*_ = mulInt
define _/_ = divInt
define  x = x*x

In some cases, there can be ambiguity in the syntax. For example, the expression x+y*z can be interpreted as either (x+y)*z or x+(y*z). In those cases, the operators defined last have priority over the ones defined earlier. Thus, if we want our arithmetic operators to be parsed correctly, we only have to define them in the correct order, that is _+_, then _-_, and _*_, and finally _/_.

Operators can also be exported to / imported from other modules. In those cases, since the order of definition is important, the operators are imported in the same order that they were exported from the original module (unless specified otherwise by the import statement).

Partial application of operators

Since operators are basically "syntaxes with holes", it seems natural to sometimes leave some of the holes empty for future use. Curly allows any combination of operators within parentheses to be left incomplete by writing _ where a parameter should be left blank.

To illustrate, you can easily define affine functions with define affine f0 df = f0+_*df, or boolean operators with define _or_ = if _ then true else _. In each case, the underscores stand for missing arguments, which are abstracted in the order in which they appear.

For instance, x+_*y is equivalent to {z: x+z*y}, and if _ then true else _ is equivalent to {x y: if x then true else y}.

Local definitions in argument lists

We've now seen that functions can accept abstract arguments in the form of variables. If we want to give a name to the value (1+2) in the expression (1+2)*((1+2)+3) we can do so by writing the equivalent expression {x: x*(x+3)} (1+2).

This is a functionally correct way to factor out a value, but it's not a very practical one for two reasons :

To avoid both those problems, Curly allows the previous expression to be rewritten as {{x = 1+2}: x*(x+3)}. More generally, the special form {var arg... = body} can appear anywhere in an argument list, and has the effect of declaring a local variable var with a value of {arg...: body}.

A local definition can refer to any parameter that precedes it, including other local definitions. For example, the expression {x {x2 = x*x} y {xy2 = x2+y*y}: sqrt xy2} describes a function of two arguments (x and y), that returns sqrt (x*x+y*y).

Continuations in argument lists

TODO : describe how the syntax {x... (f) y...: z} is equivalent to {x...: f {y...: z}}, and why it can be useful.

Source Directives

A Curly source file is a series of directives, that act upon a "library context". Each directive will modify the context, until the end of the file is reached, at which point the resulting library is ready to be used by other parts of your build.

Defining symbols

Usage: define NAME ARG... = EXPRESSION OR define NAME = {ARG...: EXPRESSION}

This directive, as it name implies, defines the symbol NAME to the given expression. The first form is syntactic sugar for the second form.

Seeing as you may want to categorize the definitions of different sorts of objects, the following keywords are also recognized instead of define : operator, function, and let. Thus, operator _++ x = add x 1 is a perfectly valid Curly definition.

Definining types


Defines the polymorphic type TN a b ..., along with two symbols TC and TD, the type's constructor and destructor.

If TC and TN are identical, you can simply write type TN ... instead.

The witness is an expression whose type is used as the internal representation of TN. If we call that type TI, then we have TC : TI -> TN VISIBLE_ARG... and TD : TN VISIBLE_ARG... -> TI.


Booleans :

type mkBool : Bool = boolImpl : {x _: x} or {x _: x}
define true = Bool {x _: x}
define false = Bool {_ x: x}

Lists :

type List : [_] a = listImpl : {_ x: x} or {k x: k a(...) x}
define nil = List {_ x: x}
define cons a l = List {k x: k a (listImpl l k x)}

Showable :

type Showable = showableImpl a : const a(...) Show(a(...))
define defShowable = Showable 1
define useShowable sh = showableImpl sh {x: "Value of x: ${show x}"}

Type-indexed families

Usage: family NAME([INDEX])... ARG... : WITNESS

Defines a symbol describing a family of type-indexed functions. That symbol can then be defined multiple times to provide the instances for this family.

The ARGS are type constraints, as in type, and can be referenced by the WITNESS to infer the symbol's type.

The INDICES can be any nonempty subset of the ARGS, and are used for instance resolution. A family constraint can be resolved if any of its indices lead to an instance. A new instance may not be defined if it overrides another, even at a single index.

Importing/exporting symbols

Usage: import TREE OR export TREE

Imports a subtree of the local source context. The second form exports a tree where the leaves are local symbols.

In its simplest form, a tree can be either a symbol, or a module node of the form MODULE_NAME{SUBTREE...}. If the tree is a symbol, it can optionally be followed by a local name in parentheses, whose meaning will be described below.

When a module node has a single subtree, Curly also recognizes the syntax MODULE_NAME.SUBTREE as a shorthand for MODULE_NAME{SUBTREE}.


During imports, the TREE acts as a filter for the local module. Each module node of the tree is matched with an equivalent nonempty node from the local context, and each leaf symbol is imported.

If a leaf symbol corresponds to a module node in the context, Curly will import all symbols under that node. Thus, you can avoid manually listing all the symbols of every library you import.

If a leaf symbol has a local name, then it is imported under that name, independently of the one it had originally. This can be useful in order to avoid the imprecision of importing similarly named symbols from different libraries.


During exports, the tree is simply exported as-is, with each leaf symbol being made to correspond with a local symbol (either defined locally, or imported from another module).

If a leaf symbol has a local name, then the local symbol of that name is exported instead of the leaf's name.

Definining system-specific values

Sometimes, in the interest of efficiency or portability, it can be useful to have a symbol represent different implementations of a function on different systems. To define such symbols, Curly provides the multi pragma, with the following syntax :


This pragma define the multi-system symbol SYMBOL, with a system-specific implementation for each SYSTEM_NAME, and a fallback implementation defined in DEFAULT_SYMBOL.

Example: packaging an external C library

Warning: this is still a thought experiment. The Curly FFI is not yet capable of integrating with C, although it will be very soon.

Imagine you have a C library called libX. You have the source for this library, and maybe a C cross-compiling toolchain for several systems. Using all this, you manage to compile libX into three dynamic libraries, that each run on a different ABI and maybe a different architecture. Let's call these,, and

You can now use Curly to create a library of bindings to libX, in a portable way. First, mount each .so to a point in context, using the "external" input source, along with a source file :

#!/usr/bin/env curly
# A simple context file for libX
mount C libX arm = external 
mount C libX x86 = external 
mount C libX x86-64 = external 

mount libX = source

That file can now define a multi-symbol for each function of the libX library, handling each system accordingly :

module libX: Bindings to a library

# Since each library exports the same symbols, we have to rename them during import
import C.libX{
  arm{f(arm'f) ...}
  x86{f(x86'f) ...}
  x86-64{f(x64'f) ...}

let defaultImpl = undefined
multi f = defaultImpl, linux-x86 x86'f, linux-arm arm'f, linux-x86-64 x64'f

export f ...

You can now import the libX module anywhere, and use its functions on any of the three handled systems. The C binaries are no longer needed once libX has been compiled.