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Lambda calculus

This is a very brief introduction to lambda calculus.

Lambda calculus is a notation for defining functions. It is very simple and powerful. Two of its main uses are

• foundation of programming languages, especially functional languages such as Ocaml, Haskell, and Scala
• higher order logic notations, such as Isabelle, HOL, PVS

For example, a function which takes its argument and increments it by 2 is given by lambda expression . The operator is a binder used to indicate that a variable is to be treated as an argument of a function. We indicate function application by juxtaposition. Here are some example expressions and their values:

Note: in Isabelle and Jahob notation we use '% x.F' or '\<lambda> x.F' to denote .F binder. In ocaml, one can use 'function x → F', and in Haskell one can use '\ x → F'.

Lambda expressions

Untyped lambda expressions are given by following grammar:

That is, an expression is a variable, a lambda expression defining a function, or an application of one expression to another.

Beta reduction

The main rule of lambda calculus is beta reduction, which formalizes function application:

where we assume capture-avoiding substitution.

One simple use of lambda expressions to introduce shorthands: instead of writing

we can write

References: