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Functional Pearl: Streams and Unique Fixed Points

Ralf Hinze

The 13th ACM SIGPLAN International Conference on Functional Programming (ICFP 2008)
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, September 22-24, 2008


Streams, infinite sequences of elements, live in a coworld: they are given by a coinductive data type, operations on streams are implemented by corecursive programs, and proofs are conducted using coinduction. But there is more to it: suitably restricted, stream equations possess unique solutions, a fact that is not very widely appreciated. We show that this property gives rise to a simple and attractive proof technique essentially bringing equational reasoning to the coworld. In fact, we redevelop the theory of recurrences, finite calculus and generating functions using streams and stream operators building on the cornerstone of unique solutions. The development is constructive: streams and stream operators are implemented in Haskell, usually by one-liners. The resulting calculus or library, if you wish, is elegant and fun to use. Finally, we rephrase the proof of uniqueness using generalised algebraic data types.

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