- Reference manual
- SWI-Prolog extensions
- Lists are special
- The string type and its double quoted syntax
- Syntax changes since SWI-Prolog 7
- Dicts: structures with named arguments
- Integration of strings and dicts in the libraries
- Single Sided Unification rules
- Remaining issues
- SWI-Prolog extensions
- Reference manual
For the execution of a normal Prolog clause, the goal term is unified with the head of the clause. This allows us to write facts such as below and use this relation in all four possible modes. This is the basis of SLD resolution that turns Prolog into a logic programming language.
In practice though, Prolog is both a logic programming language and a language for expressing computations in a near procedural style. The first is used to solve (notably) combinatorial problems while the latter is used for I/O, data transformation and the many non-logical operations that are involved in many applications.
Many Prolog programmers experience writing procedural style Prolog as fighting non-determinism and dealing with hard to debug silent failures because no clause matches some goal. Below are two typical queries on library predicates that have a procedural nature, i.e., are single moded.
?- sum_list(a, X). false. ?- sum_list([1|T], X). T = , X = 1 ; ERROR: Arguments are not sufficiently instantiated
The definition of sum_list/2 is it appears in library(lists) is below. This implementation can be considered elegant. Note that sum_list/2 has only one meaningful mode: (+,-). A general (logical) implementation would allow for a partial list or a list holding one or more variables, With a proper list that holds a single variable we can still make a sound logical implementation. In all other cases the number of solutions is infinite and even uncountable for a partial list, making the predicate useless as a generator of solutions.
sum_list(Xs, Sum) :- sum_list(Xs, 0, Sum). sum_list(, Sum, Sum). sum_list([X|Xs], Sum0, Sum) :- Sum1 is Sum0 + X, sum_list(Xs, Sum1, Sum).
If we want to avoid the above dubious behaviour we have two options. First, we can verify that the first argument is a list before entering the recursion, changing the first clause as below. The disadvantage is that we process the list twice.
sum_list(Xs, Sum) :- must_be(list, Xs), sum_list(Xs, 0, Sum).
Alternatively, we can rewrite the second clause to verify the list on the fly. That leads to the code below. Most likely the overhead of this alternative compared to the above is even worse in many Prolog implementations. Most people would also consider this code rather inelegant.
sum_list(Var, _, _) :- var(Var), instantiation_error(Var). sum_list(, Sum, Sum) :- !. sum_list([X|Xs], Sum0, Sum) :- !, Sum1 is Sum0 + X, sum_list(Xs, Sum1, Sum). sum_list(NoList, _, _) :- type_error(list, NoList).
Another example is a relation max/3 , expressing the maximum of two numbers. A classical textbook definition could be as below. This code has two drawbacks. First it leaves an open choice points in most Prolog implementations if X is the largest and second it compares the two numbers twice. Some Prolog systems detect this particular case, but in general it needs two know that one test is the strict negation of the other.
max(X,Y,X) :- X >= Y. max(X,Y,Y) :- Y > X.
As a result people use a cut and might come up with the wrong
solution below. Consider the query
?- max(5,2,2). to see
why this code is broken.
max(X,Y,X) :- X >= Y, !. max(_,Y,Y).
A correct solution is below, delaying binding the output until after the cut.
max(X,Y,M) :- X >= Y, !, M = X. max(_,Y,Y).
Some people may prefer using if-then-else as below. This is arguable the cleanest efficient solution in standard Prolog.
max(X,Y,M) :- ( X >= Y -> M = X ; M = Y ).
As we have seen from these examples, writing procedural code in Prolog requires us to follow the two basic principles below. Both principles have been properly described in The Craft of Prolog O'Keefe, 1990.
- Structure every clause as
Head :- Guard, !, Body. Every clause has the cut as early as possible. Guard can be empty. The last clause often does not need a cut.
- Avoid that the head unification binds values in the goal term. We see this may lead to undesirable results such as sum_list(L,S) binding L to‘` and S to‘0` as well as loss of steadfastness, causing max(5,2,2) to succeed. The first requires additional var/1 or nonvar/1 tests. The second requires delaying unification until after the cut.
Picat provides the =>/2 alternative for the Prolog neck (:-/2) to force the above practices. A Picat rule has the following shape:
Head, Guard => Body.
This is semantically equivalent to the Prolog clause below. The subsumes_term/2 guarantees the clause head is more generic than the goal term and thus unifying the two does not affect any of the arguments of the goal. This implies all output unification _must_ be done after the head unification.
p(V1,V2,...,Vn) :- Pattern = p(A1,A2,...,An), Args = p(V1,V2,...,Vn), subsumes_term(Pattern, Args), Pattern = Args, Guard, !, Body.
SWI-Prolog as of version 8.3.19 support =>/2 as an alternative to normal Prolog clauses. The construct comes with the following properties.
- A predicate either uses :-/2 for all its clauses or =>/2. Mixing is not allowed and raises a permission error for a clause that does not use the same neck as the first clause.
- Unlike Picat, it is an error if no clause matches.
Given =>/2 rules, we can rewrite sum_list/2 as below. The first clause can be written using :-/2 or =>/2. As the head is the most general head and there is only one clause these are fully equivalent. The sum_list/3 helper needs a small modification: we need to delay the unification against Sum to the body. The last clause is equivalent.
sum_list(Xs, Sum) => sum_list(Xs, 0, Sum). sum_list(, Sum0, Sum) => Sum = Sum0. sum_list([X|Xs], Sum0, Sum) => Sum1 is Sum0 + X, sum_list(Xs, Sum1, Sum).
Given this definition,
sum_list(L,S) no longer matches a
rule and neither does e.g.,
sum_list(a,S). Both raise an
error. Currently the error is defined as below.
Should silent failure be desired if no rule matches, this is easily encoding by adding a rule at the end using the most general head and fail/0 as body:
sum_list(_,_,_) => fail.
Using the construction
Head, Guard => Body, the Guard
is executed after the single sided head unification. If the
Guard succeeds the clause executes a cut (!/0)
and proceeds normally. There are no restrictions on the guard code. A
well behaved guard is a test. Notably:
- Though not enforced165We do not know about an efficient way to enforce unification against head arguments, guard code shall not instantiate variables in the Head because this breaks the promise of SSU and may make the node non-steadfast.
- It is bad style (but again, not enforced) to have any type of side effects (output, database change, etc.)
- Typically, guard calls are
semidet. Non-deterministic calls are allowed. If the guard succeeds with choicepoints these are pruned before the body is entered.
As a special exception, explicit unification against a variable in
the head is moved into the head. See section
2.18.3. In the example below, the
X = f(I) is moved
into the head and (thus) is executed using single sided unification.
p(X), X = f(I), integer(I) => q(X).
Warning Moving the guard unification into the head changes the semantics of the unification. This may be defended by the rules above that claim one should not unify against the head arguments in the guard. Future versions may use a dedicated operator to indicate that the unification may be moved into the head.
The =>/2 construct is handled by the low-level compiler if no guard is present. If a guard is present it is currently compiled into the construct below. The Picat ?=>/2 neck operator is like =>/2, but does not commit to this rule. We are not yet sure whether or not SWI-Prolog will remain supporting ?=>/2.166?=>/2 is currently implemented but not defined as an operator.
Head ?=> Guard, !, Body.
The main consequence is that clause/2 cannot distinguish between a normal clause and a =>/2 clause. In the current implementation it operates on both without distinguishing the two. This implies e.g., cross referencing still works. Meta interpretation however does not work. In future versions clause/2 may fail on these rules. As an alternative we provide rule/2,3.
- rule(:Head, -Rule)
- rule(:Head, -Rule, -Ref)
- True when Rule is a rule/clause that implements Head.
Rule is a complete rule term. For a normal clause this is a
Head :- Bodyand for a single sided unification rule it is a term
The current implementation is a rather simple. Single sided unification is achieved doing normal head unification and backtrack if this unification bound variables in the goal term. Future versions are likely to backtrack as soon as we find a variable in the goal that needs to be unified.
It is likely that in due time significant parts of the libraries will be migrated to use SSU rules, turning many silent failures on type errors into errors.