Includes and Implicit Morphisms

This document describes inclusions and implicit morphisms from a high-level language perspective. You might also be interested in how MMT unifies inclusions in theories and views, whether defined or not, code-wise. For that have a look at IncludeData and its Scaladoc.


A theory T may contain an include declaration of S. The basic intuition is that this makes the identity map a well-formed morphism from S to T, i.e., everything true in S is also true in T.

In the simplest case, an include declaration can be understood as follows: the flattening of T contains a copy of all declarations of S.

In the implementation, by te way, this flattening is not computed: copying included declarations would lead to a size explosion. Instead, MMT computes for every theory which theories it includes. That corresponds to taking the transitive closure of the include-relation.

Includes are implicit morphisms

Includes are a special case of implicit morphisms. In addition to the usual theory graph, MMT maintains a subgraph containing only certain edges, in particular all inclusions. The paths in this graph are the implicit morphisms. If there is an implicit morphism m from S to T, all names c of S can be used in T as an abbreviation of m(c). Similarly, every morphism out of T can be treated as a morphism out of S by composing with m. This happens automatically, i.e., the user does not have to refer to m, hence the name implicit morphisms.

Of course, this only works if m is uniuqe, i.e., there may at most 1 implicit morphism between any two theories. In other words, the subgraph of implicit morphisms must commute.

A number of examples are given in the research paper on implicit morphisms.

Includes can have a definiens

A powerful feature of MMT is that there are more implicit morphisms. Includes can be defined, i.e., T can have an include of S with definiens m, where m must be a morphism from S to T. In this case, the flattening of T contains all declarations of S but with definitions as provided by m. In programming language terms, we can understand undefined includes as inheritance and defined includes as delegation. The latter states that T also implements the interface of S, but the implementations are not given individually; instead, all S-operations are uniformly delegated to the object m, which already implements S.

From the perspective of implicit morphism, a defined include just means that m becomes an implicit morphism. Vice versa, implicit morphisms can induce defined includes: Assume we declare an undefined include from S in T when there already is an implicit morphism m. At first sight, that may look like a violation of the commutativity condition. But it works out fine - the new include simply acquires m as its definiens.

Defined includes are particularly relevant in structures and views l from T to U where T contains an undefined include from S. Instead of defining assignments individually for all declarations of S, l can simply include an existing morphism from S to U. This is done by declaring a defined include of S in l.

Views can also be implicit

Thus, from the perspective of T, an implicit morphism m out of S and a defined includes of S with definiens m are equivalent. However, implicit morphisms are even more powerful: we can add implicit morphisms into T even from the outside, i.e., when T has already been defined. Specifically, we can give any structure or view the additional keyword implicit.

A very common situation is that T is strong enough to implement the interface of S. We can accomplish that by defining a view v from S to T. In programming language terms, v is an adapter that turns implementations of T into implementations of S. But by declaring that v to an implicit view, we can eliminate the need to manually apply the adapter: MMT applies it automatically.

Another way to think of that is that the implicit view v extends the interface of T from the outside. Later on, anybody who uses T can use it as if T included S.

Note that the author of v may be different from the author of T. She may not even have access rights to change T. But by declaring an implicit view, she can create essentially the same effect as if she had changed T.

Theories can realize other theories like views

Declaring an implicit v view from S to T can be cumbersome if v and T are written together. For example, it requires naming v even though the name will never be used directly later on.

In that case, a better solution is for T to double as a view from S to itself. In that case, the body of T contains all the assignments that would otherwise be placed into the body of v. Inside T, they behave like normal (defined) constants. Additionally, we put the declaration realize S before those assignments. This can be seen as a postulated include: we promise that at the end of T, the identity map will be a well-formed morphism from S to T. This requires T to contain the same as a view out of S, namely a definition for every name in the interface of S. Thus, we can think of T itself as a morphism from S to T.

In programming language terms, realizations can be seen as interface implementations. For example, MMT’s includes and realizations roughly correspond to Java’s extends and implements declarations and to ML’s signature inclusions and signature type ascriptions.

In most situations, realizations behave in the same way as plain includes. In particular, realizations are also implicit morphisms. However, while an include induces an implicit morphism immediately, a realization only does so at the end of the containing theory.

Like plain includes, realizations can also be defined. Here, we promise a realization and provide its witness directly. That is essentially the same as declaring a defined include. The only difference is that the definiens of a defined include must be well-typed at that point, whereas the definiens of a defined realization must be well-typed only at the end of the containing theory. Thus, the definiens of a defined realization in T may refer to some other realization of T.
Defined realizations usually make no sense in user syntax. But they are needed for includes to be closed under composition: if R is realized by S and S is realized by T, then flattening of T generates a defined realization of R, whose definiens is the composition of the two realizations.

Systematic Treatment of Includes


We classifiy includes from S to T in two binary dimensions:

  • status
    • axiomatic
      • makes S available to T by definition
      • all primitives/axioms of S are thus in T
      • akin to an extension of S by T in OOP
    • assertive
      • states a theorem that S is available to T
      • later declarations must provide the proof, by declaring defined constants
      • akin to an implementation in OOP
  • definition
    • primitive/undefined
      • changes the containing theory by adding or requiring declarations
      • akin to inheritance in OOP
    • defined
      • conservative, makes an existing morphism from S to T available anonymously
      • akin to a delegation in OOP

We use the following names for the 4 combinations:

  • primitive, axiomatic: include or (if necessary to disambiguate) plain include
  • primitive, assertive: realization
  • defined, axiomatic: defined include
  • defined, assertive: defined realization


When flattening T, MMT adds all includes to T that arise by composing includes.

This is easiest to make precise by working with the morphism expressions corresponding to each include declaration of S in T:

  • plain include: the identity morphism of S
  • plain realization: T (used as if T were a view from S to T)
  • defined include or realization: the definiens

Now to compose two includes i from R to S and j from S to T, we compose the corresponding morphism expressions, say resulting in m, and simplify m. Then we undo the above correspondence, i.e., if m simplifies to:

  • an identity of R: a plain include
  • anything else: m is the definiens of
    • a defined realization if m refers to a realization into T
    • a defined include otherwise

The following table shows the 9 possible cases:

i: R to S j: S to T status … and definiens of composition: R to T remark
plain plain ax. prim. transitive closure of plain includes
plain real. ass. prim. to realize S, T must also realize R
plain def. m’ ax. m’ restricted to R m’ already maps R as well, just needs to be restricted
real. plain ax. S from the outside, S acts like a view R to S, so can be used as definiens
real. real. ass. S;T see below
real. def. m’ ax. S; m’  
def. m plain ax. m m is also morphism into T
def. m real. ass. m; T see below
def. m def. m’ ax. m;m’  

Note that the composition is defined if i or j is or if i is a realization (which can be treated as if defined from outside S). And the composition is a realization iff j is.

In particular, in the two cases where T occurs in the definiens of the composition, the resulting declaration is a defined realization. This is necessary because the definiens refers to T, i.e., another realization into T, and therefore is only total at the end of T. Thus, the generated declaration may be applied to an expression from R in subsequent declarations only if it is already defined for its argument at that point. This is critical to avoid unintended cyclic reasoning, where a realization of S immediately generates a defined realization of R and then later declarations use that access to R in order to define S.

But we do not have to consider the cases where i or j is a defined realization because:

  • A defined realization in a finished theory acts in the same way as a defined include. So if i is defined, it does not matter if it is axiomatic or assertive.
  • j is the include that we are flattening. There is no use for j to be a defined realization in practice as defined realizations are only introduced during flattening.

Conflicting Include Paths

A theory T may include R in at most one way (primitive or defined, axiomatic or assertive). This is because the include makes all declarations of R available unqualified. So multiple different includes would be in conflict.

If we only have plain includes, that is easy as it amounts to taking the transitive closure. But in the presence of realizations and defined includes, conflicts may arise when there is more than one include path from R to T This typically happens in diamond situations where R is included into S and S’, which are then both included into T.

During flattening, MMT computes all composed include paths and verifies that the corresponding morphisms are equal. If so, the latter include is dropped as being redundant. If not, an error is reported.

Here the order of includes is the order in which they occur in T. MMT flattens every include i of S in T and by composing it with every include into S and inserts the generated includes after i. The order is relevant because the declarations included by i can already be used in the declarations between i and a later include with the same domain.

There is one relaxation though. If the later include i2 of R is primitve, it can often be dropped even if an earlier include i1 of R has a different kind or a definition. This is justified because:

  • If i2 is a realization, the promise of i2 is trivial because it has already been fulfilled by i1.
  • If i2 is a plain include and i1 already provides a definition m, dropping i2 amounts to implicitly instantiating all R-constants in the domain of i2 via m.

The only exception is when i1 is a realization and i2 is a plain include. This must be forbidden: The domain of i2 (which includes R) may already use R, and it would be a dependency cycle if T later used those to realize R. If the realization of R in T is already total at this point, one could drop i2. But that is not implemented; a simple workaround is to split T into two theories, one which contains i1 and realizes R, and one which contains i2. In that case, i1 appears as defined and i2 is dropped.