Universal Lambda

This universal lambda language is based directly on John Tromp's idea and design with a few minor changes to make it more suitable for golfing while still being extremely simple in nature.

Listed below are all resources needed to learn how to write and run universal lambda code. Download all files here.

Last update: Nov 14, 2008, see readme file for change log. Apologies to Irori and hinoe, because this makes the problems hello world and fizzbuzz much easier after they made good entries in previous version. Your code is still nice though and I hope if you submit over it you alter your name so it does not get removed. Next version (hopefully soon) will be much more efficient at handling church numbers and operations on them.


Core Language

Lamda Binary files (*.lamb) represent the lambda calculus by acting as a list of bits.

In this manner the language is the same as Tromp's except the bits are just packed into bytes.

Input and output are done by treating your program as a function which takes a string (the input), and returns a string (the output). This is very similar to lazy-k, except that nil is used to terminate the strings instead of a char with value 256. Lazy-k is also a lazy language, making it very similar and a useful resource.

Lambda Calculus

See wikipedia's articles on Lambda Calculus and Church encoding to learn this.

Strings are represented as a list of characters. Where a character is just the church numeral corresponding to its ascii value and a list is a nesting of pairs. Here are some useful definitions:

 nil = λa b.b        #end of list
 cons = λa b x.x a b #place a at the front of list b
 true = λa b.a
 false = λa b.b
 head = λl. l true   #first element of a list
 tail = λl. l false  #all but the first element
 null = λl. l (λa b c. false) true #test if a list is empty
 Y = λf. (λx.x x)(λx.f (x x))      #y combinator

Note the slightly non standard choice of nil, chosen by Tromp, because it allows for simpler list processing.

Assembler Tutorial

Since it is cumbersome to code in binary, included is an assembler which accepts a much more readable description of a lambda expression (*.lam).

 a=x y z
 a b a

Is converted to:

 (\a.a b a) (x y z)

Thus all assignments are final, and all assignments have their own scope. This would lead to larger programs if the variables were never used or used only once, but the assembler also attempts some size optimization by looking for applications which can be made at compile time resulting in a shorter size. For large programs it is impossible to make this optimization perfect, but in general it is pretty good with a basic algorithm. Note however that currently the algorithm does no checking to see if rearranging assignments (or arguments in curried functions) would result in shorter size, so place commonly used variables closer in scope to where they are used.

The lamb interpreter takes all command lines as files, concatenating them along with the standard input at the end. It does not distinguish between source file and input; it parses everything until all applies have two arguments, then uses all the remaining bytes as the input. One thing this allows you to do is prepend text to the standard input by placing it at the end of the source file. To do this with a lam file, end your program with a ' or ", and immediately follow it with the text. ' is for raw string, " is to first escape \n and such. For example the hello world program can be written as:

 (\a. a) "Hello, world!\n


Let's make a program which prints out all of the permutations of an input string. Based on this pseudo code:

 perm(pre, s)=
   if s is empty
     output pre, newline
     for i=0 to s.size-1
       perm pre+s[i], s[0...i]+s[i+1..-1]
 perm "",input

First all side effects must be removed, so we must make perm return a string instead of printing it as it goes. The for loop has been moved into its own recursive function with sums the results as it goes:

   if a is empty
   if s is empty
     inject "",s, λ left,right . perm(pre+right[0,1],left+right[1..-1]
 output perm("",input)

Now we will start writing in lam notation, defining some useful functions along with the inject function. You can ignore foldr and inject for now, the explanation of perm should cover all the important things in them.

 false=\a b.b
 true=\a b.a
 cons=\a b x.x a b #place a character at the front of a string
 Y=\f.(\x.x x)(\x.f (x x)) #Y combinator
 foldr=\f init.Y(\self list.list (\lhs rhs init.f lhs (self rhs)) init)
 concat=\a b.foldr cons b a #concatenate two strings 
 rcons=\a b.concat a (cons b false) #append a character to a string
 null=\list.list (\a b i.false) true #return true if list is empty
 inc=\n f x.f (n f x) #add 1 to a church numeral
 pow=\a b.b a
 2=(inc \a.a)
 3=inc 2
 10=inc (pow 3 2) #ascii value of newline
 inject=Y \self init a block.
   a (\lhs rhs empty.
     concat (block init a) (self (rcons init lhs) rhs block)
   ) false

Named recursion is impossible since the function would need to pass itself as an argument to itself, which it cannot do since it does not know what itself is. To get around this the Y combinator is used, it takes a function and returns a function, passing the result to the function.

 perm=Y \self pre s.
   null s (rcons pre 10) (
   inject false s \left right.
     self (rcons pre (right true)) (concat left (right false)))
 \input.perm false input

Here self will be the same as perm, allowing the recursion. Important things to note are if statements are simulated by just passing 2 arguments to a boolean function and that the first element of a list is list(true), and the rest is list(false).

Straight compilation of our program results in a 717 bit result, but the assembler finds that it can make things shorter by making some of the function applications now instead of at run time. This results in a 458 bit program. Some more bits can be saved by noticing that (\input.perm false input) is the same as just (perm false), saving 6 more bits. The final result is


Not a pretty sight, but slightly more pretty after trying the disassembler on it:

 > lama perm.lam
 size = 717 bits
 optimized = 458 bits
 > lamd perm.lamb
 (a = (\a.
   (b = (\b.a (b b))
   b b)
 (b = (\b c.a (\d e.e (\f g h i.i f (d g)) c) b)
 (c = (\c d.b c (\e.e d (\f g.g)))
 (\d.a (\e f g.g (\h i j k l.l) (\h i.h) (c f (\h i.h ((j = (\j k.j (j (j k)))
 j (j h)) i))) (a (\h i j k.j (\l m n.b (k i j) (h (c i l) m k)) (\l m.m)) (\h i.i) g (\h i.e (c f (i (\j k.j))) (b h (i (\j k.k)))))) (\e f.f) d))))
 > echo -n 123 | lamb perm.lamb

This result can probably be improve a great deal, but after just this initial attempt its score of 56 bytes is not bad at all, considering first place python is 79 bytes and it doesn't have to build up all its utility functions from scratch, then again it doesn't get to compact instructions down to 2 bits either.

Possible Future Improvements

Golfing Ideas

These are ways to make the code for most problems much shorter, but the language would lose its purity as such a simple language if they were made. For now none will be made.

If you would like to contribute helping with the improvements or just making suggestions about any ideas (or bugs) email me at: Image:email.png