Lean Fundamentals

This document assumes that you have installed Lean following the instructions on the Download page. Users will generally work with Lean interactively using an editor, but here we provide some general information as to what is going on under the hood.

Source Files and Object Files

A .lean (read “dot Lean”) file consists of instructions that tell Lean how to construct formal terms in dependent type theory. Processing this file is a matter of filling in missing or implicit information, building the relevant terms, and sending them to the type checker to confirm that they are well-formed and have the specified types. This is analogous to the compilation process for a programming language, in that the .lean file contains source code that is compiled down to machine representations of the desired formal objects. Lean caches the output of the compilation process in files with the extension .olean, for “object Lean.”

Assuming the directory that contains Lean is in your system path, you can run Lean on a file foo.lean from a system command line by typing:

lean foo.lean

The command

lean --make foo.lean

not only compiles foo but saves the results in foo.olean. You can compile more than one file at once, as in the following example:

lean --make foo.lean bar.lean baz.lean

Projects and the Search Path

A source file can import other files. By default, Lean looks for these in the current directory, as well as in the standard library, which it finds in a directory relative to the one from which it was invoked.

When processing a file and its dependencies, Lean uses any .olean files it can find, as they are up to date with the corresponding source file. Otherwise, it recursively compiles the dependencies as necessary. Of course, it is more efficient when there are precompiled .olean files present.

You can change the default search path or add additional directories by specifying them in the LEAN_PATH environment variable. When importing files within a .lean file, you can specify subdirectories using periods in the module name. For example, import foo.bar.baz looks for the file foo/bar/baz.lean relative to any of the locations listed in the search path. A leading period, as in import .foo.bar, indicates that the .lean file in question is specified relative to the current directory. Two leading periods, as in import ..foo.bar, indicates that the address is relative to the parent directory, and so on.

One often wants to create complex projects and arrange the source files in nested directories. To compile an entire project, simply go to the root directory and type

lean --make

This compiles all the files in that directory, descending recursively into subdirectories. The root directory is added to the LEAN_PATH, so files in a project can specify imports in absolute terms from the base directory.


You can obtain the following list of command line options by typing

lean --help


lean -h

Here are some of the most useful ones:

option function
–version -v display version number
–path display the path used for finding Lean libraries and extensions
–make create olean files
–trust=num -t trust level (default: max) 0 means do not trust any macro, and type check all imported modules
–quiet -q do not print verbose messages
–memory=num -M maximum amount of memory that should be used by Lean (in megabytes)
–threads=num -j number of threads used to process lean files
–tstack=num -s thread stack size in Kb
–deps just print dependencies of a Lean input
–json print JSON-formatted structured error messages
–profile display elaboration/type checking time for each definition/theorem
–export=file -E export final environment as textual low-level file
–export-all=file -A export final environment (and all dependencies) as textual low-level file