Notations and Precedence

The most basic syntax extension commands allow introducing new (or overloading existing) prefix, infix, and postfix operators.

infixl:65   " + " => HAdd.hAdd  -- left-associative
infix:50    " = " => Eq         -- non-associative
infixr:80   " ^ " => HPow.hPow  -- right-associative
prefix:100  "-"   => Neg.neg
set_option quotPrecheck false
postfix:max "⁻¹"  => Inv.inv

After the initial command name describing the operator kind (its "fixity"), we give the parsing precedence of the operator preceded by a colon :, then a new or existing token surrounded by double quotes (the whitespace is used for pretty printing), then the function this operator should be translated to after the arrow =>.

The precedence is a natural number describing how "tightly" an operator binds to its arguments, encoding the order of operations. We can make this more precise by looking at the commands above unfold to:

notation:65 lhs:65 " + " rhs:66 => HAdd.hAdd lhs rhs
notation:50 lhs:51 " = " rhs:51 => Eq lhs rhs
notation:80 lhs:81 " ^ " rhs:80 => HPow.hPow lhs rhs
notation:100 "-" arg:100 => Neg.neg arg
set_option quotPrecheck false
notation:1024 arg:1024 "⁻¹" => Inv.inv arg  -- `max` is a shorthand for precedence 1024

It turns out that all commands from the first code block are in fact command macros translating to the more general notation command. We will learn about writing such macros below. Instead of a single token, the notation command accepts a mixed sequence of tokens and named term placeholders with precedences, which can be referenced on the right-hand side of => and will be replaced by the respective term parsed at that position. A placeholder with precedence p accepts only notations with precedence at least p in that place. Thus the string a + b + c cannot be parsed as the equivalent of a + (b + c) because the right-hand side operand of an infixl notation has precedence one greater than the notation itself. In contrast, infixr reuses the notation's precedence for the right-hand side operand, so a ^ b ^ c can be parsed as a ^ (b ^ c). Note that if we used notation directly to introduce an infix notation like

set_option quotPrecheck false
notation:65 lhs:65 " ~ " rhs:65 => wobble lhs rhs

where the precedences do not sufficiently determine associativity, Lean's parser will default to right associativity. More precisely, Lean's parser follows a local longest parse rule in the presence of ambiguous grammars: when parsing the right-hand side of a ~ in a ~ b ~ c, it will continue parsing as long as possible (as the current precedence allows), not stopping after b but parsing ~ c as well. Thus the term is equivalent to a ~ (b ~ c).

As mentioned above, the notation command allows us to define arbitrary mixfix syntax freely mixing tokens and placeholders.

set_option quotPrecheck false
notation:max "(" e ")" => e
notation:10 Γ " ⊢ " e " : " τ => Typing Γ e τ

Placeholders without precedence default to 0, i.e. they accept notations of any precedence in their place. If two notations overlap, we again apply the longest parse rule:

notation:65 a " + " b:66 " + " c:66 => a + b - c
#eval 1 + 2 + 3  -- 0

The new notation is preferred to the binary notation since the latter, before chaining, would stop parsing after 1 + 2. If there are multiple notations accepting the same longest parse, the choice will be delayed until elaboration, which will fail unless exactly one overload is type correct.