# Function Definitions¶

## Introduction¶

A function is defined by first declaring its type followed by a number of
equations called *clauses*. Each clause consists of the function being defined
applied to a number of *patterns*, followed by `=`

and a term called the
*right-hand side*. For example:

```
not : Bool → Bool
not true = false
not false = true
```

Functions are allowed to call themselves recursively, for example:

```
twice : Nat → Nat
twice zero = zero
twice (suc n) = suc (suc (twice n))
```

## General form¶

The general form for defining a function is

```
f : (x₁ : A₁) → … → (xₙ : Aₙ) → B
f p₁ … pₙ = d
…
f q₁ … qₙ = e
```

where `f`

is a new identifier, `pᵢ`

and `qᵢ`

are patterns of type `Aᵢ`

,
and `d`

and `e`

are expressions.

The declaration above gives the identifier `f`

the type
`(x₁ : A₁) → … → (xₙ : Aₙ) → B`

and `f`

is defined by the defining
equations. Patterns are matched from top to bottom, i.e., the first pattern
that matches the actual parameters is the one that is used.

By default, Agda checks the following properties of a function definition:

The patterns in the left-hand side of each clause should consist only of constructors and variables.

No variable should occur more than once on the left-hand side of a single clause.

The patterns of all clauses should together cover all possible inputs of the function, see Coverage Checking.

The function should be terminating on all possible inputs, see Termination Checking.

## Special patterns¶

In addition to constructors consisting of constructors and variables, Agda supports two special kinds of patterns: dot patterns and absurd patterns.

### Dot patterns¶

A dot pattern (also called *inaccessible pattern*) can be used when
the only type-correct value of the argument is determined by the
patterns given for the other arguments.
A dot pattern is not matched against to determine the result of a
function call. Instead it serves as checked documentation of the only
possible value at the respective position, as determined by the other
patterns.
The syntax for a dot pattern is `.t`

.

As an example, consider the datatype `Square`

defined as follows

```
data Square : Nat → Set where
sq : (m : Nat) → Square (m * m)
```

Suppose we want to define a function `root : (n : Nat) → Square n → Nat`

that
takes as its arguments a number `n`

and a proof that it is a square, and
returns the square root of that number. We can do so as follows:

```
root : (n : Nat) → Square n → Nat
root .(m * m) (sq m) = m
```

Notice that by matching on the argument of type `Square n`

with the constructor
`sq : (m : Nat) → Square (m * m)`

, `n`

is forced to be equal to `m * m`

.

In general, when matching on an argument of type `D i₁ … iₙ`

with a constructor
`c : (x₁ : A₁) → … → (xₘ : Aₘ) → D j₁ … jₙ`

, Agda will attempt to unify
`i₁ … iₙ`

with `j₁ … jₙ`

. When the unification algorithm instantiates a
variable `x`

with value `t`

, the corresponding argument of the function
can be replaced by a dot pattern `.t`

.

Using a dot pattern can help readability, but is not necessary; a dot
pattern can always be replaced by an underscore or a fresh pattern
variable without changing the function definition. The following are
also legal definitions of `root`

:

Since Agda 2.4.2.4:

```
root₁ : (n : Nat) → Square n → Nat
root₁ _ (sq m) = m
```

Since Agda 2.5.2:

```
root₂ : (n : Nat) → Square n → Nat
root₂ n (sq m) = m
```

In the case of `root₂`

, `n`

evaluates to `m * m`

in the body of the
function and is thus equivalent to

```
root₃ : (n : Nat) → Square n → Nat
root₃ _ (sq m) = let n = m * m in m
```

A dot pattern need not be a valid ordinary pattern at all (as in the
case of `m * m`

above). If it happens to be a valid ordinary
pattern, then sometimes the dot can be removed without changing the
function definition.

Other times, removing the dot yields a valid definition but with different definitional behavior. For instance, in the following definition:

```
data Fin : Nat → Set where
fzero : {n : Nat} → Fin (suc n)
fsuc : {n : Nat} → Fin n → Fin (suc n)
foo : (n : Nat) (k : Fin n) → Nat
foo .(suc zero) (fzero {zero}) = zero
foo .(suc (suc n)) (fzero {suc n}) = zero
foo .(suc _) (fsuc k) = zero
```

removing the dots in `foo`

changes the case tree so that it splits
on the first argument first. This results in the third equation not
holding definitionally (and thus the definition being flagged under
the option –exact-split).

### Absurd patterns¶

Absurd patterns can be used when none of the constructors for a particular
argument would be valid. The syntax for an absurd pattern is `()`

.

As an example, if we have a datatype `Even`

defined as follows

```
data Even : Nat → Set where
even-zero : Even zero
even-plus2 : {n : Nat} → Even n → Even (suc (suc n))
```

then we can define a function `one-not-even : Even 1 → ⊥`

by using an absurd
pattern:

```
one-not-even : Even 1 → ⊥
one-not-even ()
```

Note that if the left-hand side of a clause contains an absurd pattern, its right-hand side must be omitted.

In general, when matching on an argument of type `D i₁ … iₙ`

with an absurd
pattern, Agda will attempt for each constructor
`c : (x₁ : A₁) → … → (xₘ : Aₘ) → D j₁ … jₙ`

of the datatype `D`

to unify
`i₁ … iₙ`

with `j₁ … jₙ`

. The absurd pattern will only be accepted if all
of these unifications end in a conflict.

### As-patterns¶

As-patterns (or `@-patterns`

) can be used to name a pattern. The name has the
same scope as normal pattern variables (i.e. the right-hand side, where clause,
and dot patterns). The name reduces to the value of the named pattern. For example:

```
module _ {A : Set} (_<_ : A → A → Bool) where
merge : List A → List A → List A
merge xs [] = xs
merge [] ys = ys
merge xs@(x ∷ xs₁) ys@(y ∷ ys₁) =
if x < y then x ∷ merge xs₁ ys
else y ∷ merge xs ys₁
```

As-patterns are properly supported since Agda 2.5.2.

## Case trees¶

Internally, Agda represents function definitions as *case trees*. For example,
a function definition

```
max : Nat → Nat → Nat
max zero n = n
max m zero = m
max (suc m) (suc n) = suc (max m n)
```

will be represented internally as a case tree that looks like this:

```
max m n = case m of
zero → n
suc m' → case n of
zero → suc m'
suc n' → suc (max m' n')
```

Note that because Agda uses this representation of the function
`max`

, the clause `max m zero = m`

does not hold definitionally
(i.e. as a reduction rule). If you would try to prove that this
equation holds, you would not be able to write `refl`

:

```
data _≡_ {A : Set} (x : A) : A → Set where
refl : x ≡ x
-- Does not work!
lemma : (m : Nat) → max m zero ≡ m
lemma = refl
```

Clauses which do not hold definitionally are usually (but not always) the result of writing clauses by hand instead of using Agda’s case split tactic. These clauses are highlighted by Emacs.

The `--exact-split`

flag causes Agda to raise a warning whenever a
clause in a definition by pattern matching cannot be made to hold
definitionally. Specific clauses can be excluded from this check by
means of the `{-# CATCHALL #-}`

pragma.

For instance, the above definition of `max`

will be flagged when
using the `--exact-split`

flag because its second clause does not to
hold definitionally.

When using the `--exact-split`

flag, catch-all clauses have to
be marked as such, for instance:

```
eq : Nat → Nat → Bool
eq zero zero = true
eq (suc m) (suc n) = eq m n
{-# CATCHALL #-}
eq _ _ = false
```

The `--no-exact-split`

flag can be used to override a global
`--exact-split`

in a file, by adding a pragma
`{-# OPTIONS --no-exact-split #-}`

. This option is enabled by
default.