Saturday, August 13, 2016

Solving a small primary school problem with Prolog

A couple of days ago my small son came home with math homework from school. The problem: add parenthesis to the following arithmetic expression so it makes sense.

14 * 3 - 8 / 2 = 17

When I saw that, I thought it was a nice little programming exercise. Also Prolog seems like an appropriate language to write the a solution for this problem.

To solve this problem we need at least to:

  1. Choose a representation for the input formula and the results
  2. A way to generate all possible combinations of arithmetic expressions
  3. Something to evaluate the arithmetic expression so we can get the result
  4. Let Prolog find the answer we need!

First, we need to generate all possible expressions from given the problem .

Input representation

We're going to represent the input formula as a list of the parts of the expression.

For example, given the following expression:

14 * 3 - 8 / 2 

The input representation for this formula is the following:

[ 14, '*', 3, '-', 8, '/', 2 ]

To represent the output formula I'm going to use a term with the form op(operator, left, right).

For example, to represent the following possible groupings:


It will be represented as:

 op(*, 9, op(+, 6, op(/, 6, op(-, 6, 9))))

Generating expression groupings

Given the representation of the problem we can write a predicate to generate all possible groupings of these operations.

After some unsuccessful attempts I came with the following predicate:

arith_op([X], X) :- number(X),!.
arith_op(Arr, op(Op, X, Y)) :-
    append(First, [Op | Second], Arr),
    arith_op(First, X),
    arith_op(Second, Y).

What I really like about Prolog is that with relative few words we can find a solution for problems like this.

Now I can take advantage from Prolog's backtracking mechanism and find all possible solutions for the following input.

?- arith_op([ 1, '*', 2, '+', 3, '/', 4]  ,X).
X = op(*, 1, op(+, 2, op(/, 3, 4))) ;
X = op(*, 1, op(/, op(+, 2, 3), 4)) ;
X = op(+, op(*, 1, 2), op(/, 3, 4)) ;
X = op(/, op(*, 1, op(+, 2, 3)), 4) ;
X = op(/, op(+, op(*, 1, 2), 3), 4) ;

Evaluating the arithmetic expressions

Having a way to evaluate the expression is useful so we can verify the result of the operation. A simple way to implement it looks like this:

eval(op(Op,X,Y),Result) :-
     ( (Op = '+',  Result is (R1 + R2))
     ; (Op = '-', Result is (R1 - R2))
     ; (Op = '*', Result is (R1 * R2))
     ; (Op = '/', Result is (R1 / R2))), !.
eval(X, X).

With this predicate we can get the result of an operation. For example:

?- eval(op('+', op('*', 34, 23), 34), R).
R = 816.

Solving the problem

With these two predicates we can solve the problem like this:

?- arith_op([ 14, '*', 3,'-', 8, '/', 2 ]  ,Operation), eval(Operation, 17).
Operation = op(/, op(-, op(*, 14, 3), 8), 2) ;

Now it is useful to present the results using infix notation with parenthesis. To do this we can write the following predicate:

forprint(op(Op,X,Y)) :-
forprint(X) :-

Now we can write:

arith_op([ 14, '*', 3,'-', 8, '/', 2 ]  ,Operation), eval(Operation, 17), forprint(Operation).
Operation = op(/, op(-, op(*, 14, 3), 8), 2) ;

I can also use this predicate to generate samples of results for other groupings. For example:

?- arith_op([ 14, '*', 3,'-', 8, '/', 2 ]  ,Operation), eval(Operation, Result), Result > 0, forprint(Operation).
Operation = op(-, op(*, 14, 3), op(/, 8, 2)),
Result = 38 ;
Operation = op(/, op(-, op(*, 14, 3), 8), 2),
Result = 17 ;

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Some things I learned while creating a small program in Mercury

Some time ago I started creating a program using the Mercury programming language to create images using the Escape Time algorithm. The goal was to learn about the language by solving a small problem.

The current result of this experiment can be found here Here's a list of things I learned.

Terms for configuration files

For this program I wanted to have a configuration file to specify :

  • The resolution of the final image
  • The coordinates used to render the fractal
  • The formula to use with the escape time algorithm
  • The palette to be used to render the final image

To create this configuration file I could use XML or create a special file format and parse it using Mercury's DCG. However I chose to use a different alternative, which is to use the term syntax.

Here's an example of the configuration file:

   top_left(-2.0, 1.5),
   bottom_right(1.0 , -1.5),
   formula(z*z + z + c),
      range(from(10, 30, 40),  to(30, 50, 76),127),
      range(from(200, 100, 50),to(150, 0, 0),100),
      range(from(200, 100, 50),to(150, 10, 10),27),

Here I'm saying that:

  • The image will have a 320px by 200px resolution
  • The real coordinates of this image are between -2.0 and 1.0 in the X axis and 1.5 and 1.5 in the Y axis
  • The formula used in the escape time algorithm will be z*z + z + c
  • The palette will be constructed with the given ranges of colors

In order to read these term I used the term and parser modules which provides an easy interface for reading terms.

Here's a code snippet showing how the file is being loaded.

:- pred read_fractal_configuration_from_file(
            io::di, io::uo) is det.

read_fractal_configuration_from_file(FileName, Configurati      onResult, !IO) :-
    parser.read_term_filename( FileName,  ReadTermResult, !IO),
    ((ReadTermResult = term(_, Term),
         term_to_fractal_configuration(Term, ConfigurationResult))
      ; (ReadTermResult = error(ErrMessage, _),
          ConfigurationResult = error(ErrMessage))
      ; (ReadTermResult = eof,
          ConfigurationResult = error("Empty file"))

The parser.read_term_filename reads these terms to a term data structure. The term_to_fractal_configuration predicate creates a configuration structure from these terms. An error is returned if the file doesn't have the expected structure. This is archived using the maybe_error data type.

Here's an example of how the first part of the configuration is loaded:

:- pred term_to_fractal_configuration(
            maybe_error(fractal_configuration)::out) is det.

term_to_fractal_configuration(Term, Result) :-
    (if Term = functor(atom("fractal_config"),Args,_) then
        term_to_fractal_config_resolution(Args, Result)
        error_message_with_location("Expecting 'fractal_config'",Term, Message),
        Result = error(Message)

One interesting feature of the term library is that it stores line number information. This makes it easy to report errors that occurred in a specific line of the input file:

:- pred error_message_with_location(
            string::out) is det.

error_message_with_location(Msg, functor(_, _, context(_, Line)), ResultMsg) :-
     string.append(", at line:",string.int_to_string(Line),TmpString),
     string.append(Msg, TmpString, ResultMsg).
error_message_with_location(Msg, variable(_, context(_,Line)), ResultMsg) :-
     string.append(", at line:",string.int_to_string(Line),TmpString),
     string.append(Msg, TmpString, ResultMsg).

Now the main predicate for reading the documentation from terms is the following:

:- pred term_to_fractal_config_resolution(

term_to_fractal_config_resolution(Terms, Result) :-
   (if Terms = [functor(atom("image_resolution"),
                     [ functor(integer(Width), _, _),
                       functor(integer(Height), _, _) ],
                     _)|Rest1] then
       (if  Rest1 = [functor(atom("top_left"),
                     [ functor(float(LeftX), _, _),
                       functor(float(TopY), _, _) ],
                     _)|Rest2] then
                (if  Rest2 = [functor(atom("bottom_right"),
                     [ functor(float(RightX), _, _),
                       functor(float(BottomY), _, _) ],
                     _)|Rest3] then
                    (if Rest3 = [functor(atom("formula"), [Term], _)|Rest4], term_to_expression(Term, ok(Expr)) then
                        (if Rest4 = [PaletteConfig], term_to_palette_config(PaletteConfig, ok(Palette)) then 
                              Result  = ok(config( { Width, Height },
                                                   { LeftX, TopY },
                                                   { RightX, BottomY },
                              Result = error("Error reading palette")
                      Result = error("Error reading formula"))
                    Result = error("Error expecting: bottom_right(float,float)")

           Result = error("Error expecting: top_left(float,float)")
       Result = error("Error expecting: image_resolution(int,int)")

One improvement opportunity here is to separate this predicate into several parts to avoid this nesting structure.

As shown above our final goal is to create a result of the following type:

:- type fractal_configuration --->
    config( { int, int },              % image resolution
            { float, float },          % top left cartesian coordinates
            { float, float },          % bottom right cartesian coordinates
            expression,                % formula
            array({ int, int, int })). % palette

This structure provides the necessary information to render the fractal. One special datatype here is expression which is used to store the formula used with the escape time algorithm.

This data type looks like this:

:- type operator ---> times ; plus ; minus ; division.

:- type expression ---> 
     ; var(string)
     ; imaginary
     ; bin_operation(expression, operator, expression).

Since the term library parser can parse arithmetic expressions, I can write simple code that translates terms to these abstract datatype.

Here's the definition of the predicate that does the translation:

:- pred term_to_expression(term(string)::in, maybe_error(expression)::out) is det.

term_to_expression(functor(atom(AtomStr),Ops,_), Expr) :-
   (if (Ops = [Op1,Op2],
        term_to_expression(Op1, ok(Op1Expr)),
        term_to_expression(Op2, ok(Op2Expr))) then
      Expr = ok(bin_operation(Op1Expr, Operator, Op2Expr))
      (if Ops = [] then
          (if AtomStr = "i" then
             Expr = ok(imaginary)
             Expr = ok(var(AtomStr)))
          Expr = error("Error"))
term_to_expression(functor(float(X),_,_), Expr) :-
   Expr = ok(literal_num(X)).
term_to_expression(functor(integer(X),_,_), Expr) :-
   Expr = ok(literal_num(float(X))).
term_to_expression(functor(big_integer(_,_),_,_), error("Error")).
term_to_expression(functor(string(_),_,_), error("Error")).
term_to_expression(functor(implementation_defined(_),_,_), error("Error")).
term_to_expression(variable(_,_), error("Error")).

Reading the palette

The palette used by the escape time algorithm is just an array of colors. The configuration file allows two kinds of elements for specifying the colors :

  • single(RED, GREEN, BLUE) a single color for the current entry
  • range(from(RED1, GREEN1, BLUE1), to(RED1, GREEN2, BLUE2), COUNT) to create a range of colors of COUNT steps between the two colors.

The following code reads the palette configuration:

:- pred terms_to_palette(
            list({int, int, int})::in,
            maybe_error(array({int,int,int}))::out) is det.

terms_to_palette([],TmpResult, ok(ResultArray)) :-
   list.reverse(TmpResult, ReversedList),
   array.from_list(ReversedList, ResultArray).

terms_to_palette([Term|Rest],TmpResult,Result) :-
   (if Term = functor(atom("single"),
                     _) then
       terms_to_palette(Rest, [{R,G,B}|TmpResult], Result)
      (if Term = functor(atom("range"),[
                         ], _) then
           int_interpolate_funcs(R1, R2, 1, Count, _, R2RFunc),
           int_interpolate_funcs(G1, G2, 1, Count, _, G2GFunc),
           int_interpolate_funcs(B1, B2, 1, Count, _, B2BFunc),
           gen_colors_for_range(1, Count, R2RFunc, G2GFunc, B2BFunc, [], RangeList),
           list.append(TmpResult, RangeList,  NewTmpResult),
           terms_to_palette(Rest, NewTmpResult, Result)
           Result = error("Problem reading palette configuration"))

Given the following configuration:

       range(from(20,244,100), to(200,0,56), 15),

We can generate the following palette:

1. {20, 244, 100}
2. {32, 226, 96} 
3. {45, 209, 93} 
4. {58, 191, 90} 
5. {71, 174, 87} 
6. {84, 156, 84} 
7. {97, 139, 81} 
8. {110, 122, 78} 
9. {122, 104, 74} 
10. {135, 87, 71} 
11. {148, 69, 68}
12. {161, 52, 65} 
13. {174, 34, 62} 
14. {187, 17, 59}
15. {200, 0, 56}
16. {0, 0, 0}

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Determinism categories in Mercury

When you define a predicate in Mercury, you have to specify if it can fail or succeed more than once. This is called a determinism category.

The category is specified as part of a predicate (or function) declaration. For example:

:- pred get_partitions(
              list(list(int))::out) is multi.

The is multi section says that this predicate belongs to the multi category.

The following tables describe the main determinism categories.

Maximum number of solutions:

Mode 1 > 1
det x
multi x
semidet x
nondet x


Mode Can fail?
det no
multi no
semidet yes
nondet yes

(Based on information from ).

Other categories exist : erroneous , failure, cc_mult and cc_nondet. These are not discussed in this post, see the link above for more info.

Now a some of each category:


These predicates in must always succeed . For example:

:- pred list_length(list(int)::in, int::out) is det.

list_length([_|R], Length) :-
   Length = SubListLength + 1.
list_length([], 0).

In this case this predicate is going to calculate the size of a list. It should not fail.


These predicates can either succeed or fail. For example the following code shows the definition of a first_even_number predicate.

:- pred first_even_number(list(int)::in, int::out) 
           is semidet.

first_even_number([X|R], N) :-
   (if (X mod  2) = 0 then
       N = X

Notice that this predicate can fail for a couple of reasons:

  • The input list may be empty
  • The input list may not contain an even number

I think it's pretty nice that you these situations will be handled without explicitly writing code for it.

A use of this predicate looks like this:

   (if first_even_number([3,41,5,32,342], EvenNumber) then
       io.write_string("First even number: ", !IO),
       io.write(EvenNumber, !IO)
       io.write("Not even number found", !IO)

Another think that's pretty nice about Mercury is that, the compiler is going to detect inconsistent determinism annotations. For example, if I change the declaration of the predicate to:

:- pred first_even_number(list(int)::in, int::out) 
           is det.

The compiler is going to fail with the following error:

testsolutions.m:093: In `first_even_number'(in, out):
testsolutions.m:093:   error: determinism declaration not satisfied.
testsolutions.m:093:   Declared `det', inferred `semidet'.


The multi category is used for predicates that succeed in multiple ways. At least one solution exists.

For example the following predicate is used to get a pair of lists that, when concatenated together, result in the input list (ex. [1,2,3] result in { [1],[2,3] }) .

:- pred partitions(list(int)::in, 
           {list(int), list(int)}::out) is multi.

partitions(InputList,Output) :-
   Output = {[] ,  InputList}
   InputList = [A|TMP],
   Output = { [A|R], B }

This predicate is multi because we can get several different pairs of lists that from an input list. For example:

main(!IO) :-

Running this program result in the following output:

[{[], [513, 242, 355, 4]}, {[513], [242, 355, 4]}, {[513, 242], [355, 4]}, {[513, 242, 355], [4]}, {[513, 242, 355, 4], []}]

In the case we use the solutions/2 Mercury predicate to get a list from the generated solutions.

It's important to note that multi predicates must not fail.


Finally the nondet category is used for predicates that result on 0 or many solutions.

For example the following predicate result on an even number that is part of the input list.

:- pred even_member(list(int)::in, int::out) is nondet.

even_member([X|_], X) :-
   (X mod  2) = 0.
even_member([_|Rest], X) :-

This predicate is nondet because :

  • The list may be empty
  • It may not contain an even number

Here's an example of how to use it:

main(!IO) :-

Running this program result in the following output:

[4, 12, 18, 242]

Sunday, February 28, 2016

A couple of quick notes on Mercury #1

I'm trying to learn about Mercury programming language. Here's a quick list of things I learned recently about it.

Getting a Windows version of the Mercury compiler

I was able to get a version of the Mercury compiler by downloading a "Release of the day" version from here:

I just followed the instructions from INSTALL file. The only requirement is to have a Cygwin version installed.

Operations are associated with a data type

For example the predicate for performing an operation N times is defined in the int module (int.fold_up, int_fold_down).

Predicates can be partially applied

Mercury supports a mechanism similar to currying in other languages.

For example, in the following invocation to int.fold_up we're not specifying values or variables for the last three arguments(these are resolved by the application inside int.fold_up):

:- pred write_pixel_data(
        int::in,  % width
        int::in,  % height
        int::in,  % padding
        int::in,  % idx
        io::di, io::uo) is det.
            Width * 3,
            (RowWidth - (Width * 3))),0,(RowWidth*Height) - 1,!IO)

Bitwise operators look nice!

For example bitwise "and" look like:

   io.write_byte(Stream, (IntValue >> 8) /\ 0xFF,!IO), 

Code for this post can be found here