Lesson 1.7: Side Conditions and Rule Priority

The purpose of this lesson is to explain how to write conditional rules in K, and to explain how to control the order in which rules are tried.

Side Conditions

So far, all of the rules we have discussed have been unconditional rules. If the left-hand side of the rule matches the arguments to the function, the rule applies. However, there is another type of rule, a conditional rule. A conditional rule consists of a rule body containing the patterns to match, and a side condition representing a Boolean expression that must evaluate to true in order for the rule to apply.

Side conditions in K are introduced via the requires keyword immediately following the rule body. For example, here is a rule with a side condition (lesson-07-a.k):

module LESSON-07-A imports BOOL imports INT syntax Grade ::= "letter-A" | "letter-B" | "letter-C" | "letter-D" | "letter-F" | gradeFromPercentile(Int) [function] rule gradeFromPercentile(I) => letter-A requires I >=Int 90 endmodule

In this case, the gradeFromPercentile function takes a single integer argument. The function evaluates to letter-A if the argument passed is greater than 90. Note that the side condition is allowed to refer to variables that appear on the left-hand side of the rule. In the same manner as variables appearing on the right-hand side, variables that appear in the side condition evaluate to the value that was matched on the left-hand side. Then the functions in the side condition are evaluated, which returns a term of sort Bool. If the term is equal to true, then the rule applies. Bear in mind that the side condition is only evaluated at all if the patterns on the left-hand side of the rule match the term being evaluated.


Write a rule that evaluates gradeFromPercentile to letter-B if the argument to the function is in the range [80,90). Test that the function correctly evaluates various numbers between 80 and 100.

owise Rules

So far, all the rules we have introduced have had the same priority. What this means is that K does not necessarily enforce an order in which the rules are tried. We have only discussed functions so far in K, so it is not immediately clear why this choice was made, given that a function is not considered well-defined if multiple rules for evaluating it are capable of evaluating the same arguments to different results. However, in future lessons we will discuss other types of rules in K, some of which can be non-deterministic. What this means is that if more than one rule is capable of matching, then K will explore both possible rules in parallel, and consider each of their respective results when executing your program. Don't worry too much about this right now, but just understand that because of the potential later for nondeterminism, we don't enforce a total ordering on the order in which rules are attempted to be applied.

However, sometimes this is not practical; It can be very convenient to express that a particular rule applies if no other rules for that function are applicable. This can be expressed by adding the owise attribute to a rule. What this means, in practice, is that this rule has lower priority than other rules, and will only be tried to be applied after all the other, higher-priority rules have been tried and they have failed.

For example, in the above exercise, we had to add a side condition containing two Boolean comparisons to the rule we wrote to handle letter-B grades. However, in practice this meant that we compare the percentile to 90 twice. We can more efficiently and more idiomatically write the letter-B case for the gradeFromPercentile rule using the owise attribute (lesson-07-b.k):

module LESSON-07-B imports BOOL imports INT syntax Grade ::= "letter-A" | "letter-B" | "letter-C" | "letter-D" | "letter-F" | gradeFromPercentile(Int) [function] rule gradeFromPercentile(I) => letter-A requires I >=Int 90 rule gradeFromPercentile(I) => letter-B requires I >=Int 80 [owise] endmodule

This rule is saying, "if all the other rules do not apply, then the grade is a B if the percentile is greater than or equal to 80." Note here that we use both a side condition and an owise attribute on the same rule. This is not required (as we will see later), but it is allowed. What this means is that the side condition is only tried if the other rules did not apply and the left-hand side of the rule matched. You can even use more complex matching on the left-hand side than simply a variable. More generally, you can also have multiple higher-priority rules, or multiple owise rules. What this means in practice is that all of the non-owise rules are tried first, in any order, followed by all the owise rules, in any order.


The grades D and F correspond to the percentile ranges [60, 70) and [0, 60) respectively. Write another implementation of gradeFromPercentile which handles only these cases, and uses the owise attribute to avoid redundant Boolean comparisons. Test that various percentiles in the range [0, 70) are evaluated correctly.

Rule Priority

As it happens, the owise attribute is a specific case of a more general concept we call rule priority. In essence, each rule is assigned an integer priority. Rules are tried in increasing order of priority, starting with a rule with priority zero, and trying each increasing numerical value successively.

By default, a rule is assigned a priority of 50. If the rule has the owise attribute, it is instead given the priority 200. You can see why this will cause owise rules to be tried after regular rules.

However, it is also possible to directly assign a numerical priority to a rule via the priority attribute. For example, here is an alternative way we could express the same two rules in the gradeFromPercentile function (lesson-07-c.k):

module LESSON-07-C imports BOOL imports INT syntax Grade ::= "letter-A" | "letter-B" | "letter-C" | "letter-D" | "letter-F" | gradeFromPercentile(Int) [function] rule gradeFromPercentile(I) => letter-A requires I >=Int 90 [priority(50)] rule gradeFromPercentile(I) => letter-B requires I >=Int 80 [priority(200)] endmodule

We can, of course, assign a priority equal to any non-negative integer. For example, here is a more complex example that handles the remaining grades (lesson-07-d.k):

module LESSON-07-D imports BOOL imports INT syntax Grade ::= "letter-A" | "letter-B" | "letter-C" | "letter-D" | "letter-F" | gradeFromPercentile(Int) [function] rule gradeFromPercentile(I) => letter-A requires I >=Int 90 [priority(50)] rule gradeFromPercentile(I) => letter-B requires I >=Int 80 [priority(51)] rule gradeFromPercentile(I) => letter-C requires I >=Int 70 [priority(52)] rule gradeFromPercentile(I) => letter-D requires I >=Int 60 [priority(53)] rule gradeFromPercentile(_) => letter-F [priority(54)] endmodule

Note that we have introduced a new piece of syntax here: _. This is actually just a variable. However, as a special case, when a variable is named _, it does not bind a value that can be used on the right-hand side of the rule, or in a side condition. Effectively, _ is a placeholder variable that means "I don't care about this term."

In this example, we have explicitly expressed the order in which the rules of this function are tried. Since rules are tried in increasing numerical priority, we first try the rule with priority 50, then 51, then 52, 53, and finally 54.

As a final note, remember that if you assign a rule a priority higher than 200, it will be tried after a rule with the owise attribute, and if you assign a rule a priority less than 50, it will be tried before a rule with no explicit priority.


  1. Write a function isEven that returns whether an integer is an even number. Use two rules and one side condition. The right-hand side of the rules should be Boolean literals. Refer back to domains.md for the relevant integer operations.

  2. Modify the calculator application from Lesson 1.6, Exercise 2, so that division by zero will no longer make krun crash with a "Divison by zero" exception. Instead, the / function should not match any of its rules if the denominator is zero.

  3. Write your own implementation of ==, <, <=, >, >= for integers and modify your solution from Exercise 2 to use it. You can use any arithmetic operations in the INT module, but do not use any built-in boolean functions for comparing integers.

    Hint: Use pattern matching and recursive definitions with rule priorities.

Next lesson

Once you have completed the above exercises, you can continue to Lesson 1.8: Literate Programming with Markdown.