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Section: Research Program

The development of Coq

Since 1984, about 40 persons have contributed to the development of Coq, out of which 7 persons have contributed to bring the system to the place it is now. First Thierry Coquand through his foundational theoretical ideas, then Gérard Huet who developed the first prototypes with Thierry Coquand and who headed the Coq group until 1998, then Christine Paulin who was the main actor of the system based on the CIC and who headed the development group from 1998 to 2006. On the programming side, important steps were made by Chet Murthy who raised Coq from the prototypical state to a reasonably scalable system, Jean-Christophe Filliâtre who turned to concrete the concept of a small trustful certification kernel on which an arbitrary large system can be set up, Bruno Barras and Hugo Herbelin who, among other extensions, reorganised Coq on a new smoother and more uniform basis able to support a new round of extensions for the next decade.

The development started from the Formel team at Rocquencourt but, after Christine Paulin got a position in Lyon, it spread to École Normale Supérieure de Lyon. Then, the task force there globally moved to the University of Orsay when Christine Paulin got a new position there. On the Rocquencourt side, the part of Formel involved in ML moved to the Cristal team (now Gallium) and Formel got renamed into Coq. Gérard Huet left the team and Christine Paulin started to head a Coq team bilocalised at Rocquencourt and Orsay. Gilles Dowek became the head of the team which was renamed into LogiCal. Following Gilles Dowek who got a position at École Polytechnique, LogiCal moved to the new Inria Saclay research center. It then split again, giving birth to ProVal. At the same time, the Marelle team (formerly Lemme, formerly Croap) which has been a long partner of the Formel team, invested more and more energy in both the formalisation of mathematics in Coq and in user interfaces for Coq.

After various other spreadings resulting from where the wind pushed former PhD students, the development of Coq got multi-site with the development now realised by employees of Inria, the CNAM and Paris 7.

We next briefly describe the main components of Coq.

The underlying logic and the verification kernel

The architecture adopts the so-called de Bruijn principle: the well-delimited kernel of Coq ensures the correctness of the proofs validated by the system. The kernel is rather stable with modifications tied to the evolution of the underlying Calculus of Inductive Constructions formalism. The kernel includes an interpreter of the programs expressible in the CIC and this interpreter exists in two flavours: a customisable lazy evaluation machine written in OCaml and a call-by-value bytecode interpreter written in C dedicated to efficient computations. The kernel also provides a module system.

Programming and specification languages

The concrete user language of Coq, called Gallina, is a high-level language built on top of the CIC. It includes a type inference algorithm, definitions by complex pattern-matching, implicit arguments, mathematical notations and various other high-level language features. This high-level language serves both for the development of programs and for the formalisation of mathematical theories. Coq also provides a large set of commands. Gallina and the commands together forms the Vernacular language of Coq.


Libraries are written in the vernacular language of Coq. There are libraries for various arithmetical structures and various implementations of numbers (Peano numbers, implementation of , , with binary digits, implementation of , , using machine words, axiomatisation of ). There are libraries for lists, list of a specified length, sorts, and for various implementations of finite maps and finite sets. There are libraries on relations, sets, orders.


The tactics are the methods available to conduct proofs. This includes the basic inference rules of the CIC, various advanced higher level inference rules and all the automation tactics. Regarding automation, there are tactics for solving systems of equations, for simplifying ring or field expressions, for arbitrary proof search, for semi-decidability of first-order logic and so on. There is also a powerful and popular untyped scripting language for combining tactics into more complex tactics.

Note that all tactics of Coq produce proof certificates that are checked by the kernel of Coq. As a consequence, possible bugs in proof methods do not hinder the confidence in the correctness of the Coq checker. Note also that the CIC being a programming language, tactics can be written (and certified) in the own language of Coq if needed.


Extraction is a component of Coq that maps programs (or even computational proofs) of the CIC to functional programs (in OCaml, Scheme or Haskell). Especially, a program certified by Coq can further be extracted to a program of a full-fledged programming language then benefiting of the efficient compilation, linking tools, profiling tools, ... of the target software.