Section: Research Program
Machine-checked proofs of formalized mathematics
To be checked by a machine, a proof needs to be expressed in a constrained, relatively simple formal language. Proof assistants provide facilities to write proofs in such languages. But, as merely writing, even in a formal language, does not constitute a formal proof just per se, proof assistants also provide a proof checker: a small and well-understood piece of software in charge of verifying the correctness of arbitrarily large proofs. The gap between the low-level formal language a machine can check and the sophistication of an average page of mathematics is conspicuous and unavoidable. Proof assistants try to bridge this gap by offering facilities, like notations or automation, to support convenient formalization methodologies. Indeed, many aspects, from the logical foundation to the user interface, play an important role in the feasibility of formalized mathematics inside a proof assistant.
Logical foundations and proof assistants
While many logical foundations for mathematics have been proposed, studied, and implemented, type theory is the one that has been more successfully employed to formalize mathematics, to the notable exception of the Mizar system  , which is based on set theory. In particular, the calculus of construction (CoC)  and its extension with inductive types (CIC)  , have been studied for more than 20 years and been implemented by several independent tools (like Lego, Matita, and Agda). Its reference implementation, Coq  , has been used for several large-scale formalizations projects (formal certification of a compiler back-end; four-color theorem). Improving the type theory underlying the Coq system remains an active area of research. Other systems based on different type theories do exist and, whilst being more oriented toward software verification, have been also used to verify results of mainstream mathematics (prime-number theorem; Kepler conjecture).
Computations in formal proofs
The most distinguishing feature of CoC is that computation is promoted to the status of rigorous logical argument. Moreover, in its extension CIC, we can recognize the key ingredients of a functional programming language like inductive types, pattern matching, and recursive functions. Indeed, one can program effectively inside tools based on CIC like Coq. This possibility has paved the way to many effective formalization techniques that were essential to the most impressive formalizations made in CIC.
Another milestone in the promotion of the computations-as-proofs feature of Coq has been the integration of compilation techniques in the system to speed up evaluation. Coq can now run realistic programs in the logic, and hence easily incorporates calculations into proofs that demand heavy computational steps.
Because of their different choice for the underlying logic, other proof assistants have to simulate computations outside the formal system, and indeed fewer attempts to formalize mathematical proofs involving heavy calculations have been made in these tools. The only notable exception, which was finished in 2014, the Kepler conjecture, required a significant work to optimize the rewriting engine that simulates evaluation in Isabelle/HOL.
Large-scale computations for proofs inside the Coq system
Programs run and proved correct inside the logic are especially useful for the conception of automated decision procedures. To this end, inductive types are used as an internal language for the description of mathematical objects by their syntax, thus enabling programs to reason and compute by case analysis and recursion on symbolic expressions.
The output of complex and optimized programs external to the proof assistant can also be stamped with a formal proof of correctness when their result is easier to check than to find. In that case one can benefit from their efficiency without compromising the level of confidence on their output at the price of writing and certify a checker inside the logic. This approach, which has been successfully used in various contexts, is very relevant to the present research project.
Relevant contributions from the Mathematical Component libraries
Representing abstract algebra in a proof assistant has been studied for long. The libraries developed by the MathComp project for the proof of the Odd Order Theorem provide a rather comprehensive hierarchy of structures; however, they originally feature a large number of instances of structures that they need to organize. On the methodological side, this hierarchy is an incarnation of an original work  based on various mechanisms, primarily type inference, typically employed in the area of programming languages. A large amount of information that is implicit in handwritten proofs, and that must become explicit at formalization time, can be systematically recovered following this methodology.
Small-scale reflection  is another methodology promoted by the MathComp project. Its ultimate goal is to ease formal proofs by systematically dealing with as many bureaucratic steps as possible, by automated computation. For instance, as opposed to the style advocated by Coq's standard library, decidable predicates are systematically represented using computable boolean functions: comparison on integers is expressed as program, and to state that one compares the output of this program run on and with . In many cases, for example when and are values, one can prove or disprove the inequality by pure computation.
The MathComp library was consistently designed after uniform principles of software engineering. These principles range from simple ones, like naming conventions, to more advanced ones, like generic programming, resulting in a robust and reusable collection of formal mathematical components. This large body of formalized mathematics covers a broad panel of algebraic theories, including of course advanced topics of finite group theory, but also linear algebra, commutative algebra, Galois theory, and representation theory. We refer the interested reader to the online documentation of these libraries  , which represent about 150,000 lines of code and include roughly 4,000 definitions and 13,000 theorems.
Topics not addressed by these libraries and that might be relevant to the present project include real analysis and differential equations. The most advanced work of formalization on these domains is available in the HOL-Light system  ,  ,  , although some existing developments of interest  ,  are also available for Coq. Another aspect of the MathComp libraries that needs improvement, owing to the size of the data we manipulate, is the connection with efficient data structures and implementations, which only starts to be explored.
User interaction with the proof assistant
The user of a proof assistant describes the proof he wants to formalize in the system using a textual language. Depending on the peculiarities of the formal system and the applicative domain, different proof languages have been developed. Some proof assistants promote the use of a declarative language, when the Coq and Matita systems are more oriented toward a procedural style.
The development of the large, consistent body of MathComp libraries has prompted the need to design an alternative and coherent language extension for the Coq proof assistant  ,  , enforcing the robustness of proof scripts to the numerous changes induced by code refactoring and enhancing the support for the methodology of small-scale reflection.
The development of large libraries is quite a novelty for the Coq system. In particular any long-term development process requires the iteration of many refactoring steps and very little support is provided by most proof assistants, with the notable exception of Mizar  . For the Coq system, this is an active area of research.