Section: Research Program

The development of Coq

During 1984-2012 period, 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 was six years ago. 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 the formalisation of mathematics in Coq, while contributing importantly to the development of Coq, in particular for what regards user interfaces.

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 mainly by employees of Inria, the CNAM, Paris 7 and MINES.

In the last six years, Hugo Herbelin and Matthieu Sozeau coordinated the development of the system, the official coordinator hat passed from Hugo to Matthieu in August 2016. The ecosystem and development model changed greatly during this period, with a move towards an entirely distributed development model, integrating contributions from all over the world. While the system had always been open-source, its development team was relatively small, well-knit and gathered regularly at Coq working groups, and many developments on Coq were still discussed only by the few interested experts.

The last years saw a big increase in opening the development to external scrutiny and contributions. This was supported by the "core" team which started moving development to the open GitHub platform (including since 2017 its bug-tracker [60] and wiki), made its development process public, starting to use public pull requests to track the work of developers, organising yearly hackatons/coding-sprints for the dissemination of expertise and developers & users meetings like the Coq Workshop and CoqPL, and, perhaps more anecdotally, retransmitting Coq working groups on a public YouTube channel.

This move was also supported by the hiring of Maxime Dénès in 2016 as an Inria research engineer (in Sophia-Antipolis), and the work of Matej Košík (2-year research engineer). Their work involved making the development process more predictable and streamlined and to provide a higher level of quality to the whole system. In September 2018, a second engineer, Vincent Laporte, was hired. Yves Bertot, Maxime Dénès and Vincent Laporte are developing the Coq consortium, which aims to become the incarnation of the global Coq community and to offer support for our users.

Today, the development of Coq involves participants from the Inria project-teams pi.r2 (Paris), Marelle (Sophia-Antipolis), Toccata (Saclay), Gallinette (Nantes), Gallium (Paris), and Camus (Strasboug), the LIX at École Polytechnique and the CRI Mines-ParisTech. Apart from those, active collaborators include members from MPI-Saarbrucken (D. Dreyer's group), KU Leuven (B. Jacobs group), MIT CSAIL (A. Chlipala's group, which hosted an Inria/MIT engineer, and N. Zeldovich's group), the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (from S. Awodey, T. Coquand and V. Voevodsky's Univalent Foundations program) and Intel (M. Soegtrop). The latest released version Coq 8.8.0 had 40 contributors (counted from the start of 8.8 development) and the upcoming Coq 8.9 has 54.

On top of the developer community, there is a much wider user community, as Coq is being used in many different fields. The Software Foundations series, authored by academics from the USA, along with the reference Coq'Art book by Bertot and Castéran [67], the more advanced Certified Programming with Dependent Types book by Chlipala [72] and the recent book on the Mathematical Components library by Mahboubi, Tassi et al. provide resources for gradually learning the tool.

In the programming languages community, Coq is being taught in two summer schools, OPLSS and the DeepSpec summer school. For more mathematically inclined users, there are regular Winter Schools in Nice and in 2017 there was a school on the use of the Univalent Foundations library in Birmingham.

Since 2016, Coq also provides a central repository for Coq packages, the Coq opam archive, relying on the OCaml opam package manager and including around 250 packages contributed by users. It would be too long to make a detailed list of the uses of Coq in the wild. We only highlight four research projects relying heavily on Coq. The Mathematical Components library has its origins in the formal proof of the Four Colour Theorem and has grown to cover many areas of mathematics in Coq using the now integrated (since Coq 8.7) SSReflect proof language. The DeepSpec project is an NSF Expedition project led by A. Appel whose aim is full-stack verification of a software system, from machine-checked proofs of circuits to an operating system to a web-browser, entirely written in Coq and integrating many large projects into one. The ERC CoqHoTT project led by N. Tabareau aims to use logical tools to extend the expressive power of Coq, dealing with the univalence axiom and effects. The ERC RustBelt project led by D. Dreyer concerns the development of rigorous formal foundations for the Rust programming language, using the Iris Higher-Order Concurrent Separation Logic Framework in Coq.

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.

Standard library

The standard library is 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 have their core 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 language.