Table of contents

The Alloy logic

The Alloy logic is a first-order logic in which the domain is the set of all relations, and terms include relational expressions such as joins. 

Everything in Alloy is a relation! 

As a result, the operators apply to relations, sets, and scalars, and there are very few cases that produce no result. 

Page numbers refer to Daniel Jackson, Software Abstractions, MIT Press 2006. 

How to update the book for Alloy 4

Quick reference

Set constants 50
univ The universal set
none The empty set
Relation constants 50
iden The identity relation
Set operators 52
+ Union A set
& Intersection
- Difference
in Subset T or F
= Equality

Set examples

Relation operators 55
Symbol Name Syntax
-> (Arrow) product R1 -> R2
. Join R1 . R2
[] Join (a second notation for it) R2 [R1]
~ Transpose ~ R
^ Transitive closure ^ R
* Reflexive transitive closure * R
<: Domain restriction Set <: R
:> Range restriction R :> Set
++ Override R1 ++ R2
Logical operators 69
SymbolKeywordName or result
! not negation
&& and conjunction
|| or disjunction
=> implies implication
<=> iff logical equivalence
else A=>B else C(A&&B)||(!A&&C)

else example

Quantifiers/predicates 70
Q var:set | formula
Predicate on relations
Q e
all universal
some existential size is 1 or greater
no ¬∃ size is 0
lone zero or one exists size is 0 or 1
one exactly one exists singleton

Relation and logic examples

let 73
let x = e | A A with every occurrence of x replaced by expression e

Signatures and relations

(Parts of this subsection describe the Alloy language.)

Each set of atoms is defined by a signature, with keyword sig

A signature can contain zero or more relation declarations, separated by commas. Each declaration names a (binary) relation between the set defined by the signature and a set or relation.

  //  Simple example
  abstract sig Person {     // Signature
    father: lone Man,       //   A declaration
    mother: lone Woman      //   Another declaration
  sig Man extends Person {
    wife: lone Woman
  sig Woman extends Person {
    husband: lone Man
Relationships among signatures
S in T
U in T
subset Every S is a T,
every U is a T
An S can also be a U
S extends T
U extends T
extension An S cannot also be a U

The extended signature must be either a top-level signature or a subsignature. 

Constraining a declaration

There are two ways: 

  1. with set or relation multiplicity constraints in the signature.  These are a quick shorthand.  The example above has several of these (all are lone).
  2. with a fact 117 that states a constraint on the set or relation.  The constraint is expressed in the Alloy logic. 

    (The fact keyword may be omitted if the fact is only about the relations of a single signature, and it immediately follows that signature — then it is a signature fact, and is implicitly universally quantified over the signature's set, and may use this as if it were the variable of this implied quantification.) 

A more extensive example of signatures, declarations, and constraints

Multiplicity constraints in declarations

Set declarations with multiplicities 76
e is a expression producing a set (arity 1)
x: set e x a subset of e
x: lone e x empty or a singleton subset of e
x: some e x a nonempty subset of e
x: one e x a singleton subset of e
(i.e. a scalar)
x: e x a singleton subset of e
(equivalent to one)
Relation declarations with -> multiplicities 77
A and B are expressions producing a relation
m and n are some, lone, one, or not present (which is equivalent to set)
r: A m -> n B m elements of A map to each element of B
each element of A maps to n elements of B


117 A fact contains a formula in the Alloy logic that is assumed to always be true. See the Alloy language for more details. 


71 disj before a list of variables restricts their bindings to be disjoint. 

Disjointness example

Cardinality constraints

80 The prefix operator # (cardinality) on a relation produces the relation's size.  The result can be operated on with + - = < > =< >=.  Positive integer literals can appear in cardinality expressions. 

sum x: e | ie sums the value of ie for each x in set e

The Alloy language

The Alloy language uses the Alloy logic plus some other constructs to make models.  In Alloy, a model is "a description of a software abstraction" 4

(Recall that in FOL a model means something different.) 

Language constructs

The Alloy language adds these constructs to the Alloy logic

  1. A module line gives the relative pathname of the model's file (minus the ".als" suffix).  The pathname is relative to the directory that imported module pathnames are going to be relative to.  (Obviously, the module line is mostly redundant with the file's full pathname.) 
  2. A sig (signature) declares one or more sets of atoms, and their relations to other sets. 
  3. A fun (function) defines a way of getting a relation (or set, or atom).  It can take parameters that are used in getting its result.  It can define a relation (usually using ->) and make use of it to produce its result.  It is a FOL function for the Alloy logic, in which expressions are relations. 
  4. A pred (predicate) defines a formula (true or false).  It can take parameters that are used in getting its result.  It is a FOL predicate for the Alloy logic. 
  5. A fact defines a formula that you assume is valid (always true, for any world).  The Alloy analyzer uses facts as axioms in constructing its examples and counterexamples. 
  6. You run a predicate in order to see the examples (if any) the Alloy analyzer finds for which the predicate is true. 

    You define the scope that the analyzer checks by saying things like "run for 3" or "run for 3 but 4 Dog".  The analyzer will then check only possible examples that contain no more than that many of atoms from each set. 

    If it finds an example, then the predicate is satisfiable

    If it finds no examples, the predicate may be either invalid (false for all possible examples); or it may be satisfiable but not within the scope you used. 

  7. An assert (assertion) defines a formula that you claim will always be true.  An assertion differs from a fact in that the Alloy analyzer will check an assertion to see if it is true for all the examples in a scope, whereas the analyzer assumes each fact is true and uses them to constrain which examples it looks at. 
  8. You check an assertion in order to see whether the Alloy analyzer finds any counterexamples. 

    You define the scope as for a run command. 

    If it finds a counterexample, then the predicate is unsatisfiable

    If it finds no counterexamples, the predicate may be either valid (true for all possible examples); or it may be unsatisfiable but not within the scope you used. 

Which construct to use where?

  1. Writing a model (Alloy file) that might need to import other models?  Use module
  2. Need a set of atoms?  Use a sig
  3. Need an expression, whose value is a function (or set, or scalar)?  Use a fun (function). 
  4. Need a formula, whose value is true or false?  Use a pred (predicate). 
  5. Need to state an axiom that you want to be true always?  Use a fact (function). 
  6. Need an example for which a pred is true?  run the predicate to see if one exists.  It's like using an existential quantifier over all the predicate's parameters. 
  7. Want to claim something is always true?  Use an assert (assertion). 
  8. Want to see if an assert is unsatisfiable?  check the assertion to see if any counterexample can be found. 


Signatures 91
sig A {fields} Declares a set A of atoms
sig A extends B {fields} Declares a subset A of set B, disjoint from
all other extends subsets of B
sig A in B {fields} Declares a subset A of B
sig A in B + C {fields} Declares a subset A of the union (+) of sets B and C
abstract sig A {fields} Declares a set A that contains no atoms
other than the ones in its subsets (if any)
one  sig A {fields} Declares a singleton set A
lone sig A {fields} Declares a set A of 0 or 1 atom
some sig A {fields} Declares a nonempty set A
sig A, B {fields} Declares two sets A and B of atoms
Wherever A appeared above, a list of names can appear
Fields (in a signature for set A) 95
f: e Declares a relation f that's a subset of A->e. 
e can be any expression that produces a set —
union, intersection, ... , any combination.
f: lone e Each A is related to no e or one e.
f: one e Each A is related to exactly one e.
f: some e Each A is related to at least one e.
f: g->h Each A is related to a relation from g to h.
f: one g lone -> some h The multiplicities have their usual meanings.
Here, each A is related to exactly one relation
relating each g to 1 or more h's, and
each h is related to 0 or 1 g.


Function 121s
fun Name [parameters] : type {e} Defines a function, with the given name and (possibly empty) parameters,
and producing a relation (or set, or scalar) of the given type
The result is defined by the expression e, which may reference the parameters


Predicates 121
pred Name [parameters] {f} Defines a predicate, with the given name and (possibly empty) parameters
A predicate always produces true or false, so no type is needed. 
The result is defined by the formula f, which may reference the parameters


Facts 117
fact {e} The expression e is a constraint that
the analyzer will assume is always true. 
fact Name {e} You can name a fact if you wish;
the analyzer will ignore the name.


Assertions 124
assert Name {f} Defines a assertion, with the given name.  Assertions take no parameters. 
An assertion always produces true or false, so no type is needed. 
The result is defined by the formula f

Modules and polymorphism 130 — section under construction

Learnt by experience

When to use @

The cryptic message

A type error has occurred:
This cannot be a legal relational join where
left hand side is ...
right hand side is ...

if for a join in a signature fact, can mean that the last relation before the offending '.' has the same name as a relation in the signature;  in this case, the Alloy Analyzer will grab the name as belonging to this rather than the result of the preceding join.  The solution is to put a @ after the dot; the @ disables the grab for this

I found out about this from an Alloy community post

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Thomas A. Alspaugh