A relationally parametric model of dependent type theory

Robert Atkey, Neil Ghani, Patricia Johann

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution book

32 Citations (Scopus)
25 Downloads (Pure)


Reynolds' theory of relational parametricity captures the invariance of polymorphically typed programs under change of data representation. Reynolds' original work exploited the typing discipline of the polymorphically typed lambda-calculus System F, but there is now considerable interest in extending relational parametricity to type systems that are richer and more expressive than that of System F. This paper constructs parametric models of predicative and impredicative dependent type theory. The significance of our models is twofold. Firstly, in the impredicative variant we are able to deduce the existence of initial algebras for all indexed=functors. To our knowledge, ours is the first account of parametricity for dependent types that is able to lift the useful deduction of the existence of initial algebras in parametric models of System F to the dependently typed setting. Secondly, our models offer conceptual clarity by uniformly expressing relational parametricity for dependent types in terms of reflexive graphs, which allows us to unify the interpretations of types and kinds, instead of taking the relational interpretation of types as a primitive notion. Expressing our model in terms of reflexive graphs ensures that it has canonical choices for the interpretations of the standard type constructors of dependent type theory, except for the interpretation of the universe of small types, where we formulate a refined interpretation tailored for relational parametricity. Moreover, our reflexive graph model opens the door to generalisations of relational parametricity, for example to higher-dimensional relational parametricity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPOPL '14 Proceedings of the 41st ACM SIGPLAN-SIGACT
Subtitle of host publicationSymposium on Principles of Programming Languages
Place of PublicationNew York, NY.
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2014
EventPOPL 2014: 41st ACM SIGPLAN-SIGACT Symposium on Principles of Programming Languages - San Diego, United States
Duration: 22 Jan 201424 Jan 2014


ConferencePOPL 2014: 41st ACM SIGPLAN-SIGACT Symposium on Principles of Programming Languages
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Diego
Internet address


  • relational parametricity
  • dependent type theory
  • data representations
  • higher-dimensional
  • initial algebras
  • parametric modeling
  • parametric models
  • reflexive graphs


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