Synthesizing symmetric lenses

Anders Miltner, Solomon Maina, Kathleen Fisher, Benjamin C. Pierce, David Walker, Steve Zdancewic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Lenses are programs that can be run both łfront to backž and łback to front,ž allowing updates to either their source or their target data to be transferred in both directions. Since their introduction by Foster et al., lenses have been extensively studied, extended, and applied. Recent work has also demonstrated how techniques from type-directed program synthesis can be used to efficiently synthesize a simple class of lensesÐso-called bijective lenses over string dataÐgiven a pair of types (regular expressions) and a small number of examples. We extend this synthesis algorithm to a much broader class of lenses, called simple symmetric lenses, including all bijective lenses, all of the popular category of łasymmetricž lenses, and a rich subset of the more powerful łsymmetric lensesž proposed by Hofmann et al. Intuitively, simple symmetric lenses allow some information to be present on one side but not the other and vice versa. They are of independent theoretical interest, being the largest class of symmetric lenses that do not rely on persistent internal state. Synthesizing simple symmetric lenses is substantially more challenging than synthesizing bijective lenses: Since some of the information on each side can be łdisconnectedž from the other side, there will, in general, be many lenses that agree with a given example. To guide the search process, we use stochastic regular expressions and ideas from information theory to estimate the amount of information propagated by a candidate lens, generally preferring lenses that propagate more information, as well as user annotations marking parts of the source and target data structures as either irrelevant or essential. We describe an implementation of simple symmetric lenses and our synthesis procedure as extensions to the Boomerang language. We evaluate its performance on 48 benchmark examples drawn from Flash Fill, Augeas, the bidirectional programming literature, and electronic file format synchronization tasks. Our implementation can synthesize each of these lenses in under 30 seconds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number95
JournalProceedings of the ACM on Programming Languages
Issue numberICFP
StatePublished - Aug 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Software
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality


  • Bidirectional Programming
  • Information Theory
  • Program Synthesis
  • Type Systems
  • Type-Directed Synthesis


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