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16.1 Choosing the right level of purity

Mercury distinguishes three “levels” of purity:


For pure procedures, the set of solutions depends only on the values of the input arguments. They do not interact with the “real” world (i.e., do any input/output) without taking an io.state (see Types) as input and returning one as output, and do not change the value of any data structure that will not be undone on backtracking (unless the data structure would be unreachable on backtracking). Note that equality axioms are important when considering the value of data structures. The declarative semantics of pure predicates is never affected by the invocation of other predicates. It is possible for the invocation of pure predicates to affect the operational behaviour of non-pure predicates and vice versa.

By default, Mercury predicates and functions are pure. Without using the foreign language interface, writing mode-specific clauses or calling other impure predicates and functions, it is impossible to write impure code in Mercury.


Semipure predicates are just like pure predicates, except that their declarative semantics may be affected by the invocation of impure predicates. That is, they are sensitive to the state of the computation other than as reflected by their input arguments, though they do not affect the state themselves.


Impure predicates may perform I/O or modify hidden state, even if these side effects alter the operational semantics of other code. However, impure predicates may not change the declarative semantics of pure code. They must be type-, mode-, determinism- and uniqueness correct.