Skip to main content Accessibility help

What is a purely functional language?

  • AMR SABRY (a1)
    • Published online: 01 January 1998

Functional programming languages are informally classified into pure and impure languages. The precise meaning of this distinction has been a matter of controversy. We therefore investigate a formal definition of purity. We begin by showing that some proposed definitions which rely on confluence, soundness of the beta axiom, preservation of pure observational equivalences and independence of the order of evaluation, do not withstand close scrutiny. We propose instead a definition based on parameter-passing independence. Intuitively, the definition implies that functions are pure mappings from arguments to results; the operational decision of how to pass the arguments is irrelevant. In the context of Haskell, our definition is consistent with the fact that the traditional call-by-name denotational semantics coincides with the traditional call-by-need implementation. Furthermore, our definition is compatible with the stream-based, continuation-based and monad-based integration of computational effects in Haskell. Finally, we observe that call-by-name reasoning principles are unsound in compilers for monadic Haskell.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Functional Programming
  • ISSN: 0956-7968
  • EISSN: 1469-7653
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-functional-programming
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed

What is a purely functional language?

  • AMR SABRY (a1)
    • Published online: 01 January 1998
Submit a response


No Discussions have been published for this article.


Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *