Renamingless Capture-Avoiding Substitution for Definitional Interpreters

Author Casper Bach Poulsen

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Casper Bach Poulsen
  • Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands


Thanks to Jan Friso Groote for feedback on a previous version of this paper, and to the anonymous reviewers who pointed out the work of Berkling and Fehr as an alternative solution to renamingless substitution.

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Casper Bach Poulsen. Renamingless Capture-Avoiding Substitution for Definitional Interpreters. In Eelco Visser Commemorative Symposium (EVCS 2023). Open Access Series in Informatics (OASIcs), Volume 109, pp. 2:1-2:10, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2023)


Substitution is a common and popular approach to implementing name binding in definitional interpreters. A common pitfall of implementing substitution functions is variable capture. The traditional approach to avoiding variable capture is to rename variables. However, traditional renaming makes for an inefficient interpretation strategy. Furthermore, for applications where partially-interpreted terms are user facing it can be confusing if names in uninterpreted parts of the program have been changed. In this paper we explore two techniques for implementing capture avoiding substitution in definitional interpreters to avoid renaming.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Software and its engineering → Semantics
  • Capture-avoiding substitution
  • lambda calculus
  • definitional interpreter


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