Patterns over assertions

Each subscription record asserted at a dataspace entity contains a pattern over Preserves values.

The pattern language is carefully chosen to be reasonably expressive without closing the door to efficient indexing of dataspace contents.1

Interpretation of patterns

A pattern is matched against a candidate input value. Matching can either fail or succeed; if matching succeeds, a sequence of (numbered) bindings is produced. Each binding in the sequence corresponds to a (possibly-nested) binding pattern in the overall pattern.


Consider the pattern:

<arr [<lit 1> <bind <arr [<bind <_>> <_>]>> <_>]>

The following values each yield different results:

  • [1 2 3] fails, because 2 is not an array.

  • [1 [2 3] 4] succeeds, yielding a binding sequence [[2 3] 2], because the outer bind captures the whole [2 3] array, and the inner (nested) bind captures the 2.

  • [1 [2 3 4] 5] fails, because [2 3 4] has more than the expected two elements.

  • [1 [<x> <y>] []] succeeds, yielding a binding sequence [[<x> <y>] <x>]. Each discard pattern (<_>) ignores the specific input it is given.

Abstract syntax of patterns

A pattern may be either a discard, a (nested) binding, a literal, or a compound.

Pattern = DDiscard / DBind / DLit / DCompound .


A discard pattern matches any input value.

DDiscard = <_>.


A binding pattern speculatively pushes the portion of the input under consideration onto the end of the binding sequence being built, and then recursively evaluates its subpattern. If the subpattern succeeds, so does the overall binding pattern (keeping the binding); otherwise, the speculative addition to the binding sequence is undone, and the overall binding pattern fails.

DBind = <bind @pattern Pattern>.


A literal pattern matches any atomic Preserves value. In order to match a literal compound value, a combination of compound and literal patterns must be used.

DLit = <lit @value AnyAtom>.
AnyAtom =
    / @bool bool
    / @float float
    / @double double
    / @int int
    / @string string
    / @bytes bytes
    / @symbol symbol
    / @embedded #!any


Each compound pattern first checks the type of its input: a rec pattern fails unless it is given a Record, an arr demands a Sequence and a dict only matches a Dictionary.

DCompound = <rec @label any @fields [Pattern ...]>
          / <arr @items [Pattern ...]>
          / <dict @entries { any: Pattern ...:... }> .

If the type check fails, the pattern match fails. Otherwise, matching continues:

  • rec patterns compare the label of the input Record against the label field in the pattern; unless they match literally and exactly, the overall match fails. Otherwise, if the number of fields in the input does not equal the number expected in the pattern, the match fails. Otherwise, matching proceeds structurally recursively.

  • arr patterns fail if the number of subpatterns does not match the number of items in the input Sequence. Otherwise, matching proceeds structurally recursively.

  • dict patterns consider each of the key/subpattern pairs in entries in turn, according to the Preserves order of the keys.2 If any given key from the pattern is not present in the input value, matching fails. Otherwise, matching proceeds recursively. The pattern ignores keys in the input value that are not mentioned in the pattern.


Most implementations of Syndicated Actor Model dataspaces use an efficient index datastructure described here.


The ordering of visiting of keys in a dict pattern is important because bindings are numbered in this pattern language, not named. Recall that <dict {a: <bind <_>>, b: <bind <_>>}> is an identical Preserves value to <dict {b: <<bind <_>>, a: <bind <_>>}>, so to guarantee consistent binding results, we must choose some deterministic order for visiting the subpatterns of the dict. (In this example, a will be visited before b, because a < b).