By Gopalan Nadathur and Natalie Linnell, from ICLP 2005, available from Gopalan Nadathur’s website:
Higher-order pattern unification problems arise often in computations within systems such as Twelf, λProlog and Isabelle. An important characteristic of such problems is that they are given by equations appearing under a prefix of alternating universal and existential quantifiers. Most existing algorithms for solving these problems assume that such prefixes are simplified to a ∀∃∀ form by an a priori application of a transformation known as raising. There are drawbacks to this approach. Mixed quantifier prefixes typically manifest themselves in the course of computation, thereby requiring a dynamic form of preprocessing that is difficult to support in low-level implementations. Moreover, raising may be redundant in many cases and its effect may have to be undone by a subsequent pruning transformation. We propose a method to overcome these difficulties. In particular, a unification algorithm is described that proceeds by recursively descending through the structures of terms, performing raising and other transformations on-the-fly and only as needed.