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Using SWI-Prolog commercially

As of July 2020, SWI-Prolog is managed by SWI-Prolog Solutions b.v. as a commercial project. The mission of SWI-Prolog Solutions b.v. is to help organizations using SWI-Prolog for profit.

Why should I consider SWI-Prolog?

SWI-Prolog, a powerful declarative language, offers a high level of abstraction similar to SQL. This abstraction allows for concise code that can be developed quickly and maintained easily. Even domain experts with minimal training can understand and read the code, breaking down the traditional barrier between coders and domain experts. As a result, development and maintenance productivity significantly increase, allowing you to keep up with evolving business needs effortlessly.

Unlike SQL, SWI-Prolog is a versatile language that extends beyond accessing relational data. It excels in formal domains, enabling reasoning about formal specifications, programming languages, business rules, etc. Additionally, it shines in semi-formal domains like legal reasoning, reasoning about medical guidelines or robotics.

SWI-Prolog boasts a solid and secure industry-proven core engine. It implements most known extensions to the ISO standard core of Prolog. The preemptive multi-threading feature efficiently utilizes all available cores, ensuring optimal performance.


Q: What about all reasons not to use Prolog? ...

Q: I understand Prolog is dead. Is that true?

True, various implementations are barely alive. SWI-Prolog however is downloaded about 250,000 times from the main site each year. In addition it is a package for several Linux distributions, it appears on several Windows program download sites and it is a standard Docker library, claiming 1M+ downloads. We have an active user forum with about 1,000 users. The time to first response on a post rarely exceeds an hour. OpenHub claims nearly 1,500 commits by 25 contributers per year.

Q: Prolog is considered hard to learn. Is that true?

Yes and no. True, people with only an imperative and object oriented background (C++, Java, Python, etc.), Prolog looks alien at first sight. People with a functional programming background are in a much better position because pure functional languages like Lisp and Haskell share recursion as the main control structure with Prolog. People with a mathematical background understand Prolog easily as it connects directly to inductive proof. In our experience people with no programming background at all deal surprisingly well with Prolog. Consider the (toy) example below. A Python programmer barely recognises this as a program, while a logician but also someone without programming experience immediately recognises this as a correct formalization of the concepts sister and sibling.

sister(Sister, Sibling) :-
        sibling(Sister, Sibling),

sibling(Person1, Person2) :-
    parent(Person1, Parent),
        parent(Person2, Parent).

For programmers in the first category, count some weeks before they connect the dots.

Q: Prolog does not scale. Is that true?

Briefly, Prolog scales well for what it is designed for and can seamlessly use other technology for things it is not designed for. Below are some details.

Prolog is not good at some tasks. Notably tasks that involve operations on large arrays (vectors) of uniform numbers such as images. That actually also applies to e.g., Python and is which why most of the Python machine learning libraries are coded in C or C++, with or without the help of the GPU (using CUDA).

Next, there are tasks for which the naive declarative specification does not scale due to a combinatorial explosion. Such cases are easy to predict because the execution model of Prolog (called SLD resolution) is easy to understand. There are generally three ways out: Constraint Logic Programming, Tabled (SLG) resolution or reformulate the specification such that it implements a more efficient algorithm. For example, we can specify sorting as (1) generate a permutation and (2) check the list is ordered. We can also specify it as (1) split the list in two, (2) sort the two smaller lists and (3) merge the two ordered lists. This recursive specification stops by stating that the sorted version of a list with no or one element is the list itself. Both work, but where the complexity of the first is O(n!), the complexity of the second is O(log(n)). In other words, while the specification describes the logical relation declaratively, the transparent and predictable resolution causes the same description to implicitly encode an algorithm.

SWI-Prolog does scales to tens of millions of facts and automatically builds indexes to access large datasets efficiently. The indexes are build just in time based on the actual runtime behavior of your code. If that is not enough, you can connect it seamlessly to external data sources such as relational databases, graph stores, etc. For example, an SQL query can easily be wrapped as a predicate, after which it behaves exactly the same as a normal Prolog predicate. Prolog does not suffer from the Object–relational impedance mismatch because Prolog itself is relational. Similarly, large arrays may be handled through the C, C++, C#, Java, Rust or Python interface, after which the result (again) fits naturally in Prolog's eco system.

Q: Where do I find Prolog programmers?

It is unfortunately true than experienced Prolog programmers are not readily available everywhere. They do exist. Many work as contractors. Luckily, world-wide cooperation currently works well.

Q: Is SWI-Prolog a prototyping language?

Yes and no. Prolog is good at prototyping because the brevity of the code allows for exploring ideas quickly. Prolog is also mature enough to bring your prototype to the next level and use the demonstrator to convince your customers or investors. Many companies also proofed it to be suitable for running production software. Note that the abstract and concise code that can be read and written by domain experts make this notably viable in domains where the rules change often.

For programming in the large we have modules to encapsulate the code as well as support for testing, documentation, static analysis, coverage analysis, profiling, etc.

Still, companies may at some point decide that it is better to rewrite (part of) the application in another language. Efficiency, experience of employees or uniformity of the technology stack may drive this decision. SWI-Prolog allowed you to convince customers and investors and bring the system to the market early as well as to fully grasp the desired functionality and required algorithms. Rewriting is now much easier. Note that the good integration between SWI-Prolog and many other languages allows for migrating gradually.

Q: How is SWI-Prolog integrated in our IT infrastructure?

There are roughly two ways. One option is to connect SWI-Prolog through some standard protocol. Readily available is to use HTTP (including WebSockets), STOMP (connects to e.g, RabbitMQ), Redis and ROS2 (Robotics Operating System). SWI-Prolog can read and write XML, JSON, YAML, Google's protocol buffers (protobuf), RDF (ntriples, Turtle, RDF/XML). Contact us if you need support for another protocol.

Alternatively, SWI-Prolog can be embedded in a program written in some other language or use components written in another language. We provide these features for a large range of languages, e.g., C, C++, Java, Rust, JavaScript and Python. C, C++ and Rust allow for fast interfaces that support preemptive multi-threading. Notably Python provides easy access from Prolog to many libraries and APIs. Notably scalability when using Prolog threads may be limited. Still, Python provides an excellent entry point to many resources while a better scalable interface may be realized after evaluation with a Python based prototype.

Q: What are the deployment options?

SWI-Prolog applications may be deployed in many different ways. In house deployment may focus on easy debugging and updates. End user products may prefer a single file executable without dependencies that make it hard for the end user to extract details about the algorithms used.

A SWI-Prolog process consists of the runtime system that is by default packaged as a shared object (DLL) and the Prolog code. The Prolog code can be distributed as source or virtual machine code (similar to e.g., Java .class and .jar files). The virtual machine code may just be for your application or represent the entire program. The first is called a quick load file and the second a saved state. A state can be distributed as a file or embedded in a shared object or executable. Code may be obfuscated, which implies that internal identifiers are replaced by generated constants and debug information such as source code locations are not included. Finally, it is possible to add arbitrary (data) files to the state. Depending on the OS, it is possible to distribute arbitrary complex applications as a single file, possibly statically linked, executable.

Q: What about the security of my SWI-Prolog application?

Security is now a big issue. Being a niche language, there are few tools available to access the security of Prolog programs. Written in C, the security of SWI-Prolog itself has gone through auditing processes several times. A couple of issues have been fixed as a result of this. Given a secure Prolog implementation, security of applications written in this Prolog comes cheap. Prolog memory handling is safe, so buffer overflows are not possible. Injection attacks are possible. The design of relevant libraries as well as the support for quasi quotations avoid the need for managing data that satisfies some formal syntax as text (using strings). Almost all manipulation or generation of such data is performed by parsing and manipulating the AST or generating the AST from scratch followed by generating the text from the AST. A noteworthy example is the framework for generating HTML which makes it impossible to generate invalid HTML. Eventually we had to add an escape mechanism to inserts text literally because customers had client software that insisted on specific, invalid, HTML content.

Q: What does SWI-Prolog has to offer for maintenance and debugging?

  • A graphical source level debugger
  • Dynamically configurable debug log messages and assertions
  • Profiling and coverage analysis
  • Unit testing. Tests may be run in parallel.
  • A built-in Emacs clone, the sweep mode for GNU Emacs and several externally available modes for vscode, Eclipse and more.
  • Reliable hot swap of code, even on active multi-threaded server processes. This allows for adding debug log statements without down time as well as hot fixing of issues without down time.
  • Secure login to Prolog processes using SSH. This allows for inspecting the state of services or embedded Prolog instances as well as interactive testing and using the hot swap facilities to investigate and fix bugs.

Q: How portable is SWI-Prolog?

SWI-Prolog is written in C, following the C11 standard. It may be compiled using gcc, clang or Microsoft Visual C++ (MSVC). It does not use any assembly code. It does use gcc and clang built-in functions, notably for lock-free thread synchronization using the atomic built-ins and for fast overflow-aware arithmetic. On MSVC it uses the intrinsics functions where applicable.

The build is configured and controlled using CMake. This facilitates automatic configuration for a wide range of platforms as well as using multiple build backends such as Unix make, ninja or Microsoft Visual C++ project files. CMake also facilitates embedding a SWI-Prolog in larger projects, where needed using a project specific configuration.

SWI-Prolog supports both 32 and 64 bit architectures on a wide range of CPUs. All CPUs supported by Debian Linux are supported. Low level OS access is provided for POSIX based systems (Linux, *BSD (including MacOS) and Windows. Finally, there is a WASM based version that can run in your browser or under Node.js. It is available as npm package.

Practically all features are transparently supported on all supported platforms. For all platforms SWI-Prolog comes with small extensions to access functionality that is platform specific and cannot be generalized. Examples are accessing the Windows registry in the Windows port or accessing the browser DOM in the WASM version.

Q: What dependencies does SWI-Prolog have?

The core depends on zlib and optionally on GMP. Without GMP it provides the same functionality (unbounded integers, rational numbers and good random numbers) based on an included port of LibBF

The extension packages come in three tastes. Part of the packages are pure Prolog, part use C11 code without dependencies and notably the interface packages such as for ODBC, OpenSSL, Java and Python depend on the development environment of these systems. All these extensions are optional though.

Q: Licenses, open source ...

Q: What are the license conditions for SWI-Prolog?

SWI-Prolog is distributed under the permissive BSD-2 license. All software that is part of the standard distribution is either covered by this license, concerns external code covered by one of the other permissive licenses (BSD-3, MIT, Apache-2) or is optional. Optional components covered by GNU licenses are

  • The GPL licensed readline Command line editor. This interface may be loaded on demand to provide a better interactive experience. The default is to use the BSD libedit Finished applications rarely need either.
  • The LGPL licensed GMP library provides unbounded integers and rational number support. This is the default. Alternatively we provide equivalent functionality by means of LibBF under the MIT license. The LibBF version is smaller but slower.

Q: Why is SWI-Prolog open source?

SWI-Prolog is further developed and maintained by SWI-Prolog Solutions b.v. under the permissive open source BSD-2 license terms. We strongly believe that open source is the best model for infrastructure such as SWI-Prolog because

  1. Open source allows users to assemble their own configuration on their own environment. Users have been the driving force for many of the available ports.
  2. Open source simplifies debugging, notably when embedding Prolog or using foreign language extensions.
  3. Open source allows for ports, fixes and changes without having to rely on a vendor. Depending businesses can hire anyone to solve their problem or acquire the expertise to do so in house.
  4. More eyes find more bugs. This has been said many times. In our experience it is true, but it requires a long time to establish a community with enough expertise to make it true. SWI-Prolog has that community.
  5. Open source simplifies growing the user community. A large user community makes it easier to find programmers and get answers to your problems.
  6. Open sources comes with much lower cost for sales and distribution.
  7. Open source provides direct communication between users and developers. You can share your problems and the community can come up with suggestions or ways to resolve your problems.

Q: What about vendor lock-in?

The core of Prolog is standardized by ISO/IEC 13211-1:1995. SWI-Prolog deviates from this standard on several points, notably preferring integer and rational number arithmetic over using floating point numbers, provide support for Unicode programs and reinterpret some syntactic constructs to allow for dicts as primary citizens. Programs that avoid some edge cases run unmodified on a large number of Prolog implementations.

Although the Prolog standard for modules was never adopted, a good number of implementations support the module system introduced by Quintus Prolog. While most systems extended this module system, basic usage suffices for many applications and is portable.

Several extensions are widely adopted, notably unbounded integer support, constraints (attributed variables) and tabling.

In addition to this, SWI-Prolog has several fairly unique extensions. Examples are mature multi-threading support, delimited continuations, engines, (database) transactions, rational numbers, string and dict data types. Availability of the sources under the BSD-2 license and a large and active community is your warrant here. The resources required to maintain SWI-Prolog or port required features to another target system should be manageable for most commercial users.

In general, porting to another implementation that satisfies the requirements of your application is non-trivial but requires only a tiny amount of resources compared to the initial development. The permissive license of SWI-Prolog allows porting libraries rather than reimplementing them if they do not exist on the target platform.

What does SWI-Prolog Solutions b.v. offer?

O: Access whether SWI-Prolog is suitable for your problem

Can SWI-Prolog solve your problem? How can it do so? What are the risks involved? Does it scale? How do we interface with our existing infrastructure? (Where) can we find programmers?

We are happy to discuss your case. For several customers we developed a proof of concept (POC).

O: Help with design and implementation

Our involvement may continue by providing support in the design and implementing the complicated modules of the design. A common split of responsibilities is for you to provide the domain knowledge (rules) and for SWI-Prolog Solutions b.v. to provide the tooling to make them work. Your business remains in control while outsourcing the hard work.

O: Provide education and training

SWI-Prolog is a rich environment. While basic Prolog is well covered in many books, there is little public information on how one should use Prolog in professional environments. We offer training that addresses your specific problems, including code reviews.

O: If needed, extend or improve SWI-Prolog

The most common improvement we supply are interfaces to languages, protocols, data formats, etc. We also provide tooling such as for additional static analysis, documentation and testing. We can provide language extensions, improved performance, better deployment if your product needs this.

O: Provide support for SWI-Prolog

At this moment we do not provide support contracts you can simply subscribe too. From the Discourse forum and GitHub issues you will learn that problems are typically addressed quickly. We are happy to discuss a support contract with you to address your specific needs.

Q: Where do I contact SWI-Prolog Solutions b.v?

Please send an email to solutions@swi-prolog.com

Q: How is SWI-Prolog Solutions b.v. organized?

SWI-Prolog Solutions b.v. is a company registered in the Netherlands with the Chamber of commerce (KvK) number 80154573. A "b.v." is a Dutch private limited company.

SWI-Prolog Solutions b.v. seeks cooperation with big companies and big projects

SWI-Prolog solutions b.v. is interested in cooperation in big projects that can spin enough resources to speed up development or provide long term guaranteed sustainable development and maintenance. We offer close cooperation with developers, priority for your needs in further system development and training. People cooperating in such a cooperation may be employed by SWI-Prolog Solutions b.v., but can also be employees of your business or work as contractors. Our aim is to enlarge the group of people that are dedicated to SWI-Prolog's development. Your benefit is access to sustainable high valued Prolog implementation with the flexibility offered by in-house development at lower cost and with higher impact.