In the semantics of programming, finite data types such as finite lists, have traditionally been modelled by initial algebras. Later final coalgebras were used in order to deal with infinite data types. Coalgebras, which are the dual of algebras, turned out to be suited, moreover, as models for certain types of automata and more generally, for (transition and dynamical) systems. An important property of initial algebras is that they satisfy the familiar principle of induction. Such a principle was missing for coalgebras until the work of Aczel (1988) on a theory of non-wellfounded sets, in which he introduced a proof principle nowadays called coinduction. It was formulated in terms of bisimulation, a notion originally stemming from the world of concurrent programming languages (Milner, 1980; Park, 1981). Using the notion of coalgebra homomorphism, the definition of bisimulation on coalgebras can be shown to be formally dual to that of congruence on algebras (Aczel and Mendler, 1989). Thus the three basic notions of universal algebra: algebra, homomorphism of algebras, and congruence, turn out to correspond to: coalgebra, homomorphism of coalgebras, and bisimulation, respectively. In this paper, the latter are taken as the basic ingredients of a theory called universal coalgebra. Some standard results from universal algebra are reformulated (using the afore mentioned correspondence) and proved for a large class of coalgebras, leading to a series of results on, e.g., the lattices of subcoalgebras and bisimulations, simple coalgebras and coinduction, and a covariety theorem for coalgebras similar to Birkhoff's variety theorem.

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Department of Computer Science [CS]
Computational models

Rutten, J. (1996). Universal coalgebra: a theory of systems. Department of Computer Science [CS]. CWI.