In computer science, partial application (or partial function application) refers to the process of fixing a number of arguments to a function, producing another function of smaller arity. Given a function $f\colon (X\times Y\times Z)\to N$ , we might fix (or 'bind') the first argument, producing a function of type ${\text{partial))(f)\colon (Y\times Z)\to N$ . Evaluation of this function might be represented as $f_{partial}(2,3)$ . Note that the result of partial function application in this case is a function that takes two arguments. Partial application is sometimes incorrectly called currying, which is a related, but distinct concept.

## Motivation

Intuitively, partial function application says "if you fix the first arguments of the function, you get a function of the remaining arguments". For example, if function div(x,y) = x/y, then div with the parameter x fixed at 1 is another function: div1(y) = div(1,y) = 1/y. This is the same as the function inv that returns the multiplicative inverse of its argument, defined by inv(y) = 1/y.

The practical motivation for partial application is that very often the functions obtained by supplying some but not all of the arguments to a function are useful; for example, many languages have a function or operator similar to plus_one. Partial application makes it easy to define these functions, for example by creating a function that represents the addition operator with 1 bound as its first argument.

## Implementations

In languages such as ML, Haskell and F#, functions are defined in curried form by default. Supplying fewer than the total number of arguments is referred to as partial application.

In languages with first-class functions, one can define curry, uncurry and papply to perform currying and partial application explicitly. This might incur a greater run-time overhead due to the creation of additional closures, while Haskell can use more efficient techniques.

Scala implements optional partial application with placeholder, e.g. def add(x: Int, y: Int) = {x+y}; add(1, _: Int) returns an incrementing function. Scala also supports multiple parameter lists as currying, e.g. def add(x: Int)(y: Int) = {x+y}; add(1) _.

Clojure implements partial application using the partial function defined in its core library.

The C++ standard library provides bind(function, args..) to return a function object that is the result of partial application of the given arguments to the given function. Alternatively, lambda expressions can be used:

int f(int a, int b);
auto f_partial = [](int a) { return f(a, 123); };
assert(f_partial(456) == f(456, 123) );


In Java, MethodHandle.bindTo partially applies a function to its first argument. Alternatively, since Java 8, lambdas can be used:

public static <A, B, R> Function<B, R> partialApply(BiFunction<A, B, R> biFunc, A value) {
return b -> biFunc.apply(value, b);
}


In Raku, the assuming method creates a new function with fewer parameters.

The Python standard library module functools includes the partial function, allowing positional and named argument bindings, returning a new function.

In XQuery, an argument placeholder (?) is used for each non-fixed argument in a partial function application.

## Definitions

In the simply-typed lambda calculus with function and product types (λ→,×) partial application, currying and uncurrying can be defined as

papply
(((a × b) → c) × a) → (bc) = λ(f, x). λy. f (x, y)
curry
((a × b) → c) → (a → (bc)) = λf. λx. λy. f (x, y)
uncurry
(a → (bc)) → ((a × b) → c) = λf. λ(x, y). f x y

Note that curry papply = curry.

## Mathematical formulation and examples

Partial application can be a useful way to define several useful notions in mathematics.

Given sets $X,Y$ and $Z$ , and a function $f:X\times Y\rightarrow Z$ , one can define the function

$f(\,\cdot \,,-):X\rightarrow (Y\rightarrow Z),$ where $(Y\rightarrow Z)$ is the set of functions $Y\rightarrow Z$ . The image of $x\in X$ under this map is $f(x,\,\cdot \,):Y\rightarrow Z$ . This is the function which sends $y\in Y$ to $f(x,y)$ . There are often structures on $X,Y,Z$ which mean that the image of $f(\,\cdot \,,-)$ restricts to some subset of functions $Y\rightarrow Z$ , as illustrated in the following examples.

### Group actions

A group action can be understood as a function $*:G\times X\rightarrow X$ . The partial evaluation $\rho :G\rightarrow {\text{Sym))(X)\subset (X\rightarrow X)$ restricts to the group of bijections from $X$ to itself. The group action axioms further ensure $\rho$ is a group homomorphism.

### Inner-products and canonical map to the dual

An inner-product on a vector space $V$ over a field $K$ is a map $\phi :V\times V\rightarrow K$ . The partial evaluation provides a canonical map to the dual vector space, $\phi (\,\cdot \,,-):V\rightarrow V^{*}\subset (V\rightarrow K)$ . If this is the inner-product of a Hilbert space, the Riesz representation theorem ensures this is an isomorphism.

### Cross-products and the adjoint map for Lie algebras

The partial application of the cross product $\times$ on $\mathbb {R} ^{3)$ is $\times (\,\cdot \,,-):\mathbb {R} ^{3}\mapsto {\text{End))(\mathbb {R} ^{3})$ . The image of the vector $\mathbf {u}$ is a linear map $T_{\mathbf {u} )$ such that $T_{\mathbf {u} }(\mathbf {v} )=\mathbf {u} \times \mathbf {v}$ . The components of $T_{\mathbf {u} )$ can be found to be $(T_{\mathbf {u} })_{ij}=\epsilon _{ijk}u_{k)$ .

This is closely related to the adjoint map for Lie algebras. Lie algebras are equipped with a bracket $[\,\cdot \,,\,\cdot \,]:{\mathfrak {g))\times {\mathfrak {g))\rightarrow {\mathfrak {g))$ . The partial application gives a map ${\text{ad)):{\mathfrak {g))\rightarrow {\text{End))({\mathfrak {g)))$ . The axioms for the bracket ensure this map is a homomorphism of Lie algebras.