nLab sheaf semantics of concurrent interacting objects

Sheaf Semantics for Concurrent Interacting Objects is a paper by Joseph Goguen, which formulates the behaviour of systems of concurrent interacting objects categorically. Goguen uses sheaves to represent the behaviours of individual objects, and limits to combine the behaviours of objects into that of the system. The approach is very general, and is not restricted to “objects” in the sense of object-oriented programming, or indeed to computation.

I intend this page to refer to Goguen’s formulation and its relatives, rather than just his paper. I’ve given it this long title, rather than something shorter such as “Sheaf semantics”, to avoid ambiguity because I suspect that sheaves have been used to describe other semantics. E.g. in topos theory?

Relevance to computing and simulation

In A Categorical Manifesto, Goguen writes that:

Given a species of structure, say widgets, then the result of interconnecting a system of widgets to form a super-widget corresponds to taking the colimit of the diagram of widgets in which the morphisms show how they are interconnected. He continues by saying that, at least for him, this dogma arose in the context of General Systems Theory?. I don’t know how widely recognised the use of colimits for “putting together” is, but to the extent that it is, it this paper and earlier ones on which it’s based may have helped promote the idea, and thereby be of historical interest.

Moreover, if one is having trouble designing a system to describe or run simulations — whether on a computer or not — Goguen’s formulation seems, to me (JNIP) at least, to offer a clean elegant starting place. Certainly cleaner than the semantics of most object-oriented programming languages.


This paper uses concepts from sheaf theory to explain phenomena in concurrent systems, including object, inheritance, deadlock, and non-interference, as used in computer security. The approach is very general, and applies not only to concurrent object oriented systems, but also to systems of differential equations, electrical circuits, hardware description languages, and much more. Time can be discrete or continuous, linear or branching, and distribution is allowed over space as well as time. Concepts from category theory help to achieve this generality: objects are modelled by sheaves; inheritance by sheaf morphisms; systems by diagrams; and interconnection by diagrams of diagrams. In addition, behaviour is given by limit, and the result of interconnection by colimit. The approach is illustrated with many examples, including a semantics for a simple concurrent object-based programming language.


Joseph A. Goguen, Sheaf Semantics for Concurrent Interacting Objects, in Mathematical Structures in Computing Science, volume 2, pages 159-91, 1992.

Sheaf Semantics for Concurrent Interacting Objects. CiteSeerX page.

Last revised on June 6, 2011 at 06:29:14. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.