Stephen A. Edwards Columbia University Crown
  COMS W4115
Programming Languages and Translators
Spring 2008 (CVN)


Name Email Office hours Location
Prof. Stephen A. Edwards T 4-5, W 4-5 Eastern time +1 212 939 7019


The goal of PLT is to teach you both about the structure of computer programming languages and the basics of implementing compilers for such languages.

The course will focus mostly on traditional imperative and object-oriented languages, but will also cover functional and logic programming, concurrency issues, and some aspects of scripting languages. Homework and tests will cover language issues. You will design and implement a language of your own design in a semester-long group project.

While few of you will ever implement a full commercial compiler professionally, the concepts, techniques, and tools you will learn have broad application.


Java fluency: You will be writing a large Java program and must know the language well.

COMS W3157 Advanced Programming: You will be dividing into teams to build a compiler, so you need to have some idea how to keep this under control. Quick test: you need to know about Makefiles and source code control systems.

COMS W3261 Computability and Models of Computation: You will need an understanding of formal languages and grammar to build the parser and lexical analyzer. Quick test: you must know about regular expressions, context-free grammars, and NFAs.


Date Lecture Notes Reading Due
January 22 Intro. to Languages pdf pdf Ch. 1, 2
January 24 Language Design pdf pdf
January 29 Language Processors pdf pdf Ch. 2
January 31 Scripting Languages pdf pdf Ch. 2
February 5 Syntax and Parsing pdf pdf Ch 3, 4
February 7 "
February 12 Getting it right pdf pdf Proposal
February 14 ANTLR pdf pdf Ch. 4
February 19 ASTs pdf pdf Ch. 4, 5
February 21 Names, Scope, and Bindings pdf pdf Ch. 6
February 26 " HW1 pdf
February 28 "
March 4 Jim Miller, Where's My Compiler? ppt
March 6 Small Examples pdf pdf App. A LRM
March 11 Midterm review pdf pdf pdf
March 13 Midterm
March 17-21 Spring Break
March 25 Types pdf pdf Ch. 6
March 27 "
April 1 Control-flow pdf pdf Ch. 6
April 3 "
April 8 Code Generation pdf pdf Ch. 6, 7, 8
April 10 Logic Programming pdf pdf
April 15 Functional Programming pdf pdf
April 17 " HW2 pdf
April 22 Review for final pdf pdf
April 24 Final Exam
May 10 Project reports due

Required Text

Alfred V. Aho, Monica Lam, Ravi Sethi, and Jeffrey D. Ullman.
Compilers: Principles, Techniques, and Tools.
Addison-Wesley, 2006. Second Edition.

The first edition was long the standard text on compilers; the second edition of the ``dragon book'' has now been updated and continues to be one of the more readable books on the topic. Columbia's own Prof. Al Aho is one of the authors.

Cover of the Dragon Book 2nd edition

Optional Texts

Michael L. Scott.
Programming Language Pragmatics
Morgan Kaufmann, 2006. Second Edition.

A broad-minded book about languages in general, but has less on practical details of compiler construction.

Cover of Programming Language Pragmatics 2nd edition

Andrew W. Appel.
Modern Compiler Implementation in Java.
Cambridge University Press, 1998.

The opposite of Scott: focuses on compiler construction, not language design issues.

Cover of Appel

Steven S. Muchnick
Advanced Compiler Design and Implementation.
Morgan Kaufmann, 1997.

A very extensive book on many aspects of compiler design. Starts about halfway through Appel and goes much farther. Recommended for serious compiler hackers only.

Cover of Muchnick

The Project

The focus of 4115 is the design and implementation of a little language. CVN students will do the project individually.

Final Report Outline

This is a critical part of the project and will be a substantial fraction of the grade.

Include the following sections:

  1. Introduction
  2. Language Tutorial
  3. Language Manual
  4. Project Plan
  5. Architectural Design
  6. Test Plan
  7. Lessons Learned
  8. Appendix

Project Resources

pdf A Two-page Introduction to ANTLR. These are for ANTLR 2.x, not 3.x
pdf tar.gz file An ANTLR implementation of the little language from Appendix A of the second edition of the Dragon Book.
directory An ANTLR example illustrating how to display ASTs. Run SimpLexer.g through ANTLR, compile the generated .java files along with and run "java Main < test.txt" to both print the AST in a human-readable way and display it in a window.
ANTLR home The ANTLR homepage
pdf A two-page introduction to the CVS version control system. I strongly suggest you keep your project under some version control system.
pdf A sample final report by Chris Conway, Cheng-Hong Li, and Megan Pengelly. It includes the white paper, tutorial, language reference manual, project plan, architectural design, and testing plan. It does not include the lessons learned and code listings sections, although it should.
.zip Source for the very successful MX language project from Spring 2003.
project home Other projects from Spring 2003
project home Other projects from Fall 2003

White Papers

pdf The Java white paper from Sun Microsystems
webpage C# Introduction and Overview

Language Reference Manuals

pdf Dennis M. Ritchie, C Reference Manual
pdf Kernighan & Ritchie, The C Programming Language
pdf The C Language Reference Manual (DEC)
pdf The C Language Reference Manual (SGI)
pdf The C Language Reference Manual (Microsoft)
pdf Stroustrup, The C++ Programming Language
pdf The Java Language Specification
pdf The C# Language Specification
home Aho, Kernighan, and Weinberger, The AWK Programming Language

This Term's Projects

SLAG: Structured Language Applied to Gaming
PDF fileProposal    PDF fileLRM   
Edward Arnold-Berkovits   
Stella: An Environment for Experimental Machine Learning
PDF fileProposal    PDF fileLRM   
Antonio Kantek   
SFAL: Simple Flash Animation Language 2.0
PDF fileProposal    PDF fileLRM   
Anthony Trinh   


40 % Project
20 % Midterm
30 % Final
10 % Homework


You will collaborate with your own small group on the programming project, but you may not collaborate with others on homeworks. Groups may share ideas about the programming assignments, but not code. Any two groups found submitting similar code will receive zero credit for the whole assignment, and repeat offenses will be referred to the dean. See the Columbia CS department academic policies for more details.

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