Stephen A. Edwards Columbia University Crown
  COMS W4115
Programming Languages and Translators
Spring 2011, CVN


Name Email Office Hours
Prof. Stephen A. Edwards TBA


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.


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 19 Intro. to Languages pdf Ch. 1, 2
January 24 The C Language Reference Manual pdf
January 26 Introduction to O'Caml pdf
January 31 "
February 2 "
February 7 Language Processors pdf Ch. 2
February 9 Syntax and Parsing pdf Ch 3, 4 Proposal
February 14 "
February 16 "
February 21 Getting it right pdf
February 23 HW1 pdf
February 28 Guest lecture: Aho on Awk
March 2 Ocamlyacc and ASTs pdf Ch. 4, 5
March 7 Names, Scope, and Bindings pdf Ch. 6
March 9 The MicroC Compiler pdf App. A HW2 pdf
March 14-16 Spring Recess
March 21 Midterm review pdf LRM
March 23 Midterm
March 28 Types pdf Ch. 6
March 30 "
April 4 Control-flow pdf Ch. 6
April 6 "
April 11 Code Generation pdf Ch. 6, 7, 8
April 13 Logic Programming pdf
April 18 The Lambda Calculus pdf HW3 pdf
April 20 Parallel Programming in OpenMP and Java pdf
April 25 Review for final pdf
May 2 Final Exam
May 12 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

Related 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 ML.
Cambridge University Press, 1998.

The opposite of Scott: focuses on compiler construction, not language design issues.
It uses the functional language ML, which is closely related to O'Caml, but just different enough to be annoying.

Cover of Appel

Lawrence C. Paulson
ML for the Working Programmer.
Cambridge University Press, 1996. Second edition.

A book about functional programming. It's written for the ML language, not O'Caml, but the two are closely related.

Cover of Paulson

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

Objective Caml Resources

webpage The Caml Language Homepage. Compiler downloads and documentation. Start here.
webpage The Objective Caml System. Documentation and User's Manual for the whole system, including documentation for ocamllex, ocamlyacc, ocamldep, ocamldebug, and all the standard libraries.
PDF file Jason Hickey, Introduction to Objective Caml. One of my favorite books on O'Caml.
webpage Emmanuel Chailloux, Pascal Manoury, and Bruno Pagano, Developing Applications with Objective Caml. An online book translated from the French (O'Reilly).
webpage Objective CAML Tutorial
.tar.gz file O'Caml source for the four-function calculator.
.tar.gz file O'Caml source and test cases for the microc language.

The Project

The focus of 4115 is the design and implementation of a little language. You will divide into teams and design the goals, syntax, and semantics of your language, and implement a compiler for your language.

Exception: 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 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.

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

ACL: Arithmetic Calculation Language
PDF fileProposal    PDF fileLRM    PDF fileFinal Report    Zip ArchiveProject Files   
Nathan Corvino   
HOOTIE: Highly Organized and Optimized Trading In Exchanges
PDF fileProposal    PDF fileLRM    PDF fileFinal Report    Zip ArchiveProject Files   
Houtan Fanisalek   
iDrive: Driverless car language
PDF fileProposal    PDF fileLRM    PDF fileFinal Report    Compressed Tar ArchiveProject Files   
Parag Jain   
MDLCP: Markush Description Language for Chemical Patents
PDF fileProposal    PDF fileFinal Report    Compressed Tar ArchiveProject Files   
Ning Yu   


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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