Stephen A. Edwards Columbia University Crown
COMS W4115
Programming Languages and Translators
Summer 2012


Class meets three times a week on CVN.


Name Email Office hours Location
Prof. Stephen A. Edwards


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
May 23 Intro. to Languages
Ch 1, 2
May 25 The C Language Reference Manual

May 28 Introduction to O'Caml

May 30 "

Jun 1 "

Jun 4 Language Processors
Ch. 2
Jun 6 Syntax and Parsing
Ch. 3, 4
Jun 8 "

Jun 11 "

Jun 13 Getting it right

Jun 15 (no lecture)

pdf HW1
Jun 18 Guest Lecture: Al Aho on Awk

Jun 20 Ocamlyacc and ASTs

Jun 22 Names, Scope and Bindings
Ch. 6
Jun 25 The MicroC Compiler
App. A
pdf HW2
Jun 27 Midterm Review

Jun 29 Midterm
Jul 2 Types
Ch. 6
Jul 6 "

Jul 9 Control-flow
Ch. 6
Jul 11 "

Jul 13 Code Generation
Ch. 6, 7, 8
Jul 16 Logic Programming

Jul 18 The Lambda Calculus

pdf HW3
Jul 20 Parallel Programming on OpenMP and Java

Jul 23 (no lecture)

Jul 25 Final Review

Jul 30 Final Exam
Aug 17 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


nc: Note Compiler
pdfProposal pdfLRM pdfFinal Report ArchiveProject Files
Phillip Ames
TT: Turtle Tango
pdfProposal pdfLRM pdfFinal Report ArchiveProject Files
Jeffrey Bender
ChordZ: User-friendly MusiXTeX front-end language
pdfProposal pdfLRM
Rafi Hasib


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.


Valid HTML 4.01Valid CSS

CVN faculty center