Stephen A. Edwards Columbia University Crown
COMS W4115
Programming Languages and Translators
Fall 2017


Class meets Mondays and Wednesdays 4:10 - 5:25 PM 501 Northwest Corner Building.


Name Email Office hours Location
Prof. Stephen A. Edwards see my home page 462 CSB
Connor Abbott 12-2 F 468 CSB
Frederick Kellison-Linn 4-6 T CS TA Room
Kai-Zhan Lee F 4-6 CS TA Room
Chang Liu 11:30 - 1:30 M 468 CSB
Wode 'Nimo' Ni 1:30 - 3:30 W 468 CSB
Lizzie Paquette 2-4 M 468 CSB
Heather Preslier 11:30-1:30 W 468 CSB


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 team 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 Session Lecture Notes Reading Due
Wed Sep 6 1
Intro. to Languages
Ch 1, 2
Mon Sep 11 2

Wed Sep 13 3
Language Processors
Ch. 2
Mon Sep 18 4
Syntax and Parsing (Al Aho)
Ch. 3, 4
Wed Sep 20 5
Lessons from Compiler Architecture (Jared Pochtar)
Some Outstanding Projects

Mon Sep 25 6
Syntax and Parsing contd.

Tue Sep 26 Proposal
Wed Sep 27 7

Mon Oct 2 8

Wed Oct 4 9
Programming in OCaml

Mon Oct 9 10

pdf HW1
Wed Oct 11 11

Mon Oct 16 12
Review for Midterm

Wed Oct 18 Midterm Exam
Mon Oct 23 13
The MicroC Compiler
App. A
Wed Oct 25 14

pdf HW2
Mon Oct 30 15
Types and Static Semantics
Sec. 6.5
Wed Nov 1 16

Mon Nov 6 Election Day Holiday
Wed Nov 8 17
Runtime Environments
Ch. 7
Hello World
Mon Nov 13 18

Wed Nov 15 19

Mon Nov 20 20
Code Generation

Wed Nov 22 Thanksgiving Holiday
Mon Nov 27 21

Wed Nov 29 22
The Lambda Calculus

pdf HW3
Mon Dec 4 23

Wed Dec 6 25
Review for Final

Mon Dec 11 Final Exam
Wed Dec 20 Project Reports Due

Suggested 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.
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 OCaml source for the four-function calculator.
.tar.gz file OCaml source and test cases for the MicroC language, which generates LLVM IR.

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 An excellent final report: the Funk language by 4115 students Naser AlDuaij, Senyao Du, Noura Farra, Yuan Kang, and Andrea Lottarini.
pdf An excellent final report: the Sheets language by 4115 students Benjamin Barg, Gabriel Blanco, Amelia Brunner, and Ruchir Khaitan.

Language Reference Manuals

pdf Dennis M. Ritchie, C Reference Manual
pdf Kernighan & Ritchie, The C Programming Language
pdf The C Language Reference Manual (SGI)
pdf Stroustrup, The C++ Programming Language
pdf The Java Language Specification
pdf The C# Language Specification


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


You will collaborate with your own small team on the programming project, but you may not collaborate with others on homeworks. Teams may share ideas about the programming assignments, but not code. Any two teams 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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