CS 334
Principles of Programming Languages

Course Description

Spring, 2002

Course Objectives:

A programming language is a programmer's principal interface with the computer. As such, the choice of an appropriate language can make a large difference in a programmer's productivity. A major goal of this course is to present a comprehensive introduction to the principal features and overall design of both traditional and modern programming languages. As such you will be examining language features both in isolation and in the context of a more complete language description. While we will examine features of older imperative programming languages like Pascal and C, we will also examine features and programming paradigms introduced in more recent programming languages in response to problems in writing programs in these earlier languages.

We will also investigate and practice writing interpreters for simple programming languages. This hands-on experience will provide a firm grounding in both the run-time characteristics of programming languages and the formal specification of programming language semantics.

At the end of this course you should have a more thorough understanding of why certain programming language features provide more support for the production of reliable programs, while others are fraught with ambiguity or other problems. Since programming languages mediate between the programmer and the raw machine, we will also gain a deeper understanding of how programming languages are compiled, what actually happens when a program is executed on a computer, and how the programming language design affects these. As an example, by the end of the course, you should be able to understand why Java has replaced C++ as the hot language, and why GJ represents the next step forward for Java.

An important features of this course is the discussion of programming language paradigms (in particular, languages which support new ways of thinking about implementing algorithms). We will investigate both the new features themselves and the software engineering problems which spawned these developments. We also hope to have time to discuss features designed to support programming on parallel architectures.

This course will involve extensive reading on your part, both in the text and in outside sources. The segments of the course which introduce new programming language paradigms will also feature some relatively simple programming in languages representative of the functional and object-oriented paradigms (ML and GJ or others).


Problems involving analysis of programming language features will be assigned and due most weeks during the term. Homework will generally be due at the beginning of class on Thursdays. Each student may use a maximum of two late days during the course of the semester (note that weekend days count). Once those late days are used up, late homework will not be accepted. There will be take-home midterm and final exams covering both lectures and readings. The midterm will be handed out during the first class after spring break. Student grades will be determined as follows: Midterm: 25%, Final Exam: 35%, Homework and programs: 40%.

Honor Code:

Homework is expected to be the sole work of each student unless the assignment explicitly states otherwise. Students may collaborate or receive help from each other on an occasional basis as long as all parties contributing or assisting are given explicit credit for their contributions to the homework. In particular, I hope you will help each other in learning the mechanics of how to compile programs in new languages. I will inform students if I believe they are collaborating too much. Uncredited collaborations will be considered a violation of the honor code and will be handled appropriately.

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