• Offered by School of Computing
  • ANU College ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science
  • Course subject Computer Science
  • Areas of interest Computer Science, Software Engineering

“Programming languages are the medium through which we describe computations. More specifically, we use the model provided by a programming language to discuss concepts, formulate algorithms, and reason about problem solutions. Programming languages define models tailored to thinking about and solving problems in intended application areas. For example, the C language provides a model close to a computer’s underlying hardware […]. The languages used in practice change continuously as advances in our field and the broadening uses of technology change how we model and express computation. At its core, the study of programming languages examines the principles and limitations of computing (or programming) models, the effective design and use of systems or languages based on these models, and methods to compare their relative strengths and weaknesses in particular contexts.” [Why Undergraduates Should Learn the Principles of Programming Languages, ACM SIGPLAN Education Board, February 6, 2011, Page 1]

This course is an introduction to the theory and design of programming languages. To develop high-assurance software - software for which we can give strong evidence that the software will do what it is supposed to do and nothing more - a formal description of the 'meaning' and behaviour of programs is required. Hence two fundamental aspects of the study of programming languages are their syntax, and their formal semantics. High-assurance software is not only needed for safety-critical software, but also for program transformations, such as carried out by optimising compilers.

Topics covered in this course include formal semantics of programming languages (such as operational, denotational and axiomatic), type systems, higher-order functions and lambda calculus, concurrency, and communication.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. Understand the role of theoretical formalisms, such as operational and denotational semantics
  2. Apply these semantics in the context of programming languages
  3. Evaluate differences (advantages/disadvantages) of these theoretical formalisms
  4. Create operational or denotational semantics of simple imperative programs
  5. Analyse the role of types in programming languages
  6. Formalise properties and reason about programs
  7. Apply basic principles for formalising concurrent programming languages

Other Information

Course offered in Semester 2 in alternate odd-numbered years.

Indicative Assessment

  1. Assignments (35) [LO null]
  2. Final Exam (65) [LO null]

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Approximately 130 hours consisting of 3h lectures per week; weekly tutorials starting week 2 and self-directed study.

Inherent Requirements

Information on inherent requirements for this course is currently not available.

Requisite and Incompatibility

To enrol in this course you must have successfully completed COMP2300 and COMP1600. Incompatible with COMP6361.

Prescribed Texts


Preliminary Reading

  • Harper, R. 2012, Practical Foundations for Programming Languages, Cambridge University Press, New York. 
  • Pierce, B.C. 2019, Types and Programming Languages, The MIT Press.
  • Krishnamurthi, S. & Open Textbook Library 2017, Programming Languages: Application and Interpretation, Version Second edn, Brown University,
  • Winskel, G. 1993, The formal semantics of programming languages: an introduction, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.




Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

Commonwealth Support (CSP) Students
If you have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). More information about your student contribution amount for each course at Fees

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are a domestic graduate coursework student with a Domestic Tuition Fee (DTF) place or international student you will be required to pay course tuition fees (see below). Course tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Domestic fee paying students
Year Fee
2022 $4740
International fee paying students
Year Fee
2022 $6000
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

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The list of offerings for future years is indicative only.
Class summaries, if available, can be accessed by clicking on the View link for the relevant class number.

Second Semester

Class number Class start date Last day to enrol Census date Class end date Mode Of Delivery Class Summary
5811 24 Jul 2023 31 Jul 2023 31 Aug 2023 27 Oct 2023 In Person View

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