“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.
Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:
- Understand the role of theoretical formalisms, such as operational and denotational semantics
- Apply these semantics in the context of programming languages
- Evaluate differences (advantages/disadvantages) of these theoretical formalisms
- Create operational or denotational semantics of simple imperative programs
- Analyse the role of types in programming languages
- Formalise properties and reason about programs
- Apply basic principles for formalising concurrent programming languages
- Reflect on current approaches to reason about concurrent systems and evaluate their limitations
- Assignments (35) [LO 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8]
- Final Exam (65) [LO 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8]
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Approximately 130 hours consisting of 3h lectures per week; weekly tutorials starting week 2 and self-directed study.
6 credits (1 course) in the area of software development and
12 credits (2 courses) in the area of discrete mathematics and/or theory of computation
Requisite and Incompatibility
- 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.
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