Course Overview

High-level programming languages like Python make programming a breeze, but how do they work? There's a big gap between Python and machine instructions for modern computers. Learn how to translate Python programs all the way to Intel x86 assembly language.

Most compiler courses teach one phase of the compiler at a time, such as parsing, semantic analysis, and register allocation. The problem with that approach is it is difficult to understand how the whole compiler fits together and why each phase is designed the way it is. Instead, each week we implement a successively larger subset of the Python language. The very first subset is a tiny language of arithmetic statements, and by the time we are done the language includes objects, inheritance, and first-class functions.

The course has two broad topics:


Fluency in at least one programming language (e.g., Java, C, C++, Python) and experience in picking up new languages independently is required. Students will do a lot of programming in Python, but prior knowledge of Python is not strictly required as long as there is a motivation to learn it independently and quickly. Prior knowledge of an assembly language and language tools (e.g., interpreters) helps but is not strictly required.

The official prerequisites for this course are CSCI 2400 (Computer Systems) or ECEN 2120 (Computers as Components) and and CSCI 2824 (Discrete Mathematics). It is also suggested that CSCI 3155 (Principles of Programming Languages) be previously taken.

If you have not already taken these courses or if you have any concerns, please talk with the instructor. Proficiency in programming is absolutely expected, though there is no specific language required. This means that you should be able to pick up a new programming language with relative ease.


You will be responsible for the following:

Grading. Your overall grade will be determined using the ratio for homework assignments, exercises, the midterm exam, the final exam, and class participation shown above. There is no predetermined curve (i.e., I hope everyone gets an A based on the level of mastery demonstrated). Cutoffs will be announced after the midterm exam to give you an idea where you stand.

Regrades. Any concern about an error in grading must be submitted within one week of when it is returned. Any coursework submitted for reconsideration may be regraded in its entirety, which could result in a lower score if warranted. To request a regrade, please go to the instructor's office hours with your coursework and an explanation of what you believe the grading error to be.

Make-Up Exam Policy. There will be no special or make-up examinations for any student (except in the case of emergency or the stated special accommodations).

Redo Policy. This course is project-based, which means the learning is driven primarily by the homework assignments. To encourage iteration until mastery, you may "redo" any assignment via an oral interview with the instructor for a maximum of 90%. A "redo" must be completed within one week of when the assignment is returned. You may request one interview per assignment. However, you may discuss your solutions with the instructors in office hours as much as you like before requesting your regrade. You must submit your assignment on time to participate in a "redo".

Extra Credit and Participation. Extra credit opportunities may be offered during the course semester. Extra credit is recorded separately from normal grades and are only considered after final grades have been calculated. If your final grade is just below a grade cutoff, extra credit may bump you up to the next grade. Finding a bug in the course materials that is then adopted is standing offer for extra credit.

Pair Programming. You are asked to work on homework assignments in pairs, enabling pair programming. Homework assignments are the main opportunity to learn material in this course and thus they count for a relatively small portion of your final grade. It is strongly advised that you work on all the problems in an assignment together so that you understand all of the material and are prepared for the exam. Everyone will submit assignments, and you must cite your partner explicitly. If necessary, you may switch partners between assignments, and you are responsible for all assignments individually (e.g., if your partner drops the course midway though an assignment, you still need to submit on time).

Workload. This is a senior-level or masters-level project-based, implementation-directed course. A high level of independent learning is expected. The workload is up to approximately 10 hours of out-of-class work per week.

4000-level vs. 5000-level. The main difference between between the undergraduate- and graduate-level courses will be the expectations for the final course project. Additionally, the final assignment of grades will be done separately for the 4000-level and the 5000-level students. The homeworks, exercises, and exams will be the same.

Distance Learning

This course is also offered through the Engineering Anywhere program. All assignment submission and content delivery will be electronic.

Deadlines. Distances students will follow the same assignment deadlines as in-class students. Content delivery should be essentially immediate. Exceptions will only be made in the case of extreme technical difficulties in publishing content.

Exercises. The questions for exercises will be sent to you on the morning of the posted date and you will submit your answers by 11:59 p.m. of the same day. The exercises are closed book, just use your brain and only use the computer to type in your answers. For example, do not use the Python interpreter on your computer to help you answer the quiz.

Textbook and Resources

Textbook. There is no required textbook for this course.

Course Notes. Most of the reading will come from the course notes, which may be updated throughout the semester.

Recommended Supplemental Books. The following are some other resources:

Copies of the compilers texts have been placed on reserve in the Engineering Library.


Moodle. We will use Moodle for grades and feedback. If do not already have an account, please create one and join the course moodle. The instructor will provide the enrollment key.

Piazza. We will be using Piazza for online, outside-of-class discussion. Rather than emailing questions to the teaching staff, most questions should be posted on Piazza. I encourage you to make class-wide posts whenever possible, but there is an option to send an instructor-private message. You also have the option of posting anonymously.

Off-Campus Access. The CU library has instructions for off-campus access to certain online resources (e.g., ACM Digital Library).


x86 Assembly.

Debugging Assembly.


Computing. For a Linux environment, the following are some resources:

Collaboration Policy

You are welcome and encouraged to work together in learning the material. If you worked with someone on an assignment, or if your submission includes quotes from a book, a paper, or a web site, you should thank the source. Bottom line, feel free to use whatever resources that are available to you as long as you cite them in your submission.

We will go by the honor code set forth by the University:

All students of the University of Colorado at Boulder are responsible for knowing and adhering to the academic integrity policy of this institution. Violations of this policy may include: cheating, plagiarism, aid of academic dishonesty, fabrication, lying, bribery, and threatening behavior. All incidents of academic misconduct shall be reported to the Honor Code Council and those students who are found to be in violation of the academic integrity policy will be subject to both academic sanctions from the faculty member involved and non-academic sanctions given by the Honor Code Council (including but not limited to university probation, suspension, or expulsion).

Please refer to to view the specific guidelines. If you have any questions related to this policy, please contact the Honor Code Council at

Classroom Behavior

We trust and expect everyone to behave in a civil and courteous manner.

Discrimination and Sexual Harassment

We will go by the policies set forth by the University:

The University of Colorado at Boulder policy on Discrimination and Harassment, the University of Colorado policy on Sexual Harassment and the University of Colorado policy on Amorous Relationships apply to all students, staff and faculty. Any student, staff or faculty member who believes s/he has been the subject of sexual harassment or discrimination or harassment based upon race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status should contact the Office of Discrimination and Harassment (ODH) at 303-492-2127 or the Office of Judicial Affairs at 303-492-5550. Information about the ODH, the above referenced policies and the campus resources available to assist individuals regarding discrimination or harassment can be obtained at

Special Accommodations

We will make every effort to make special accommodations that are reasonable and fair to all students. Please note that we will accept requests for adjustments during the first four weeks of class.


We will go by the disability guidelines set forth by the University:

If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please submit to the course staff a letter from Disability Services within the first four weeks of class so that your needs can be reasonably addressed. Disability Services determines accommodations based on documented disabilities (303-492-8671, Willard 322).

If you have a temporary medical condition or injury, see these guidelines.

Disability Services' letters for students with disabilities indicate legally mandated reasonable accommodations.

Religious Observances

We will go by the policy for religious observances set forth by the University:

Campus policy regarding religious observances requires that faculty make every effort to deal reasonably and fairly with all students who, because of religious obligations, have conflicts with scheduled exams, assignments or required attendance. In this class, we will try to accommodate religious conflicts in a reasonable manner. Please check the exam dates and submit all requests for adjustments within the first four weeks of class.

See for further details on the policy.


This course is based on one taught by Jeremy Siek in previous semesters.