Course Overview

This course is designed to acquaint you with the fundamental ideas behind modern programming language design and analysis. Ultimately, you should come away with the ability to apply programming language techniques to your own projects.

The course has three broad topics:

The first part of this graduate-level course focuses on the semantics of a variety of programming language features (e.g., "what does a while loop really mean?"). We will study structural operational semantics as a way to formalize the intended execution and implementation of languages. Operational semantics concepts and notation are widely used in modern programming language research. We will survey axiomatic semantics, which provides a basis for verifying programs. Axiomatic semantics underlie research efforts in formal verification and bug finding (e.g., SLAM, which led to Microsoft's Static Driver Verifier). We will briefly look at denotational semantics as a prelude to abstract interpretation. Abstract interpretation also underlie research efforts in program analysis and bug finding (e.g., Astrée, which has been used by Airbus to analyze their flight control software). The Program Analysis course taught by Amer Diwan studies this topic in greater depth.

The second part of this course provides an introduction to the study of type systems for programming languages. We will start our study with the simply-typed lambda calculus and then touch upon more advanced features such as types for imperative features, exceptions, and abstraction. Type systems abound in modern programming languages research. The Types and Programming Languages course taught by Jeremy Siek provides an in-depth study of this topic.

The last part of the course covers special topics drawn from research in areas such as applications of program semantics to program analysis and verification.

In addition to these topics, students will have the opportunity to consider other related topics of interest in the form of a course project, most often in the form of a survey of recent research on a topic of interest.


The prerequisites for this course are programming and mathematical experience with prior exposure to several different programming languages, such as C, ML, and Java, which may be satisfied by taking CSCI 3155 or equivalent. The ideal programming experience is an undergraduate compilers course (e.g., CSCI 4555). The ideal mathematical experience is familiarity with mathematical logic and the ability to construct rigorous proofs (in particular by structural induction). These prerequisites are not strict. However, your desire to be exposed to this material is very important.

Advanced undergraduates may consider taking this course after talking with the instructor.


You will be responsible for the following:

Late policy. 10% of the point value will be deducted for each day (including weekends) the assignment is late.

Textbook and Resources

Textbook. Glynn Winskel. The Formal Semantics of Programming Languages. The textbook is on reserve in the Engineering Library.

The following are some other resources:

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

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


We will use Moodle for online discussion. If do not already have an account, please create one and join the course moodle.

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


This course is based on similar courses taught by George Necula at the University of California, Berkeley and Wes Weimer at the University of Virginia.