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). This discussion will be great preparation for a class I am teaching on Program Analysis in Fall 2010.

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. This semester Prof. Jeremy Siek is teaching a seminar on Types and Programming Languages that will be complementary to this course.

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 up to 3 days (i.e., on the 4th late day, the assignment will be accepted for comments but no longer for credit).

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:


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

Off-Campus Access. 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:

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 similar courses taught by George Necula at the University of California, Berkeley and Wes Weimer at the University of Virginia.