Principles of Programming Languages

Matteo Pradella (twitter @bzoto, tag #corsopl)


Twitter, tag #corsopl

Main Objectives

Programming languages are one of the most important and direct tools for the construction of a computer system: in a modern computer different languages are routinely used for different levels of abstraction. Aspects related to writing an operating system or a device driver are generally very different from those of writing high level applications. Moreover, in some typical complex applications, different levels (and thus languages) coexist and inter-operate, from the "core" logic written e.g. in C++ or Java, to the level of scripting, or to the level of "gluing" different applications, usually defined by an interpreted high level language (e.g. Python). Like natural languages, Programming languages are a fundamental means of expression. Algorithms implemented using different programming languages may exhibit very different characteristics, that can be of aesthetic character, as higher level languages can be very synthetic and are usually very expressive; or in terms of performance, as relatively lower level languages allow a more direct management of memory and in general of the performance of the generated code.

This course presents the salient features in the landscape of programming languages, by analyzing similarities and differences; traditional and recent approaches and paradigms. We will show significant fragments of some important programming languages, given as examples of those paradigms considered in class.

The course aims to provide the means to better understand the essence of defining concepts of programming languages, so to allow critical choice about the level of abstraction, and consequently the language necessary to implement a particular system. Also, the student must attain a good mental flexibility before of an aspect, i.e. the choice of a language, that is constantly changing in computer science and software. Last, we will provide those basis required from designing language constructs "in the small", going to entire languages (e.g. a Domain Specific Language).


  1. Motivations and Preliminaries

  2. Basic Abstraction Mechanisms

  3. Main Programming Paradigms

Main class slides

  1. Introduction and Scheme

  2. Haskell and functional programming

  3. Erlang and concurrent programming

Old slides

  1. Prolog and logic programming

  2. Haskell and parallelism

  3. Appendix: old notes and examples

Code examples

Exercises and exams

Bibliography and references

Notes: advanced/optional papers are marked with (§). I advise to use as a reference at least one book for each language - most of them are freely available online.

Exams and evaluation

Classes are divided into 30 hrs for lessons, and 20 hrs of seminars and exercises.

The exam is written and "open book", i.e. students can consult their notes. The exam consists in solving small problems using the languages presented in class.


Tuesday, at 4.30 PM

Note: the schedule for reception is flexible, just send me an email or call for an appointment.

Teaching assistant

Riccardo Tommasini