Syllabus and general information for MCS-388: Compiler Design (Spring 2008)


MCS-388 attempts to draw together the theory and practice of compiler construction. Much of the material will have a strong theoretical foundation. However, with the exception of the last couple topics (due to time constraints), this material will also serve as the basis for compiler-writing projects. Topics include lexical and syntactic analysis, code generation, data-flow analysis, and optimization.

Office hours

I will be available in my office (OHS 303) 9:00-11:20 Mondays and Fridays as well as by appointment. Or try your luck: just stop by and see whether my door is open. You may send me electronic mail at or call me at extension 7466. I'll try to put any updates to my office hours on my web page, so check there if in doubt.

World Wide Web

All course materials will be available through my World Wide Web page. The URL for this course is After this syllabus I will give hardcopy handouts only to those students who want them.


MCS-388 draws heavily on MCS-265, MCS-287, and MCS-284. Some notions from MCS-375 and MCS-236 also crop up. You're expected to be able to program. Since the compiler-building tools and pre-existing code modules I supply will be centered around the Java programming language, the path of least resistance will probably be to use that language. On the other hand, there are comparable compiler-building tools centered around other languages, so if you would rather use another language, that's fine too; you'll just have a little less of a support network. I'll gladly accept labs written in any programming language: C++, Scheme, Python, ML, Ada, you name it.

Text and readings

Our primary text will be the "dragon book," i.e., Compilers: Principles Techniques and Tools by Alfred V. Aho, Monica S. Lam, Ravi Sethi, and Jeffrey D. Ullman, 2nd ed., 2007. When appropriate, I will also distribute supplemental reading.


Some days, shown in the syllabus, we will meet in the OHS 326 computer lab rather than in the usual classroom. Each lab assignment will generally require you to spend additional time out of class.


You are expected to be familiar with the college academic honesty honor code policy and to comply with that policy. If you have any questions about it, please ask.

Late assignments

All lab assignments are due at the beginning of class on the day indicated. Late lab assignments will be penalized by one "grade notch" (such as A to A- or A- to B+) for each weekday late or fraction thereof.

If you are too sick to complete an assignment on time, you will not be penalized. Simply write "late due to illness" at the top of the assignment, sign your name and hand it in. Other circumstances will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Please see the separate homework policy, linked to the web version of this syllabus.

Grade changes

Please point out any arithmetic or clerical error I make in grading, and I will gladly fix it. You may also request reconsideration if I have been especially unjust.


I will provide you with a grade on each homework assignment and lab assignment, in addition to the mid-term and final grades, so that you may keep track of your performance. The homeworks will contribute half of your final grade, with the labs contributing the other half. However, I reserve the right to subjectively adjust your final grade. Please see me if you have any question how you stand. Class participation is not graded; however, it allows you to find and repair the gaps in your understanding before doing the assignments, and thus can dramatically improve your grade. You are responsible for all course material, whether or not you are present when it was covered or distributed.

Please see the separate homework policy, linked to the web version of this syllabus.

Style guidelines

All assignments should be readily readable and should not presuppose that I already know what you are trying to say. Use full English sentences where appropriate (namely almost everywhere) and clear diagrams, programs, etc. Remember that your goal is to communicate clearly and that the appearance of these technical items plays a role in this communication process. Be sure your assignments are always stapled together and that your name is always on them.


If you have a learning, psychological, or physical disability for which a reasonable accommodation can be made, I would be happy to refer you to the college's disability services coordinator and to cooperate in the accommodation process. It is generally best if this can be done as soon as possible.


In the reading column, section 0 means the material at the beginning of a chapter before the first section. Similarly, subsection 0 means the material at the beginning of a section before the first subsection.

This is my best guess as to the rate at which we will cover material. However, don't be shocked if I have to pass out one or more revised syllabi.

2/111.0-2.2Introduction, syntax definition
2/122.3-2.4Syntax-directed translation
2/14Lab 1: Generating Code from ASTs
2/153.0-3.1, 3.3, 3.5Lexical analysis

2/18Lexical-analyzer generators
2/194.0-4.2Context-free grammarsHW 1
2/21Lab 1 (continued)
2/224.3Writing a grammar

2/254.4.0-4.4.3Top-down parsing
2/264.4.4-4.4.5More on predictive parsing
2/28Lab 1 (continued)HW 1 rewrite
2/294.5Bottom-up parsingHW 2

3/34.6SLR parser generation
3/44.7.0-4.7.4Canonical LR and LALR parser generationLab 1
3/64.8-4.9Using ambiguous grammars; parser generators
3/75.0-5.4.3Syntax-directed definitions

3/10Lab 2: Scanning and ParsingHW 2 rewrite, HW 3
3/11Lab 2 (continued)
3/13No class
3/14No class

3/17Lab 2 (continued)
3/186.0-6.2Intermediate code
3/206.3Types and declarationsHW 3 rewrite, Lab 2

3/31No class
4/1Lab 3: Adding Variables
4/36.4, 6.5.2Array access; type conversions
4/4Lab 3 (continued)

4/76.6Control flowHW 4
4/8Lab 3 (continued)
4/10Preview of lab 4Lab 3
4/11Lab 4: Control Flow and Scoping

4/14Lab 4 (continued)
4/15Lab 4 (continued)HW 4 rewrite
4/178.0-8.3Code generation
4/188.4Basic blocks and flow graphs

4/21Preview of lab 5Lab 4
4/22Lab 5: Procedures
4/25Lab 5 (continued)

4/289.2Data-flow analysisHW 5
4/29Lab 5 (continued)
5/1Data-flow analysis, continued
5/2Lab 5 (continued)

5/59.5Partial redundancy eliminationLab 5
5/6Lab 6: Wildcard LabHW 5 rewrite
5/89.3, notesFoundations of data-flow analysis
5/9Lab 6 (continued)HW 6

5/12More on data-flow analysis
5/13Lab 6 (continued)
5/15Hack, 1-2Interference graphs
5/16Lab 6 (continued)HW 6 rewrite

5/19Hack, 4.1-4.4Register allocation
5/20Synthesis and evaluationLab 6

Course web site:
Instructor: Max Hailperin <>