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A book on programming languages, using Haskell

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Anatomy of Programming Languages

William R. Cook

Copyright © 2013


This document is a series of notes about programming languages, originally written for students of the undergraduate programming languages course at the University of Texas at Austin.


Install "cabal" Install lhs2TeX by using "cabal install lhs2tex" Install Pandoc by using "cabal install pandoc" Install pandoc-citeproc by using "cabal install pandoc-citeproc" Use "make" to build. Here are some things you can build: pretty - builds anatomy.pdf and opens it verb - builds anatomyVerbatim.pdf and opens it anatomy.pdf - builds the pretty version anatomyVerbatim.pdf - builds the text-based version anatomy.htm - builds the HTML version (with source code) and comments clean - clean the builds update - upload a new copy of the book to the public server (requires server access) execute - run all the code and build the tests fixup - modify the core anatomy.lhs file to have updated paragraph marks and code


I’m writing these notes because I want to teach the theory of programming languages with a practical focus, but I don’t want to use Scheme (or ML) as the host language. Thus many excellent books do not fit my needs, including Programming Languages: Application and Interpretation (Krishnamurthi 2012), Essentials of Programming Languages (Friedman and Wand 2008) or Concepts in Programming Languages (Mitchell and Apt 2001).

This book uses Haskell, a pure functional language. Phil Wadler (Wadler 1987) gives some good reasons why to prefer Haskell over Scheme in his review of Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (Abelson and Sussman 1996). I agree with most but not all of his points. For example, I do not care much for the fact that Haskell is lazy. None of the examples in this book rely upon this feature.

I believe Haskell is particularly well suited to writing interpreters. But one must be careful to read Haskell code as one would read poetry, not the way one would read a romance novel. Ponder each line and extract its deep meaning. Don’t skim unless you are pretty sure what you are doing. comment

The title of this book is derived from one of my favorite books, The Anatomy of Lisp (Allen 1978).


These notes assume knowledge of programming, and in particular assume basic knowledge of programming in Haskell. When I teach the course I give a few hours of lectures to introduce Haskell. I teach the built-in data types including lists, the basic syntax for conditionals, function definitions, function calls, list comprehensions, and how to print out strings. I also spend a day on data definitions (algebraic data types) and pattern matching. Finally, I give a quick introduction to type classes so student will understand how Eq and Show work. During the course I teach more advanced topics, including first-class functions and monads. As background resources, I point students to the many excellent tutorials on Haskell. Search Google for “Haskell Tutorial” to find one. I recommend Learn You a Haskell for Great Good! or the Gentle Introduction To Haskell.

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