CSCI 599: An Introduction to Programming Languages

Fall 2020


Classes: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 4–5:50pm ·
Scratchpad: Click here
Instructor: Mukund Raghothaman (
Office hours: Mondays, 4–5:50pm, or by appointment ·

Course Description

This course will introduce you to a range of advanced programming paradigms. We will assume an elementary knowledge of programming, such as that covered in CSCI 103 and CSCI 104, and study powerful ways of structuring code with higher-order functions, of providing strong guarantees with static type systems, and ways to liberate the programmer from low-level resource management. By blurring the distinction between programs and data, and widening the gap between a program and its execution, our goal is to blow your mind about what it means to program a machine, and to reinforce your developing sense of computational thinking. The first half of the course can alternatively be seen as an introduction to functional programming with Ocaml, while the second half of the course can be regarded as an introduction to logic programming.   [Syllabus]

Note: The syllabus and schedule listed on this webpage are tentative, and may be updated as the course progresses. Please check back regularly!



Unit 1: Functional Programming in Ocaml

Aug 25, 27 Course introduction
Sep 01, 03 An introduction to types
Sep 08, 10 Abstracting computations with functions Homework 1 due on September 11
Sep 15, 17 Processing recursive data
Sep 22, 24 Assorted topics Homework 2 due on Oct 02

Unit 2: Implementing a Language Interpreter

Sep 29, Oct 01 Understanding syntax
Oct 06, 08 Syntax, contd.
Oct 13, 15 Syntax, contd. 2: Parsing algorithms for regular expressions and context-free grammars
Oct 20, 22 An elementary understanding of types and the runtime Midterm due on October 26

Unit 3: Programming with Relations

Oct 27, 29 Spreadsheets
Nov 03, 05 The relational data model
Nov 10, 12 An introduction to recursive query languages
Nov 17, 19 More on recursive query languages
Nov 24 Conclusion and review
  • What was this course all about?
  • Reflections on the future of programming
  • Nov 24: [Recording], [Notes]
  • Homework 4 due on Nov 27
  • Final due on Dec 4


The first half of the course will follow the Real World Ocaml textbook. This is the only required textbook for this course. We will assign additional supplementary readings as appropriate.

  1. Yaron Minsky, Anil Madhavapeddy, and Jason Hickey. Real World Ocaml. 2nd edition. O'Reilly, 2020.
    We will be using drafts of the second edition of the book which is currently in preparation and freely available at here.
  2. Harold Abelson, Gerald Jay Sussman, and Julie Sussman. Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. 2nd edition. The MIT Press, 1996.
    The book is freely available here.
  3. Leon Stirling and Ehud Shapiro. The Art of Prolog. 2nd edition. The MIT Press, 1994.
    The book is freely available here.

Development Environment

  1. Ocaml: Please follow the instructions described here.
  2. Datalog: Obtain Souffle from here, and follow the build instructions described here.
  3. Prolog: Install SWI Prolog either from your operating system package manager (sudo dnf install pl, brew install swi-prolog, sudo apt install swi-prolog, or similar), or directly from its website.


  1. Homework assignments: 4×15% = 60%
  2. Midterm exam: 20%
  3. Final exam: 20%

On Collaboration

You are welcome to discuss homework assignments with a partner. However, each of you will turn in your submissions separately. You will each be responsible for independently writing and physically typing the solutions in your submission. Please identify your discussion partner, if any, in your submission.


From Dornsife's academic conduct policy: Plagiarism—presenting someone else's ideas as your own, either verbatim or recast in your own words—is a serious academic offense with serious consequences. Please familiarize yourself with the discussion of plagiarism in SCampus in Part B, Section 11, "Behavior Violating University Standards." Other forms of academic dishonesty are equally unacceptable. See additional information in SCampus and university policies on scientific misconduct, here.

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Note on collaborative work: For collaborative projects, students are expected to have equal distribution of work. If there is any perceived imbalance in the collaborative project, the student should bring this to the attention of the instructor or the teaching assistant.

Assistance with writing and disabilities: Several USC's schools provide support for students who need help with scholarly writing. Check with your advisor or program staff to find out more. Students whose primary language is not English should check with the American Language Institute which sponsors courses and workshops specifically for international graduate students. The Office of Disability Services and Programs provides certification for students with disabilities and helps arrange the relevant accommodations. If an officially declared emergency makes travel to campus infeasible, USC Emergency Information will provide safety and other updates, including ways in which instruction will be continued by means of Blackboard, teleconferencing, and other technology.

Last updated: Fri Dec 24 05:02:36 AM PST 2021