About Computer Science 342

This page provides general information about the Fall 2006 offering of Computer Science 342 at Iowa State University. The course's home page is http://www.cs.iastate.edu/~cs342/. This page, which descibes the course, is organized as follows:

  1. Meetings
  2. Course Textbooks
  3. Computer Accounts
  4. Accommodations for Disabilities
  5. Course Description
  6. Objectives
  7. Prerequisites
  8. Acknowledgments

The course grading policy and syllabus are on separate web pages.

Information about previous offerings of this course is also available.



Lecture attendance is required. The lecture meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2:10-3:30pm in Atanasoff B29 (which is in the basement of Atanasoff Hall).


Attendance at one of the discussion sections is strongly recommended. Meeting times and locations are as follows:

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Course Textbooks

There are two required texts for the course.

There are two optional (but recommended) texts for the course.

All the texts are on reserve at the Parks library.

We will supplement the texts with other material as described in the syllabus.

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Computer Accounts

You must have an account on the department Unix machines. You should either read your email there, or have it forwarded to where you read it.

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Accommodations for Disabilities

We would like to hear from you if you have a disability that may require some modification of seating, testing, or other class requirements. If so, please request that the Disability Resources staff send a SAAR (Student Academic Accommodation Request) form verifying your disability and specifying the accommodation you will need. Then bring the SAAR form along and talk to Gary Leavens as soon as possible so appropriate arrangements may be made.

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Course Description

From the Iowa State University Bulletin: "Organization of programming languages emphasizing language design concepts and semantics. Study of language features and major programming paradigms, especially functional programming. Programming projects."


The currently popular computer language is constantly changing. Fifteen years ago it might have been Pascal or C; 10 years ago it was probably C++; today it is probably Java (or C#). Now it seems time for another change. There are a host of other languages (Perl, PHP, Visual Basic, JavaScript, Python, Ruby, Haskell, etc...) that are popular for their own classes of problems and programming styles. Professional programmers today often use multiple different languages on a single project. Therefore, to have a career in computer science means having to learn new programming languages.

To meet your need to learn new programming langauges quickly, and to help you work better with the languages you do use, this course seeks to provide a forum where you can develop an understanding of the basic design decisions that are part of every programming language. Things like:

Our technique for studying these questions will be two-fold. First we will learn the functional programming language Scheme. Functional programming is much different from the imperative programming that most of us are used to from languages like C++, Visual Basic, or Java. Learning functional programming helps one to develop a more thorough understanding of the various ways of organizing programs.

After we have developed some experience with Scheme we will develop a series of interpreters for various small programming languages. These interpreters allow us to experiment with various design decisions, how those decisions interact, and how different language features are implemented.

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The general objectives for this course are divided into two parts: a set of essential objectives, and a set of enrichment objectives. These objectives are linked to the course's learning outcomes (in references that look like this: [B3]). The essential objectives will be helpful for your career as a computer scientist; hence we want to help you to master them. You are encouraged to explore the enrichment objectives both for their own sake and because learning more about those will help deepen your understanding of the essential objectives.

Essential Objectives

In one sentence, the main objective is that you will have a deep, working knowledge of the functional paradigm [A1] [A3] [B1] [C1] and the key ideas used in modern programming languages [A1] [A3] [B1] [B2] [C1]. In more detail the essential objectives for this course are that you will be able to:


You will be permitted to use the textbook and course notes for tasks involving programming, but not during tests. On tests you may be permitted a small amount of reference material.


The functional style is one answer to the question: "What are good ways to program?" It also represents one major way to organize a programming language for parallel processing. Even if you do not become a programmer, the ideas of functional programming (function abstraction, referential transparency, etc.) have important applications in all areas of Computer Science (such as software specification, algorithm design, and of course in manipulation and specification of programming languages). These ideas also have application in many other contexts such as mathematics and engineering.

Data abstraction is a key idea for allowing programs to be easily modifiable. It forms the basis for the object-oriented style of programming.

Understanding the key ideas used in modern programming languages will help you learn new languages quickly, by mapping key ideas and concepts from this class into the new language's syntax and semantics. For example, Java and other object-oriented languages (such as Smalltalk-80) use the "indirect model" of storage, which will be unfamiliar to you if you've programmed only in C++, C, Pascal, or Ada (all of which use the "direct model"). We will study the indirect model in detail, and you will gain practical programming experience with it, using Scheme. Learning this and other key ideas will also help you read (or write!) a new language's reference manual.

More importantly, understanding of fundamental concepts and run time implementation ideas will help you to better understand whatever language you program in; this will help you program more effectively. Being able to program better will also give you increased job satisfaction.

Enrichment Objectives

Enrichment objectives could be multiplied without limit, but the following seem most important or most easily taught using the course text. Following each of the enrichment objectives is a brief justification.

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The formal prerequisites in the Iowa State catalog are successful completion of Com S 321, English 104, Com S 330 or Cpr E 310, and either Com S 309, 362 or 363.

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My original ideas for this course at Iowa State were developed with the help of Kelvin Nilsen. Final exams for similar courses at other universities were provided by Kim Bruce (Williams College), Sam Kamin (University of Illinois), Dan Friedman and J. Michael Ashley (Indiana), and John Mitchell (Stanford); these helped provide perspective on what is important for such a course. Thanks also to Simanta Mitra and Markus Lumpe for discussions about variations of this course taught at Iowa State.

For this version of the course, I owe a great deal of thanks to Clyde Ruby, who was my TA and then an instructor for the course and who provided much of the infrastructure for the course. I also owe many thanks to Curtis Clifton (now at Rose-Hulman) for collaboration much work on these web pages, for collaborative discussions about the course, and for collaboration on the Scheme type checker (Typedscm) we sometimes use. Thanks also to Brian Dorn for further work on the type checker. Thanks to Steve Shaner for getting me to use an RSS feed for these web pages, and thanks to Evagoras Charalambous for the XSL style sheet and style sheet for showing such RSS feeds as a web page.

Further thanks are due to authors of the textbooks we have used. Thanks all!

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Last modified Monday, August 21, 2006.

This web page is for the Fall 2006 offering of Com S 342 at Iowa State University. The details of this course are subject to change as experience dictates. You will be informed of any changes. Thanks to Curtis Clifton for help with these web pages. Please direct any comments or questions to Gary T. Leavens.