UVM CS 3020: Compiler Construction (Spring 2024)


Course Description

This course covers the design and construction of compilers. You’ll learn how to translate a high-level, garbage-collected programming language all the way into Intel x86 assembly language.

Instead of learning about each phase of the compilation process sequentially, we’ll start by compiling a tiny subset of the target language directly into assembly code. Each week, we’ll add a new feature to our language, and learn about all the phases needed to compile that feature into assembly. At each step, you’ll have a functioning compiler that can run real code; by the end of the course, your compiler will work on a realistic programming language including first-class functions.

Topics covered include:

This course will be structured around lectures and a weekly programming assignment. Each lecture will cover a new language feature and the techniques needed to compile it; in the corresponding programming assignment, you will implement support for the new feature in your own compiler. Students should expect to spend 6-8 hours per week outside of class on the weekly programming assignments. The required materials for this course are all freely available online.

Students will also complete a final project, in which they extend their compiler with an additional significant language feature of their choice.

This course is primarily intended for computer science students, but may also be appropriate for some graduate students in other areas with an interest in programming languages and strong programming experience.

Text and Resources

Please do not buy any books for this course. All required reference material is available online for free.

The primary textbook we will use for this course is:

Other course resources:

Additional/fun resources:



Your grade for the course will be determined as follows:

Your final grade will be determined by summing the total number of points awarded and calculating the percentage of the total possible points. This percentage is translated into a letter grade as follows:

Undergraduate Students

Percent Letter Grade
98-100 A+
93-97 A
90-92 A-
87-89 B+
83-86 B
80-82 B-
77-79 C+
73-76 C
70-72 C-
67-69 D+
63-66 D
60-62 D-
<60 F


Assignments will generally be due weekly on Mondays at 11:59pm, with breaks for the midterm exam and final project. Your assignment will be graded using a test suite which will be made available one day before the assignment due date.

Late assignments will not be accepted. Each assignment builds extensively on the last one, and mastering the assignment material is crucial to success in this course. If you fall behind on completing the assignments, it will be extremely difficult to catch up.

Therefore, on Wednesday after each assignment due date, we will discuss that assignment’s solution in lecture, and the complete solution will be made available on Brightspace. I encourage students to take advantage of the official solutions to avoid falling behind.

Partial credit will be (extensively) given on assignments. I encourage you to submit something for every assignment, even if your solution is far from complete.

Assignments will be graded according to the following rubric:

Grade Assignment Status
100 Passes all test cases
95 Passes 75% of test cases
90 Passes 50% of test cases
85 Passes at least 1 test case
80 Project compiles; all passes appear to be nearly complete
75 All or nearly all passes appear nearly complete
70 Significant work on all passes
65 Significant work on at least 75% of the passes
60 Significant work on at least half of the passes
<60 Missing passes

Self-Review Assignments

Each homework assignment will have a corresponding self-review assignment due one week later. The self-review assignment is an opportunity for students to describe and explain the differences between their solution and the instructor solution.

For each pass of the compiler, your self-review should give short (1-paragraph) answers for two questions:

If your compiler passes all of the test cases, and correctly implements the same functionality as the instructor solution, then the self-review assignment is trivial (the answer to both questions is “none”), and the self-review assignment is essentially free points.

In-Class Exercise

An in-class exercise will be due every Friday at 11:59pm. The exercises for the week will be released on Monday morning, and we will complete these exercises together during the lectures each week. If you attend lectures and follow along, the in-class exercises should not require significant additional time outside of lecture to complete.


There will be two exams: a midterm and a final. You will be allowed unlimited pages of notes for each exam. See the schedule below for the dates.

Final Projects

Each student will select and complete a new language feature for their compiler. Final project deliverables will consist of a short project proposal, a compiler implementing the selected language feature, and test cases demonstrating its use. Final projects may be completed in teams of up to 3 students; larger teams will be expected to complete more ambitious projects.

Click here for more information on final projects.

Collaboration & Allowed References

Collaboration on the high-level ideas and approach on assignments is encouraged. Copying someone else’s work (outside of your team members) is not allowed.

The official references for the course are listed in the schedule below. Copying from references other than these is not allowed. In particular, code should not be copied from other sources, including Stack Overflow and other public sources.

Students caught copying work are eligible for immediate failure of the course and disciplinary action by the University. All academic integrity misconduct will be treated according to UVM’s Code of Academic Integrity.


Assignment Topics Covered Text Chapter Due Date
1 Compiling Lmin to x86 Chapter 1 & 2 Jan 22, 11:59pm
2 Compiling Lvar to x86 Chapter 2 Feb 5, 11:59pm
3 Register Allocation Chapter 4 Feb 20, 11:59pm
4 Booleans and Control Flow Chapter 5 Mar 4, 11:59pm
5 Loops & Dataflow analysis Chapter 6 Mar 25, 11:59pm
6 Vectors and Garbage Collection Chapter 7 Apr 8, 11:59pm
7 Compiling Functions Chapter 8 Apr 22, 11:59pm
  Final Project   See below

Class Schedule

Note: no class on the following dates:


Extra credit opportunities: The CS department will host between 6 and 9 invited talks by faculty candidates this semester. If you attend the talk, take brief notes (1-2 paragraphs summarizing the key points), and email the notes to me by the next day, I will add 0.25% of extra credit to your final grade in the course. If you attend all 9 talks, you will receive a total of 2.25% extra credit on your final grade. The talks are scheduled as follows:

Week of Topic Assignment
Jan 15 ASTs, Interpreters, x86 Assembly (no class Monday)  
Jan 22 Compiling Lmin A1 Due (Monday)
Jan 29 Compiling Lvar A1 Review Due (Monday)
Feb 5 Register allocation A2 Due (Monday)
Feb 12 Register allocation A2 Review Due (Monday)
Feb 19 Booleans & Typechecking (no class Monday) A3 Due (Tuesday)
Feb 26 Compiling Lif A3 Review Due (Monday)
Mar 4 Compiling Lif (midterm exam Friday) A4 Due (Monday)
Mar 11 Spring Break (no class)  
Mar 18 Loops & Dataflow analysis A4 Review Due (Monday)
Mar 25 Vectors & Garbage collection I A5 Due (Monday)
Apr 1 Vectors & Garbage collection II A5 Review Due (Monday)
Apr 8 Compiling functions (no class Monday) A6 Due (Monday)
Apr 15 Compiling first-class functions A6 Review Due (Monday); Project Proposals Due (Monday)
Apr 22 Dynamic typing & objects A7 Due (Monday)
Apr 29 Optimization; binary & instruction sets A7 Review Due (Monday); Project Milestone (Monday)
May 6 Finals week (no class); Final exam (Monday) Final Project Due (Monday)