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Formal Semantics for Top 5 Programming Languages

Wed, 27 Jun 2012 16:36:24 GMT

A recent blog post on undefined behavior in C got me thinking. Being from the ML community, I have a certain appreciation for rigorous formal semantics that can be machine checked. Though the machine checked part is largely a new development, rigorous formal semantics has been with us for decades. Standard ML is the epitome of this approach to language design. The 48-page (128-pp total when including appendices and TOC/index) The Definition of Standard ML - Revised formally specifies the entirety of the language1. Don't get me wrong. The Standard isn't perfect. Indeed, it has some bugs of its own [PDF]. Nevertheless, for the most part, the Standard has raised the level of discourse and enabled succinct yet precise descriptions of a powerful higher-order typed language possible. This approach to modeling, defining, and evolving programming languages has in recent years taken a life of its own having been applied to both new experimental languages as well as time-tested existing languages.

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