Modern Compiler Implementation in ML

©1998 by Andrew W. Appel


Over the past decade, there have been several shifts in the way compilers are built. New kinds of programming languages are being used: object-oriented languages with dynamic methods, functional languages with nested scope and first-class function closures; and many of these languages require garbage collection. New machines have large register sets and a high penalty for memory access, and can often run much faster with compiler assistance in scheduling instructions and managing instructions and data for cache locality.

This book is intended as a textbook for a one- or two-semester course in compilers. Students will see the theory behind different components of a compiler, the programming techniques used to put the theory into practice, and the interfaces used to modularize the compiler. To make the interfaces and programming examples clear and concrete, I have written them in the ML programming language. Other editions of this book are available that use the C and Java languages.

Implementation project. The ``student project compiler'' that I have outlined is reasonably simple, but is organized to demonstrate some important techniques that are now in common use: abstract syntax trees to avoid tangling syntax and semantics, separation of instruction selection from register allocation, copy propagation to give flexibility to earlier phases of the compiler, and containment of target-machine dependencies. Unlike many ``student compilers'' found in textbooks, this one has a simple but sophisticated back end, allowing good register allocation to be done after instruction selection.

Each chapter in Part I has a programming exercise corresponding to one module of a compiler. Software useful for the exercises can be found at

Exercises. Each chapter has pencil-and-paper exercises; those marked with a star are more challenging, two-star problems are difficult but solvable, and the occasional three-star exercises are not known to have a solution.

Course sequence. The figure shows how the chapters depend on each other.

Acknowledgments. Many people have provided constructive criticism or helped me in other ways on this book. I would like to thank Leonor Abraido-Fandino, Scott Ananian, Stephen Bailey, Maia Ginsburg, Max Hailperin, David Hanson, Jeffrey Hsu, David MacQueen, Torben Mogensen, Doug Morgan, Robert Netzer, Elma Lee Noah, Mikael Petterson, Todd Proebsting, Anne Rogers, Barbara Ryder, Amr Sabry, Mooly Sagiv, Zhong Shao, Mary Lou Soffa, Andrew Tolmach, Kwangkeun Yi, and Kenneth Zadeck.