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Semantics Engineering with PLT Redex [Hardcover]

Matthias Felleisen , Robert Bruce Findler , Matthew Flatt
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 2009 0262062755 978-0262062756 1st

This text is the first comprehensive presentation of reduction semantics in one volume; it also introduces the first reliable and easy-to-use tool set for such forms of semantics. Software engineers have long known that automatic tool support is critical for rapid prototyping and modeling, and this book is addressed to the working semantics engineer (graduate student or professional language designer). The book comes with a prototyping tool suite to develop, explore, test, debug, and publish semantic models of programming languages. With PLT Redex, semanticists can formulate models as grammars and reduction models on their computers with the ease of paper and pencil. The text first presents a framework for the formulation of language models, focusing on equational calculi and abstract machines, then introduces PLT Redex, a suite of software tools for expressing these models as PLT Redex models. Finally, experts describe a range of models formulated in Redex. PLT Redex comes with the PLT Scheme implementation, available free at Readers can download the software and experiment with Redex as they work their way through the book.

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Editorial Reviews


"Matthias Felleisen and his colleagues in The PLT group are well known for their books on program design, their work on teaching programming, and for the research that has led to DrScheme, one of the most powerful and flexible programming environments ever created. In this book they turn their attention to the subject of programming language semantics, with happy results. Courses on semantics can easily become as dry as dust; in contrast, this book is nothing short of revolutionary. The first part is a very clear explanation of the basic concepts in programming language semantics, starting with abstract models and moving to progressively more concrete ones. However, the book really comes alive in the second part, where they use the PLT Redex language that they have developed to interactively explore language semantics in the same way that DrScheme allows the interactive exploration of programs. I believe that this approach will become the standard way of doing semantics research in the future, and there is no better way to take advantage of it than to read this book."--Michael Vanier, Department of Computer Science, Caltech

(Michael Vanier)

"This book is nothing short of revolutionary." Michael Vanier , Department of Computer Science, Caltech

About the Author

Matthias Felleisen is Trustee Professor of Computer Science at Northeastern University, recipient of the Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award, and co-author (with Daniel Friedman) of The Little Schemer and three other "Little" books published by the MIT Press.

Robert Bruce Findler is Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Northwestern University.

Matthew Flatt is Associate Professor in the School of Computing at the University of Utah.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; 1st edition (August 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262062755
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262062756
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 7.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,150,773 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Matthias Felleisen grew up in Germany and came to the United States at the age of 21.

In 1987, he received his doctorate from Daniel P. Friedman, with whom he had also rewritten The Little Lisper, his first book. At this point, The Little Lisper has been in print for nearly 35 years, an incredible age in the fast-lived world of programming and programming languages. The book covers the fundamental topic of recursive programming in an entertaining dialog style. While the book summarizes the high level ideas as a collection of ten commandments, the reader must work through the material and formulate lessons on his or her own.

Felleisen spent from 1987 through 2001 at Rice University in Houston, Texas, a bustling, always growing city of friendly people. He conducted research on every kind of topic in programming languages; data structures and algorithms for the translation process; the mathematical theory of behavioral equality; and the design of large systems. Many of his ideas came to him while he swam his daily miles in the pool of West University Place, a small town within Houston.

One particularly important idea is due to Carrie, the baby sitter that he and his wife Helga used to hire. The sitter would often work on her high school math problems while Felleisen and his wife would go to the symphony or the theatre. One evening Felleisen noticed that the baby sitter had not made any progress on her homework while they had been out for three hours. He showed the baby sitter how to solve her problems, using the ideas in The Little Lisper. The success was surprising and wonderful. The baby sitter's grades jumped dramatically, and Felleisen and his research team started work on a curriculum that synthesizes computer science and mathematics for novice programmers. Felleisen and his doctoral students wrote a book on this idea, How to Design Programs, and spent the last fifteen years educating teachers and faculty colleagues about it. For this work, Felleisen received the Karl Karlstrom Award in 2009, the major recognition by the professional computer science organization (ACM) for individuals who make critical contributions to the field.

Felleisen and his wife now live in Maine and Massachusetts. He teaches at Northeastern University in Boston and continues to conduct research in programming languages and train PhD students in this central field of computer science.

Customer Reviews

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It starts great but... August 20, 2009
By Robert
This book has three parts: The first part is an introduction to small-step semantics, evaluation contexts, abstract machines, and how these are used to model common programming language constructs. The second part is about the tool, PLT Redex, which the authors have built. The third part is a set of case studies from several different authors (not the authors of the remainder of the book).

The first part of the book is really great. It is a brilliant introduction to the field and gives a good overview over the historic development of the field, starting with Landin's ISWIM language and SECD machine. My only (minor) critique is that I would have wished for a broader description of related work - for example, Olivier Danvy's work is surprisingly not mentioned at all, although he has done tons of work in that domain.

The second part - the introduction to PLT redex - is easy to follow, but is a bit bloated for my taste. PLT redex is a nice tool, but it could also be described in half the space. It was also a bit disappointing that all the stuff on abstract machines from the first part is hardly mentioned anymore in this part.

The third part - the case studies - is the weakest part of the book. It is not clear to which end all these case studies are presented. They all give a lot of details about various research projects, but they are not sorted in a meaningful way and the presentations of the case studies are also quite different in style (which is probably not surprising since each one was written by a different author). The main authors could have made a better attempt to sort the material and unify the presentation.

My suggestion is to buy the book for the first part.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understandable and Exciting Semantics September 11, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a very clear and interesting book on semantics. The PLT Redex adds a surprising amount to the study of semantics --- encouraging experimentation and application. I have used the book in the graduate class I teach and have had success.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book August 31, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Great book and tool. A detailed and accessible overview of operational semantics,
all brought to life via the PLT Redex implementation.
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