A practitioner’s guide to reading programming languages papers

the morning paper

Last week I jokingly said that POPL papers must pass an ‘intellectual intimidation’ threshold in order to be accepted. That’s not true of course, but it is the case that programming languages papers can look especially intimidating to the practitioner (or indeed, the academic working in a different sub-discipline of computer science!). They are full of dense figures with mathematical symbols, and phrases thrown around such as “judgements”, “operational semantics”, and the like. There are many subtle variations in notation out there, but you can get a long way towards following the gist of a paper with an understanding of a few basics. So instead of covering a paper today, I thought I’d write a short practitioner’s guide to decoding programming languages papers. I’m following Pierce’s ‘Types and Programming Languages’ as my authority here.

Syntax

Let’s start from a place of familiarity: syntax. The syntax tells us what…

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