Higher-Order and Symbolic Computation

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 197–230

Formal compiler construction in a logical framework


DOI: 10.1007/s10990-006-8746-6

Cite this article as:
Hickey, J. & Nogin, A. Higher-Order Symb Comput (2006) 19: 197. doi:10.1007/s10990-006-8746-6


The task of designing and implementing a compiler can be a difficult and error-prone process. In this paper, we present a new approach based on the use of higher-order abstract syntax and term rewriting in a logical framework. All program transformations, from parsing to code generation, are cleanly isolated and specified as term rewrites. This has several advantages. The correctness of the compiler depends solely on a small set of rewrite rules that are written in the language of formal mathematics. In addition, the logical framework guarantees the preservation of scoping, and it automates many frequently-occurring tasks including substitution and rewriting strategies. As we show, compiler development in a logical framework can be easier than in a general-purpose language like ML, in part because of automation, and also because the framework provides extensive support for examination, validation, and debugging of the compiler transformations. The paper is organized around a case study, using the MetaPRL logical framework to compile an ML-like language to Intel x86 assembly. We also present a scoped formalization of x86 assembly in which all registers are immutable.


Formal compilerHigher-order abstract syntaxLogical programming environment

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.California Institute of TechnologyPasadenaUSA