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A coalgebraic semantics for imperative programming languages

In the theory of programming languages, one often takes two complementary perspectives. In operational semantics, one defines and reasons about the behaviour of programs; and in denotational semantics, one abstracts away implementation details, and reasons about programs as mathematical objects or denotations. The denotational semantics should be compositional, meaning that denotations of programs are determined by the denotations of their parts. It should also be adequate with respect to operational equivalence: programs with the same denotation should be behaviourally indistinguishable. One often has to prove adequacy and compositionality independently for different languages, and the proofs are often laborious and repetitive. These proofs were provided systematically in the context of process algebras by the mathematical operational semantics framework of Turi and Plotkin – which represented transition systems as coalgebras, and program syntax by free algebras; operational specifications were given by distributive laws of syntax over behaviour. By framing the semantics on this abstract level, one derives denotational and operational semantics which are guaranteed to be adequate and compositional for a wide variety of examples. However, despite speculation on the possibility, it is hard to apply the framework to programming languages, because one obtains undesirably fine-grained behavioural equivalences, and unconventional notions of operational semantics. Moreover, the behaviour of these languages is often formalised in a different way – such as computational effects, which may be thought of as an interface between programs and external factors such as non-determinism or a variable store; and comodels, or transition systems which implement these effects. This thesis adapts the mathematical operational semantics framework to provide semantics for various classes of programming languages. After identifying the need for such an adaptation, we show how program behaviour may be characterised by final coalgebras in suitably order- enriched Kleisli categories. We define both operational and denotational semantics, first for languages with syntactic effects, and then for languages with effects and/or comodels given by a Lawvere theory. To ensure adequacy and compositionality, we define concrete and abstract operational rule-formats for these languages, based on the idea of evaluation-in-context; we give syntactic and then categorical proofs that those properties are guaranteed by operational specifications in these rule-formats.
Date January 2014
CreatorsAbou-Saleh, Faris
ContributorsHuth, Michael
PublisherImperial College London
Source SetsEthos UK
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeElectronic Thesis or Dissertation

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