Frances: A Tool For Understanding Code Generation

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2009-08-24
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Sondag, Tyler
Pokorny, Kian
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Rajan, Hridesh
Professor and Department Chair of Computer Science
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Computer Science

Computer Science—the theory, representation, processing, communication and use of information—is fundamentally transforming every aspect of human endeavor. The Department of Computer Science at Iowa State University advances computational and information sciences through; 1. educational and research programs within and beyond the university; 2. active engagement to help define national and international research, and 3. educational agendas, and sustained commitment to graduating leaders for academia, industry and government.

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The Computer Science Department was officially established in 1969, with Robert Stewart serving as the founding Department Chair. Faculty were composed of joint appointments with Mathematics, Statistics, and Electrical Engineering. In 1969, the building which now houses the Computer Science department, then simply called the Computer Science building, was completed. Later it was named Atanasoff Hall. Throughout the 1980s to present, the department expanded and developed its teaching and research agendas to cover many areas of computing.

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1969-present

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Compiler and programming language implementation courses are integral parts of many computer science curricula. However, the range of topics necessary to teach in such a course are difficult for students to understand and time consuming to cover. In particular, code generation is a confusing topic for students unfamiliar with low level target languages. We present Frances, a tool for helping students understand code generation and low level languages. The key idea is to graphically illustrate the relationships between high level language constructs and low level (assembly) language code. By illustrating these relationships, we take advantage of the students existing understanding of some high level language. We have used Frances in a compiler design course and received highly positive feedback. Students conveyed to us that Frances significantly helped them to understand the concepts necessary to implement code generation in a compiler project.

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