The most profound connection between logic and computation is a pun. The doctrine of Propositions as Types asserts that a certain kind of formal structure may be read in two ways: either as a proposition in logic or as a type in computing. Further, a related structure may be read as either the proof of the proposition or as a programme of the corresponding type. Further still, simplification of proofs corresponds to evaluation of programs.
Accordingly, the title of this book also has two readings. It may be parsed as "(Programming Language) Foundations in Agda" or "Programming (Language Foundations) in Agda" — the specifications we will write in the proof assistant Agda both describe programming languages and are themselves programmes.
The book is aimed at students in the last year of an undergraduate honours programme or the first year of a master or doctorate degree. It aims to teach the fundamentals of operational semantics of programming languages, with simply-typed lambda calculus as the central example. The textbook is written as a literate script in Agda. The hope is that using a proof assistant will make the development more concrete and accessible to students, and give them rapid feedback to find and correct misaprehensions.
The book is broken into two parts. The first part, Logical Foundations, develops the needed formalisms. The second part, Programming Language Foundations, introduces basic methods of operational semantics.# Available in: html, github.
One of the leading textbooks for formal methods is Software Foundations (SF), written by Benjamin Pierce in collaboration with others, and based on Coq. After five years using SF in the classroom, I have come to the conclusion that Coq is not the best vehicle for this purpose, as too much of the course needs to focus on learning tactics for proof derivation, to the cost of learning programming language theory. Accordingly, I have written a new textbook, Programming Language Foundations in Agda (PLFA). PLFA covers much of the same ground as SF, although it is not a slavish imitation.
What did I learn from writing PLFA? First, that it is possible. One might expect that without proof tactics that the proofs become too long, but in fact proofs in PLFA are about the same length as those in SF. Proofs in Coq require an interactive environment to be understood, while proofs in Agda can be read on the page. Second, that constructive proofs of preservation and progress give immediate rise to a prototype evaluator. This fact is obvious in retrospect but it is not exploited in SF (which instead provides a separate normalise tactic) nor can I find it in the literature. Third, that using raw terms with a separate typing relation is far less perspicuous than using inherently-typed terms. SF uses the former presentation, while PLFA presents both; the former uses about 1.6 as many lines of Agda code as the latter, roughly the golden ratio.
The textbook is written as a literate Agda script, and can be found here: