HomeCS61A 2023 - The Structure & Interpretation of Computer Programs

CS61A 2023 - The Structure & Interpretation of Computer Programs

Last edited on March 8, 2024

These are my notes & solutions to the homeworks and labs for the course CS61A 2023 - The Structure & Interpretation of Computer Programs.

Week 1 - Functions

In programming we deal with two kind of elements - functions & data. Functions are the rules we use to manipulate data. A powerful programming language provides three key ways to do this:

  • primitive expressions - The data types which are the basic building blocks that language provides
  • a means of combination - where primitive expressions can be combined into compound expressions
  • a means of abstraction -where compound expressions can be named and manipulated as units

Primitive expressions in Python

A number is an example of a primitive expression:


We can combine numbers together with operators to form a compound expression which is evaluated:

1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/16 + 1/32 + 1/64 + 1/128


They are called expressions because they return a usable output value. The output of typing 42 into the python console is 42 .

Call Expressions

Call expressions apply functions to arguments. A function is a mapping from some input arguments to an output value.

Rather than using operators we can use functions to create compound expressions. For example add(10, 2) does the same thing as 10 + 2, but with different form.

Compared to using operators like we did above, using a function has some benefits.

A function may take an arbitrary number of arguments:

max(1, 4, 56)


Functions are more clear since the function name (the operator) always precedes the operands (the arguments) and the arguments are always wrapped in parentheses.

This is especially true when you nest functions - where the arguments of a given function are the results of other functions:

max(min(1, -2), min(pow(3, 5), -4))


Why are these important benefits ? - functions compared to using expressions are more re-useable.

Instead of typing out a complex compound expression with all the operations it needs - you can just extract it to a function and call the function wherever you need.

How are call expressions evaluated applied or called ?
max(7.5, 9.5)
  • max is the operator, the name
  • 7.5 & 9.5 are operands - operands are the arguments to the function, they can also be functions themselves. These are the inputs to the function.
  • The arguments if they are functions are evaluated before the operator is applied

Names & the Environment

A name is the simplest means of abstraction. We can give functions and expressions names.

With expressions these names are called variables and we create them using the assignment statement, which contains a name to the left of  = (the assignment operator) and a value to the right:

radius = 10
>>> 2 * radius

area, circumfrence  = pi * radius, 2 * pi * radius

Assignment is a very simple for of abstraction as it allows us to refer to the results of compound operations. The Environment is responsible for keeping track of names, values, and bindings. It acts as the memory that remembers the names we assign to things in our program.

How are assignment expressions evaluated ?
  • It evaluates all the expressions to the right of = from left to right
  • After evaluation the expressions - it binds all the names to the left of = to the resulting values in the current frame.
a = 1
b = 2

b, a = a + b, b

Pure vs Non-Pure Functions

Pure functions are functions that simply takes an input (their arguments) and returns a result (The Output). These functions have no side effects when they are applied - this means that the only thing they do is return the same output when called with the same arguments.

max(2, 20)

Pure functions are easier to test as its simply inputs & outputs, can be composed more reliably into compound expressions and are essential when writing concurrent programs where multiple functions may be evaluated simultaneously.

Pure functions are easier to test as its simply inputs & outputs, can be composed more reliably into compound expressions and are essential when writing concurrent programs where multiple functions may be evaluated simultaneously.

print(print(1), print(2))

None None

The return value of print is None , while 1 & 2 are the side effects that print produced.

Defining New Functions

We can bind names to functions via user-defined function definitions. User-defined functions are functions not built into the interpreter like max or imported like add. A function definition in python looks like this:

def square(x):
    return mul(x, x)
  • def is a reserved word that tells the interpreter that we are defining a function
  • square is the name of the function
  • x is a formal parameter or parameter

The return statement of the function is evaluated when it is called - not when it is defined right away. No matter how many times the function is called - the return statement will be re-evaluated.

Defining functions (bounding names to functions) allow us to use compound operations as building blocks in other functions, we could use square within another function:

def sum_squares(x, y):
    return add(square(x), square(y))

sum_squares(3, 4)

Function Definitions & Environments

How do user-defined functions change our understanding of environments ?

  • What happens when a parameter has the same name as a built in function ?
  • Can two functions share names without confusion?

To answer these questions - it helps to think of Environments as a sequence of frames depicted as boxes — each box contains all the name and value pairs.

We can think of an environemnt like a two column table where the first column contains the names and the second column contains the corresponding values which are bound to the names:

For example take these lines of code:

from math import pi

tau = 2 * pi

The corresponding frame will look something like this:


There is one global frame - this holds all the assignments & import statements of the current environment.

However when a user defined function is called - a second local frame is created in the environment which is only accessible to that function - each instance of a function call has its own independent local frame. In this local frame:

  • The functions arguments are bound to the functions parameters — think of it as giving the the parameter variable a value
  • The function body is executed

So when a function is called - we have two frames:

  • The global frame where the function definition and other assignments are;
  • The Functions local frame, that contains parameter bindings — Each instance of a function application has its own local frame independent from other functions

Depending on how many functions we call - we can have just as many frames - especially if we have nested functions.

Fundamentally — Names are bound to values, which are distributed across many independent local frames, along with a single global frame that contains shared names. A new local frame is introduced every time a function is called, even if the same function is called twice.

All these steps ensures that names resolve to the correct values at the correct time during program execution. This is what allows these functions to have the same behaviour:

def square(x):
    return mul(x, x)

def square(y):
    return mul(y, y)

As the scope of a local name is limited to the body of the user-defined function that defines it - the binding for x or y in different local frames are unrelated.

Functions as abstractions

Fundamentally functions are abstractions - Function definitions should be able to suppress details - we do not need to know exactly how a function is implemented to use it. This is Functional Abstraction.

In functional abstraction we consider three things

  • The domain of a function - which is the set of arguments it can take
  • The range of the function - which is the set of values it can return
  • The intent of the function - which is the relationship between inputs & outputs and any side effects it might generate.

Week 2 - Control, Higher-order functions & environments

Control statements give us the ability to make comparisons and preform different tasks based on the results of those comparisons.

A control statement is a statement and unlike expressions evaluating a statement does not produce a value.

Some other examples of statements in python are the def & return statements. Each statement describes a change to the state of the interpreter and executing that statement applies that change. The job of the python interpreter is to execute programs, composed of statements - Statements govern the relationship among different expressions in a program and what happens to their results.

Statements are executed in order (i.e top - bottom) - however multi-line statements may redirect control flow - as such later statements may never be reached.

Conditional statements - Selecting which statements to execute

We can implement our own version of the inbuilt abs function using conditional statements:

def absolutee_value(x):
    """Compute abs(x)."""
    if x > 0:
        return x
    elif x === 0:
        return 0
        return -x

result = absolutee_value(-2)

When the conditional statements are executed - each clause (the lines that end in semicolons :) is considered in order.

These clauses are called conditional expressions - they evaluate to a either a truthy value (True, a non-zero integer, etc.) or a falsy value (False0None""[], etc.).

If the result of that evaluation is a true value, the suite (which is everything after the semicolons) is executed. All other subsequent clauses in the conditional statement are then skipped.

else can be seen as a catchall - this line will only be reached & its suite executed when all other if & elif expressions evaluate to false values.

Boolean Operators
Python includes a couple of boolean operators - and, not, or used to combine and manipulate boolean values:

not None

not True

-1 and 0 and 1

Iteration - Expressing repetition

We can use iterative control structures to execute a statement many times. One of such structures is a while statement:

def fib(n):
    """Compute the nth Fibonacci number, for n >=2"""
    pred, curr = 0, 1

    k = 2

    while k < n:
        pred, curr = curr, pred + curr
        k = k + 1

    return curr

result = fib(8)

When a while clause is executed its header expression (while <expression>:) is evaluated - if it is a true value the entire suite is executed and we return back to the header expression for evaluation.

In order top prevent this process from going on indefinitely (infinite loop), the suite should always change some binding in each pass.

Higher Order Functions

Higher order function are functions that manipulate other functions - they either accept functions as arguments or return functions as values.

Functions as arguments

The functions below, although they do different things, share a common underlying pattern:

def sum_naturals(n):
    total, k = 0, 1
    while k <= n:
        total, k = total + k, k + 1
    return total

def sum_cubes(n):
    total, k = 0, 1
        while k <= n:
            total, k = total + k*k*k, k + 1
        return total

The only difference is the name and the function of k used to compute the term to be added - we can express the underlying pattern more generally as a summation of terms:

def sumation(n, term):
    total, k = 0, 1
        while k <= n:
        total, k = total + term(k), k + 1
    return total

def cube(x):
    return x*x*x

def sum_cubes(n):
    return sumation(n, cube)

result = sum_cubes(3)

summation is an example of a higher order function - it takes in a function term as one of its parameters and uses that function within its body to carray out calculations.

This is an example of abstraction - The summation function expresses the concept of summation itself rater than only functions that compute particular sums like sum_naturals or sum_cubes.

How does this idea of higher-order function affect our environment model for evaluation for functions ? - it applies gracefully without change.

When a function is called with some arguments, the functions parameters are bound to the values of those arguments (which may be functions) in a new local frame.

Nested Functions

We can also nest functions, we can do this to reduce the cluttering the global frame with small functions or avoiding function signature constraints:

    def improve(update, close, guess =1):
        while not close(guess):
            guess = update(guess)
        return guess

    def average(x, y):
        return (x + y)/2

    def sqrt_update(x, a):
            return average(x, a/x)

    def sqrt(a):
        def sqrt_update(x):
            return average(x, a/x)
        def sqrt_close(x):
            return approx_eq(x * x, a)

        return improve(sqrt_update, sqrt_close)

Like local assignment, local def statements only affect the current local frame - These functions are only in scope while sqrt is being evaluated.

These nested functions are also lexically scoped - They have access the variables & bindings inside the function (or scope) they are defined (not called). In the example above sqrt_update & sqrt_close will both have access to any variables & bindings made in the sqrt function.

The sqrt function in this example is the parent - with the parents environment - when a local function (sqrt_update) is called - its local frame extends its parents environment. Local functions are functions defined and used within another parent function.

Local functions like the sqrt_update function carries with it some data: the value for a referenced in the environment (the sqrt functions environment) in which it was defined.

Because they "enclose" information in this way, locally defined functions are often called closures.

Functions as returned values

Locally defined functions maintain their parent environment when they are returned, we can see this in action by considering an example of composing functions:

def compose1(f, g):
    def h(x):
        return f(g(x))
return h

def square(x):
    return x * x

def successor(x):
    return x + 1

square_successor = compose1(square, successor)
result = square_successor(12)


We can use higher-order functions to convert a function that takes multiple arguments into a chain of functions that each take a single argument:

def curried_pow(x):
    def h(y):
    return pow(x, y)
return h


This is called currying - This is useful when we require a function that takes only a single argument like the map function that applies a single-argument function to a sequence of values:

def curried_pow(x):
    def h(y):
        return pow(x, y)
    return h

def map_to_range(start, end, f):
    while start < end:
        start = start + 1

map_to_range(0, 10, curried_pow(2))

Currying here allows us to use the same two functions to compute powers of other numbers without writing a specific function for each number whose powers we wish to compute.