In programming language theory, semantics is the field concerned with the rigorous mathematical study of the meaning of programming languages. It does so by evaluating the meaning of syntactically legal strings defined by a specific programming language, showing the computation involved. In such a case that the evaluation would be of syntactically illegal strings, the result would be non-computation. Semantics describes the processes a computer follows when executing a program in that specific language. This can be shown by describing the relationship between the input and output of a program, or an explanation of how the program will execute on a certain platform, hence creating a model of computation.
Formal semantics, for instance, helps to write compilers, better understand what a program is doing and to prove, e.g., that the following if statement
if 1 = 1 then S1 else S2
has the same effect as S1 alone.
The field of formal semantics encompasses all of the following:
- The definition of semantic models
- The relations between different semantic models
- The relations between different approaches to meaning
- The relation between computation and the underlying mathematical structures from fields such as logic, set theory, model theory, category theory, etc.
It has close links with other areas of computer science such as programming language design, type theory, compilers and interpreters, program verification and model checking.