Course Description

Systems Programming is the exploration of the composition and interface of systems in computing looking through the lens of operating systems, networking, and C/C++ languages. Through peeling levels of abstraction, students will view practices of low-level data representation (e.g. C, C++); explicit memory management; interacting with operating-system services; and cache-aware programming.


  • CSE351 (The Hardware/Software Interface): CSE 351 provides students with rudimentary knowledge of C programming; the ability to write, run, and debug programs; familiarity with Linux and the use of Linux compilation, editing, and debugging tools; a solid mental model of the relationship between high-level code (C) and assembly-level compiled code.
  • CSE 143 (Intro Programming II): CSE 143 is not a direct prerequisite (CSE 351 prerequisite), but some of its topics are beneficial to review for CSE 333. This includes classes, inheritance, good style practices, and simple data structures such as linked lists, trees, hash tables, and queues. Further knowledge of Java and these data structures is not required, but could be helpful!

Course Learning Objectives

Course Learning objectives are the goals that are set out for you to accomplish in this course:

  • Understand system theory of how a system interacts with its environment and controlling its input and output (feedback loops, input and output, deterioration, computation)
  • Unravel layers of abstraction found within systems
  • Describe multiple systems throughout the computing space (e.g. HTTP, Operating Systems, Threading, and Makefiles)
  • Interpret and build an efficient workflow for programming in larger sized code bases
  • Debug substantial C/C++ programs using debugging tools (GDB and Valgrind)

Course Materials

CSE Linux Environment

All assignments in this class will be graded on the CSE Linux environment. We strongly recommend that you work on the assignments in this same environment. There are three ways to do this:

  1. Log into a Linux PC located in one of the undergraduate workstation labs
  2. Remotely log in to
  3. Install and use the CSE home VM on your personal machine

Gitlab Repository

You will be given a private repository on the CSE Gitlab to use throughout the quarter. Project ("homework") files will be pushed to your repo and then submitted for you to Gradescope. We strongly recommend using your repo for version control for all assignments and to facilitate sharing if you have a partner.


There are no strictly required texts for this courses. Most people will find it useful to have both a C and a C++ reference; suggestions are given below. The C++ Primer is strongly recommended as C++ is a big, complex language and it is hard to understand how it all fits together from just Google and Stack Overflow snippets and folklore.

Strongly Recommended:


Proposed Topic List

  • C Programming and idioms (Memory Management, cstdio, error handling, and structs)
  • System Management Tools (Makefiles, Header Guards, GDB, and Valgrind)
  • System Interfacing with Operating Systems (POSIX)
  • C++ Programming and idioms (namespaces, templates, STL, smart pointers)
  • C++ Classes and Inheritance (Classes, operator overloading, OOP)
  • Network Programming and Protocols (POSIX, HTTP)
  • Concurrency (pthreads)

Course Components

  1. Lectures: There will be 25 lectures. Attendance and participation is expected at all of them.
  2. Exercises: People become great programmers by writing lots of code and learning from the experience. We will be assigning a mandatory programming exercise after every few lectures, due in ~4-5 days. These will reinforce the material from lecture.
  3. Project Homework: This course is designed to give you substantial experience with programming. There will be 4 major programming assignments during the quarter that build on top of each other.
  4. Exploratory Paper: In the spirit of inspiring personal exploration with technology beyond the scope of the course, there will be a final paper available starting in week 7. Page to the final paper will be available sometime in the middle of the quarter and will be updated here.


Grading Policies

Your grade in the class will be broken into the following components:

  • Homework (Projects): 50%
  • Exercises: 35%
  • Exploration Paper: 10%
  • Participation 5%

Course-Wide Participation

In order to encourage active participation throughout the entire quarter, we want to reward those that do put effort into working work with fellow classmates and staff. This will In order to facilitate this, you can earn credit for your course-wide participation grade with any of the following:

  • Attending and asking questions in office hours, lectures, and sections.
  • Answering questions in section and on the discussion board.
  • Keeping up with the discussion board.
  • Voting on peer instruction questions.
  • Discussing with other students during group work time in section and lecture.
  • Helping others in lecture, during office hours, and on Ed Discussion.

Note that you do not have to complete all of the listed activities to get full credit for course-wide participation. Participation grades are kept internal to the staff (i.e., not disclosed to students).

Lecture Polling

Lecture will be supplemented with in-class polling questions that will give you a chance to solve a question related to lecture content, discuss with your peers, and give the instructor a sense of how the class is doing. This is designed to give you a chance to check your understanding of the material by applying it on-the-spot, as well as an opportunity to interact with your classmates.

  1. Register your UWNetID on the . More information can be found from .
  2. Optionally, you may download the Poll Everywhere mobile app.
  3. Bring an Internet-enabled device with you to lecture.

You will receive credit for voting on polling questions in lecture and your response does not need to be correct. If you need to miss class, these will be available for you to answer as an online survey until the next lecture. Over the course of the quarter, you only need to vote on 80% of the available polling questions to receive full credit, meaning that you are allowed to skip or miss a number of them with no penalty!

Assignment Policies

Collaboration, Submission, and Grading

  • Exercises are done individually and are typically due at 11:00 am on the due date. They are submitted to and graded using the following categories:
    • Correctness [3 pt]:  Meeting the exercise specifications – produces the desired output for all specified inputs, reasonably handles bogus inputs, doesn't segfault, and doesn't run infinitely.
    • Tools Check [3 pt]:  Based on compiler warnings, valgrind output, and disallowed linter messages.
    • Style [2 pt]:  Code style and quality, including code organization and generalizability, naming conventions, error checking, and matching provided code.
    • Write-up Questions [4 pt]:  Answering 2 technical and/or reflection questions in regards to the material covered by the exercise.
  • Homework may be done in partnerships (highly encouraged). They are distributed and submitted via . To submit, you must push a tag that ends with -final (e.g., hw2-final). For partnerships, you will need to submit to a Google Form for each assignment to indicate whose repo to submit from. Your tagged commit will be uploaded for you to Gradescope and graded on a combination of test suite scores, manual user testing (where applicable), and style grading.
  • Write-up Questions [10 pt]:  Answering 2 technical and/or reflection questions in regards to the material covered by the homework.
  • Exploration Paper are to be done in partnerships (highly encouraged). They will be available in the course website near the middle of the quarter and will be submitted through an assignment on canvas.

Deadlines and Late Policies

For a list of all assignment due dates (deadline times specified below) in one place, see the Assignments page. Please contact the instructor as soon as possible (preferably in advance) if you encounter or foresee any difficulties meeting deadlines for reasons that are beyond your control (see our extenuating circumstances policy below for more details).

  • Exercises are due at 11:00 am 2-3 lectures after they are released. This allows us to release sample solutions later that day for review and comparison. Because of the release of sample solutions, no late submissions are accepted.
  • Homework are due at 11:59 pm on the specified dates and you are allocated a total of 5 late day tokens to remove late penalties as you accumulate late days throughout the quarter. These tokens are intended for alleviating unexpected emergencies and scheduling difficulties with the rest of your classes and life; we strongly encourage you to treat them as such to help you keep pace with the rest of the course material and assignments.
    • A late day is defined as the 24 hour period after a homework's due date: num_late_days = ceil(hours_late / 24).
      • An exception is made for weekends, which count as a single late day. That is, if an assignment is due at 11:59 pm on Friday, submitting before Sunday at 11:59 pm counts as only ONE day late (submitting by 11:59 pm on Monday would count as TWO days late).
    • Homework submissions are NOT ACCEPTED more than two days late.
    • There is no bonus for having leftover late day tokens at the end of the quarter.
    • At the end of the quarter, if your late day total exceeds the late day tokens afforded to you, you will be penalized 20% of your assignment score for each remaining late day. Only homework submitted late are eligible to be penalized and cannot be penalized more than twice, but we will apply the minimal penalty possible.
  • The Exploration Paper is due at 11:59 pm on the specified date. Due to the due date of the paper being near the end of the quarter, only one late day is allowed, and submissions will not be accepted for being more than 1 day late (with exceptions).

Academic Conduct

In general, we encourage collaboration, but there is a very fine line between collaboration and cheating. We can learn a lot from working with each other and it can make the course more fun, but we also want to ensure that every student can get the maximum benefit from the material this course has to offer. Keep in mind that the overall goal is for YOU to learn the material so you will be prepared for the exams and for job interviews etc. in the future. Cheating turns the assignments into an exercise that is a silly waste of both your time and ours; save us both by not doing it.

Cheating consists of sharing code or solutions to assignments by either copying, retyping, looking at, or supplying a copy of a file. Examples include:

  • Coaching a friend to arrive at a solution by simply following your instructions (i.e. no thinking involved). An example is helping a friend write a program line-by-line.
  • Copying code from a similar course at another university or using solutions/code on the web, including GitHub.
  • Communicating your solution with another student via electronic or non-electronic means.

Cheating is a very serious offense. If you are caught cheating, you can expect the initiation of an academic misconduct case in the University system and a grade penalty, if found guilty. Cheating is an insult to the instructor and course staff, to the department and major program, and most importantly, to you and your fellow students. If you feel that you are having a problem with the material, or don't have time to finish an assignment, or have any number of other reasons to cheat, then please reach out to the instructor ASAP. Just don't cheat.

If you are in doubt about what might constitute cheating, send the instructor an email describing the situation and we will be happy to clarify it for you. For more information, you should consult the department's .

Disability Resources

The is a unit within the Division of Student Life and is dedicated to ensuring access and inclusion for all students with disabilities on the Seattle campus. They offer a wide range of services for students with disabilities that are individually designed and remove the need to reveal sensitive medical information to the course staff. If you have a medical need for extensions of exam times or assignment deadlines, these will only be granted through official documentation from DRS. Browse to to start the process as soon as possible to avoid delays.

Extenuating Circumstances and Inclusiveness

We recognize that our students come from varied backgrounds and can have widely-varying circumstances. If you have any unforeseen or extenuating circumstance that arise during the course, please do not hesitate to contact the instructor in office hours, via email, or private Ed Discussion post to discuss your situation. The sooner we are made aware, the more easily these situations can be resolved. Extenuating circumstances include work-school balance, familial responsibilities, religious observations, military duties, unexpected travel, or anything else beyond your control that may negatively impact your performance in the class.

Additionally, if at any point you are made to feel uncomfortable, disrespected, or excluded by a staff member or fellow student, please report the incident so that we may address the issue and maintain a supportive and inclusive learning environment. Should you feel uncomfortable bringing up an issue with a staff member directly, you may consider sending or contacting the .

Religious Accommodations

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at . Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the