Build a Modern Computer from First Principles: From Nand to Tetris (Project-Centered Course)
Build a Modern Computer from First Principles: From Nand to Tetris (Project-Centered Course)

Build a Modern Computer from First Principles: From Nand to Tetris (Project-Centered Course)

Build a Modern Computer from First Principles: From Nand to Tetris (Project-Centered Course) is a free online MOOC Course, Offered by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem via Coursera.

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In this project-centered course, you will build a modern software hierarchy, designed to enable the translation and execution of object-based, high-level languages on a bare-bone computer hardware platform. In particular, you will implement a virtual machine and a compiler for a simple, Java-like programming language, and you will develop a basic operating system that closes gaps between the high-level language and the underlying hardware platform.

In the process, you will gain a deep, hands-on understanding of numerous topics in applied computer science, e.g. stack processing, parsing, code generation, and classical algorithms and data structures for memory management, vector graphics, input-output handling, and various other topics that lie at the very core of every modern computer system.

This is a self-contained course: all the knowledge necessary to succeed in the course and build the various systems will be given as part of the learning experience. The only prerequisite is knowledge of programming at the level acquired in introduction to computer science courses. All the software tools and materials that are necessary to complete the course will be supplied freely after you enroll in the course.

The course consists of six modules, each comprising a series of video lectures and a project. You will need about 2-3 hours to watch each module’s lectures, and about 15 hours to complete each one of the six projects. The course can be completed in six weeks, but you are welcome to take it at your own pace. You can watch a TED talk about this course by Googling “nand2tetris TED talk”.


Week 1

  • Introduction
    • Course introduction and overview, the roles of abstraction and implementation in systems design, the road ahead.
  • Boolean Functions and Gate Logic
    • We will start with a brief introduction to Boolean algebra, and learn how Boolean functions can be physically implemented using logic gates. We will then learn how to specify gates and chips using a Hardware Description Language (HDL), and how to simulate the behavior of the resulting chip specifications using a hardware simulator. This background will set the stage for Project 1, in which you will build, simulate, and test 15 elementary logic gates. The chipset that you will build this module will be later used to construct the computer’s Arithmetic Logic Unit (ALU) and memory system. This will be done in modules 2 and 3, respectively.
  • General Course Information
    • General Course Information

Week 2

  • Boolean Arithmetic and the ALU
    • Using the chipset that we’ve built in the previous module, we will now proceed to build a family of adders — chips designed to add numbers. We will then take a big step forward and build an Arithmetic Logic Unit. The ALU, which is designed to perform a whole set of arithmetic and logical operations, is the computer’s calculating brain. Later in the course we will use this ALU as the centerpiece chip from which we will build the computer’s Central Processing Unit, or CPU. Since all these chips operate on binary numbers (0’s and 1’s), we will start this module with a general overview of binary arithmetic, and only then delve into building the ALU.

Week 3

  • Memory
    • Having built the computer’s ALU, this module we turn to build the computer’s main memory unit, also known as Random Access Memory, or RAM. This will be done gradually, going bottom-up from elementary flip-flop gates to one-bit registers to n-bit registers to a family of RAM chips. Unlike the computer’s processing chips, which are based on combinational logic, the computer’s memory logic requires a clock-based sequential logic. We will start with an overview of this theoretical background, and then move on to build our memory chipset.

Week 4

  • Machine Language
    • A critically important aspect of building a new computer system is designing the low-level machine language, or instruction set, with which the computer can be instructed to do various things. As it turns out, this can be done before the computer itself is actually built. For example, we can write a Java program that emulates the yet-to-be-built computer and then use it to emulate the execution of programs written in the new machine language. Such experiments can give us a good appreciation of the bare bone “look and feel” of the new computer, and lead to decisions that may well change and improve both the hardware and the language designs. Taking a similar approach, in this module, we assume that the Hack computer and machine language have been built, and write some low-level programs using the Hack machine language. We will then use a supplied CPU Emulator (a computer program) to test and execute our programs. This experience will give you a taste of low-level programming, as well as a solid hands-on overview of the Hack computer platform.


  • Shimon Schocken
  • Noam Nisan

Additional information

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43 Hours

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Course Length

6 Weeks

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