Program and Data Representation: Itty Bitty Computing Machine (IBCM)

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The Itty Bitty Computing Machine (IBCM) is a machine language designed to be simple enough to teach the concepts of machine language, while being complicated enough to write any program. The IBCM computational model (which is slighly different than the IBCM presented here) is Turing complete. IBCM is meant to be taught in a week of lecture.

IBCM was described in a SIGCSE 2011 article: “IBCM: The Itty Bitty Computing Machine” by Aaron Bloomfield and William Wulf (Proceedings of the 42nd ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE), March 2011, Dallas, TX); that article describes the Turing completeness of IBCM. Due to copyright restrictions, that article cannot be included in this repository. However, much of that material is similar to the material found in the book chapter on IBCM.

The primary mechanism for learning IBCM is through the IBCM slide set and the IBCM book chapter. The material in both of those largely duplicates itself, but in different formats. IBCM is utilized through an online set of web pages, described next. A few C++ utilities are described at the bottom of this page.


The IBCM is utilized through an online series of webpages. The IBCM simulator needs PHP in order to run, and thus must be run from a web server (i.e., not as a local file). Most of the computational load is on the client side (via Javascript), and little is on the server side. There are a few mirros of this website available, which are listed below. All the necessary code to run a separate copy are included in this repository.

The primary file for the website is index.html, and the directions are on the directions.html page. The simulator itself is on the simulator.php page – but as described above, this must be run on an actual web server. Two supporting files (simulator.js and ibcm.css) and the entire img/ directory are needed as well. Note that two of the programs listed below (summation.ibcm and array-summation.ibcm) are linked to from the various website pages.

The simulator can be accessed via

Sample IBCM code

The sample IBCM code included in this repository:

Busy Beaver automaton

C++ Utilities

There are two C++ utility programs included, which are primarly useful for grading. In particular, they allow the programs to be run through a series of scripts (or other automated grading system).

ibcm-parse.cpp (src) is a program that will quickly check if the file names passed in via command line arguments look like IBCM files. In particular, it checks if the first four digits on each line are all hexadecimal digits. It does not program validity checking beyond this. It is useful to tell the students if, on submission, their programs will parse correctly in an IBCM simulator.

ibcm-simulator.cpp (src) will simulate an IBCM program, and it has a number of command line switches that control its execution. This program is useful for automating the execution of a number of IBCM programs without having to load each one into the web interface. It will also print out traces of the entire program execution, if desired. Run with the -help flag to see the full list of options.