It marks the culmination of stalled attempts during the SNP's first term as a minority government and a landmark public consultation, receiving about 26,000 responses.
The Scottish Independence Referendum Bill was formally lodged at Holyrood as Mr Salmond announced that the vote will be held on September 18 next year.
He conceded that its provisions would "not come as a great surprise". The 146-page document confirms that the intended question will be: Should Scotland be an independent country?
It sets up a chief counting officer, the campaign rules, spending limits and the layout of the ballot paper.
Addressing Parliament, Mr Salmond said: "The Bill makes clear that the Electoral Commission will have overall responsibility for overseeing the referendum.
"It sets out detailed arrangements for the conduct of the referendum, including arrangements for polling stations, voting and counting procedures and postal and proxy voting. All of these are in line with the procedures for Scottish Parliament elections."
One key difference will be decided in separate legislation needed to extend the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds.
That Bill is already being scrutinised by a Holyrood committee.
Mr Salmond said: "Overall, the Bill ensures that the referendum will be internationally recognised as a fair, open and truly democratic process."
A policy paper issued with the draft legislation confirms the spending limits for the main organisations for and against independence at £1.5 million.
Political parties at Holyrood have been given spending limits of between £150,000 and £1.3 million, with the lower sum the Scottish Green party's maximum and the higher sum the SNP's.
Other permitted participants - individuals or organisations accepted by the Electoral Commission - will be able to spend £150,000.
The legislation is expected to be raked over by MSPs on Holyrood's Referendum Bill Committee between May and June, who will report back in early September.
The first of three votes needed for it to become law will be held in the Scottish Parliament later that month. In October, second-stage scrutiny will take place before the final vote before the full chamber in mid-November.
Royal Assent is expected to be granted in December.
The Bill was made possible by an agreement struck in Edinburgh last year between Prime Minister David Cameron and the First Minister.