What are the best languages for getting into functional programming?

by HSG on Jun 03, 2014 in Articles from Software Fans

Studying a functional programming language is a good way to discover new approaches to problems and different ways of thinking. Although functional programming has much in common with logic and imperative programming, it uses unique abstractions and a different toolset for solving problems. Likewise, many current mainstream languages are beginning to pick up and integrate various techniques and features from functional programming.

Many authorities feel that Haskell is a great introductory language for learning functional programming. However, there are various other possibilities, including Scheme, F#, Scala, Clojure, Erlang and others.

Haskell is widely recognized as a beautiful, concise and high-performing programming language. It is statically typed and supports various cool features that augment language expressivity, including currying and pattern matching. In addition to monads, the language support a type-class system based on methods; this enables higher encapsulation and abstraction. Advanced Haskell will require learning about combinators, lambda calculus and category theory. Haskell allows programmers to create extremely elegant solutions.

Scheme is another good learning language -- it has an extensive history in academia and a vast body of instructional documents. Based on the oldest functional language -- Lisp -- Scheme is actually very small and elegant. Studying Scheme will allow the programmer to master iteration and recursion, lambda functions and first-class functions, closures, and bottom-up design.

Supported by Microsoft and growing in popularity, F# is a multi-paradigm, functional-first programming language that derives from ML and incorporates features from numerous languages, including OCaml, Scala, Haskell and Erlang. F# is described as a functional language that also supports object-oriented and imperative techniques. It is a .NET family member. F# allows the programmer to create succinct, type-safe, expressive and efficient solutions. It excels at parallel I/O and parallel CPU programming, data-oriented programming, and algorithmic development.

Scala is a general-purpose programming and scripting language that is both functional and object-oriented. It has strong static types and supports numerous functional language techniques such as pattern matching, lazy evaluation, currying, algebraic types, immutability and tail recursion. Scala -- from "scalable language" -- enables coders to write extremely concise source code. The code is compiled into Java bytecode and executes on the ubiquitous JVM (Java virtual machine).

Like Scala, Clojure also runs on the Java virtual machine. Because it is based on Lisp, it treats code like data and supports macros. Clojure's immutability features and time-progression constructs enable the creation of robust multithreaded programs.

Erlang is a highly concurrent language and runtime. Initially created by Ericsson to enable real-time, fault-tolerant, distributed applications, Erlang code can be altered without halting the system. The language has a functional subset with single assignment, dynamic typing, and eager evaluation. Erlang has powerful explicit support for concurrent processes.

 

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