Why you should care about functional programming.

January 30, 2013 John Barker

I’ve been experimenting with functional programming (FP) languages for a little while now and their acceptance is generally increasing amongst the wider developer community. This is the first post in a series of articles I hope to do that explore FP, what it is and what we could learn from this trend.

Why now?

Functional programming languages are by no means new. LISP often thought of as one of the first programming languages was developed in 1958. IPL a sort of assembler like symbolic language appeared in 1954. The foundations of FP are embedded in mathematical constructs much older than the concept of an electronic computer.

But for all intents and purposes they sort of disappeared into obscurity, replaced by procedural languages like C or Object Orientated (OO) like C++ or Java. Partially because they were impractical – some of the constructs used by FP languages performed worse than their imperative counterparts. In a time when CPU power was scarce, this was not an option.

A different age

Thanks to Moore’s law this has changed somewhat. Computers now are certainly more powerful then they were when the first LISP interpreter appeared. But the ever scaling MHZ peak has slowed. New CPUs come with more cores, not more cycles. To take advantage of these improvements we need to look to parallelization and FP languages are inherently suited to this kind of work.

I am not alone in recognizing this. IBM released this article recognizing the rising trend. ThoughtWorks has identified Scala and Clojure in its technology radar and recognizes momentum building behind several FP languages: http://www.drdobbs.com/mobile/thoughtworks-eyes-seismic-shift-in-progr/240009675. Spend any time on Hacker News and you’ll regularly see links on the topic.

I feel like FP is an idea whose time has come and I’m very excited by the new languages, ideas and technologies that are appearing. Hopefully Pivotal Labs will someday join me on this journey.

About the Author


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