Why I have been learning F# (and functional programming in general) lately:
- It’s functional first, so it encourages you to write pure functions and other cool stuff.
- No more NullReferenceExceptions (wooohoo yeah! PARTY NOISES!!)
- Amazing type system. Think type inference on steroids and automatic generalization.
- Tuples: it is great to be able to have multiple results for a function
- Discriminated Unions
- Moar. There are other f# Types
- Open source
- Great community
- Great interop with C#
- Cross platform
- Type providers
- Forward pipe operator and the opposite
- It supports imperative and OO paradigms too
- F# interactive
I though it would be good to expand on the points above
At some point during last year as I watched a talk by Bodil Stokke, called Programming, Only better (go watch all the videos of her talks, she is super smart you will learn a lot) in the talk she mentioned a paper called “Out of the tar pit” both talk and paper made me think about the way I code. The end result of watching and reading was that I finally understood that side effect free code is better because it is simpler. We all know that writing simple code that does exactly what you imagine the code is doing is pretty damn hard, and functional programming can help making this a little simple. I feel that by trying to do a little synopsis of what the paper and Bodil said is doing a disservice to both, so go watch and read, beats whatever else you are doing :-D.
This and going to Code Mesh last year is what made me go from a person curious about functional programming, to “I have to learn and truly understand at least one functional programming right now!.
##No more NullReferenceException
The F# compiler will still have to deal with NullReferenceExceptions when dealing with .net types, however when dealing with Option type you can use pattern matching to match all the cases.
There is an in-depth post about this here.
Amazing Type system
As a C# developer I always thought C#’s type system was pretty good, it did everything I expected, and rarely let me down. However, I am rather impressed by how much type inference and automatic generalization add to F#. Type inference allow the F# compiler figure out the types use and where, it does so in order top to bottom, left to right. I am thinking perhaps the only annoying side effect of this is that you have to set an order to files in a project, something I find rather weird. Anyway, when the compiler doesn’t find what type to infer then (as far as I know)it makes the code general (imagine implementing that in C# :D) this happens because of automatic generalization (I have 90% confidence of this being correct) I still don’t know exactly how it all works but I am very happy with the results because I can try anything I want quickly. I guess F#’s type system was bound to be good, after all, static typing was first implemented in a functional programming language, .
Tuples are one of the F# types, they represent a pair, triple or larger combination of types. This means you can finally do multiple return types :D
And this is what shows in f# interactive : name is Tayla, number 45454545 Name is Tayla, number 45454545 -- val personInfo : string * int = ("Tayla", 45454545) val myFunction : unit = ()
An advantage of using tuples is that when you are working with .net types that have out parameters, F# automatically turns that into tuples. Exmaple
val convert : bool * int = (true, 4)
As you can see this returns convert : bool * int, when you see a * in the result section of f# interactive that means that the type is a tuple
Yet another F# type, I really like it because it makes classes definitions look like giganto-monsters. Also, tuples are great, but sometimes you want to name things so that ordering is not important.
This is another f# type. I think an example will speak for itself.
The fsi console returns
type Weapon = string type Move = string type Behaviour = string type Character = | Player of Move * Weapon | NPC of Behaviour | Scenery val jiro : Character = Player ("Throw","Katana") val tree : Character = Scenery val mempoWarrior : Character = NPC "Chase"
As it’s probably obvious this is a great way to work with finite set of choices, pattern matching can be used on discriminated unions.
This is really what made me choose F# over other languages that I was considering learning. Since the language is open source and owned by the community, it is not tied to Microsoft and it’s rather erratic decision making of the last few years. The C# interop just works.
Many f# people in twitter and very vocal and welcoming. F# power tools is a must have add-on. But also: FAKE, FsCheck, Fuchu, many type providers.
Supports imperative and OO paradigms
Being able to use pre-existing libraries and paradigms can be very useful.
Great interop with C#.
I’m sure there is a lot more to it, but the main thing for me is that it makes testing C# code shorter, and works both ways.
It runs on mono and there are people using F# with Xamarin tools for mobile. Also F# has an OCaml compatibility mode (that I haven’t tested yet). The experience on non windows machines keeps improving. And in windows it is really nice once you get F# Power Tools. Before I installed that I found the significant whitespace a bit confusing, but now I literally can see what is the problem.
This is a feature of F# 3.0, with them you get typed access to a wide variety of data sources, without requiring code generation. There are a few common type providers included . This means you can do a lot of data exploration with very little
That is pretty much all you need to start playing with the data of a csv file. And by playing I mean you have typed access to the fields in the csv. This will print in the console the fist response (not a great use), but it show that it’s typed, see the %s and that I can access fields by column name (it will use by default the first row for headers)
I don’t know you, but I am totally blown away by this. There is also a graph tool that will help you plot data.
Just for the craic (and to double check on my madness level) I asked on twitter what is people’s preferred language feature and this is what I got:
@silverSpoon There are so many, pattern matching and active patterns are pretty awesome.— Dave Thomas (@7sharp9) May 10, 2014
@silverSpoon Because they dramatically simplify logic processing and collapse a lot of boilerplate.— Dave Thomas (@7sharp9) May 10, 2014
@silverSpoon I just love pipe forward and pipelines of functions. Simple, and makes workflows / data transforms super clear.— Mathias Brandewinder (@brandewinder) May 10, 2014
@silverSpoon quotations are very cool— gregyoung (@gregyoung) May 10, 2014
@silverSpoon What I miss the most in C# is DUs. To make them usable you need pattern matching.— Robert Jeppesen (@rojepp) May 10, 2014
.@silverSpoon Function currying because, like curry, once you start using it you can't stop— Patrick McDonald (@PaddyMcDonald) May 10, 2014
@silverSpoon @nikhilsingh favorite feature #fsharp Data.SqlClient, I use every day, it works, authors very responsiv https://t.co/9y3H8LzOF4— Jack Fox (@foxyjackfox) May 10, 2014
@silverSpoon @c4fsharp piping stuff because you it gives an exellent flow to things— Erlend Wiig (@ErlendW) May 10, 2014
It might seem like there is a lot to know to just even get started, but I think if you just jump right in, you have a lot to win. Most of the names of the features come from a maths background, it can feel a bit of putting, but it’s really not that bad. Maybe it’s because diving into a new language is just new and exciting, but it’s been a while since my brain reacts so positively to learning something new. Sometimes I get stuck but then that’s when the community aspect really kicks in.
- F# for fun and profit
- Phil Trelford blog
- Thomas Petricek blog
- Community for F#
- F# foundation
Another good talk about functional programming for the OO developer from Jessica Kerr