Alex Payne

Writer, backer, erstwhile technologist.

More Erlanging

One of my favorite reads from my infosec days was teenage mutant ninja hero coders, a blog by computer security expert Maximillian Dornseif. Dornseif usually says smart things and you should probably be reading him.

Lately, his subject matter has turned to more general programming topics and distributed systems. Dornseif wrote about Erlang’s unsubstantiated reliability claims recently, and follows up on that today.

Dornseif’s point:

“Erlang is an interesting language. OTP is great engineering. Erlang has considerable momentum compared to other languages with unusual concepts. There is no need use 99.9999999% which ring[s] so hollow.” That’s pretty easy to agree with.

I’ve seen two conflicting schools towards the end of figuring out where Erlang fits in the current programming language landscape. One is the ever-popular “right tool for the right job” school, which posits that you build your distributed components in something like Erlang and other components in languages with more mature, easy-to-use libraries. While this is admirable and pragmatic, the downside is that you then have to couple your tools with language bridges or interoperable formats like XML, JSON, or a message queuing standard. The coupling components can be brittle or eat up processing time with expensive parsing and conversion.

The opposing school is well-represented by, again, Russ Beattie:

” […] I just don’t like working with multiple languages at the same time. I much prefer to have one language in my toolbox that I try to use for as much as possible, so that I can avoid time-sapping context changes, re-use code, and become more proficient with each line of code I write whether its on the desktop, in the browser or on the server.”

I’ve known lots of developers for whom a solution isn’t a solution if it isn’t available in their language of choice. Context-switching can, indeed, be brutal.

At the moment, I’m not ready to take a side. I’ve always been a multi-linguist, and I see ups and downs to both sides. It’s interesting, is all.