Rambles around computer science

Diverting trains of thought, wasting precious time

Mon, 28 Feb 2011

Why I am not (yet) a functional programming enthusiast -- part 1

I suffer from a particular disposition which, for a programming languages researcher is quite an unfortunate one. When I hear my fellow researchers expounding the virtues of functional programming, I start to feel grumbly. Functional programming is really neat in a lot of ways. But there are some in which I find it unpalatable. Here is my first selection of complaints. They are mostly to do with the generally poor comprehensibility of functional code. I have more complaints in reserve, which will follow in due course when I'm feeling sufficiently grumpy.

I concede that these are all elements of style, not language features per se. It's possible to write clean functional code which doesn't suffer from any of the problems I've mentioned. This hints at the fact that part of my problem is the culture among functional programmers, rather than the technology itself. That's still a showstopper though, because in practice we are reliant on other programmers. Without other programmers' having written tools and libraries that relieve us from writing everything from scratch, and documentation to explain them to us, then no programming language is of practical use. Accordingly, I'll be back later with a more concrete example where this went wrong for me in an earlier foray into functional programming.

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