[erlang-questions] DRY principle and the syntax inconsistency in fun vs. vanilla functions

Edmond Begumisa <>
Fri May 20 00:49:51 CEST 2011

>  People already complain that Erlang's syntax is too ugly or complex;

I've always found this complaint to be rather quibble.

Programmers have brains that are extremely well adjusted to parsing new  
syntax. This is one thing all programmers are inherently good at. Yet when  
asked to put this skill towards learning a new language, they complain.  
"No" they say, "give me a syntax I'm already familiar with. Why are you  
trying to be different?" they ask.

I learned Erlang by reading Joe's book. Within half an hour I wasn't  
seeing the syntax anymore. My brain, quickly made the necessary mental  
mappings. I strongly believe this to be the case with all programmers when  
encountering an unfamiliar syntax -- rapid adjustment with relatively  
little effort.

Other professions are not so lucky. I once witnessed two non-programmers  
trying to learn HTML at the same time. One a medical doctor, the other a  
graphic designer. Both got the concepts down very quickly (links, images,  
tables, etc), but both really struggled with syntax. "How can one possibly  
read this?" they kept asking.

Yet most programmers learn HTML/XML syntax in a matter of minutes while  
watching TV. Gut give them Erlang and they groan and complain loudly.

IMHO, complaints about Erlang's syntax being "too weird" are completely  
unwarranted. A programmer could learn a language written using Klingon  
symbols in a unbelievably short period of time. Just look at all those  
non-English speakers who program in languages heavily biased towards  
English. And many of them come from languages using non-latin scripts!!!

- Edmond -

PS: The exception is Lisp. All those parentheses are just obfuscating :)

On Thu, 19 May 2011 21:41:50 +1000, Frédéric Trottier-Hébert  
<> wrote:

> I would rather have one clear but slightly verbose way of doing things  
> rather than two potential ways to do the same thing in slightly  
> different manners prompting religious wars to get the same result I  
> already have.
> The idea to revisit the syntax isn't bad in itself, but looking at the  
> examples Steve Davis provided, I can only see your concept being useful  
> for very short functions.
> When it comes to learning Erlang, I can tell you that in my experience,  
> new users struggle a lot more with clause separators (;), expression  
> separators (,), form terminators (.), records, 'if' or funs (in concept)  
> than they do with function syntax. They do not seem to see the current  
> way to write function heads as problematic. Then, all Erlang users are  
> also used to it.
> Adding more ways to do things that currently have a single way to be  
> done is a net loss in my opinion. People already complain that Erlang's  
> syntax is too ugly or complex; I do not think that adding more syntax is  
> the way to solve that. It would not benefit new users and it would not  
> benefit the majority of all users, only increase the ways they can read  
> code and get confused.
> In the other thread, someone called it 'syntactic salt', and I think  
> this is a good way to describe how things are right now. It's not a bad  
> thing in my opinion.
> On 2011-05-19, at 06:47 AM, Michael Turner wrote:
>> "But how interesting is whether existing code would break or not?"
>> Not very. I mean, who uses Erlang for anything important? Hardly  
>> anybody, right?
>> [/sarcasm]
>> "It would, as others have pointed out, also be much harder to jump into  
>> a module and _know_ what the clause does since the function's name can  
>> be pages away."
>> It would only be harder ("much"??) if you *chose*, in such cases, to  
>> use the syntax I propose to bring over from multi-clause funs. In the  
>> case you bring up, it might be wiser not to. And what I propose clearly  
>> allows everyone to continue with the present syntax. So your argument  
>> for readability in this case comes down to "somebody might not use this  
>> language feature wisely." (*facepalm*).
>> -michael turner
>> _______
>> erlang-questions mailing list
>> http://erlang.org/mailman/listinfo/erlang-questions
> --
> Fred Hébert
> http://www.erlang-solutions.com

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