[erlang-questions] ANNOUNCE - erl2 - a new dialect of erlang

Joe Armstrong <>
Sun Feb 26 17:58:47 CET 2012

>From the README


Erl2 - a program generator for a new dialect of erlang

Download from: https://github.com/joearms/erl2

Please note: This is a prototype and is not of production quality (but
it seems to work :-)


There are two types of thing in Erlang. Forms and Expressions
and the two don't mix.

The shell is an expression evaluator. The shell reads an expression
evaluates it and prints the result.

A module is a sequence of forms. The compiler takes a sequence of forms
and compiles this into an object file.

You can't put forms in shell because they are not expressions. And you
can't put expressions in a module because they are not forms.

This is a mess - in many other languages the input to the shell
is the same as the input to the compiler - but not in Erlang.

There is a fix to this. "All" you have to to is define a form to be an
This needs a small syntactic change to the language.

Suppose we add a new syntactic form:

    def fac = fun(0) -> 1; fun(N) -> N*fac(N-1) end.

But we define this to be an expression with a side effect. It's value
can be anything we like (say true). But it has a side effect. The side effect
is to define the factorial function.

With this change we could write (in the shell):

   > def fac = fun(0) -> 1; fun(N) -> N*fac(N-1) end.
   > fac(5).

With this and a few other changes the shell, modules, and escript become
more or less idential.

To test this I have modified the erlang grammar, and the evaluator
I have also added letrec's and a fixed a few other small things
that annoyed me.

Here is a complete example - the comments are terse but hopefully the
example should
be self-explanatory ...

%% This is an erl2 script

> cat test.erl2

%% hello world

def hello() -> io:format("Hello world~n") end.

def test(N) -> io:format("Passing test ~p~n",[N]) end.
def print(X) -> io:format("~p~n", [X]) end.


print("factorial defined as a fun").

def fac = fun(0) -> 1; (N) -> N*fac(N-1) end.

print("Unit test of factorial").

120 = fac(5).

print("Print a large factorial").


print("define factorial using a fun").

def fac1 = fun(0) -> 1;(N) -> N*fac1(N-1) end.


beginFunc f1/1 end.
  %% f1 is a local fucntion - that is in the export list
  %% so it will be exported

  def f1(X) -> {f1,X} end.

  {f1,123} = f1(123).

  shell:test(5).      %% test(N) would mean in the local scope
                      %% so we have to call this shell:test()

  %% define a local function

  def local(X) -> {local, X} end.
  {local,222} = local(222).


%% Test that I can call the exported function

{f1, a} = f1(a).

%% test that calling the local function will fail

{'EXIT', _} = (catch local(222)).

%% Now make two functions both using the
%% same auxilliary functions to test name hiding is correct
%% BOTH of these use the same auxilliary function

beginFunc f2/1 end.
 def f2(X) -> foo(X) end.
 def foo(X) -> {f2foo, X} end.     %% foo is not exported

beginFunc f3/1 end.
 def foo(X) -> {f3foo, X} end.    %% foo is not exported
 def f3(X) -> foo(X) end.

{f2foo,a} = f2(a).	
{f3foo,a} = f3(a).

%% add unit tests inside a function definition

beginFunc f4/1 end.
 def foo(X,Y) -> {f3foo, X+Y} end.    %% foo is not exported
 {f3foo,5} = foo(2,3).
 def f3(X) -> foo(1,X) end.
 {f3foo,6} = f3(5).



beginMod mod1.

defExports a/1 b/2 c/3 end.  %% ignored for now

 def test(N) -> io:format("Passing local test in mod1:~p~n",[N]) end.

 def a() -> {mod1,a} end.
 {mod1, a} = a().

 def a(X) -> {mod1,a,X} end.
 {mod1, a, 12} = a(12).


endMod mod1.

print("Testing that we can call functions in a module from outside").

{mod1, a, 12} = mod1:a(12).	

{'EXIT', _} = (catch mod1:b(12)).

%% Mod with private functions

beginMod mod2.

defExports a/1 b/2 c/3 end.  %% ignored for now

 def test(N) -> io:format("Passing local test ~p in mod2~n",[N]) end.

 beginFunc a/1 end.
    def a(X) -> b(X) end.
    def b(X) -> {mod2,b,X} end.


 {mod2,b,123} = a(123).

endMod mod2.

{mod2,b,123} = mod2:a(123).

print("Meta programming ...").

%% We can bind variable *OUTSIDE* a module and
%% use them *inside* the module

F25 = fac(25).

beginMod mod3.
 defExports a/1 end.  %% ignored for now

 def a(N) -> F25 + N end.

endMod mod3.


print("Just imagine what you could do with this ...").

print("More fancy stuff").

%% We can do unit tests *inside the module*
%% If the unit tests fail - we crash and the module will not be generated

beginMod mod4.

 defExports fac/1 end.
 def fac(0) -> 1; fac(N) -> N*fac(N-1) end.

 %% unit tests
 120 = fac(5).
 shell:print("unit test worked").

endMod mod4.


print("Horray - everything worked dump the results into a file
       which we can compile later").


We can run this as follows:

./erl2 tests.erl2
Hello world
Passing test 1
"factorial defined as a fun"
"Unit test of factorial"
"Print a large factorial"
Passing test 3
"define factorial using a fun"
Passing test 4
Passing test 5
Passing test 7
Passing test 8
** undefined function:{local,1}
Passing test 9
Passing test 10
Passing test 11
Passing test 12
Passing test 13
Passing local test in mod1:14
"Testing that we can call functions in a module from outside"
Passing test 15
Passing test 16
Passing local test 17 in mod2
Passing local test 18 in mod2
Passing local test 19 in mod2
Passing test 20
"Meta programming ..."
"Just imagine what you could do with this ..."
"More fancy stuff"
"unit test worked"
Passing test 21
"Horray - everything worked dump the results into a file\n       which
we can compile later"

Note1: The output is in all.gen
       This contains sufficient information to build all the modules
       defined in the script - or they can be built into a single module

Note2: If unit tests fail then no code is generated.

       This is rather nice - the compiler will not compile a file
       unless it is passes the unit tests.

       Normally we do this:

          1) compile
          2) test

        Now we do this:

          1) test
          2) compile
          3) nothing - don't need to do the unit tests -

Note3: Erl2 has no macros - they are not necessary
       the section called metaprogramming above explains this

Have fun ...

(Ps if anybody want to compile all.gen - please feel free - I'm a bit
busy this week)


More information about the erlang-questions mailing list