[erlang-questions] Go vs Erlang for distribution

Alexei Sholik alcosholik@REDACTED
Sun Jun 22 00:43:49 CEST 2014


Let me say from the beginning that this is not meant as a flame post. I'm
genuinely interested in some issues related to Erlang's adoption and how
people outside of its community see its fitness for the domain where the
insiders know it shines – building distributed systems.

My questions have been prompted by the apparent appeal of Go as a suitable
tool for that exact domain. I have noticed the appeal being expressed both
outside and _inside_ Erlang community (will explain soon).

The reason for my asking on this particular list is twofold:

  1. After discovering Erlang (not just the language, but in the wider
sense: Erlang VM, OTP, its founding principles) I see it as a great fit for
building distributed systems that can survive and auto-recover from various
kinds of failures. It has also been proven over the years of being used in
production. Erlang experts are the kind of people to go to when looking for
an advice in this area.

  2. In his recent talk at EUC Garrett Smith showed us an interesting
slide[1] where Go appears to be one of the primary alternatives to Erlang,
as chosen by _Erlang programmers themselves_. To me this implies that
Erlang programmers have found in Go some of the principles Erlang builds
upon, the fact I'm going to dispute below.

  [1]: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Bqr9xJJIgAIUewQ.png:large

So now comes the question: what do Erlang programmers think about Go
stealing some of the mindshare (and job-share) in the area of building
distributed systems? Why would if be a good option? Or not an option at
all? Just professional opinions based on your experience with Erlang please.

Let me explain what suggests Go might be a viable alternative:

  * the slide mentioned above
  * Go has been used for teaching distributed systems at the Carnegie
Mellon University since 2011. (Go 1 was release in early 2012) See this
blog from the teacher:
  * increased activity on projects such as libswarm[2], libchan[3], there
are more.

  [2]: https://github.com/docker/libswarm
  [3]: https://github.com/docker/libchan

If you haven't been keeping up with Go, here's a brief overview of its

  * imperative, statically typed, garbage collected, lower level than
scripting languages, but higher level than C
  * builtin concurrency with lightweight processes (called goroutines)
which are scheduled cooperatively
  * single address space for all goroutines (modifying shared data is
discouraged, but possible); hence no isolation
  * goroutines have no identity, communication between them is only
possible through channels; hence no ability to monitor or link to
goroutines, so no supervision
  * writing to a channel is always synchronous; it is possible to make a
buffered channel, but once the buffer is full, the next goroutine trying to
write to it will block
  * all errors must be handled explicitly; can be done at goroutine level
by setting up a catch-all handler. But crashing in the catch-call handler
will crash the goroutine. And crashing a goroutine crashes the whole
program. No Erlang-style "let it crash" or "let someone else handle errors"

>From this short survey Go looks more like the ultimate antagonist to
Erlang, or at least its philosophy. What could justify its being chosen as
an _alternative_ to Erlang?

Sorry if it turned out a bit too long. Ultimately, I'm curious about the
reasons Go appears in a huge font on Garrett's slide. Also, finding out why
Go has seen a tremendous growth in just 2 years since initial stable
release and is already seen as a good fit for tasks Erlang is considered
the best tool in these circles might shed some light on which steps Erlang
community could take to increase the awareness about its merits (especially
in the light of a few recent threads on this list).

This ended up rather convoluted, I know. If it was the wrong place to bring
up this topic, I apologize. Feel free to ignore this thread in that case.

Thanks for reading this far.

Best regards
Alexei Sholik
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