A Pythonista's Impressions of Erlang

Ulf Wiger (AL/EAB) ulf.wiger@REDACTED
Thu Jan 13 11:27:03 CET 2005

> I went through the thread and was pleasently surprised as i 
> think it turned out pretty nice, but I noted that while people
> ragged on the guys understanding of erlang (at least from my 
> viewpoint it seemed like ragging) 

Was that the blog thread or the thread on this list?

I didn't interpret any of it as ragging, really, but perceptions
are quite individual. We all need to be reminded sometimes to be
absolutely clear about our intentions.

There were broken links. Bill happened to stumble across some 
fairly new ones -- in the Erlang Reference Manual. They should 
of course be fixed. The Erlang Reference Manual is a reasonable
early entry point for newbies. It was clear from the blog that
it was about his first impressions, not having spent that much
time on it. But making a good first impression is crucial
(and quite difficult as well.)

I also think that there is good reason to add a readily available
tutorial on how to interpret error messages. Once you know what
to look for, they are excellent (unless you get a huge error 
message with bad or no formatting, which happens sometimes.)
Having looked briefly at Python's error messages, they seem to
carry roughly the same information as Erlang's error messages,
but they are pretty printed (translated to English) in the 
shell. I can see why a Python programmer is not immediately
impressed by Erlang's error messages, esp. since you have to 
dig into chapter 9.2 of the Erlang Reference Manual to find
some (quite terse) hints on how to interpret them.

There should be a top level link pointing to a tutorial on
how to interpret error messages.

It's been a commonly held opinion for many years that while 
Erlang/OTP has quite good reference documentation, it's 
weak on tutorials and introductory material. This situation
has been significantly improved in the last few releases, but
there is no reason to declare victory just yet. People from
other programming community to well to advice us where we're
not quite up to par with the rest.

During the late 90's, relatively few people picked up Erlang
and ran with it after self-study from material on the web
(well, before 1998, there was nothing to run with, unless you
paid for it or worked in a University environment.) The vast
majority of erlang programmers were Ericsson engineers, who
were sent to a set of courses in order to learn. Thus, 
Ericsson had reasonably extensive course material for Erlang
and OTP. Some of it has been adapted and released at erlang.org

While theoretically, the course material could be donated to 
the Open Source community, I can see several reasons not to 
do this. One such reason is that there are companies who have
actually paid significant money for the right to use the 
material when teaching Erlang courses. The most decent thing
to do is therefore to develop new introductory material which
can be made freely available.


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