Is Erlang relevant in 2024?

January 26, 2024

Originally developed in the 1980s by Ericsson for building telecommunication systems, Erlang has made a lasting impact due to its unique design principles and emphasis on solving real-world challenges.

 

Historical significance

Erlang’s journey begins with its creation at Ericsson, where the need for a language capable of handling concurrent, distributed systems led to its inception. The language was initially designed to address the demanding requirements of telecommunication infrastructure, showcasing its robustness in managing numerous concurrent processes and ensuring fault tolerance.

 

Notable use cases

Over the years, Erlang has found its way into diverse industries, proving its mettle in areas such as telecommunications, finance, and web development. Its concurrency model, fault tolerance mechanisms, and lightweight processes have made it particularly well-suited for systems that demand high availability and responsiveness.

 

Relevance in 2024

Is Erlang still relevant in the rapidly evolving landscape of modern software development? In an era dominated by an array of programming languages and technologies, this blog post will explore Erlang’s strengths, applications, and potential challenges to determine whether it continues to be a valuable tool for developers navigating the complex demands of contemporary computing. Let’s delve into the exploration of Erlang’s journey and assess its standing in the intricate mosaic of programming languages.

 

Erlang’s origins and strengths

Erlang emerged from the laboratories of Ericsson in the late 1980s, crafted with a specific purpose in mind — to address the challenges of developing robust, concurrent, and fault-tolerant telecommunication systems. Its creation was driven by the need for a language that could handle the intricacies of managing numerous processes concurrently, ensuring high availability and fault tolerance in communication networks.

 

Design principles

At its core, Erlang is built upon a set of distinctive design principles that set it apart in the realm of programming languages. Its primary strengths lie in its elegant handling of concurrency, fault tolerance, and distributed computing. These design principles were not merely theoretical concepts but practical solutions to real-world problems encountered in the realm of telecommunications.

Concurrency

Erlang’s concurrency model is based on lightweight processes that are managed by the language’s runtime system. These processes are incredibly efficient, allowing for the creation of thousands of them without significant overhead. This approach facilitates the development of highly concurrent systems where each task can be executed independently.

 

Fault tolerance

One of Erlang’s standout features is its “Let it crash” philosophy, embracing errors rather than attempting to avoid them. By allowing processes to fail gracefully and restart independently, Erlang ensures that the overall system remains robust even in the face of errors. This fault-tolerant approach is vital in applications where uninterrupted operation is critical.

 

Distributed computing

Erlang’s design inherently supports distributed computing, allowing processes to communicate seamlessly across networked nodes. This feature is particularly valuable in scenarios where building scalable and fault-tolerant distributed systems is paramount, such as in telecommunications infrastructure.

 

Applications beyond telecommunications

While Erlang’s roots trace back to telecommunications, its strengths extend far beyond this niche. The language’s unique combination of concurrency, fault tolerance, and distributed capabilities has found applications in various domains, including financial systems, messaging platforms, and web development.

 

As we explore Erlang’s origins and strengths, it becomes evident that its design philosophy was ahead of its time, anticipating the needs of modern computing environments. In the following sections, we’ll delve deeper into Erlang’s relevance in 2024, examining how these foundational strengths continue to position it as a formidable tool in the ever-evolving landscape of software development.

 

Erlang in the tech industry

Erlang’s adaptability has transcended its origins in telecommunications, making a substantial impact in diverse sectors. In this section, we will unravel Erlang’s role in various industries, examining its continued relevance and the distinctive features that render it suitable for specific applications.

 

Telecommunications

Erlang’s initial stronghold remains robust, with telecommunications continuing to leverage its strengths. Its ability to handle a massive number of concurrent processes, coupled with fault tolerance, makes it indispensable in building communication systems that demand uninterrupted service and high reliability.

 

Finance

Erlang has found a niche in the financial sector, where low-latency and fault-tolerant systems are paramount. Its concurrent processing capabilities make it well-suited for applications such as high-frequency trading platforms, real-time risk analysis, and transaction processing.

 

Web development

In the realm of web development, Erlang/Elixir has made a notable mark, particularly with its web framework, Phoenix. The concurrency model and fault tolerance that define Erlang are advantageous in handling the concurrent connections and potential failures inherent in web applications. Notable projects using Phoenix include platforms requiring real-time features, like messaging and collaborative applications.

 

Notable companies and projects

As we navigate through 2024, several notable companies and projects continue to rely on Erlang. WhatsApp, one of the world’s largest messaging platforms, initially built its backend using Erlang. Ericsson, the birthplace of Erlang, still employs it in various telecommunication solutions. Additionally, platforms like RabbitMQ, a message broker, showcase Erlang’s prowess in handling distributed systems.

 

Unique features for specific applications

Erlang’s design principles cater to specific application requirements, offering unique features that set it apart. Its lightweight processes, message-passing concurrency model, and fault tolerance mechanisms make it particularly suitable for scenarios where system responsiveness, reliability, and fault tolerance are critical.

 

In this section, we’ve uncovered Erlang’s far-reaching impact, showcasing its relevance across industries and its application in mission-critical systems. As we proceed, we’ll delve deeper into Erlang’s unique strengths, exploring how they continue to position it as a valuable asset in the ever-evolving landscape of the technology industry.

 

Concurrency and fault tolerance

At the heart of Erlang’s success lies its revolutionary concurrency model. In Erlang, concurrency is achieved through lightweight processes, also known as actors. Unlike traditional threads, Erlang processes are incredibly lightweight, enabling the creation of thousands of them without the performance overhead associated with heavier threads. This design choice allows Erlang to excel in scenarios that demand high levels of concurrent execution.

 

Efficiency of lightweight processes

Erlang’s lightweight processes are managed by the Erlang Virtual Machine (BEAM). These processes communicate through message-passing, providing a mechanism for isolated and asynchronous execution. The efficiency of these processes is a game-changer, making Erlang well-suited for applications where responsiveness and concurrent task execution are paramount, such as telecommunications and distributed systems.

 

Fault tolerance and the “Let it crash” philosophy

Erlang takes a unique and pragmatic approach to handling errors through its “Let it crash” philosophy. Instead of meticulously trying to prevent every possible error, Erlang embraces the inevitability of failures. When an error occurs, the affected process is allowed to crash gracefully, and a new process is spawned to replace it. This approach ensures that errors are contained, allowing the system to recover swiftly.

 

Significance in modern software development

In the landscape of modern software development, where high availability and resilience are non-negotiable, Erlang’s concurrency model and fault tolerance mechanisms hold immense significance. Systems that require continuous operation, real-time responsiveness, and the ability to gracefully handle unexpected errors benefit greatly from Erlang’s design principles.

 

Scenarios demanding fault tolerance

  1. Telecommunications infrastructure: Erlang’s roots in telecommunications highlight its prowess in managing the complexities of communication networks, where uninterrupted service is critical.
  2. Distributed systems: Erlang’s design lends itself well to distributed computing, making it an ideal choice for building scalable and fault-tolerant distributed systems.
  3. Real-time applications: In scenarios like financial systems or web applications requiring real-time features, Erlang’s ability to handle concurrent tasks without compromising performance is a distinct advantage.

 

As we delve deeper into Erlang’s concurrency and fault tolerance, it becomes evident that these features are not just historical artifacts but pillars of strength that continue to shape Erlang’s relevance in the evolving landscape of software development in 2024.

 

Elixir and the BEAM Virtual Machine

In recent years, the Erlang ecosystem has experienced a revitalization with the emergence of Elixir, a modern and dynamic programming language designed to run on the Erlang Virtual Machine (BEAM). Elixir, created by José Valim, brings a fresh perspective to the Erlang ecosystem, combining the battle-tested reliability of Erlang with a more approachable and modern syntax.

 

Modern syntax and developer appeal

Elixir inherits Erlang’s concurrency model, fault tolerance, and distributed computing capabilities but introduces a syntax that resonates with a broader developer audience. With a focus on readability and expressiveness, Elixir’s syntax is more familiar to developers coming from languages like Ruby or Python. This has contributed to Elixir’s growing popularity and its ability to attract a diverse community of developers.

 

Extending Erlang’s capabilities

Elixir not only inherits Erlang’s strengths but also extends its capabilities. The metaprogramming features of Elixir allow developers to write expressive and concise code, enhancing productivity without sacrificing the underlying reliability of the BEAM VM. Elixir’s tooling, documentation, and community support contribute to a robust development ecosystem.

 

The BEAM Virtual Machine’s continued relevance

The BEAM Virtual Machine, initially designed to execute Erlang code efficiently, has proven to be a versatile and enduring platform. Its continued relevance is highlighted by its seamless integration with Elixir, demonstrating the adaptability of Erlang’s runtime environment.

 

Supporting both Erlang and Elixir

The BEAM VM serves as a unifying foundation for both Erlang and Elixir, allowing interoperability between the two languages. This interoperability is not merely a technical feat; it symbolizes the longevity and adaptability of the BEAM VM, providing developers with the freedom to choose the language that best suits their preferences while maintaining compatibility with existing Erlang systems.

 

Developer choice and flexibility

The introduction of Elixir adds a layer of choice and flexibility for developers within the Erlang ecosystem. Whether leveraging Erlang’s historical strengths or adopting the modern syntax of Elixir, developers can make decisions based on project requirements, team expertise, and individual preferences.

 

As we explore Elixir and the BEAM Virtual Machine, it becomes evident that this symbiotic relationship represents a harmonious blend of Erlang’s established strengths and Elixir’s modern appeal. Together, they offer a powerful and flexible platform for building scalable, fault-tolerant, and concurrent systems, reinforcing the enduring relevance of the Erlang ecosystem in the technological landscape of 2024.

 

Community and open source ecosystem

The strength of any programming language extends beyond its syntax and features; it lies in the vibrant community that fosters collaboration, innovation, and continuous improvement. In this section, we delve into the current state of the Erlang community, examining its health, activity, and the collaborative spirit that defines it.

 

Assessing community health

The Erlang community has proven resilient and continues to thrive. Online forums, mailing lists, and social media platforms are buzzing with discussions, questions, and shared insights. The health of a community is often reflected in the frequency of updates, and Erlang, along with its ecosystem, sees regular releases, showcasing the ongoing commitment of the community.

 

Open source ecosystem

Erlang’s open-source nature has been a driving force behind its evolution. The language itself is open source, allowing developers to contribute, explore, and tailor it to their needs. Additionally, a myriad of open-source libraries and frameworks complement Erlang, addressing various aspects of software development. These contributions empower developers to build upon the collective knowledge and expertise of the community.

 

Exploring Erlang’s libraries

The open-source ecosystem surrounding Erlang is enriched by a plethora of libraries that extend its functionality. Libraries like Cowboy for web server development, Ecto for database interactions, and RabbitMQ for messaging illustrate the diverse range of tools available. These libraries are not static; they evolve with the changing needs of the community, ensuring that Erlang remains a versatile language for a wide array of applications.

 

Community engagement

Engagement within the Erlang community goes beyond code contributions. Events such as conferences, meetups, and workshops provide platforms for knowledge exchange and networking. The community’s commitment to sharing experiences and insights contributes to the collective growth of Erlang developers worldwide.

 

As we assess the community and open-source ecosystem, it is clear that the Erlang community’s collaborative spirit and commitment to open source play a pivotal role in the language’s enduring relevance.

 

Case studies and success stories

To truly understand the enduring relevance and impact of Erlang in 2024, let’s explore compelling case studies and success stories of projects that have harnessed Erlang’s unique strengths to achieve remarkable outcomes. These examples illustrate the diverse range of applications where Erlang continues to thrive.

 

WhatsApp’s messaging platform

  • Achievements: WhatsApp, one of the world’s most widely used messaging platforms, built its backend infrastructure using Erlang. This choice allowed WhatsApp to provide seamless, real-time communication to billions of users worldwide.
  • Advantages: Erlang’s concurrency model and fault tolerance were instrumental in ensuring uninterrupted service, even during peak usage periods. The ability to handle a massive number of concurrent connections made Erlang a natural fit for WhatsApp’s high-performance requirements.

 

Ericsson’s telecommunication solutions

  • Achievements: Ericsson, the birthplace of Erlang, continues to leverage the language in various telecommunication solutions. Erlang’s reliability and ability to handle concurrent processes make it a preferred choice for building communication infrastructure.
  • Advantages: In the realm of telecommunications, where reliability is paramount, Erlang’s “Let it crash” philosophy and lightweight processes contribute to fault tolerance and continuous operation.

 

Discord’s real-time messaging

  • Achievements: Discord, a widely used platform for real-time communication, relies on Elixir/Erlang to manage its messaging infrastructure. Elixir’s/Erlang’s capabilities contribute to Discord’s ability to handle millions of simultaneous users engaging in real-time conversations.
  • Advantages: Elixir’s/Erlang’s fault-tolerant design ensures that disruptions are isolated and contained, preserving the overall stability of Discord’s messaging services.

 

Common themes in success

These case studies share common themes that underline Erlang’s success in diverse applications:

  • Concurrency and scalability: Erlang’s lightweight processes and message-passing concurrency model excel in scenarios that demand high levels of concurrency and scalability.
  • Fault tolerance: The “Let it crash” philosophy, coupled with the ability to gracefully handle errors, contributes to fault tolerance, ensuring continuous operation even in the face of unexpected issues.
  • Real-time responsiveness: Erlang’s design is well-suited for applications requiring real-time updates and responsiveness, making it a preferred choice for messaging platforms and live systems.

 

By examining these case studies, we gain valuable insights into Erlang’s continued relevance and effectiveness in addressing real-world challenges across different domains.

 

Conclusion

Our exploration into Erlang’s relevance in 2024 has traversed its origins, strengths, challenges, and future prospects. Let’s distill the key points and arrive at a conclusion that reflects the state of Erlang in the contemporary tech landscape.

 

Foundations of resilience

Erlang’s roots in the telecommunication industry birthed a language designed for reliability, fault tolerance, and distributed computing. These foundational principles have not only endured but have also paved the way for Erlang’s continued relevance in diverse applications.

 

Real-world triumphs

Real-world case studies exemplify Erlang’s triumphs in applications ranging from messaging platforms like WhatsApp to live scoring systems in sports media. The language’s concurrency model, fault tolerance, and real-time responsiveness shine in these success stories, demonstrating its enduring efficacy.

 

Erlang in 2024 and beyond

In conclusion, Erlang stands as a resilient and adaptable language that continues to carve its niche in the ever-evolving tech landscape of 2024. Its relevance is not just a testament to its historical strengths but also to its ability to evolve and address the challenges of modern software development.

 

Consideration for developers

As developers contemplate their toolset for building scalable, fault-tolerant systems, Erlang beckons with its unique set of strengths. Whether in telecommunications, real-time messaging, or other distributed applications, Erlang’s principles offer a robust foundation for developers seeking reliability and performance.

 

Embrace the Erlang advantage

In your development journey, consider the advantages Erlang brings to the table — concurrency, fault tolerance, and distributed capabilities. Reflect on how these align with your project’s requirements and explore Erlang’s dynamic ecosystem, including the modern appeal of Elixir.

 

Closing thoughts

In the vibrant tapestry of programming languages, Erlang remains a distinctive process, weaving a narrative of resilience, triumphs, and ongoing evolution. The question of Erlang’s relevance in 2024 is met with a resounding affirmation — yes, and beyond. As you navigate the vast landscape of software development, may Erlang be a valuable ally in your quest for robust, fault-tolerant systems.

 

Additional resources

Check out the Ada Beat Functional Programming blog for more topics, including functional programming principles, summaries of MeetUps, language specific articles, and much more. Whether you’re interested in functional programming theory or practical application, we have something for everyone.