Why No One Uses Functional Languages

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

To say that no one uses functional languages is an exaggeration. Phone calls in the European Parliament are routed by programs written in Ericsson's functional language Erlang. Virtual CDs are distributed on Cornell's network via the Ensemble system written in INRIA's CAML, and real CDs are shipped by Polygram in Europe using Software AG's Natural Expert. Functional languages are the language of choice for writing theorem provers, including the HOL system which helped debug the design of the HP 9000 line of multiprocessors. These applications and others are described in a previous column [1].

Still ... I work at Bell Labs, where C and C++ were invented. Compared to users of C, "no one" is a tolerably accurate count of the users of functional languages.

Advocates of functional languages claim they produce an order of magnitude improvement in productivity. Experiments don't always verify that figure -- sometimes they show an improvement of only a factor of four. Still, code that's four times as short, four times as quick to write, or four times easier to maintain is not to be sniffed at. So why aren't functional languages more widely used?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-27
Number of pages5
JournalACM Sigplan Notices
Volume33
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1998

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