The Role of Erlang in Programming Blockchains
Learn more about functional programming and Erlang for blockchain development.
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With the advent of blockchain technology, we’re witnessing an explosion of interest in bringing to life the decentralized applications of the future. Some of the best-known programming languages used in the development of blockchain platforms are object-oriented languages. Languages such as C++, Python, and the purpose-built Solidity have so far dominated the blockchain scene.
Functional programming languages are quickly becoming a developer’s first choice when building Dapps, as they largely influence what can and can’t be done, and possess unique features that help them exhibit important comparative advantages.
In the following article, we’ll discuss why functional programming language – specifically, Erlang – makes it uniquely suitable for the development of distributed ledger protocols and smart contracts.
Why Functional Programming Languages?
Functional programming languages make certain trade-offs that outperform others in certain areas. Erlang is particularly well-suited to building robust back-ends for multi-use computing systems – in fact, 90 percent of Internet traffic is currently routed through Erlang-running nodes. The language is geared at scalability, high availability, and real-time responses.
Effective blockchain systems need to achieve scale while remaining decentralized – traditionally, this has proved difficult as scalability often comes at the cost of having a handful of select parties processing information and serving it to satellite nodes in a ‘hub and spoke’ formation. For peer-to-peer networks in a blockchain ecosystem, it’s critical that each node is capable of handling the same functions as its peers.
Erlang significantly reduces this burden with inherent fault tolerance – that is, it allows processes to continue functioning even in the case of failure of certain operations, greatly increasing the uptime of the system as a whole (code is hot-swappable, meaning that ‘live’ updates can be pushed to operations during runtime). Strong pattern matching capabilities and inbuilt functions allow for concise and compact logic to be crafted and executed, and because variables in functional programming are not mutable, errors are more easily predicted and mitigated.
Of course, familiarity with a language is equally required to attract developers to build on top of a system – Erlang supports interfacing with the likes of Rust, C, and C++.
Building for Efficiency
The features baked into Erlang should appeal to blockchain developers from the get-go. The advantages of functional programming languages shine in distributed systems where hundreds (or thousands) of different machines need to constantly pass information between themselves. While object-oriented languages like Python or Java make use of data structures (‘objects’) to aggregate data and behaviors, functional languages separate these in the interest of clarity. Moreover, data in OOP languages tend to be mutable, which is not the case for functional ones.
Erlang is considered a superior language, especially when it comes to developing back-end systems that require:
- A huge amount of concurrent activity
- Real-time responses
- Non-stop operation and fault tolerance
Functional programming languages in the blockchain space are taking off as the tool of choice for robust protocols and smart contract scripting (both Cardano and Tezos have opted for this approach). Already, a number of promising teams are working to create blockchains from functional programming languages, whether by deploying existing ones or designing new ones from the principles of those widely adopted.
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