Wednesday, March 25, 2009

First hand experience with FP

Three years ago, yes i think it's been 3-4 years since dipping my fingers in the world of Functional Programming. Although XSLT is not a functional language but it strives to follow the FP guidelines and it is the weapon that I hold responsible for my First (FP) Blood.

I started using XSLT in .net, producing result sets in XML and writing XSLs for the visually appealing transformations. First it was simple if-else, for-each, using XQuery etc. but as soon as I stumbled upon variable assignment, I thought I caught a bug in XSLT, "I cannot reassign a variable, what's the use of the VARYiable then?"

Then I tried writing a for loop from a to b, I was troubled again. Soon I realized there was something different going on here and I would have to learn it properly before calling XSLT my preferred transformation language. At that time I read about functional language, which uptil then I thought was another name for procedural language. Satisfied, I went ahead with XSLT using recursion, template calling etc. techniques that were already taught to me but as an alternative to normal programming construct and not as a measure to make out of reassignment restrictions.

After that I forgot about FP and went on with life, rejoicing references, reassignments, reflection and then I heard about closures (around a year and a half ago) and people talking about forcing it somehow in the beautiful, simple, verbose Java language. At that time, I could not get a hang of it and went on with life. Then came the Scala buzz, I was always a great advocate of static typing and Scala being termed as the 'statically typed dynamic language' attracted me. After some days of learning I came to know about the FP fundamentals, side-effects, currying, closures etc. aside from being refreshing, these concepts enabled me to realize the modularization of functional behavior, an essential requirement in a good design that no OOP design pattern has been able to solve in a concise manner.

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