How to Get Started with Functional Programming

20 February5 min read
How to Get Started with Functional Programming

There are many ways of writing code and there are many programming languages in today’s world. Most popular types of programming are Functional programming and object-oriented programming. Functional programming is a paradigm of computer programming that emphasizes the use of functions to operate on data. It is based on mathematical functions and is characterized using pure functions, immutability, and recursion. In functional programming, the focus is on what needs to be done, rather than how it should be done. This approach is gaining popularity among developers as it allows for more reliable and maintainable code. 

What types of programming exist?

Besides functional programming and object-oriented programming which we have covered in this article. There are many more programming paradigms. To mention a few - imperative programming, declarative, structured programming, etc. 

Imperative programming - focused on how the software operates step by step. It uses statements that change the software’s state. 

Declarative programming - focused on what the software should accomplish without specifying details of how the software should accomplish its target 

Structured programming -focuses on breaking down a program into smaller, manageable parts. It is aimed at improving the quality and development time of the software. It extensively uses structure control flow, construct selections, block structures, and subroutines. It is mainly used with deviations.  

While each of these paradigms has its own strengths and weaknesses, functional programming can be seen as a combination of the benefits of declarative and structured programming. 

There are many functional programming languages that can be used in many programs and business cases. You must decide which one you would like to learn more about and which one you will start with. We recommend getting familiar with the most popular ones initially and then digging into the functional programming depths.  

  • Erlang - this is a general purposes programming language. It is fault-tolerant and is used to build scalable and massive real-time systems with high availability requirements. It is used primarily in the telecommunications industry.
  • Elixir - this is the predecessor of Erlang. It is used to build maintainable and scalable solutions. You can say that Elixir is innovative for software development, because of its unique features such as fault tolerance and introspecting errors. Elixir is mainly used in web development, embedded systems, data ingestions, and fintech industries.
  • Haskell - the best functional language for academic research and industrial application. Haskell is designed to handle a wide range of applications. It has an expressive syntax and rich inbuilt architecture. Haskell-written software is like mathematical functions. Did you know that Facebook uses Haskell to fight spam?
  • Rust - It is a general-purpose programming language. Rust also offers scalability as a functional programming language. It is also a great programming language for collaboration between large teams of developers with varying levels of programming knowledge. Primarily used in large corporations, embedded devices, and scalable web services.

These languages all offer unique benefits to developers and the systems they are used to create. 

How to get started with functional programming

  • Get familiar with the concepts

It would be easier to get into if you knew the paradigm behind them. Ask questions like: “What are pure functions?” or “Why can’t I assign a new value to a variable (in purely functional languages)?" 

  • Choose the language

There are many functional programming languages. We have already stated some of the most popular ones. If you’re an individual that is looking for a hobby you can start with any language you like! If you’re more interested in working with the technologies, finding a job, or having any business perspective, you might want to research the market first, and see what is needed and well paying. 

  • Start the learning process

Congrats! You’ve picked the programming language. Now comes the hard part! If you’re familiar with Object Oriented Programming (OOP) you will most likely have a hard time adapting to the new paradigms in functional programming. In functional programming, functions are the primary building blocks and the core concept. You should definitely get familiar with pure functions, immutability, and recursion. These concepts are the foundation of functional programming and will help you understand how to write code in a functional style. 

  • You could also find a course

There are many resources on any programming language you would want to learn! Some of the most popular ways of learning, well, anything, is to watch videos related to the given topic. For example, there are complete courses on YouTube for all functional programming languages. You can also use platforms like Udemy, Coursera, and EdX.  

  • Looking for resources

Each language has a well-developed community where you can find various resources for learning. This includes: 

  • Forums and groups on social media, for example, Stack Overflow, Reddit LinkedIn, Discord
  • Blogs and websites - there often are specific websites for the specific programming language.
  • Books and online courses - you can go to your local bookstore or library and find a book that fits your needs. If you’re more of a digital person, you can always find books in digital format, some of which are free.

One of the best ways to start, according to us, is to find the communities and resources that are close to your level of knowledge and interest. 

Start experimenting 

After gaining a solid understanding of the basics, you can start working on your own projects in order to improve your skills. Practicing is essential in becoming a master of any programming language. It's important to remember that the best way to become proficient in a language is to use it regularly, work on projects, and seek out feedback from other experienced developers. 

Note: It is beneficial to create an architecture for your project based on the paradigms in functional programming. This will help you maintain and evolve the project over time, making it easier to understand and debug. 

To keep going with functional programming

As we said - practice is the key. If you found your language and your niche and you want to keep on going - just start becoming part of the community. Keep in touch with fellow developers that are in the same industry and are interested in the same languages as you. This way you will be exchanging experiences and ideas. Be present at conferences, talks, meetings, etc. You will meet new people from the industry and it will be easier for you to get advice from someone more experienced than you. It's also important to keep a personal project or work on open-source projects to keep your skills sharp and help others. 

Good luck!