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The Curse of the Excluded Middle

By Erik Meijer

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 57 No. 6, Pages 50-55

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There is a trend in the software industry to sell "mostly functional" programming as the silver bullet for solving problems developers face with concurrency, parallelism (manycore), and, of course, big data. Contemporary imperative languages could continue the ongoing trend, embrace closures, and try to limit mutation and other side effects. Unfortunately, just as "mostly secure" does not work, "mostly functional" does not work either. Instead, developers should seriously consider a completely fundamentalist option as well: embrace pure lazy functional programming with all effects explicitly surfaced in the type system using monads.

Like dieters falling for magic 10-minute-miracle exercise gadgets, developers seem ready to fall for easy solutions to the latest crises in their field. Recently, many are touting "nearly functional programming" and "limited side effects" as the perfect weapons against the new elephants in the room: concurrency and parallelism. Few want to accept that the benefits necessarily come at the cost of the convenience of latent effects in common operations such as I/O, just as dieters would rather not admit that the benefits of exercise necessarily come at the cost of time and sweat.


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