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There is an Erlang community, it’s just smaller than you’re used to

Posted: August 26th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Erlang, Open Source | 78 Comments »

I thought I’d pick a nit with something that Ted Leung mentioned in his response to Sam Ruby’s response to Russ’ original post about Java needing an overhaul.

Particularly this comment about the Erlang community:

This is actually 2 problems. There’s the issue with the libraries, and there’s the issue with the community that did/didn’t produce the libraries. We don’t just need a technology, we need a community. Hmm, Erlang lab, anyone?

I’d like to assert that there is a vibrant Erlang community, it’s just smaller than you’re used to, and might be a little harder to find than most.

I’ve been lurking, participating, and sharing what I’ve learned in #erlang on irc.freenode.net since the Erlang movie blew my mind. I started tinkering with Erlang and the PDF for Programming Erlang came out a few days later. I still consider myself an Erlang noob. I still ask questions with obvious answers, spend hours trying to do something that should have taken 5 minutes, and sometimes don’t do things in the most Erlangish manner.

But the Erlang community has been great to me. Whenever I ask a question in #erlang, I almost always get the answer I was looking for, whether it’s a pointer to a specific part of the Erlang docs, a snippet of code, an opinion on the best way to do something, or a link to a blog post that has the answer. I’ve been around long enough that I can offer the same to people who are just picking up Programming Erlang and are running in to the same things I was a month or two back.

If you don’t think there’s an Erlang community, please come by #erlang and spend some time. They’ve been one of the most helpful communities I’ve ever been a part of. Activity is currently skewed more towards the European timezones, but as the community grows and more people across the world pick up Erlang that’s changing.

There’s also a pretty huge community outside of IRC. I’ve been subscribed to erlang-questions, the most active Erlang mailing list for a month or two too. The solution to one of my problems with bit syntax was asked and answered before I even knew that’s what I wanted. I’ve also learned a lot of things about Erlang that I wouldn’t have otherwise from the mailing list.

The community doesn’t stop there. Head over to trapexit.org and check out the Wiki and the forums. When you’re done there, check out the packages available at CEAN (the smaller Erlang counterpart of CPAN). There are lots of libraries included here if that’s what you’re looking for. Anything in CEAN can be installed from within the Erlang shell.

If you’re looking for libraries, don’t forget to check out Erlang’s module documentation. It’s far from Python’s batteries included, but there’s more there than it gets credit for. Aside from a distributed database there are TCP and UDP socket libraries, an http client and server, an XML library and support for SNMP and SSH. You’ll find many more protocol implementations at CEAN while the building blocks reside in Erlang’s standard library. Other places to look for sample code or libraries is Jungerl, a loosely knit collection of useful (but sometimes aging) libraries and applications, or Google Code.

While many third party Erlang libraries feel like they’re at the 0.1 stage (and many are simply because their authors are new to Erlang), don’t forget about the polished apps and libraries. I’m specifically thinking of ejabberd, RabbitMQ, YAWS, and Wings3D to name a few. Also worth a specific mention is ErlyWeb and the several libraries that it is built on top of.

So yes: the Erlang community is quite small. Think Python 10-12 years ago or Ruby before the Rails. But don’t pretend that it doesn’t exist, because while tiny, it’s vibrant and extremely helpful.