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I've been working on a side project project in elixir for the past month. My initial impression is that I like it. It's fun.

Functional pipelines and pattern matching make expressing logic concise. Pipelines solve the problem of lots of nested function calls becoming hard to read. For example, my project has logic that creates a thumbnail image. It does the following:

  1. Get file path
  2. Open an image
  3. Convert it to .png
  4. Resize it to 250x250
  5. Fix orientation
  6. Save it

To do this in a another language might look like:

save(orient(resize(convert(open("file.jpg"), ".png"), "250x250"), "/thumbnail/path"))

One way to refactor this would be to create a few create intermediate variables. However, naming things is hard, so I prefer to inline expressions whenever possible.

Here's what I wrote:

|> get_full_upload_path
|> Mogrify.open()
|> Mogrify.format(thumb_format())
|> Mogrify.resize_to_fill("#{thumb_x()}x#{thumb_y()}")
|> Mogrify.auto_orient()
|> Mogrify.save(path: get_full_thumbnail_path(file_ref))

This looks and works a bit like chaining methods in an object oriented language. It's passing the result of the previous function as the first argument to the next function.

Pattern matching is another great feature. It lets the programmer describe what kind of data can pass without declaring explicit types.

For example, here is some code from my project that extracts tags from different structures:

def extract_tags(content) when is_binary(content) do
  Regex.scan(~r/#([a-zA-Z0-9]{2,})/, content)
  |> Enum.flat_map(fn [_, match] -> [String.downcase(match)] end)
  |> Enum.uniq()

def extract_tags(%Purple.Activities.Run{} = run) do

def extract_tags(%Purple.Board.Item{} = item) do
  |> Enum.reduce(
    fn entry, acc ->
      acc ++ extract_tags_from_markdown(entry.content)
  |> Enum.uniq()

Here I'm declaring multiple functions with the same name that have different parameters. Elixir will pick the one that matches when the function is called. This lets me avoid declaring a bunch of functions like extract_tags_from_string, extract_tags_from_run, extract_tags_from_item, etc.

This language construct can take care of most control flow. For example, instead of an if or a switch statement:

defp page_title(item_id, :show), do: "Item #{item_id}"
defp page_title(item_id, :edit_item), do: "Edit Item #{item_id}"
defp page_title(_, :create_entry), do: "Create Item Entry"
defp page_title(_, :edit_entry), do: "Edit Item Entry"

This coupled with functional pipelines result in flat code. Nice!

The real killer feature of Elixir is the community and ecosystem. Everyone is friendly, and there are quite a few polished packages available.

Phoenix is probably the most well known library. It's actively developed by some of the same folks who worked on Ruby on Rails. This framework makes developing web applications a joy. Some highlights are:

  1. Simplicity - it's easy to find out what's going on under the hood
  2. Ecto - This ORM is awesome
  3. LiveView - Write a SPA without any JavaScript!
  generated with    29.0.50 9.5.2 on 05/12/22