Search the FAQ Archives

3 - A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M
N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z - Internet FAQ Archives

comp.lang.functional Frequently Asked Questions (monthly posting)

[ Usenet FAQs | Web FAQs | Documents | RFC Index | Zip codes ]
Archive-name: func-lang-faq
Last-modified: August 1, 1999

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge

             Frequently Asked Questions for comp.lang.functional

             Edited by Graham Hutton, University of Nottingham

                         Version of 1st August 1999

         0. New this month                  5. Languages
                                                 5.1. ASpecT
         1. This document                        5.2. Caml
                                                 5.3. Clean
         2. General topics                       5.4. Erlang
              2.1. Functional languages          5.5. FP
              2.2. History and motivation        5.6. Gofer
              2.3. Textbooks                     5.7. Haskell
              2.4. Journals and conferences      5.8. Hope
              2.5. Schools and workshops         5.9. Hugs
              2.6. Education                     5.10. Id
                                                 5.11. J
         3. Technical topics                     5.12. Miranda(TM)
              3.1. Purity                        5.13. Mercury
              3.2. Currying                      5.14. ML
              3.3. Monads                        5.15. NESL
              3.4. Parsers                       5.16. OPAL
              3.5. Strictness                    5.17. Oz
              3.6. Performance                   5.18. Pizza
              3.7. Applications                  5.19. Scheme
                                                 5.20. Sisal
         4. Other resources
              4.1. Web pages
              4.2. Research groups
              4.3. Newsgroups
              4.4. Bibliographies
              4.5. Translators


0. New this month

   * No changes this month.


1. This document

Comp.lang.functional is an unmoderated usenet newsgroup for the discussion
of all aspects of functional programming languages, including their design,
application, theoretical foundation, and implementation. Articles posted to
this (and other) newsgroups are archived on the web at:

This document is a Frequently Asked Questions list (FAQ) for
comp.lang.functional, and provides brief answers to a number of common
questions concerning functional programming languages, and some pointers to
relevant literature and internet resources. The latest version of this
document is available on the web from:

Much of the information in this document has been taken from public sources,
mostly from articles posted to comp.lang.functional. Because of the way that
this document was compiled, a complete list of contributors is not
available. Any opinions expressed in this document are those of the
individual contributors, and may not be representative of views of the
editor, or of others in the functional programming community. Every effort
has been made to ensure that the content of this document is correct and
up-to-date, but no guarantees are given for the accuracy of the information
provided here. Your corrections and contributions are encouraged!

The original version of this Frequently Asked Questions list was compiled
and edited by Mark P. Jones. All questions, comments, corrections, and
suggestions regarding this document should be addressed to the current
editor, Graham Hutton (email:


2. General topics

This section gives brief answers to a number of general questions concerning
functional programming languages, and some pointers to relevant literature
and internet resources.


2.1. Functional languages

What is a "functional programming language"?

Opinions differ, even within the functional programming community, on the
precise definition of what constitutes a functional programming language.
However, here is a definition that, broadly speaking, represents the kind of
languages that are discussed in comp.lang.functional:

     Functional programming is a style of programming that emphasizes
     the evaluation of expressions, rather than execution of commands.
     The expressions in these language are formed by using functions to
     combine basic values. A functional language is a language that
     supports and encourages programming in a functional style.

For example, consider the task of calculating the sum of the integers from 1
to 10. In an imperative language such as C, this might be expressed using a
simple loop, repeatedly updating the values held in an accumulator variable
total and a counter variable i:

     total = 0;
     for (i=1; i<=10; ++i)
        total += i;

In a functional language, the same program would be expressed without any
variable updates. For example, in Haskell, the result can be calculated by
evaluating the expression:

     sum [1..10]

Here, [1..10] is an expression that represents the list of integers from 1
to 10, while sum is a function that can be used to calculate the sum of an
arbitrary list of values.

The same idea could also be used in (strict) functional languages such as
SML or Scheme, but it is more common to find such programs written with an
explicit loop, often expressed recursively. Nevertheless, there is still no
need to update the values of the variables involved:


     let fun sum i tot = if i=0 then tot else sum (i-1) (tot+i)
     in sum 10 0


     (define sum
        (lambda (from total)
            (if (= 0 from)
                (sum (- from 1) (+ total from)))))
     (sum 10 0)

It is often possible to write functional-style programs in an imperative
language, and vice versa. It is then a matter of opinion whether a
particular language can be described as functional or not.


2.2. History and motivation

Where can I find out more about the history and motivation for functional

Here are two useful references:

   * "Conception, Evolution, and Application of Functional Programming
     Languages", Paul Hudak, ACM Computing Surveys, Volume 21, Number 3,
     pp.359-411, 1989.

   * "Why functional programming matters", John Hughes, The Computer
     Journal, Volume 32, Number 2, April 1989. Available on the web from:


2.3. Textbooks

Are there any textbooks about functional programming?

Yes, here are a selection:


   * "Introduction to functional programming using Haskell", 2nd edition,
     Richard Bird, Prentice Hall Europe, 1998. ISBN 0-13-484346-0.

   * "Haskell: The craft of functional programming", 2nd edition, Simon
     Thompson, Addison-Wesley, 1999. ISBN 0-201-34275-8. Further information
     is available on the web from:

   * "ML for the working programmer", 2nd Edition, L.C. Paulson, Cambridge
     University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-521-56543-X. Further information is
     available on the web from:

Algorithms and data structures:

   * "Purely functional data structures", Chris Okasaki, Cambridge
     University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-521-63124-6.

   * "Algorithms: A functional programming approach", Fethi Rabhi and Guy
     Lapalme, Addison-Wesley, 1999. ISBN 0-201-59604-0. Further information
     is available on the web from:


   * "The implementation of functional programming languages", Simon Peyton
     Jones, Prentice Hall, 1987. ISBN 0-13-453333-X.

   * "Compiling with continuations", Andrew Appel, Cambridge University
     Press, 1992. ISBN 0-521-41695-7. Further information is available on
     the web from:

There are several other textbooks available, particularly in the programming
and implementation categories. A comparison of a number of functional
programming textbooks is made in the following article:

   * "Comparative review of functional programming textbooks (Bailey, Bird
     and Wadler, Holyer, Paulson, Reade, Sokoloski, Wikstrom)", Simon
     Thompson, Computing Reviews, May 1992 (CR number 9205-0262).


2.4. Journals and conferences

Are there any journals and conferences about functional programming?

Yes, here are a selection:


   * The Journal of Functional Programming (JFP), published by Cambridge
     University Press. Further information is available on the web from:

   * The Journal of Functional and Logic Programming (JFLP), an electronic
     journal published by MIT Press, and available on the web from:

   * Lisp and Symbolic Computation, published by Kluwer.


   * The International Conference on Functional Programming (ICFP). This
     conference combines and replaces the earlier conferences on Lisp and
     Functional Programming (LFP), and Functional Programming Languages and
     Computer Architecture (FPCA). Further information about the next ICFP
     conference (September 1999 at the time of writing) is available on the
     web from:

   * Mathematics of Program Construction (MPC). Further information about
     the most recent MPC conference (June 1998 at the time of writing) is
     available on the web from:

   * Principles of Programming Languages (POPL). Further information about
     the next POPL conference (January 1999 at the time of writing) is
     available on the web from:

   * European Symposium on Programming (ESOP). Further information about the
     next ESOP conference (March 1999 at the time of writing) is available
     on the web from:

Most of these conferences have proceedings published by the ACM press, or in
the Springer Verlag LNCS (Lecture Notes in Computer Science) series.

In addition to the above, Philip Wadler edits a column on functional
programming for the Formal Aspects of Computer Science Newsletter, which is
published by the British Computing Society Formal Aspects of Computing group
and Formal Methods Europe.


2.5. Schools and workshops

Are there any schools and workshops on functional programming?

Yes, here are a selection:


   * The Third International Summer School on Advanced Functional
     Programming Techniques, September 12-19, 1998, Braga, Portugal. Further
     information is available on the web from:

   * Spring School on Advanced Functional Programming Techniques, May 24-31,
     1995, Baastad, Sweden. The proceedings of the school were published in
     the Springer Verlag LNCS (Lecture Notes in Computer Science) series,
     number 925.

   * The Second International Summer School on Advanced Functional
     Programming Techniques, August 25-30, 1996, Washington, USA. The
     proceedings of the school were published in the Springer Verlag LNCS
     (Lecture Notes in Computer Science) series, number 1129. Further
     information is available on the web from:


   * Third Haskell Workshop, October 1, 1999, Paris, France. Held in
     conjunction with ICFP'99. Further information is available on the web

   * Workshop on Algorithmic Aspects of Advanced Programming Languages,
     September 29-30, 1999, Paris, France. Further information is available
     on the web from:

   * 1st Scottish Functional Programming Workshop, August 29-September 1,
     1999, Stirling, Scotland. Further information is available on the web

   * From 1988 to 1998 the Glasgow functional programming group organised a
     yearly workshop in Scotland. Further information is available on the
     web from:

   * The 9th International Workshop on the Implementation of Functional
     Languages, Sept 10-12, 1997, St. Andrews, Scotland. Further information
     is available on the web from:

   * The Haskell Workshop, June 7, 1997, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Held is
     conjunction with ICFP'97. Further information is available on the web

   * The 2nd Fuji International Workshop on Functional and Logic
     Programming, November 1-4, 1996, Shonan Village, Japan. Further
     information is available on the web from:

   * The 1st Workshop on Functional Programming in Argentina, September 12,
     1996, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Further information is available on the
     web from:


2.6. Education

Are functional programming languages useful in education?

Functional languages are gathering momentum in education because they
facilitate the expression of concepts and structures at a high level of
abstraction. Many university computing science departments now make use of
functional programming in their undergraduate courses; indeed, a number of
departments teach a functional language as their first programming language.
Further information about the use of functional programming languages in
education (including links to relevant conferences and workshops) is
available on the web from:


3. Technical topics

This section gives brief answers to a number of technical questions
concerning functional programming languages, and some pointers to relevant
literature and internet resources.


3.1. Purity

What is a "purely functional" programming language?

This question has been the subject of some debate in the functional
programming community. It is widely agreed that languages such as Haskell
and Miranda are "purely functional", while SML and Scheme are not. However,
there are some small differences of opinion about the precise technical
motivation for this distinction. One definition that has been suggested is
as follows:

     The term "purely functional" is often used to describe languages
     that perform all their computations via function application. This
     is in contrast to languages, such as Scheme and Standard ML, that
     are predominantly functional but also allow `side effects'
     (computational effects caused by expression evaluation that
     persist after the evaluation is completed).

     Sometimes, the term "purely functional" is also used in a broader
     sense to mean languages that might incorporate computational
     effects, but without altering the notion of `function' (as
     evidenced by the fact that the essential properties of functions
     are preserved.) Typically, the evaluation of an expression can
     yield a `task', which is then executed separately to cause
     computational effects. The evaluation and execution phases are
     separated in such a way that the evaluation phase does not
     compromise the standard properties of expressions and functions.
     The input/output mechanisms of Haskell, for example, are of this

See also:

   * "What is a purely functional language", Amr Sabry, Journal of
     Functional Programming, 8(1):1-22, Cambridge University Press, January


3.2. Currying

What is "currying", and where does it come from?

Currying has its origins in the mathematical study of functions. It was
observed by Frege in 1893 that it suffices to restrict attention to
functions of a single argument. For example, for any two parameter function
f(x,y), there is a one parameter function f' such that f'(x) is a function
that can be applied to y to give (f'(x))(y) = f (x,y). This corresponds to
the well known fact that the sets (AxB -> C) and (A -> (B -> C)) are
isomorphic, where "x" is cartesian product and "->" is function space. In
functional programming, function application is denoted by juxtaposition,
and assumed to associate to the left, so that the equation above becomes f'
x y = f(x,y).

Apparently, Frege did not pursue the idea further. It was rediscovered
independently by Schoenfinkel, together with the result that all functions
having to do with the structure of functions can be built up out of only two
basic combinators, K and S. About a decade later, this sparked off the
subject of combinatory logic, invented by Haskell Curry. The term "currying"
honours him; the function f' in the example above is called the "curried"
form of the function f. From a functional programming perspective, currying
can be described by a function:

     curry : ((a,b) -> c) -> (a -> b -> c)

The inverse operation is, unsurprisingly, refered to as uncurrying:

     uncurry : (a -> b -> c) -> ((a,b) -> c)

For further reading, see:

   * "Highlights of the history of the lambda-calculus", J. Barkley Rosser,
     ACM Lisp and Functional Programming, 1982.

   * "Ueber die Bausteine der mathematischen Logik", Moses Sch\"onfinkel,
     Mathematische Annalen, 92, 1924. An English translation, "On the
     building blocks of mathematical logic", appears in "From Frege to
     G\"odel", Jean van Heijenoort, Harvard University Press, Cambridge,

   * "Combinatory logic", Haskell B. Curry and Robert Feys, North-Holland,
     1958. This work also contains many references to earlier work by Curry,
     Church, and others.


3.3. Monads

What is a "monad", and what are they used for?

The concept of a monad comes from category theory; full details can be found
in any standard textbook on the subject. Much of the interest in monads in
functional programming is the result of recent papers that show how monads
can be used to describe all kinds of different programming language features
(for example, I/O, manipulation of state, continuations and exceptions) in
purely functional languages such as Haskell:

   * "Comprehending monads", Philip Wadler, Mathematical Structures in
     Computer Science, Special issue of selected papers from 6th Conference
     on Lisp and Functional Programming, 1992. Available on the web from:

   * "The essence of functional programming", Philip Wadler, Invited talk,
     19th Symposium on Principles of Programming Languages, ACM Press,
     Albuquerque, January 1992. Available on the web from:

   * "Imperative functional programming", Simon Peyton Jones and Philip
     Wadler, 20th Symposium on Principles of Programming Languages, ACM
     Press, Charlotte, North Carolina, January 1993. Available on the web

   * "How to declare an imperative", Philip Wadler, ACM Computing Surveys,
     to appear. Available on the web from:


3.4. Parsers

How can I write a "parser" in a functional programming language?

A parser is a program that converts a list of input tokens, usually
characters, into a value of the appropriate type. A simple example might be
a function to find the integer value represented by a string of digits. A
more complex example might be to translate programs written in a particular
concrete syntax into a suitable abstract syntax as the first stage in the
implementation of a compiler or interpreter. There are two common ways to
write a parser in a functional language:

   * Using a parser generator tool. Some functional language implementations
     support tools that generate a parser automatically from a specification
     of the grammar. See:

        o Happy: a parser generator system for Haskell and Gofer, similar to
          the tool `yacc' for C. Available on the web from:


        o Ratatosk: a parser and scanner generator for Gofer. Available by
          ftp from:

                Directory: /pub/diku/dists.

        o ML-Yacc and ML-Lex: an LALR parser generator and a lexical
          analyser generator for Standard ML. Included with SML/NJ,
          available by ftp from:

                Directory: /dist/smlnj.

   * Using combinator parsing. Parsers are represented by functions and
     combined with a small set of combinators, leading to parsers that
     closely resemble the grammar of the language being read. Parsers
     written in this way can use backtracking. See:

        o "How to replace failure with a list of successes", Philip Wadler,
          FPCA '85, Springer Verlag LNCS 201, 1985.

        o "Higher-order functions for parsing", Graham Hutton, Journal of
          Functional Programming, Volume 2, Number 3, July 1992. Available
          on the web from:



3.5. Strictness

What does it mean to say that a functional programming language is "strict"
or "non-strict"?

Here's one (operational) way to explain the difference:

   * In a strict language, the arguments to a function are always evaluated
     before it is invoked. As a result, if the evaluation of an expression
     exp does not terminate properly (for example, because it generates a
     run-time error or enters an infinite loop), then neither will an
     expression of the form f(exp). ML and Scheme are both examples of this.

   * In a non-strict language, the arguments to a function are not evaluated
     until their values are actually required. For example, evaluating an
     expression of the form f(exp) may still terminate properly, even if
     evaluation of exp would not, if the value of the parameter is not used
     in the body of f. Miranda and Haskell are examples of this approach.

There is much debate in the functional programming community about the
relative merits of strict and non-strict languages. It is possible, however,
to support a mixture of these two approaches; for example, some versions of
the functional language Hope do this.


3.6. Performance

What is the performance of functional programs like?

In some circles, programs written in functional languages have obtained a
reputation for lack of performance. Part of this results from the high-level
of abstraction that is common in such programs and from powerful features
such as higher-order functions, automatic storage management, etc. Of
course, the performance of interpreters and compilers for functional
languages keeps improving with new technological developments.

Here are a selection of references for further reading:

   * Over 25 implementations of different functional languages have been
     compared using a single program, the "Pseudoknot" benchmark, which is a
     floating-point intensive application taken from molecular biology. See:

        o "Benchmarking implementations of functional languages with
          'Pseudoknot', a float-intensive benchmark", Pieter H. Hartel et
          al, Journal of Functional Programming, 6(4):621-655, July 1996.
          Available on the web from:


   * The paper below compares five implementations of lazy functional

        o "Benchmarking implementations of lazy functional languages", P.H.
          Hartel and K.G. Langendoen, FPCA 93, ACM, pp 341-349. Available by
          ftp from:

                Directory: pub/functional/reports.

   * Experiments with a heavily optimising compiler for Sisal, a strict
     functional language, show that functional programs can be faster than
     Fortran. See:

        o "Retire FORTRAN? A debate rekindled", D.C. Cann, Communications of
          the ACM, 35(8), pp. 81-89, August 1992.

   * Postscript versions of a number of papers from the 1995 conference on
     High Performance Functional Computing (HPFC) are available on the web


3.7. Applications

Where can I find out about applications of functional programming?

Here are a selection of places to look:

   * "Special issue on state-of-the-art applications of pure functional
     programming languages", edited by Pieter Hartel and Rinus Plasmeijer,
     Journal of Functional Programming, Volume 5, Number 3, July 1995.

   * "Applications of functional programming", edited by Colin Runciman and
     David Wakeling, UCL Press, 1995. ISBN 1-85728-377-5.

   * An online list of real-world applications of functional programming is
     maintained, which includes programs written in several different
     functional languages. The main criterion for being considered a
     real-world application is that the program was written primarily to
     perform some task, rather than to experiment with functional

     Further details are available on the web from:


4. Other resources

This section gives some pointers to other internet resources on functional


4.1. Web pages

   * Philip Wadler's guide to functional programming on the web:

   * Philip Wadler's list of real-world application of functional

   * The SEL-HPC WWW functional programming archive:

   * Jon Mountjoy's functional languages page:

   * Claus Reinke's functional programming bookmarks:


4.2. Research groups

   * The Chalmers functional programming group:

   * The Glasgow functional programming group:

   * The Nijmegen functional programming group:

   * The Nottingham languages and programming group:

   * The St Andrews functional programming group:

   * The Yale functional programming group:

   * The York functional programming group:


4.3. Newsgroups

   * For discussion about ML:

   * For discussion about Scheme:


   * For discussion about Lisp:


   * For discussion about APL, J, etc:



4.4. Bibliographies

   * Mike Joy's bibliography on functional programming languages, in
     refer(1) format:

           Directory: /pub/biblio.

   * Tony Davie's bibliography of over 2,600 papers, articles and books on
     functional programming, available as a text file or a hypercard stack
     by ftp from:

           Directory: /pub/staple.

   * "State in functional programming: an annotated bibliography", edited by
     P. Hudak and D. Rabin, available as a dvi or postscript file by ftp

           Directory: /pub/yale-fp/papers.

   * Wolfgang Schreiner's annotated bibliography of over 350 publications on
     parallel functional programming (most with abstracts), available on the
     web from:


4.5. Translators

   * The smugweb system for typesetting Haskell code in TeX, available from:

   * The miratex package for typesetting Miranda(TM) code in TeX, available

   * Denis Howe's translators from Miranda(TM) to LML and Haskell, available



5. Languages

This section gives a brief overview of a number of programming languages
that support aspects of the functional paradigm, and some pointers to
relevant literature and internet resources. The table below classifies the
languages into strict/non-strict and sequential/concurrent, and may be
useful when searching for suitable languages for particular applications.
Some of the languages have multiple versions with different classifications
(see the language overviews for further details), but for simplicity only
the most common version of each language is considered in the table.

                  Sequential:  Concurrent:
      Strict:     ASpecT       Erlang
                  Caml         NESL
                  FP           Oz
                  J            Pizza
                  Mercury      Sisal
      Non-strict: Gofer        Clean
                  Haskell      Id


5.1. ASpecT

ASpecT is a strict functional language, developed at the University of
Bremen, originally intended as an attempt to provide an implementation for
(a subset of) Algebraic Specifications of Abstract Datatypes. The system was
designed to be as user-friendly as possible, including overloading
facilities and a source-level debugger. For reasons of efficiency, the
system uses call-by-value evaluation and reference counting memory

Over the years more and more features have been added, including subsorting,
functionals, and restricted polymorphism. The ASpecT compiler translates the
functional source code to C, resulting in fast and efficient binaries.
ASpecT has been ported to many different platforms, including Sun3, Sun4,
Dec VAX, IBM RS6000, NeXT, Apple A/UX, PC (OS/2, Linux), Amiga and Atari
ST/TT. The ASpecT compiler is available by ftp from:

      Host:      ftp.Uni-Bremen.DE;
      Directory: /pub/programming/languages/ASpecT.

The most important application of ASpecT to date is the interactive graph
visualization system daVinci; currently (September '96), version 2.0.x is
composed of 34.000 lines of ASpecT code, 12.000 lines of C code and 8000
lines of Tcl/Tk code. daVinci is an X11 program, and is available for UNIX
workstations from Sun, HP, IBM, DEC, SGI, and for Intel PCs with a UNIX
operating system. Further information about daVinci is available on the web



5.2. Caml

Caml is a dialect of the ML language developed at INRIA that does not comply
to the Standard, but actually tries to go beyond the Standard, in particular
in the areas of separate compilation, modules, and objects. Two
implementations of Caml are available:

   * The older implementation, Caml Light, is distinguished by its small
     size, modest memory requirements, availability on microcomputers,
     simple separate compilation, interface with C, and portable graphics
     functions. It runs on most Unix machines, on the Macintosh and on PCs
     under Ms Windows and MSDOS. The current version at the time of writing
     is 0.71.

   * A more ambitious implementation, Objective Caml (formerly known as Caml
     Special Light), is also available. It adds the following extensions to
     Caml Light:

        o Full support for objects and classes, here combined for the first
          time with ML-style type reconstruction;

        o A powerful module calculus in the style of Standard ML, but
          providing better support for separate compilation;

        o A high-performance native code compiler, in addition to a Caml
          Light-style bytecode compiler.

     Objective Caml is available for Unix and Windows 95/NT, with the
     native-code compiler supporting the following processors: Alpha, Sparc,
     Pentium, Mips, Power, HPPA.

Both implementations of Caml are available by ftp from:

      Directory: /lang/caml-light.

Further information about Caml is available on the web from: (English); (French).


5.3. Clean

The Concurrent Clean system is a programming environment for the functional
language Concurrent Clean, developed at the University of Nijmegen in The
Netherlands. The system is one of the fastest implementations of functional
languages available at the time of writing. Through the use of uniqueness
typing, it is possible to write purely functional interactive programs,
including windows, menus, dialogs, etc. It is also possible to develop
real-life applications that interface with non-functional systems. With
version 1.0, the language emerged from an intermediate language to a proper
programming language. Features provided by the language include:

   * Lazy evaluation;
   * Modern input/output;
   * Annotations for parallelism;
   * Automatic strictness analysis;
   * Annotations for evaluation order;
   * Inferred polymorphic uniqueness types;
   * Records, mutable arrays, module structure;
   * Existential types, type classes, constructor classes;
   * Strong typing, based on the Milner/Mycroft scheme.

Concurrent Clean is available for Machintoshs (Motorola, PowerPC), PCs (OS2,
Linux), and Sun4s (Solaris, SunOS). The system is available by ftp from:

      Directory: /pub/Clean.

Further information about Concurrent Clean is available on the web from:

A book describing the background and implementation of Concurrent Clean is
also available:

   * "Functional programming and parallel graph rewriting", Rinus Plasmeijer
     and Marko van Eekelen, Addison Wesley, International Computer Science
     Series. ISBN 0-201-41663-8


5.4. Erlang

Erlang is a dynamically typed concurrent functional programming language for
large industrial real-time systems. Features of Erlang include:

   * Modules;
   * Recursion equations;
   * Explicit concurrency;
   * Pattern matching syntax;
   * Dynamic code replacement;
   * Foreign language interface;
   * Real-time garbage collection;
   * Asynchronous message passing;
   * Relative freedom from side effects;
   * Transparent cross-platform distribution;
   * Primitives for detecting run-time errors.

Erlang is freely available on the web from:

Erlang is distributed together with full source code for a number of
applications, including:

   * Inets - HTTP 1.0 server and FTP client;
   * Orber - CORBA v2.0 Object Request Broker (ORB);
   * ASN.1 - compile-time and runtime package for ASN.1;
   * SNMP - extensible SNMP v1/v2 agent and MIB compiler;
   * Mnesia - distributed real-time database for Erlang;
   * Mnemosyne - optional query language for Mnesia.

See also:

   * "Concurrent programming in Erlang" (second edition), J. Armstrong, M.
     Williams, R. Virding, and Claes Wikström, Prentice Hall, 1996. ISBN


5.5. FP

FP is a side-effect free, combinator style language, described in:

   * "Can programming be liberated from the von Neumann style?", John
     Backus, Communications of the ACM, 21, 8, pp.613-641, 1978.

A interpreter and a compiler (to C) for FP are available by ftp from:

      Directory: pub/usenet/comp.sources.unix/volume13/funcproglang;
      Directory: pub/usenet/comp.sources.unix/volume20/fpc.

The Illinois FP system supports a modified version of FP that has a more
Algol-like syntax and structure, and is described in the following article:

   * "The Illinois functional programming interpreter", Arch D. Robison,
     Proceedings of the SIGPLAN '87 Symposium on Interpreters and
     Interpretive Techniques, SIGPLAN notices, Volume 22, Number 7, July


5.6. Gofer

The Gofer system provides an interpreter for a small language based closely
on the current version of the Haskell report. In particular, Gofer supports
lazy evaluation, higher-order functions, polymorphic typing,
pattern-matching, support for overloading, etc.

The most recent version of Gofer, 2.30a, is available by ftp from:

      Directory: /nott-fp/languages/gofer.

Gofer runs on a wide range of machines including PCs, Ataris, Amigas, etc.
as well as larger Unix-based systems. A version for the Apple Macintosh is
also available, by ftp from:

      Directory: /pub/haskell/gofer/macgofer.

Please note the spelling of Gofer, derived from the notion that functional
languages are GO(od) F(or) E(quational) R(easoning). This is not to be
confused with `Gopher', the widely used internet distributed information
delivery system.


5.7. Haskell

In the mid-1980s, there was no "standard" non-strict, purely-functional
programming language. A language-design committee was set up in 1987, and
the Haskell language is the result. At the time of writing, version 1.4 is
the latest version of the language. Further information about Haskell,
including the latest version of the Haskell report, is available on the web

At the time of writing, there are three different Haskell systems available,
developed by groups at Chalmers, Glasgow and Yale. These systems are
available by ftp from the following sites:

      Directory: /pub/haskell.

      Directory: /pub/haskell.

      Directory: /pub/haskell.

      Directory: /haskell.

      Directory: /pub/computing/programming/languages/haskell.

You can join the Haskell mailing list by emailing,
with a message body of the form: subscribe haskell Forename Surname


5.8. Hope

Hope is a small polymorphically-typed functional language, and was the first
language to use call-by-pattern. Hope was originally strict, but there are
versions with lazy lists, or with lazy constructors but strict functions.
Further information is available on the web from:


5.9. Hugs

Hugs, the Haskell User's Gofer System, is an interpreted implementation of
Haskell with an interactive development environment much like that of Gofer.
At the time of writing, the latest release of Hugs is largely conformant
with Haskell 1.4, including monad and record syntax, newtypes, strictness
annotations, and modules. In addition, it comes packaged with the libraries
defined in the most recent version of the Haskell library report.

Further information about Hugs is available on the web from:

or by ftp from:

      Directory: /haskell/hugs.


5.10. Id

Id is a dataflow programming language, whose core is a non-strict functional
language with implicit parallelism. It has the usual features of many modern
functional programming languages, including a Hindley/Milner type inference
system, algebraic types and definitions with clauses and pattern matching,
and list comprehensions.


5.11. J

J was designed and developed by Ken Iverson and Roger Hui. It is similar to
the language APL, departing from APL in using using the ASCII alphabet
exclusively, but employing a spelling scheme that retains the advantages of
the special alphabet required by APL. It has added features and control
structures that extend its power beyond standard APL. Although it can be
used as a conventional procedural programming language, it can also be used
as a pure functional programming language. Further information about J is
available on the web from:


5.12. Miranda(TM)

Miranda was designed in 1985-6 by David Turner with the aim of providing a
standard non-strict purely functional language, and is described in the
following articles:

   * "Miranda: a non-strict functional language with polymorphic types",
     D.A. Turner, Proceedings FPLCA, Nancy, France, September 1985 (Springer
     LNCS vol 201, pp 1-16).

   * "An overview of Miranda", D.A. Turner, SIGPLAN Notices, vol 21, no 12,
     pp 158-166, December 1986.

Miranda was the first widely disseminated language with non-strict semantics
and polymorphic strong typing, and is running at over 600 sites, including
250 universities. It is widely used for teaching, often in conjunction with
"Introduction to Functional Programming", by Bird and Wadler, which uses a
notation closely based on Miranda. It has also had a strong influence on the
subsequent development of the field, and provided one of the main inputs for
the design of Haskell.

The Miranda system is a commercial product of Research Software Limited.
Miranda release two (the current version at the time of writing) supports
unbounded precision integers and has a module system with provision for
parameterized modules and a built in "make" facility. The compiler works in
conjunction with a screen editor and programs are automatically recompiled
after edits. There is also an online reference manual.

Further information about Miranda is available by email from:

or by post from:

     Research Software Ltd, 23 St Augustines Road, Canterbury CT1 1XP,
     ENGLAND. Phone: (+44) 227 471844, fax: (+44) 227 454458.

Miranda was awarded a medal for technical achievement by the British
Computer Society (BCS Awards, 1990). Note that the word "Miranda" is a
trademark (TM) of Research Software Limited. There are no public domain
versions of Miranda.


5.13. Mercury

Mercury is a logic/functional programming language, which combines the
clarity and expressiveness of declarative programming with advanced static
analysis and error detection facilities. It has a strong type system, a
module system (allowing separate compilation), a mode system, algebraic data
types, parametric polymorphism, support for higher-order programming, and a
determinism system --- all of which are aimed at both reducing programming
errors and providing useful information for programmers and compilers.

The Mercury compiler is written in Mercury itself, and compiles to C. The
compiler is available for a variety of platforms running Unix and Microsoft
operating systems.

Further information about Mercury is available on the web from:


5.14. ML

ML stands for meta-language, and is a family of advanced programming
languages with (usually) functional control structures, strict semantics, a
strict polymorphic type system, and parameterized modules. It includes
Standard ML, Lazy ML, CAML, CAML Light, and various research languages.
Implementations are available on many platforms, including PCs, mainframes,
most models of workstation, multi-processors and supercomputers. ML has many
thousands of users, and is taught to undergraduates at many universities.

There is a moderated usenet newsgroup,, for discussion of
topics related to ML. A list of frequently asked questions for this
newsgroup (which includes pointers to many of the different implementations
and variants of ML) is available by ftp from:

      Directory: /usr/rowan/sml-archive/.

The Standard ML language is formally defined by:

   * "The Definition of Standard ML - Revised", Robin Milner, Mads Tofte,
     Robert Harper, and David MacQueen, MIT, 1997. ISBN 0-262-63181-4.

     Further information is available on the web from:

   * "Commentary on Standard ML", Robin Milner and Mads Tofte, MIT, 1990.
     ISBN 0-262-63137-7. Further information is available on the web from:

There is now a revised version of Standard ML, sometimes referred to as
"Standard ML '97" to distinguish it from the original 1990 version. The new
version combines modest changes in the language with a major revision and
expansion of the SML Basis Library. Further details about Standard ML '97
are available on the web from:


5.15. NESL

NESL is a fine-grained, functional, nested data-parallel language, loosly
based on ML. It includes a built-in parallel data-type, sequences, and
parallel operations on sequences (the element type of a sequence can be any
type, not just scalars). It is based on eager evaluation, and supports
polymorphism, type inference and a limited use of higher-order functions.
Currently, it does not have support for modules and its datatype definition
is limited. Except for I/O and some system utilities it is purely functional
(it does not support reference cells or call/cc).

The NESL compiler is based on delayed compilation and compiles separate code
for each type a function is used with (compiled code is monomorphic). The
implementation therefore requires no type bits, and can do some important
data-layout optimizations (for example, double-precision floats do not need
to be boxed, and nested sequences can be laid out efficiently across
multiple processors.) For several small benchmark applications on irregular
and/or dynamic data (for example, graphs and sparse matrices) it generates
code comparable in efficiency to machine-specific low-level code (for
example, Fortran or C.)

The current implementation of NESL runs on workstations, the Connection
Machines CM2 and CM5, the Cray Y-MP and the MasPar MP2.

Further information about NESL is available on the web from:

or by ftp from:

      Directory: nesl.

You can join to the NESL mailing list by emailing


5.16. OPAL

The language OPAL has been designed as a testbed for the development of
functional programs. Opal molds concepts from Algebraic Specification and
Functional Programming, which shall favor the formal development of large
production-quality software that is written in a purely functional style.
The core of OPAL is a strongly typed, higher-order, strict applicative
language that belongs to the tradition of Hope and ML. The algebraic flavour
of OPAL shows up in the syntactical appearance and in the preference of
parameterization to polymorphism.

OPAL is used for research on the highly optimizing compilation of
applicative languages. This has resulted in a compiler which produces very
efficient code. The OPAL compiler itself is entirely written in OPAL.
Installation is straightforward and has been successfully performed for
SPARCs, DECstations, NeXTs, and PCs running LINUX.

Further information about OPAL is available by ftp from:

      Directory: /pub/local/uebb/.


5.17. Oz

Oz is a concurrent constraint programming language designed for applications
that require complex symbolic computations, organization into multiple
agents, and soft real-time control. It is based on a new computation model
providing a uniform foundation for higher-order functional programming,
constraint logic programming, and concurrent objects with multiple
inheritance. From functional languages Oz inherits full compositionality,
and from logic languages Oz inherits logic variables and constraints
(including feature and finite domain constraints.) Search in Oz is
encapsulated (no backtracking) and includes one, best and all solution

DFKI Oz is an interactive implementation of Oz featuring am Emacs
programming interface, a concurrent browser, an object-oriented interface to
Tcl/Tk, powerful interoperability features (sockets, C, C++), an incremental
compiler, a garbage collector, and support for stand-alone applications.
Performance is competitive with commercial Prolog and Lisp systems. DFKI Oz
is available for many platforms running Unix/X, including Sparcs and 486
PCs, and has been used for applications including simulations, multi-agent
systems, natural language processing, virtual reality, graphical user
interfaces, scheduling, placement problems, and configuration.

Further information about Oz is available on the web from:

or by ftp from:

      Directory: /pub/oz.

Specific questions on Oz may be emailed You can join the Oz
users mailing list by emailing


5.18. Pizza

Pizza is a strict superset of Java that incorporates three ideas from
functional programming:

   * Parametric polymorphism;
   * Higher-order functions;
   * Algebraic data types.

Pizza is defined by translation into Java and compiles into the Java Virtual
Machine, requirements which strongly constrain the design space. Thus Pizza
programs interface easily with Java libraries, and programs first developed
in Pizza may be automatically converted to Java for ease of maintenance. The
Pizza compiler is itself written in Pizza, and may be used as a replacement
for Sun's Java compiler (except that the Pizza compiler runs faster).

Pizza was designed by Martin Odersky and Philip Wadler, and implemented by
Odersky. The design is described in the following paper:

   * "Pizza into Java: translating theory into practice", Martin Odersky and
     Philip Wadler, 24th ACM Symposium on Principles of Programming
     Languages, Paris, January 1997.

The paper, downloads, and other information on Pizza is available on the web
from any of the following locations (which mirror each other):;;;;

Pizza has received a `cool' award from Gamelan (


5.19. Scheme

Scheme is a dialect of Lisp that stresses conceptual elegance and
simplicity. It is specified in R4RS and IEEE standard P1178. Scheme is much
smaller than Common Lisp; the specification is about 50 pages. Scheme is
often used in computer science curricula and programming language research,
due to its ability to simply represent many programming abstractions.

Further information about Scheme is available on the web from:

There is an unmoderated usenet newsgroup, comp.lang.scheme, for the
discussion of topics related to Scheme. A list of frequently asked questions
(which includes details of the many books and papers concerned with Scheme)
for this newsgroup is available by ftp from:

      Directory: /public/think/lisp/.


5.20. Sisal

Sisal (Streams and Iteration in a Single Assignment Language) is a
functional language designed with several goals in mind: to support clear,
efficient expression of scientific programs; to free application programmers
from details irrelevant to their endeavors; and, to allow automatic
detection and exploitation of the parallelism expressed in source programs.

Sisal syntax is modern and easy to read; Sisal code looks similar to Pascal,
Modula, or Ada, with modern constructs and long identifiers. The major
difference between Sisal and more conventional languages is that it does not
express explicit program control flow.

Sisal semantics are mathematically sound. Programs consist of function
definitions and invocations. Functions have no side effects, taking as
inputs only explicitly passed arguments, and producing only explicitly
returned results. There is no concept of state in Sisal. Identifiers are
used, rather than variables, to denote values, rather than memory locations.

The Sisal language currently exists for several shared memory and vector
systems that run Berkeley Unix(tm), including the Sequent Balance and
Symmetry, the Alliant, the Cray X/MP and Y/MP, Cray 2, and a few other less
well-known ones. Sisal is available on sequential machines such as Sparc,
RS/6000, and HP. Sisal also runs under MS-DOS and Macintosh Unix (A/UX).
It's been shown to be fairly easy to port the entire language system to new

Further information about Sisal is available on the web from:


The original version of this Frequently Asked Questions list (FAQ) was
compiled and edited by Mark P. Jones. All questions, comments, corrections,
and suggestions regarding this document should be addressed to the current
editor, Graham Hutton (email:

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

[ Usenet FAQs | Web FAQs | Documents | RFC Index ]

Send corrections/additions to the FAQ Maintainer: (Graham M Hutton)

Last Update March 27 2014 @ 02:11 PM