When comparing Erlang vs Clojure, the Slant community recommends Clojure for most people. In the question“What is the best programming language to learn first?” Clojure is ranked 13th while Erlang is ranked 37th. The most important reason people chose Clojure is:
Clojure programmers are highly encouraged to use immutable data in their code. Therefore, most data will be immutable by default. State change is handled by functions (for transformations) and atoms (an abstraction that encapsulates the idea of some entity having an identity).
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Pro Built from the ground up with concurrency and distributed computing in mind
Erlang has strong roots with the telecom industry in which concurrent processes are normal. It's designed to be concurrent, to be used for distributed computing and to be scalable.
Fault tolerance means that a system has the property to continue operating even though one or more components have failed.
For Erlang systems, this means that the system is kept running even if for example a user has to drop a phone call rather than forcing everyone else to do so.
In order to achieve this, Erlang's VM gives you:
- Knowledge of when a process died and why that happened
- The ability to force processes to die together if they depend on each other and if one of them has a fault.
- A logger that logs every uncaught exception
- Nodes that can be monitored so that you find out when they go down
- The ability to restart failed processes (or groups of them)
Pro Upgrade code without stopping the system
In a real-time system it may not be possible to stop the system in order to implement code upgrades. For these cases Erlang gives you dynamic code upgrade support for free when using OTP. The mechanism is very easy to understand and works as follows:
- Start the app
- Edit the code
That's all that is needed, the app updates with the new code while it's still running and tests are run automatically.
Pro Great for writing distributed applications
Erlang is made to be parallel and distributed. Because it's very easy to write code that uses multiple processor cores, it's also very easy to write applications that span multiple servers.
Pro Battle proven
Erlang has been used in production for more than 20 years now. During that time it has proven itself over and over again that works great in both small startups and large-scale enterprise systems.
Erlang has been used extensively by Ericsson themselves. For example, the AXD301 ATM, which is one of Ericsson's flagships is probably the largest Erlang project ever with more than 1.1 million lines of Erlang code.
Pro Light processes
Erlang's processes have very little overhead (about 500 bytes per process). This means that a huge amount of processes can be created, even on older machines.
Pro Consistency across platforms
Erlang's processes run in a complete independent way from the OS (they aren't managed by the OS scheduler neither). This means that programs written in Erlang will run exactly the same way regardless of the operating system or platform.
Pro Immutability is the default
Clojure programmers are highly encouraged to use immutable data in their code. Therefore, most data will be immutable by default.
State change is handled by functions (for transformations) and atoms (an abstraction that encapsulates the idea of some entity having an identity).
Pro Minimal syntax
Being a LISP, programs are simple: they're just functions and data. That it doesn't get bogged down with syntax or the loftier FP concepts like monads makes it one of most approachable functional languages for beginners.
Pro Tries to solve problems as simply as possible
Simplicity is one of the pillars on which Clojure is built. Clojure tries to solve many problems in software development as simply as possible. Instead of building complex interfaces, objects or factories, it uses immutability and simple data structures.
Pro Good for writing concurrent programs
Since Clojure is designed for concurrency, it offers things like Software Transaction Memory, functional programming without side-effects and immutable data structures right out of the box. This means that the development team can focus their energies on developing features instead of concurrency details.
Pro Huge ecosystem of libraries to work with
There's a very large ecosystem of high-quality Clojure libraries which developers can use. One example is Incanter. It's a great data analytics library and a very powerful tool for dealing with matrices, datasets and csv files.
Pro Cross platform
Clojure compiles to JVM bytecode and runs inside the JVM. This means that applications written in Clojure are cross-platform out of the box.
Pro Rich Hickey
The creator is so awesome, he's a feature. Just look up his talks and see why.
Pro Great tool used in automating, configuring and managing dependencies available
Leiningen is a very useful tool for Clojure developers. It helps wiht automation, configuration and dependency management. It's basically a must for every Clojure project.
Pro Dynamic language
A superb data processing language. While rich type and specification systems are available they are optional.
Clojure has an elegant macro system which enables language additions, Domain-specific languages (DSLs), to be created much easier than most other languages (with the exception of Racket, perhaps).
Pro Game is available with which you can learn Clojure
Nightmod is a tool used to make "live-moddable" games. It displays the game's code while you are playing and allows you to inject new code using Clojure. This can be a fun and useful experience for people trying to learn Clojure.
Pro No C/Java syntax
Con Eccentric syntax
Erlang's syntax may feel very strange to 99% of programmers who have never used it. This is because it does not share any similarities or common syntax definitions that are found in all the other languages that are used today.
Con Useful in only one niche
Erlang is not really a general purpose language. It has a very special and well-defined niche where it towers above everything else. It's specialized in scalability and in distributed applications. Which is not necessarily a bad thing per se, but it still lacks and falls behind other languages when it needs to do things outside it's niche.
Con Confusing error messages
Clojure's error messages more often than not are very confusing. They usually involve stack traces that do not thoroughly explain where the error was caused or what caused it.
Con Tied to the JVM and it's limitations.
Some language constructs were obviously created as workarounds for JVM limitations. This makes the language much less elegant than it could have been.
Also, the JVM has a very cumbersome FFI.
Con Dynamic types
You can put anything in. This makes reasoning about code after a time has passed very hard.
Con Syntax can be alien / jarring for those used to other Lisps
Perhaps some may consider this attribute an advantage, but I do not. Clojure does not attempt to maintain significant compatibility with other Lisps. So, if you already know a Lisp or are used to the way Lisp works in general, you'll probably be confused if you take a look at Clojure. See these resources for more details on this subject: