When comparing Smalltalk vs Haskell, the Slant community recommends Smalltalk for most people. In the question“What is the best programming language to learn first?” Smalltalk is ranked 6th while Haskell is ranked 26th. The most important reason people chose Smalltalk is:
You can modify the system as it's running. You're "swimming with the fish", instead of probing a black box by remote control.
Ranked in these QuestionsQuestion Ranking
Pro Environment of live objects
You can modify the system as it's running. You're "swimming with the fish", instead of probing a black box by remote control.
Pro Easy to learn and experiment
Pro Inspector makes objects transparent
Programmers must make detailed mental models of the system they are developing. Bugs usually happen when the mental model does not match the actual system. This is one of the greatest difficulties beginners have because most systems are so opaque. It takes a lot of effort to see what's really going on. But in Smalltalk this is much easier, thanks to the powerful tools included in the environment, like the object inspector.
Pro Internal source code and documentation
You can explore how everything works easily.
Pro Superb Integrated Development Environment (IDE)
All tools (Inspector, Browser, Debugger etc.) are written in Smalltalk and are live objects in the environment. All sources are present, so that the tools can easily be studied, changed and experimented with.
The same goes for the other components like the compiler, OS-Integration etc.
Pro Pure and easy object orientation
Smalltalk is one of few languages that are purely object oriented. This provides a solid and easy to understand base on which to learn object oriented programming, the most popular approach to programming.
Pro Elegant syntax fits on a postcard
The syntax was designed to be easy enough for children to learn. Beginners can learn the language rules very quickly and then focus on programming without fighting the syntax at the same time. Things that have to be baked into the grammar in other languages are simple message sends with block arguments in Smalltalk. Expressions have only three precedence levels to worry about.
Pro Agile "interactive" test-driven development
Smalltalk had the original (and still the best) unit test system that inspired it in many other languages (like Java's JUnit). Working with interactive live objects in Smalltalk style TDD makes it easy to teach and learn TDD.
Pro Inspired many other languages' object systems
Pro Powerful integrated debugger
You can edit code and swap it in while the program is still running after an exception has already been signaled, or restart from anywhere in the call stack. You can inspect and modify the state of any object. Some Smalltalkers write unit tests and then program exclusively in the debugger.
Pro Save and restore virtual machine image
A Smalltalk environment can save the state of a running program and later restore and resume execution. This includes the internal state of live objects, multiple thread stacks, and debugging sessions, making it easier for beginners to take the exact problem to an expert for assistance.
Pro Open source
MIT licensed implementations Pharo, Squeak, Cuis & Dolphin
and GPL licensed GnuSmalltalk.
Pro Graphical user interface
Beginners are usually stuck making command-line applications in other languages, because GUIs are too hard. Smalltalk GUIs are easy enough to start with.
Pro Incremental compilation
Smalltalk provides an extremely fast code-compile-run-debug cycle. You don't have to stop and reset the world to tweak your program, since you can compile one method at a time while the environment is still running. This is great for beginners to experiment and prototype ideas.
Pro Language uniformity
This leads to a very simple programming model (pure OO) that is still very powerful. A lot of stuff that is hard to implement in other languages is easier in Smalltalk.
Pro First-class functions with lexical closures
Also known as "blocks". These objects contain reusable snippets of code and as first-class objects they can be passed as arguments to other methods or blocks and also returned from them. "lexical closures" mean they retain access to the variables in the lexical environment they were written in, that is, in the surrounding code.
Pro Provides a functional way to interact with objects
Many languages today use object orientation, while the most of them stock on the half way in that perspective.
Smalltalk sees literally everything as an object and this includes things like the classes and primitive data types. There is are zero control structures such as selection and iteration, since all is done by sending messages to objects.
It use a lot of concepts from Lisp in order to provide a nice experience for this pure kind of object orientation.
It provides immutable data structures, closures, anonymous functions and higher order functions, while all those functions are objects. This is what makes Smalltalk so simple, elegant, and easy.
All this counts for Pharo, while other implementations as Amber are probably feature complete to it.
Pro As a first language, almost forces you to learn OO design
Hybrid languages (e.g., Java, C#, C++) make it easy to slip into procedural thinking. Smalltalk's pure OO approach makes it hard not to think in object-oriented terms. In addition, since the entire IDE and runtime components are there in the image for you to browse, you have plenty of examples of good OO design to learn from.
Pro It invented a lot of stuff
Smalltalk is the inventor of Just-in-Time compilation and the MVC concept, refactoring through their so-called refactoring browser and it was also one of the first adopters of a language virtual machine, closures, live programming, test driven development, an IDE and the development of GUI`s.
Pro Forces you to learn pure functional programming
It is pure and does not mix other programming paradigms into the language. This forces you to learn functional programming in its most pure form. You avoid falling back on old habits and learn an entirely new way to program.
Pro Open source
All Haskell implementations are completely free and open source.
Pro Highly transferable concepts
Haskell's referential transparency, consistency, mathematics-oriented culture, and heavy amount of abstraction encourage problem solving at a very high level. The fact that this is all built upon little other than function application means that not only is the thought process, but even concrete solutions are very transferable to any other language. In fact, in Haskell, it's quite common for a solution to simply be written as an interpreter that can then generate code in some other language. Many other languages employ language-specific features, or work around a lack of features with heavy-handed design patterns that discourage abstraction, meaning that a lot of what is learned, and a lot of code that is needed to solve a particular problem just isn't very applicable to any other language's ecosystem.
Pro Mathematical consistency
As Haskell lends itself exceedingly well to abstraction, and borrows heavily from the culture of pure mathematics, it means that a lot more code conforms to very high-level abstractions. You can expect code from vastly different libraries to follow the same rules, and to be incredibly self-consistent. It's not uncommon to find that a parser library works the same way as a string library, which works the same way as a window manager library. This often means that getting familiar and productive with new libraries is often much easier than in other languages.
Pro Referentially transparent
Haskell's Purely Functional approach means that code is referentially transparent. This means that to read a function, one only needs to know its arguments. Code works the same way that expressions work in Algebra class. There's no need to read the whole source code to determine if there's some subtle reference to some mutable state, and no worries about someone writing a "getter" that also mutates the object it's called on. Functions are all directly testable in the REPL, and there's no need to remember to call methods in a certain order to properly initialize an object. No breakage of encapsulation, and no leaky abstractions.
Pro Very few language constructs
The base language relies primarily on function application, with a very small amount of special-case syntax. Once you know the rules for function application, you know most of the language.
Pro Hand-writeable concise syntax
Conciseness of Haskell lets us to write the expression on the whiteboard or paper and discuss with others easily. This is a strong benefit to learn FP over other languages.
Pro Functions curry automatically
Every function that expects more than one arguments is basically a function that returns a partially applied function. This is well-suited to function composition, elegance, and concision.
Pro Easy syntax for people with a STEM degree
Since the basic syntax is very similar to mathematics, Haskell syntax should be easy for people who have taken higher math courses since they would be used to the symbols used in maths.
Pro Easy to read
Haskell is a very terse language, particularly due to its type inference. This means there's nothing to distract from the intent of the code, making it very readable. This is in sharp contrast to languages like Java, where skimming code requires learning which details can be ignored. Haskell's terseness also lends itself to very clear inline examples in textbooks, and makes it a pleasure to read through code even on a cellphone screen.
Pro Quick feedback
It's often said that, in Haskell, if it compiles, it works. This short feedback loop can speed up learning process, by making it clear exactly when and where mistakes are made.
Pro Popular in teaching
Haskell is really popular in universities and academia as a tool to teach programming. A lot of books for people who don't know programming are written around Haskell. This means that there are a lot of resources for beginners in programming with which to learn Haskell and functional programming concepts.
Pro Powerful Categorical Abstractions
Makes categorical higher order abstractions easy to use and natural to the language
Con Not common
Smalltalk missed an opportunity to become mainstream when its implementations cost $5000 per seat versus $0 open source. New open source implementations (Pharo, Squeak) have minor corporate backers but not yet an IT behemoth. Direct jobs are scarce (but indirectly Smalltalk experience is very well regarded). Online communities are relatively small.
Con Not useful for mobile development
While Smalltalk is very powerful and easy to learn, it doesn't have a well supported mobile distribution, but you'll be spoiled for working in mainstream languages like Java, Swift or Kotlin where jobs are more readily available.
Con Virtual machine in its own isolated world
Smalltalk wants to be the whole OS. While this has tremendous advantages internally, interacting with the world outside the VM is not as easy as pure Smalltalk and must be done via a Foreign Function Interface.
Con OO is becoming obsolete
Smalltalk did it best, but the whole paradigm is a poor fit for the expected future multicore processors. Isolated mutable variables with no compile checks is a recipe for race conditions in multithreaded code. Beginners would be better off learning a functional language.
Con Non-standard arithmetic ordering
Since every operation is considered a message sent sent is a specific order, all arithmetic operators have the same precedence. E.g. 2 + 3 x 4 translates to 2 + 3, and the result is multiplied by 4, giving an answer of 24 (instead of the correct answer - 14). Once you are learn this, it can easily handled using brackets, e.g. 2 + (3 x 4), but still a momentary suprise for beginners.
Con Difficult learning curve
Haskell lends itself well to powerful abstractions - the result is that even basic, commonly used libraries, while easy to use, are implemened using a vocabularly that requires a lot of backround in abstract mathematics to understand. Even a concept as simple as "combine A and B" is often, both in code and in tutorials, described in terms of confusing and discouraging terms like "monad", "magma", "monoid", "groupoid", and "ring". This also occasionally bears its ugly head in the form of complicated error messages from type inference.
Con Language Extensions lead to unfamiliar code
Haskell's language extensions, while making the language incredibly flexible for experienced users, makes a lot of code incredibly unfamiliar for beginners. Some pragmas, like NoMonomorphismRestriction, have effects that seem completely transparent in code, leading beginners to wonder why it's there. Others, like ViewPatterns, and particularly TemplateHaskell, create completely new syntax rules that render code incomprehensible to beginners expecting vanilla function application.
Con Symbols everywhere
Haskell allows users to define their own infix operators, even with their own precedence. The result is that some code is filled with foreign looking operators that are assumed to be special-case syntax. Even for programmers who know they're just functions, operators that change infix precedence can potentially break expectations of how an expression is evaluated, if not used with care.
Con Package manager is unstable & lacking features
Cabal (There are other choices but this is the most popular) can not uninstall a package. Also working at a few locations it is difficult to have the same environment for each one be the same.
Con You need some time to start seeing results
Haskell's static typing, while helpful when building a project, can be positively frustrating for beginners. Quick feedback for errors means delaying the dopamine hit of code actually running. While in some languages, a beginner's first experience may be their code printing "Hello World" and then crashing, in Haskell, similar code would more likely be met with an incomprehensible type error.
Con Lazily Evaluated
Haskell's lazy evaluation implies a level of indirection - you're not passing a value, you're passing a thunk. This is often difficult to grasp not just for beginners, but for experienced programmers coming from strictly evaluated languages. This also means that, since for many, strict evaluation is their first instinct, initial expectations of a function's performance and complexity are often broken.
Con You have to learn more than just FP
Haskell is not only a functional language but also a lazy, and statically typed one. Not only that but it's almost necessary to learn about monads before you can do anything useful.
Con Documentation for most packages is short and lacking
A few Haskell packages are well documented but this is the exception, not the rule.
Most of the time a list of function signatures is what passes for documentation.