How to Learn Erlang Programming Language?

16 minutes read

To learn Erlang programming language, you can follow these steps:

  1. Understand the Basics: Start by gaining a solid foundation of the basic concepts in Erlang. Learn about its syntax, data types, variables, and pattern matching. Familiarize yourself with Erlang's functional programming paradigm.
  2. Study Concurrency and Parallelism: Erlang is well-known for its concurrency and parallelism capabilities. Dive into understanding how Erlang handles concurrency, message passing, and process creation. Learn about Erlang's lightweight processes and how they communicate with each other.
  3. Explore OTP: OTP (Open Telecom Platform) is a set of libraries and design principles that help in building robust and scalable Erlang applications. Study OTP's main components, such as supervisors, workers, and event handlers, and understand how they can be used effectively in Erlang development.
  4. Practice Writing Code: Hands-on experience is crucial to improve your proficiency in any programming language. Solve coding problems, work on mini-projects, and write Erlang code regularly to reinforce what you've learned. Practice will help you become comfortable with Erlang's syntax and programming style.
  5. Read Erlang Documentation: Erlang has comprehensive documentation, including language reference manuals, guides, and tutorials. Read through the official Erlang documentation to deepen your understanding of Erlang's features and functionalities. Pay attention to examples and code snippets provided.
  6. Join the Erlang Community: Engaging with the Erlang community can help you learn from experienced developers and stay updated with the latest trends. Participate in Erlang-focused forums, mailing lists, and online communities. Attend Erlang conferences and meetups to network and gain valuable insights.
  7. Utilize Online Resources: Explore online tutorials, video courses, and blogs dedicated to Erlang. Online platforms like, Elixir Forum, Elixir School, and Learn You Some Erlang provide a wealth of learning materials, coding challenges, and interactive exercises.
  8. Build Real-World Projects: Apply your knowledge by building practical applications in Erlang. Work on projects that interest you, such as messaging systems, distributed systems, or web servers. Building real-world projects helps solidify your understanding and showcases your skills to potential employers.
  9. Read Books: Supplement your learning by studying books focused on Erlang. "Learn You Some Erlang for Great Good!" by Fred Hebert and "Erlang Programming" by Francesco Cesarini and Simon Thompson are highly recommended resources for learning Erlang.
  10. Experiment and Learn from Mistakes: Explore different approaches and experiment with code. Learning from mistakes is an essential part of the programming journey. Embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Analyze and debug issues in your code to enhance your understanding of Erlang's intricacies.

Remember, consistent practice, dedication, and a problem-solving mindset are key factors in mastering any programming language, including Erlang.

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What are the basic concepts of Erlang?

The basic concepts of Erlang are:

  1. Concurrency and Process Model: Erlang is designed to handle concurrent and parallel programming using lightweight processes. Each process runs independently and communicates with others through message passing. This model allows Erlang to efficiently utilize multi-core processors and distribute computations across multiple nodes.
  2. Fault-Tolerant Design: Erlang is built to handle fault tolerance. It provides mechanisms like supervision trees, process isolation, and process monitoring to detect and recover from failures. This allows systems built with Erlang to self-heal and continue running without interruption.
  3. Pattern Matching: Pattern matching is a core concept in Erlang. It allows you to match variables against patterns and extract their values. Pattern matching is extensively used in function clauses, case statements, and message passing to handle different cases and make decisions.
  4. Immutable Data: Erlang follows the principle of immutability, meaning once a value is assigned to a variable, it cannot be changed. Instead, new values are created through data transformation operations. Immutability ensures safer and more predictable code execution.
  5. Functional Programming: Erlang is a functional programming language, meaning computations are expressed as function transformations. Functions in Erlang are pure and side-effect free, which simplifies reasoning about code behavior and enables easier parallelization.
  6. Distributed Computing: Erlang has built-in support for distributed computing. It allows processes to communicate and share data across different nodes in a transparent and fault-tolerant manner. This makes it easy to build scalable and fault-tolerant distributed systems.
  7. Hot Code Upgrades: Erlang provides mechanisms for hot code upgrades, allowing live systems to be upgraded without stopping or interrupting the services. This is achieved by replacing code modules while they are running, ensuring continuous operation and minimizing downtime.

These basic concepts make Erlang a powerful language for building highly reliable, scalable, and fault-tolerant systems, especially in areas like telecommunications, real-time messaging, and distributed computing.

How to set up an Erlang development environment?

To set up an Erlang development environment, follow the steps below:

  1. Install Erlang: Download the latest stable version of Erlang from the official website ( Run the installer and follow the instructions to complete the installation.
  2. Set up the Erlang Shell (REPL): Add the Erlang bin directory to your system's PATH environment variable. On macOS or Linux, you can do this by editing the ~/.bash_profile or ~/.bashrc file. Append the following line: export PATH="/path/to/erlang/bin:$PATH" On Windows, you can add the path through System Properties -> Advanced System Settings -> Environment Variables. Open a new terminal and type erl to start the Erlang shell. Verify that Erlang is working by entering some Erlang commands.
  3. Install a code editor: Choose a code editor/IDE that supports Erlang development. Popular options include Visual Studio Code, Emacs, and IntelliJ IDEA with the Erlang plugin. Install your preferred editor and any necessary plugins/extensions.
  4. Package Manager (optional): Consider installing a package manager for Erlang, such as Rebar3 or Mix, to easily manage dependencies and project configurations. Follow the documentation of the chosen package manager to install and configure it.
  5. Project Structure: Decide on a project structure for your Erlang projects. Create a new directory for your projects and organize them according to your chosen structure.

You now have a set up Erlang development environment ready for coding and testing Erlang applications. Remember to check the official documentation and resources for further guidance and learning.

What are macros in Erlang?

Macros in Erlang are a way to define compile-time transformations of Erlang code. They allow developers to define reusable code snippets that are expanded into their corresponding code during the compilation phase.

In Erlang, macros are defined using the -define/2 directive. The first argument to the directive is the name of the macro, and the second argument is the expansion of the macro. Macros can contain any valid Erlang code, including function calls, pattern matching, and variable bindings.

During compilation, whenever the macro name is encountered in the code, it is replaced with its corresponding expansion. This allows developers to define abstractions and code generators that simplify the writing and understanding of complex Erlang code.

Macros are often used to create domain-specific languages (DSLs) or to define common code patterns. They can be very powerful but should also be used judiciously as misuse of macros can lead to code that is hard to understand and maintain.

How to write a simple Erlang program?

To write a simple Erlang program, follow these steps:

Step 1: Install Erlang First, install Erlang on your machine. You can download and install Erlang from the official Erlang website ( Follow the installation instructions for your operating system.

Step 2: Set up a new Erlang project Create a new directory for your Erlang project. For example, in a Unix-based system, open a terminal and run the following command to create a new directory:

mkdir my_erlang_project

Step 3: Create a new Erlang file Inside your project directory, create a new Erlang file with the .erl extension. For example, run the following command to create a new file called hello.erl:

touch hello.erl

Step 4: Write the Erlang code Open the hello.erl file with a text editor and write the Erlang code. For a simple "Hello, World!" program, you can use the following code:


start() ->
    io:format("Hello, World!~n").

This code defines a module called hello with a function called start. The start function uses the io:format function to print the "Hello, World!" message.

Step 5: Compile the Erlang code In the same terminal, navigate to your project directory. Use the Erlang compiler (erlc) to compile the hello.erl file:

erlc hello.erl

The compiler will generate a compiled .beam file.

Step 6: Start the Erlang shell Start the Erlang shell by running the erl command in your project directory:


Step 7: Execute the Erlang code Inside the Erlang shell, use the module name and function name to execute your code:


You should see the "Hello, World!" message printed in the Erlang shell.

Congratulations! You have successfully written a simple Erlang program.

What is hot code swapping in Erlang?

Hot code swapping in Erlang refers to the ability to update code in a running system without interrupting its ongoing operations. It allows developers to add new functionality, fix bugs, or apply performance enhancements to a live system without requiring a system restart or downtime.

In Erlang, hot code swapping is achieved through the use of a built-in mechanism called "code loading." With code loading, developers can update modules and functions on a running Erlang system by replacing the existing code with the new code. The new code is typically loaded into a separate module or application within the system, and the running system can seamlessly switch to using the new code without interrupting its current state.

This makes hot code swapping particularly useful in situations where system uptime is crucial, such as in telecom systems, web servers, or distributed systems. It allows for continuous deployment, zero-downtime upgrades, and the ability to fix critical bugs or apply patches on the fly.

However, it is important to note that not all code changes can be hot swapped. Changes that affect the system's state or data structures may require additional mechanisms to handle data migration or compatibility with the updated code. Additionally, hot code swapping requires careful planning and consideration to ensure the system remains stable and consistent throughout the update process.

How to work with Erlang modules?

To work with Erlang modules, follow these steps:

  1. Create a new Erlang module: Start by creating a new file with a .erl extension. This file will serve as the module's source code. For example, create a file named mymodule.erl.
  2. Define the module: In the created file, start by defining the module with the module attribute. This attribute specifies the name of the module. For example, add the following code to the mymodule.erl file: -module(mymodule).
  3. Export functions: Declare the functions you want to make accessible from outside the module using the export attribute. This attribute specifies a list of functions to export. For example, if you want to export a function named hello/0, add the following code to the mymodule.erl file: -export([hello/0]).
  4. Implement the functions: Define the functions within the module. For example, add the following function definition to the mymodule.erl file: hello() -> io:format("Hello, World!~n").
  5. Compile the module: Open a terminal or command prompt and navigate to the directory containing the mymodule.erl file. Then, use the Erlang compiler (erlc) to compile the module. Run the following command: erlc mymodule.erl
  6. Load the module: To use the module, start an Erlang shell by running the erl command in a terminal or command prompt. Then, load the compiled module using the module:module_info/0 function. For example, run the following command within the Erlang shell: mymodule:hello(). This will execute the hello/0 function defined in the mymodule module and print "Hello, World!".

You can now work with and invoke the functions defined within the Erlang module. Remember to recompile the module whenever you make changes to its source code for the new changes to take effect.

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