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Re: [ljc] Why hasn't Scala and functional programming taken off

From: Andy T.
Sent on: Friday, October 4, 2013 2:56 PM
As a (very) long term Java dev, the slow(ish) uptake of Scala seems to come down to:

1. Tooling, tooling, tooling. Working on a recent(ish) multi-language project, we ended up ditching Scala because it was just too jarring to move from components that would compile in fractions of a second, with deep IDE support to Scala, which was simply slow and 'clunky'. Java took off when command-line tools were the norm, but now we're in the world of continual deployment, sophisticated refactoring IDEs and debug tools that provide deep and 'instant' insights. Scala is coming on in leaps and bounds, but anything but parity is hard to get over.

2. Idiomatic code. Search for a Scala solution to a problem and it seems you're almost always hit by someone who's created another DSL out of obscure punctuation. Ok, so it's not really that bad, but when you're picking up a language, having to check up on syntax just to understand a five line example is a bit of a drag.

3. Documentation. It's a personal theory of mine that Java was as successful as it was because Javadoc provided a consistent, concise, easily understood insight into the entire ecosystem. It seems to me that Scaladoc hasn't quite worked out how to communicate the combination of syntax and function that can be expressed in Scala methods, and the result is overwhelming to a newcomer. Even something as simple as an int has slews of repeated methods that just serve to obscure the basic functionality you want to access. http://www.scala-lang.org/api/current/#scala.Int

None of these are dealbreakers, for sure. However, Java has a much shallower learning curve, and much lower 'cost of ownership' compared with Scala and that comparison will always slow adoption.

That said, when I'm coding yet another ETL component, it's hard not to sit there thinking "This would be so much cleaner in Scala".

Andy


On 4 October[masked]:17, Stephen Henderson <[address removed]> wrote:
I think you're being premature in the view that it "hasn't taken off" and I'd say 2-3 years from now the landscape could look quite different. Certainly I can see Scala joining the top tier of language with Java, C#, etc. though probably never overtaking java completely. I know for my company at least we're just hitting that tipping point where Scala is now the first choice for new projects.

Scala, Clojure, etc. are still relatively young languages and we're only just reaching the point where the quality of tooling and learning resources is good enough to make them serious commercial contenders. Tooling in particular is a big part of it - I personally find that I can still write java code much quicker than scala a lot of the time even though it's much more verbose, just because the IDE is so powerful. It's only in the last 12 months that Eclipse scala support is ready for prime time, and even now it's still missing useful things like documentation-on-hover that I take for granted with java.

I guess there's also the underlying problem that OO languages, java in particular, are still the standard being taught in university (yes, you might have one or two modules on FP but it's probably not what most coursework is done in). As the previous thread showed it's very hard coming from that background to switch to an FP way of thinking and I'd say most developers aren't going to want to put in that level of effort in their own time.

I attended a interesting talk recently that the BBC's tech department put together on FP in online media. They had a panel of media companies who are using FP languages to go through the reasons why they were making the switch and the challenges they found. There were a lot of big names there (ITV, Sky, Guardian, Daily Mail) and they all had pretty similar reasons - problems of concurrency, problems of scaling, etc. A couple of them had brought in "FP coaches" to help with the transition. I can see this approach becoming a lot more common too, though probably not to the same extent as aglie coaching in the last few years.

One place I can definitely see FP use expanding quickly is in big data processing. We've recently switched our analytics stack over to scalding (twitter's scala map-reduce framework) and it's been a massive success compared to our previous approach using Hive and java UDFs. Map-reduce tasks are very well suited to an FP - there's typically no real concept of "state" and it makes the jobs much easier to test locally before trying them out on a live cluster (very important if you're running clusters with[masked]s of nodes for multiple hours). It's also allowed us to make the analtyics codebase just part of the general code that any developer can work on rather than requiring a dedicated big data expert.


Stephen


On 4 October[masked]:51, Joseph Odanmen <[address removed]> wrote:
Hello all,

I have enjoyed reading comments on how to get into FP and Scala and overcoming the habits of OO.

For a while now and reading people's comments, it would seem Scala and FP in general is a fantastic answer to the bottlenecks we have in OO, particularly multi-threading.

So my question is why hasn't Scala and indeed the FP approach to software development taken off in mainstream and commerical software development? Does Java have to fully FP to really get FP going? Scala isn't doing it.

I would love to get into Scala and FP but quite frankly, it is hardly used commercially.

Regards

Joseph
Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone on O2



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