Elixir Language

Why would you pick a specific language?

  • You know it.
  • It has good libraries for your domain. (e.g. FORTRAN has fast FFTs)
  • Not using it requires extra effort. (JavaScript runs in web browsers)
  • The language itself does something that you want. (Rust provides a set of type system enforced safety guarantees.)
  • It has specific performance properties. (C++ is fast for video games because it compiles to machine code and has no garbage collector.)

Sequential vs. Concurrent Programming

  • Traditionally, computer programs run sequentially.
  • The computer systems they run on aren't sequential.
    • You can't buy a single core laptop, or even a phone, in 2018.
    • Web programming is distributed, which can't be sequential.
    • Web applications have multiple concurrent users.
    • Web servers tend to be distributed too, to allow web applications to scale lots of concurrent users.
    • Draw the multi-web-server, one DB, multi-client picture.
  • Standard solution:
    • Web app is sequential.
    • Run a copy of it for each user request.
    • These copies only interact at the database, which handles any concurrency issues.
    • This works well for many apps, but is silly for apps like "draw".

The Elixir and Erlang Languages:

  • Erlang was developed in the 80's at Ericson for telcom switches.
  • It's a compiled-to-bytecode-with-VM language like Java or C#.
  • Tuned for two specific properties:
    • Reliability
    • Concurrency (initially for reliablity)
  • Built for telecom switches, where “the service will be down for maintenence” is simply not OK.
  • Lightweight processes.
  • “Let it crash”
  • The semantics of Erlang are great.
  • High reliability and a focus on concurrency are awesome for web apps.
  • Erlang syntax is the absolute worst. You literally can’t use user-defined functions in an “if” condition, as a syntax rule.
  • Elixir is a language for the Erlang BEAM VM with the Erlang semantics but much less painful syntax.

The Elixir plan for web apps:

  • Each request is handled by a new Erlang process.
  • Erlang processes can be used to store state, or to manage long-running client connections.
  • Safe communication between processes, even across multiple servers, is innately provided by the VM.

The language itself is similar to ISL from Fundies 1:

  • Elixir is a lot like ISL from Fundies 1.
  • Functional language
  • Can't mutate data.
  • Can't re-assign variables.
  • Linked lists as core data type
  • No loop statements
  • Repeat by recursion
  • Loop functions: map, filter, reduce
  • Interactive REPL

But with some extra features not in ISL:

  • Non-LISP syntax

  • Seperate function / variable namespaces

  • Modules

  • Pattern matching

  • Side effects (like I/O)

  • Maps (associative arrays) are a core data type

  • Lightweight processes

  • send / receive

Elixir examples:

  • Fib
    • Compile Fib
    • Call Fib.fib from REPL (iex)
    • Pattern matching for functions
  • Fact
    • Accumulator pattern
    • Note tail recursion
  • RW
    • ElixirScript
    • Loop functions
    • Functions have module prefixes
    • Pipelines

Phoenix Framework / Practice App

# clone git repo
$ git clone https://github.com/NatTuck/elixir-practice.git
$ cd elixir-practice

# fetch deps
$ mix deps.get
$ (cd assets && npm install)

# run local dev server
$ mix phx.server
  • Double a number.

HTTP story for doubling a number.

  • HTTP GET /
    • Reply: Index page.
  • HTTP POST /double
    • Request: Send value to double
    • Response: Show result page.

We can think of a HTTP request as being like a function call. The server needs to take inputs (request path, query string, post data) and produce an output (the response).

We can think of Phoenix as being a tool that helps us define those functions.

The basic flow in Phoenix is:

 |> router 
 |> pipeline
 |> controller action 
 |> view
 |> template

Let's walk through that for doubling a number.

Note that most of the logic is in lib/pratice_web, where the web-specific stuff lives, but that we eventually call out to a file outside that directory to actually double the number. Our app could conceptually end up having, e.g., a command line interface that doesn't use HTTP and the code to double a number would still be used.


  • Create "pratice" user on server.
  • Clone git repo to server.
  • Read deploy.sh - do TODOs.
  • Double check config/prod.exs - set URL.
  • Run deploy.sh
  • Install nginx config file.
  • Read start.sh - do TODOs.
  • Run start.sh
  • Think about what happens on reboot, either:
    • Add @reboot rule to crontab (crontab -e ; @reboot /home/practice/.../start.sh )
    • Create and install a systemd service file for your app.

The deployment documentation:

  • https://hexdocs.pm/distillery/guides/phoenix_walkthrough.html
  • https://github.com/phoenixframework/phoenix/blob/master/guides/deployment/deployment.md

Tick Example

  • See Tick example.