Elm is a young functional and strongly typed language. Oh, and it's for the front-end!

My two cents about Elm

The year is 2016, and functional is definitely one of the strongest buzzwords. Elm is a relatively new, functional and strongly typed language that compiles into JavaScript and promises to make your life easier. Is that so? I had the opportunity to try it for a little project of mine, and I took note of what I like and what I dislike. This is a live post, and I will probably update it in the near future, so stay tuned!


This is my first project with Elm, and I use it as a playground to test the technology, and probably most of the issues I have experienced are due to a poor knowledge of the language. Overall Elm is a very interesting language, but if I had to start a new project tomorrow, I will probably pick Redux (which has basically the same architecture) over Elm.

The Good

  • Types: it makes easier to write and maintain your code
  • Great error messages: it makes easier to debug your code, even when you are just a beginner

The Bad

  • All in one: with Elm the model, the view, and the controller are all mixed in one language. This makes the collaboration between developers and graphic designer more difficult. For example, with a templating system, developers can implement of the business logic and designer can take care of the look-and-feel. In Elm the page structure is defined by the model, which makes the work of designers more difficult.

The Ugly

  • Compiler: I find annoying that you have to compile (instead of refreshing the page) everytime there is a change in the front-end. Elm also comes with elm-reactor that updates the page at every change, but it seems to me that it does not work with the embed mode.
  • Interoperability with JavaScript: To interact with JavaScript libraries (Highcharts in my case) you are required to define a port in Elm, but also to write JavaScript code, which forces you to know (and synch, and maintain) two different source codes.
  • JSON parsing: I was forced to model the JSON output of an API into Elm types to consume the service, which account for nearly half of my source code. Maybe there's a more generic way to explore a JSON, not sure yet.


© 2016 Guido Barbaglia