Learn the fundamentals of functional programming


If you’re a software developer, you’ve probably noticed a growing trend: software applications keep getting more complicated. The days of building and maintaining a simple web app are over.

As a developer, it now falls on our shoulders to build, test, maintain, and scale complex applications that impact millions of people daily. To do so, we have to create well-structured code that is easy to understand, write, debug, reuse, and maintain.

This can be especially daunting as a beginner because we’re just getting the hang of writing code that actually works, let alone writing code that is “easy to understand, write, debug, reuse, and maintain.”

Why every developer should learn functional programming

Personally, I’ve found that learning functional programming has helped me learn how write code that is clean, easy to maintain, and scalable. Functional programming made me a 10x better programmer, hands down.

Even if we are not using a functional programming language at work or on our side projects, knowing the basics of functional programming equips us with a powerful set of tools to write better code.

In my new e-book, I’ll teach you the basics of functional programming so that you have all the foundational knowledge you need to apply the principles at work, in your next job interview, or on your next side project.

The rest of the post will give you a simple explanation of what functional programming is, which you’ll need to know before diving into the e-book. 😎

Let’s get right into it! 😊

So. What is “functional programming,” exactly?

Functional programming isn’t a framework or a tool, but a way of writing code. In functional programming, we place a major emphasis on writing code using functions as “building blocks.”

Your program is defined in terms of one main function. This main function is defined in terms of other functions, which are in turn defined in terms of still more functions — until at the bottom level the functions are just language primitives like “number” or “string.”

If you’re reading this thinking, “Hmm, but wait? Doesn’t every language use functions to write code?” then good 👌. It means you’re paying attention.

You’re right — every programming language has functions. But functional programming takes it to a whole ‘nother level 😉

To understand what I mean, let’s rewind and start with the basics.

Every software program has two things:

  1. Behavior (what the program does)
  2. Data (data, is well, data)

When we’re learning about a programming paradigm — like functional programming — it’s often helpful to consider how the paradigm approaches behavior and data respectively.

Behavior, in functional programming, is handled purely using functions in functional programming. Functions are “self contained” pieces of code that accomplish a specific task. They define a relationship between a set of possible inputs and a set of possible outputs — they usually take in data, process it, and return a result. Once a function is written, it can be used over and over and over again.

Data, in functional programming, is immutable — meaning it can’t be changed. Rather than changing data they take in, functions in functional programming take in data as input and produce new values as output. Always.

Functions and immutable data are the only two things you need to ever deal with in functional programming. To make it even simpler, functions are treated no differently than data.

Put another way, functions in functional programming can be passed around as easily as data. You can refer to them from constants and variables, pass them as parameters to other functions, and return them as results from other functions.

This is the most important thing to understand when approaching functional programming.

By treating functions as nothing more special than a piece of data and by only using data that is immutable, we are given a lot more freedom in terms of how we can use functions.

Namely, it allows us to create small, independent functions that can be reused and combined together to build up increasingly complex logic. We can break any complex problem down into smaller sub-problems, solve them using functions, and finally combine them together to solve the bigger problem.

Considering the ever-growing complexity of software applications, this kind of “building-block” approach makes a huge difference in keeping programs simple, modular, and understandable. This is also why developers strive to make their functions as general-purpose as possible, so that they can be combined to solve large, complex problems and reused to speed up development time for subsequent programs.

Ultimately, the reason that functions are so powerful in functional programming is because the functions follow certain core tenets. Those tenets will be the subject of my email course:

  • Functions are pure
  • Functions use immutable data
  • Functions guarantee referential transparency
  • Functions are first-class entities

After that, I’ll briefly touch on how functional programming applies these tenets to encourage us to think carefully about our data and the functions that interact with it.

By the end, you’ll be able to understand how this approach leads to code that is:

  • Easier to understand (that is, “expressive”)
  • Easier to reuse
  • Easier to test
  • Easier to maintain
  • Easier to refactor
  • Easier to optimize
  • Easier to reason about

Sound exciting? If so, you’ll love the new e-book. 🤗

The e-book will be released on December 13th. You can pre-order the e-book now for just $29! And as special offer to the free FreeCodeCamp community, I am offering $10 off with the discount code “freecodecamp“.

See you in there! 🤓📕✍️



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