Elixir Q & A


What is the difference between Erlang and Elixir?

Erlang and Elixir are both programming languages, but they serve different purposes and have distinct characteristics. Here’s a comparison highlighting the key differences between Erlang and Elixir:


  1. Origin and Heritage:

   – Erlang: Erlang is an older programming language created by Ericsson in the late 1980s. It was originally designed for telecommunications systems, emphasizing fault tolerance and high availability.

   – Elixir: Elixir is a relatively newer language developed by José Valim in 2011. It is built on top of the Erlang virtual machine (BEAM) and leverages Erlang’s concurrency and distribution capabilities while introducing a more modern and approachable syntax.


  1. Syntax and Abstractions:

   – Erlang: Erlang’s syntax is considered more cryptic and challenging for newcomers. It relies heavily on a prolog-like syntax for pattern matching and function definitions.

   – Elixir: Elixir was designed with a more user-friendly and Ruby-inspired syntax. It introduces abstractions like the Pipe Operator (`|>`), Macros, and a more familiar functional programming style, making it more accessible to a broader audience.


  1. Community and Ecosystem:

   – Erlang: Erlang has a strong legacy in telecommunications and real-time systems. Its community is smaller compared to Elixir’s, and its ecosystem is primarily focused on specific niches.

   – Elixir: Elixir has a growing and vibrant community with a broader range of applications, including web development, distributed systems, and IoT. Its ecosystem is more diverse, with a rich set of libraries and frameworks.


  1. Concurrency and Distribution:

   – Erlang: Erlang excels in concurrency and distribution, thanks to its lightweight processes and message-passing model. It is renowned for building highly reliable and fault-tolerant systems.

   – Elixir: Elixir inherits Erlang’s concurrency and distribution capabilities but provides a more approachable syntax, making it easier for developers to leverage these features.


  1. Tooling:

   – Erlang: Erlang has its development tools, including an interactive shell, debugger, and system observability tools like Observer and Recon.

   – Elixir: Elixir inherits and extends Erlang’s tooling and provides additional tools like Mix (a build tool), Hex (a package manager), and IEx (an enhanced interactive shell).


While both Erlang and Elixir share the same underlying virtual machine and excel in building highly concurrent and fault-tolerant systems, Elixir distinguishes itself with a more user-friendly syntax, a larger and diverse community, and a broader range of applications beyond Erlang’s original telecom domain. The choice between them depends on your project’s requirements, your team’s familiarity, and your preferred programming style.


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Tech Lead in Elixir with 3 years' experience. Passionate about Elixir/Phoenix and React Native. Full Stack Engineer, Event Organizer, Systems Analyst, Mobile Developer.