Haskell – Ready for the mainstream?

Posted in Haskell, Software Development by Dan on May 25th, 2007

Having been exposed to pure functional programming in Miranda at university, Haskell is a programming language that I like a lot. I’ve dabbled with it on and off using GHC but I’ve never written a really substantial program in it. Certainly nothing to rival the Java behemoths that I develop day-to-day. Programs written (well) in Haskell are concise, expressive and have an elegance that is hard to match in more general-purpose languages such as C and Java.

Despite the appeals of strongly-typed, side-effect-free programming, Haskell (and non-strict, pure functional languages in general), have long been regarded as primarily the domain of academics. Haskell’s design owes much to the proprietary Miranda system but, unencumbered by commercial constraints, it has rapidly supplanted its predecessor. Even the University of Kent, previously the principal champion of Miranda, has long since switched to Haskell for teaching purposes. Haskell is now a part of undergraduate computer science courses around the world but, despite this, has little visibility in the world of commercial software development.

However, all that may be about to change. This week saw the announcement of the book “Real World Haskell”, to be published by O’Reilly. If the authors deliver on the proposed outline, it promises to provide a real boost for Haskell as a viable language for mainstream software development. The book will cover topics that are often ignored by existing Haskell guides but that are essential for solving real world problems. I/O, databases, GUI development, concurrency and unit testing are just some of the items to be addressed.

At present there is nothing much to see, but I’ll be monitoring their progress closely over the coming months in eager anticipation. Hopefully, by the time the book is out, GHC will have broken free from its LGPL shackles to remove another barrier to widespread Haskell adoption.