Functional programming constructs in non-functional programming languages

Posted by Giorgio on Programmers See other posts from Programmers or by Giorgio
Published on 2012-03-29T23:03:37Z Indexed on 2012/03/29 23:39 UTC
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This question has been going through my mind quite a lot lately and since I haven't found a convincing answer to it I would like to know if other users of this site have thought about it as well.

In the recent years, even though OOP is still the most popular programming paradigm, functional programming is getting a lot of attention. I have only used OOP languages for my work (C++ and Java) but I am trying to learn some FP in my free time because I find it very interesting.

So, I started learning Haskell three years ago and Scala last summer. I plan to learn some SML and Caml as well, and to brush up my (little) knowledge of Scheme. Well, a lot of plans (too ambitious?) but I hope I will find the time to learn at least the basics of FP during the next few years. What is important for me is how functional programming works and how / whether I can use it for some real projects. I have already developed small tools in Haskell.

In spite of my strong interest for FP, I find it difficult to understand why functional programming constructs are being added to languages like C#, Java, C++, and so on. As a developer interested in FP, I find it more natural to use, say, Scala or Haskell, instead of waiting for the next FP feature to be added to my favourite non-FP language. In other words, why would I want to have only some FP in my originally non-FP language instead of looking for a language that has a better support for FP?

For example, why should I be interested to have lambdas in Java if I can switch to Scala where I have much more FP concepts and access all the Java libraries anyway? Similarly: why do some FP in C# instead of using F# (to my knowledge, C# and F# can work together)?

Java was designed to be OO. Fine. I can do OOP in Java (and I would like to keep using Java in that way). Scala was designed to support OOP + FP. Fine: I can use a mix of OOP and FP in Scala. Haskell was designed for FP: I can do FP in Haskell. If I need to tune the performance of a particular module, I can interface Haskell with some external routines in C.

But why would I want to do OOP with just some basic FP in Java?

So, my main point is: why are non-functional programming languages being extended with some functional concept? Shouldn't it be more comfortable (interesting, exciting, productive) to program in a language that has been designed from the very beginning to be functional or multi-paradigm? Don't different programming paradigms integrate better in a language that was designed for it than in a language in which one paradigm was only added later?

The first explanation I could think of is that, since FP is a new concept (it isn't new at all, but it is new for many developers), it needs to be introduced gradually. However, I remember my switch from imperative to OOP: when I started to program in C++ (coming from Pascal and C) I really had to rethink the way in which I was coding, and to do it pretty fast. It was not gradual. So, this does not seem to be a good explanation to me.

Also, I asked myself if my impression is just plainly wrong due to lack of knowledge. E.g., do C# and C++11 support FP as extensively as, say, Scala or Caml do? In this case, my question would be simply non-existent.

Or can it be that many non-FP programmers are not really interested in using functional programming, but they find it practically convenient to adopt certain FP-idioms in their non-FP language?


Just in case (because I have seen several language wars on this site): I mentioned the languages I know better, this question is in no way meant to start comparisons between different programming languages to decide which is better / worse.

Also, I am not interested in a comparison of OOP versus FP (pros and cons). The point I am interested in is to understand why FP is being introduced one bit at a time into existing languages that were not designed for it even though there exist languages that were / are specifically designed to support FP.

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