F# Overview (I.) - Introduction

In my bachelor thesis I included a short introduction that covered all of the important aspects of the F# programming language and I thought that it may be useful to extend it a little bit to cover also a topics that were not important for my thesis and post it as an article, so there is one and relatively short article that introduces all the interesting F# features. The article got however a bit longer than I expected, so I decided to split it into a three parts that would introduce three different paradigms that are supported by F#. Of course, this series won’t teach you everything about F#, but it tries to cover the main F# design goals and (hopefully) presents all the features that make F# interesting and worth learning. In this first part I will shortly introduce F# and the supported paradigms that will be discussed in the upcoming articles.

Introducing F#

In one of the papers about F#, the F# designers gave the following description: "F# is a multi-paradigm .NET language explicitly designed to be an ML suited to the .NET environment. It is rooted in the Core ML design and in particular has a core language largely compatible with OCaml". In other words this means that the syntax of the F# language is similar to ML or OCaml (don’t worry if you don’t know these languages, we’ll look at some examples shortly), but the F# language targets .NET Framework, which means that it can natively work with other .NET components and also that it contains several language extensions to allow smooth integration with the .NET object system.

Another important aspect mentioned in this description is that F# is multi-paradigm language. This means that it tries to take the best from many programming languages from very different worlds. The first paradigm is functional programming (the languages that largely influenced the design of F# in this area are ML, OCaml and other), which has a very long tradition and is becoming more important lately for some very appealing properties, including the fact that functional code tends to be easier to test and paralellize and is also extensible in a ways where object oriented code makes extending difficult.

The second paradigm is widely adopted object oriented programming, which enables interoperability with other .NET languages. In F# it is often used for implementing elementary data types (meaning that the operations on the type are well known and change very rarely), for grouping a set of elementary functions that are together used to perform some complicated operation (i.e. implementing an interface) and also when working with object oriented user interface frameworks.

Finally, the third paradigm supported by F# is language oriented programming (the design of F# in this area is largely influenced by ML, Haskell and also by LINQ). In general, language oriented programming is focused on developing executors for some code which has a structure of a language (be it a declarative language like XML, or a fully powerful language like some subset of F#). In this overview, I will focus on two techniques provided by F# that allow you to give a different meaning to a blocks of F# code. In a programming language theory, this is often called internal domain specific languages, because the code is written in the host language, but is specifically designed as a way for solving problems from some specific domain. An example of such language (and an associated executor) is a block of code that is written as a linear code, but is executed asynchronously (in F# this can be implemented using computation expressions), or a query that is written in F#, but is executed as a SQL code by some database server (this can be implemented using F# quotations).

F# Overview - Links

In the rest of this article series we will look at all these three paradigms supported by F# starting with functional programming and basic F# types used when writing code in a functional way, continuing with object oriented programming and the support for .NET interoperability which is closely related to the OOP in F#. Lastly, we will look at the language oriented programming paradigm including some of the most important .NET and F# library functions that make it possible.

Other F# Resources

There are many other places where you can find useful information about F#. First of all, there is an official F# web site [1] where you can find the language specification, documentation and other useful resources. There are also two books written about F# (one already published [2], second will be available soon [3]). Lastly, there are also a lot of community resources including an F# community web site with discussion board [4], wiki [5] and several blogs [6,7,8,9]. Finally, there are also some projects developed by the F# community that are available at CodePlex - the first one includes various F# code samples [9, 10] and the second is based on my thesis and tries to solve several web development problems [11].

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