What Is Functional Programming? Why the Paradigm Changed the Game?


The Path to Functional Programming

Before understanding functional programming, ask yourself how much do you know about another programming “styles”? When programming initially emerged to solve the major problems of the world through a few lines of code, Computer Scientists realized that they required a standard format or style which could help them to program effectively and efficiently. This style is commonly known as “programming paradigm”.

Soon developers began coding in C by using the procedural paradigm. Procedural programming mainly deals with coding with a step-to-step design similar to kitchen recipes; where a set of instructions is followed sequentially. At that time, the paradigm was indeed excellent at solving problems. However, as technologies evolved and programming became much more complex—websites were built and businesses began to adopt IT—the flaws of procedural programming bugged developers.

Enter Object-Oriented Programming, the next popular paradigm. The vision behind OOP was simple; it modeled programming on the basis of real-world examples. For example, a car could be seen as an object which possessed certain behavior (methods in programming) and states (members like variables in programming). OOP succeeded in decreasing global codebases. OOP concepts like encapsulation and inheritance were fundamental to attain an unexpected degree of productivity.

However, soon developers realized that OOP was not up to the task for a number of things. Hence, to address certain issues, functional programming came into the scene. Popular languages like PHP, Python, etc., are examples of languages which support the functional paradigm. Remember, not each language is built to support all paradigms. For example, while C can support procedural programming, it does not offer support for object-oriented programming.

However, most modern languages support procedural, OOP, and functional programming. There are some like Haskell, who received recognition due to features for functional programming. Java was initially not supportive of the paradigm, but since the last few years, Java releases have introduced features like Lambda Expressions to support functional programming. However, the question is, what exactly is functional programming?

What Is Functional Programming

The name suggests that it is linked to “functions”. Now, if you think that this function relates to the programming of methods, then your assumption is flawed. Functional programming refers to functions which incorporate a certain piece of code in the form of a feature or operation to an application. This function facilitates programmers to avoid changing the other parts of the application.

Functional programming highly borrows from mathematics. These functions are highly interlinked with those “mathematical functions” that you may have studied in your college courses.  In mathematics, a specific question is solved with a method without going much in the theoretical complexities of that method; similarly, functional programming is there to gain a higher degree of abstraction in applications.

One key aspect of functional programming is that it avoids change in the mutability and states of data. Another thing to note is that unlike “statements”, which are generally used in the OOP landscape, “expressions” power functional codebases.

Paradigm Shift to Functional Programming

Previously business applications used C++, a phenomenon that can prove to be a nightmare for modern developers. In those days, software engineers focused a lot on low-level aspects where issues related to memory management did not allow them to achieve much productivity. Then, Java came and provided more abstractions and managed these tasks through new features, thus resulting in saving developers from de-coding low-level complexities.

Today, languages like Scala (JVM) and F# (.NET) are promising a similar level of convenience to developers. Even outside of JVM and .NET ecosystems, you can clearly see Apple going with Swift and Facebook with React JS. Many of today’s “cool” languages are known for their functional paradigms. So why exactly has it become famous? Maybe, the following factors may have something to do with it.

Parallelism

One of the major reasons behind the positive reception of functional programming is its support for parallel computing. Traditionally, basic computing requirements like data storage and processing were not too intensive .i.e. there was no need of running several things at once. However, this changed as several technologies came and evolved one after another, expanding the world of software development and transforming it to power as a backbone of global operations.

Today, parallel computing is a highly valued domain of computer science where multiple applications and data require processing at the same time. Here, functional programming has made its impact due to its natural features which support independence components to run and support modern software infrastructure like microservices. This means if you try to add a specific functionality or modify an existing one, then “functions” ensure that you do not affect the other components of your system.

Data Streaming

Another reason which can be associated with the ‘functional leap’ is the advent of “streaming services”. a few years ago, entertainment was mainly associated with TV—the only medium for watching shows and movies.

However, today streaming services like Netflix have changed the game. Entertainment has shifted online. People prefer to take advantage of the luxury of watching football matches on mobile apps while commuting, rather than hurrying their way back to home for their television sets. Since functional programming works well with streaming due to its natural concepts; hence its growth makes a lot of sense.

AI

AI is perhaps the most exciting branch of computer science. Over the past few decades, extensive research has been carried out about AI while its applications and sub-branches like machine learning, deep learning, speech recognition, etc have become their own field of studies. AI is seen with a bright hope that it can modernize the world and take it to the next level through robots and intelligent machines. However, all this AI implementation requires coding where a paradigm has to be ultimately chosen.

Since AI is closely related to mathematics, logic, statistics, and theoretical computer science, hence you can certainly understand why functional paradigm—a paradigm founded on mathematics—is gaining so much prominence among the AI community.

What’s in it for the Developer?

Well, so far you might have understood how the elevation of some technologies and necessities of some requirements raised the need for functional programming. However, why should you as a developer working with “objects” (OOP) think about learning something new? Is the hassle worth it? Well, to be honest, functional programming is not a magic potion that can generate great results for all OF YOUR applications.

However, there are several cases where the use of functional programming can assist you to achieve better results in your projects where the time spent on learning the paradigm may result in saving you a great deal of resources. Following are a few of the reasons to learn it.

Decreasing LOC

What was one of the most well-liked thing aspects about OOP? The programs that used to require 5,000 line of codes via procedural programming, were reduced to less than 1,000 lines of codes by adopting OOP’s fundamental concepts like inheritance.

Similarly, functional programming also promises the same .i.e. it provides shorter code-bases while maintaining the performance of the application. As a result, productivity is increased where fewer lines of codes do more while maintenance is also relatively easier.

Testing and Debugging

When everything is a function; testing is less challenging. You just have to test each function where one’s output does not affect the result of the other function.

The states of functions cannot be modified from outside of its scope. Hence, its input can be tracked effectively, resulting in an efficient management of its output too. As a result, debugging is easy because it is easy to check what went wrong.

Career Growth

There are no negatives in learning a paradigm which goes well with all the hottest modern technologies. With a chance to work on IoT, AI, and, other futuristic fields, functional programming can prove pivotal to your success as a computer scientist. Learning and adapting are the hallmarks of every successful computer science. Also, if you are tired of doing the same old programming, then it can provide a new challenge that can motivate you to work contentedly.

Now that you have learned about some basic definition, importance, and advantages of functional programming, now is the right time to understand its basics.

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